Caught by the River

Shadows and Reflections – Laura Beatty

6th December 2012

In which, as the year comes to its end, our friends and collaborators look back and share their moments:

This is the thing – to have a shadow or a reflection, inwardly or outwardly, you have to have a bit of light. Recently, I’ve found, there hasn’t been much. It has rained a lot, inwardly or outwardly. Murk. Fog. Gloom. Deluge. There’s been mud to walk through. It’s been head down and plug on sort of weather.

Then in September 2012 I came down from the Midlands to Winchester. The geography of the preposition is wrong. Not down at all, more like breaking upwards into a thinner clearer region, more like rising. It still rained quite a lot, inwardly and outwardly, but my daily restless round from my front door, across water meadows and up to the clump of beeches on St Catherine’s hill, took me over the river Itchen.


Quick moving shine and gleam and a snake of liquid metal through low lying fields, very definitely magnetic. White cattle with black noses standing hock deep in water. Two deer that always breakfast in the rush-filled field the other side of the bridge. Egrets looking out of place, balance on reedy legs in the meadow in front of St Cross church, as though underlining the rarity of it all. So you obey the pull and go to the water’s edge. And again, Wow! It’s glass. It’s a window over brilliant weed, flowing like hair in something that is the opposite of wind. It’s a whole visible world, of coloured stones, of different things under different conditions. Everyone notices. Everyone is as mesmerised as me. There is always someone hanging over the bridge, looking down.

In the Midlands, because of the clay, you can look at a river from a bridge, but you can’t look into it. Hard to believe what you are seeing, when first you find you can.

Trout. Are they? Or are they not? Because it seems too good to be true not just to be guessing what’s down there. Shadows, gathered in gravelly lies, breaking suddenly to streak up or down stream, without any apparent bodily movement. The speed they move at. You’d call it a flash but it’s got nothing to do with light. They move like an arrow. Straight. Dark. Bolting up or down, stopping as though switched off, no slowing or breaking of any kind.

For the first few months my head was a firework display of exclamations and expletives.

I saw an eel as long as my arm. Neat little round gills either side of its head, lying in an S on the gravel. Again, is it? It can’t be. And as if in answer it flickers over, shows the sea silver flash of its underbelly. Oh my effing God. You beauty.

I saw a kingfisher. Ditto.

Then the mayfly exploded. Making their own journey from the depths to the surface, they seemed, without notice, to choose just one day to fizz into life, rising like bubbles, their digestive systems light with a new element, their wings barely more material than the air they launch into. And the trout go mad. As if they too would fly. There isn’t a choice at this stage. You have to be in it.

Private fishing. No boating. No swimming. No picnicking.

Only it’s magnetic like I said so off with the clothes and in, and it is a cold slip of excitement over your skin, like swimming in champagne, a froth of activity, a frenzy of bubble and burst and movement up and down. Life or death after all. I wouldn’t be anywhere else. If I only had gills, or wings. I don’t know which.

But I don’t have either. I only have feet, which take me home, back through the water meadows, elated, to my house that looks across a scruff of allotments at the severe mass of St Cross. It’s a view I love. I photograph it every day, to remind myself I’m here. I’m lucky. There isn’t much, on balance, to beat a chalk landscape with a chalk river slipping through it. I wait for the sun to break a bit, just to animate things, and it isn’t raining. I balance the camera on the window sill because it’s taking a while. Lighten up, I say to myself, because it’s my favourite expression. Lighten up.