Saturday, 19 March 2016

The Rivers of Yorkshire - more fiction in progress

Proust had his magical names - Balbec, Benodet and so on, strange attractors around which spirits gathered and worlds slowly formed. But mine were the rivers of Yorkshire. I knew something of each river, but this particle of knowledge was only the grit needed to crystallize the fantasy. The Nidd was a river with Nordic parents, narrow and deep, mythical creatures hid in its rushes, its source was a place of sheer ice, and I associated it with the Dace that swam on its gravelly beds; The Ouse was extravagantly wide and slow, snaking around all over the place, frequently flooding, and teeming with eels; The Ure was the Nidd's Anglo-Saxon cousin, sourced in granite, deep underground, the dominant fish was Barbel, grubbing around in the floor of weirpool; The Swale was a disagreeable name, partly because of a boy named Swales at school who sat at the back of the class making noises, and the river Swale I associated only with flat green fields, acres of grass, bare, without magic, bordered and tamed by surrounding farmland; another, the Wharfe, was merely picturesque and shallow, big willows shading the banks; but the Aire was the most magical, the Aire was my river - elusive, haunted by woodland spirits, lights and breezes danced near its banks. The only river that could rival the Aire wasn't in Yorkshire at all, the Lune - green and pure and spun with music.
 But there is an affinity between rivers and their names which is not true of cities or buildings or people. For ordinarily the name is the thing that survives ruin and change, the last morsel remaining. For example, the name of a city persists after the city has been wrecked and destroyed and rebuilt - the name is the only survivor; a man of 80 is in no cell or particular what he was at birth, but the name, the baptism of the name endures; the ship has been rebuilt part by part until nothing of the original vessel remains - nothing, that is, except the name. Only rivers endure as long as their names; rivers too survive the razing of cities, the falling of flesh...  the rivers run on, unperturbed.

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