As the saying goes, water is life. It holds and contains us. It is the substance to which we are committed and on which we have founded our villages and cities.
That year I found myself at home in Longford, unable to move, unable to travel. Together with my journalist friend Peter Geoghegan, I had the idea of taking a river trip with a Canadian on my home’s main river, the Camlin.
County Longford was shaped by water. Here in central Ireland we are the hub of this ancient place.
Beneath our feet lies layer upon layer of limestone, said to be the remains of ancient sea life.
This stone is known for its permeability, and water flows through it creating strange shapes. Invisible subterranean rivers and streams feed the land, creating a hidden world.
Sometimes I think the water flowing through the stone not only shaped the rock but also shaped us; that in this middle place, this middle realm, we meet life and death, heaven and hell, nature and destruction; that penetration has made us the people we are – that the water has indeed formed our souls.
Our canoe trip would take two days, from the village of Ballinalee to the head of the river at Clondra in the west of the county.
The river runs almost the entire length of the county and is our life force in this place. It was a journey into nature, a journey where we would encounter Ireland’s last wilderness: our waterways.
The time of this journey came when the world had been turned upside down. But when was the world ever simple? When wasn’t it complicated?
If we turn to the nature of the river, we could write our own inscription to this pandemic. When the world was quiet, we moved. Out of the silence came a great adventure and the world would never look the same to us again.
There are more than 3,100 rivers on this island and they are home to an abundance of wildlife, from mayflies to trout and kingfishers. Without a guide, but with a small printed map from the Ordnance Survey, we set off into the unknown.
Looking back now, what remains is all the nature we observed. The plants and animals were all silent teachers.
I remember seeing the mayfly for the first time in my life when we turned a corner and found the sky filled with fluttering shapes.
The mayfly is a living fossil. Dating from the Carboniferous and Permian Periods, they are among the oldest surviving winged insects in the world, along with their relatives, the dragonfly and dragonfly.
Watching them in flight is like seeing what the very first journeys into the air looked like all those millions of years ago.
There are over 3,000 species of mayflies in the world, but only 33 are endemic to Ireland (a remnant of our isolation from the rest of Europe). They live and die exclusively along the waterways and are our benchmark for healthy rivers as they need clean water to live and eat.
The mayfly only lives for one day, but what a day it is. It made us realize that we need to enjoy each day and make sure it counts in the ledger of life.
As we talked over those two days, we covered all sorts of subjects, from Mark Twain to the life of the Australian Aborigines. All the topics revolved around water and life and what it means to us.
The idea for the canoe trip came from a near death experience 10 years ago when I almost drowned in Sydney Harbour. I had promised that day that if I got out of this situation alive, I would return home and one day travel on the Camlin.
It took a pandemic for this eventuality, this mission, to take place. Traveling in the center of Ireland, in the center of a river, we began to be made new.
The ego is like a river because it is a constant pooling of memories and possibilities that shape us. For most cultures, water represents life, but for Taoist beliefs, it represents wisdom, for running water accepts everything and never resists.
Water is the way of the Dao, and like water we must learn to live in effortless action with the world around us.
As Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, said, “Nature is in no hurry, and yet everything is accomplished.”
To understand his world, Lao Tzu traveled through China on the back of a buffalo, and before leaving the country forever produced the Tao Te Ching, the central book of Taoism.
In it was the learning of all his years and his view of man’s connection with the natural world and how we must adapt not to our time but to their own.
Like the light on the river, its beauty can only be appreciated by seeing it. During these two days we silently watched the play of lights on the water.
When we finally got to Clondra, we hadn’t traveled more than 50km, and yet a whole world seemed to have passed us by.
We had found a new way of life. We had discovered the world that was here all along and realized that home is so much more than we can ever really comprehend.
The pandemic was terrible, but she was also a teacher. It made us slow down and I’m so grateful for that.
And that made all the difference, as Robert Frost wrote.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/water-shapes-not-just-our-outer-worlds-but-the-deep-inner-landscapes-of-the-mind-41618935.html Water not only shapes our outer worlds, but also the deep inner landscapes of the mind