Caught by the River

Everything a River Should Be

6th April 2013


Written by Mark Watts and originally published on his blog earlier this week.

Travelling back from a ridiculously short work trip to Monterrey I have been thinking about rivers.

A conjunction of three events has put waterways in my mind. First, a couple of wonderful Easter days back on the canals for the first time this year. We were breaking ice on the Grand Union just south of Uxbridge at 8 o’clock on Sunday morning, but by ten I was looking out for kingfishers darting along in the spring sunshine, and we finished up with thermals on again at dusk while trying to coaxing a leaky-lock into letting us pass through to temporary moorings.

Then on Monday I had one of those rare treats that makes long-haul business travel tolerable: half an hour gazing down at the twisting beauty of what I think was the St Lawrence river, lit golden by sun-fashioned will-o’-the-wisps darting round its corners and ox-bow lakes, until we left the north American eastern seaboard behind and everything turned to grids.

Finally, inspired by a few hours to explore Monterrey and a friendly bookstore owner’s passion for marketing its favourite local son, I absorbed John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row from cover to cover in the LA-X departure lounge, finding this wonderful passage on ‘everything a river should be’ along the way. Enjoy:

‘The Carmel is a lovely little river. It isn’t very long but it has everything a river should have. It rises in the mountains, and tumbles down a while, runs through the shallows, is dammed to make a lake, spills over the dam, crackles among round boulders, wanders lazily among sycamores, spills into pools where trout live, drops in against banks where crayfish live. In the winter it becomes a torrent, a mean little fierce river, and in the summer it is a place for children to wade in. Frogs blink from its banks and the deep ferns grow beside it. Deer and foxes come to drink from it secretly in the morning and evening, and now and then a mountain lion crouched flat laps its water. The farms of the rich little valley back up to the river and take its water for the orchards and the vegetables. The quail call beside it and the wild doves come whistling in at dusk. Racoons pace its edges looking for frogs. It is everything a river should be.’

John Steinbeck, Cannery Row, first published 1945.

(Eds note: I received this from Mark two days after visiting the terrific exhibition of Ansel Adams photography at the Maritime Museum in Greenwich last weekend. Most of my favourite pictures were of Moterrey, a place my wife has visited in real life and that I’ve only visited in my mind. Guess what book I was inspired to re read? Small world huh. JB)