Monday, 13 May 2013

The Sense of a River

You can feel the presence of a living body of water, even when you can't see it.  The vegetation, the light, the wildlife, all announce that you are now entering the riparian zone.

 The presence of a busy motorway -- just yards beyond the trees beyond the viaduct -- is somehow less obvious.  Apart, of course, from the constant noise.  There is no transitional zone, no distinctive ecology, although it's true the motorways themselves are becoming an ecosystem in their own right.  The bounty of roadkill along the central reservations and verges is one reason for the rapid spread of carrion eaters like the Red Kite, I'm sure.

Maybe it's that lack of a distinctive sense of transition that leads pheasants, foxes, badgers and deer to stride boldly out across the carriageway.  After all, you don't see a constant flow of such creatures floating downstream, Eeyore-like, having mistakenly tried to dash across the river.


Struan said...

I once rescued a mole out of the middle of the Itchen. It was swimming round and round in circles, and would probably have drowned had I not fished it out.

One of my favourite climbing tales is from Yosemite, and tells of a climber at a bivouac on a ledge 1000 ft or so off the deck, watching a small frog leap towards the next tiny ledge, and miss.

How would we know how often it happens?

On another note, I am often struck by how motorway verges are managed in ways which are very similar to meadows (scrub discouraged, cut once or twice a year) or to coppice woodland (five-to-ten year rotations). Now that they've stopped spraying with quite so much weedkiller there's a chance for some real ecology to develop. That said, the major thing we've noticed on our annual flog up the A1 is the proliferation of wild parsnip. It rivals willowherb and ragwort in many areas.

Mike C. said...


I like the idea of an ambitious mole deciding to tunnel under the Itchen, and coming up too soon. Oh...shit.

Talking of frogs and mountains, your mention of Norman MacCaig led me to Andrew Greig's book "At the Loch of the Green Corrie", which I'm reading at the moment. Do you know it? Although twice as long as it need be, and repetitive, I'm enjoying it.

It in turn has led me to Peter Dorward's "Nightingale", which is sitting on my Kindle.


Struan said...

I read the Andrew Greig book last summer, and liked it enough to put it on my Xmas list. It's on my desk for reference.

Some of the battling with the wilderness stuff annoys me. What I like about MacCaig is how the landscape is a place to be, not somewhere to to be mythologised from a distance. There is also a little too much and-then-and-then-and-then which just reminds me why I got tired of mountaineering literature.

But it's a good read. There was a BBC television show too, but I've not seen it as it won't play out of country. Not sure if it's still available, but it included Billy Connolly and Aly Bain swapping yarns so it's unlikely to be dull.

I have mild plans to visit the Loch, but if we're going that far off the reservation, we'll probably climb Quinag instead :-)

Mike C. said...

Quinag's "tall huddle of anvils", as I now know to call it...

I've only been to the far NW once, to Little Loch Broom, where I mainly learned how much I hate flies and midges, and yet how much they like me. No amount of splendour is worth repeating that asymmetric encounter.


Struan said...

My wife, as in so many other things, is more attractive to midges than I am. So long as I am with her, I'm safe. For some reason I get all the horseflies.

MacCaig's collected works are worth the - relatively low - price. I don't think it's just that he walks over the same ground and notices the same things ("Stonechat on Cul Beag" is almost as if he'd been hanging on my shoulder on one particularly memorable walk"). He's good on the creative life too:

A fire of dung, one feels, should be our centre,
With fishbones here and there, and on the cave wall
Bourgeois fluently hunting
Startled ideas through a wood of cant.

(From "Icy road")

Sorry, I've taken over your post with distractions. I'm currently trying to write about how my perception of the landscape changes from ticking off the names of places as we speed along the motorway, to entering into the dense web of waypoints, memories and associations once we reach the single track road. Your post reminded me I should be working on it.

Mike C. said...

Yes, I've bought a selected MacCaig. Despite my Scottish genes I'm a species of Essex Boy by culture, and thereby suspicious of the Scottish cult of Scottishness. All those poets with samey names...

One of Andrew Greig's most telling observations was "the curious indifference of our English friends and partners to being English". And him married to a Yorkshire woman...

Don't worry about steering posts in interesting directions -- this one, like most of my shorter posts, was merely an improvisation to link together some images from last week.


zythophile said...

I suspect a falling small frog would land unharmed, even after a thousand-foot drop: it's the old "mouse down a mineshaft" idea JB Haldane talked about in 1927, having a comparatively low weight compared to its surface area the frog's terminal velocity would be fairly tiny.

Yes, few English people, given five words to describe themselves, would include "English" as one of them, whereas the Scots, Irish and Welsh would certainly state their nationality as one of their self-descriptors. Something to do with English arrogance, I suspect - we're so sure being English is best, we don't like to boast that English is what we are.


Mike C. said...


I suspect it's not so much we think English is "best", as we think it's "normal", which is not quite the same thing. Both arrogant, of course, but being "normal" doesn't seem worth mentioning (and actually rather boring)...


eeyorn said...

Part of the attraction to me for taking up Morris dancing was a feeling of connection to 'Englishness', led as it was from the early connection with English folksong. Throughout my life I've enjoyed a love of good English beer, and the amateur folk musical sessions that develop alongside the dancing.

So yes, I'm proud to be English, but I've lived in other parts of the world, and the one thing that holds true is that everyone has different ways of doing things, some are better in doing some things, and less so in others. There is no 'Best Practice' and I for one am particularly aware that British arrogance is in my experience completely unjustified.

I despair that 9th Dan arrogant twats like Cameron are being allowed to asset-strip the country.

eeyorn said...

When I lived Bulgaria we were based in a village which lay on the banks of the River Yantra. We had many joyful days following the river, one way or t'other by foot, bicycle and car and revelling in all that we came across. And it made for some lovely natural swimming areas at many points.

Insect life in Bulgaria is very plentiful, I'm glad to say the bees are thriving there, but then so are the wasps, the flying ants and the scourge of the river-bed were vasts swarms of blackfly. On the plus side, we also had a plethora of different birds and butterflies passing through :-)

eeyorn said...

And the storks were amazing


eeyorn said...

Oh and Eeyore was I suspect bounced into the river by Tigger and so therefore is innocent of all charges against him.