Thursday, 21 August 2014

Dipper Song

The first morning of bright sunshine since we arrived by the river nearly a week ago finds me walking across heavily dew-laden grass down to the river bank. I've not often stayed for a lengthy of time by a river and the constant background tumbling of water over rounded stones is something that has taken a while to get used to. It is a sound that overrides some of the more subtle countryside voices and I am more used to tuning into stillness and silence. There is a constant energy to the flowing water that I am not sure I find relaxing. 

I have made many visits to the water's edge to try and understand the language of the river and see what it might teach me but I am not sure I have really bonded with the place.

Today, the light is bright and the air fresh with summer coolness with the promise of a fine day ahead. As I approach the river I hear the distinctive song of a dipper. Subtle and tuneful, a constant warbling that seems to mimic and merge with the chattering from the river. It can't be far from me and I search along the bank whilst standing motionless. Then I spot the stark bright whiteness of the dippers bib - its dark body merges with the stone backdrop. It bobs around the rocks and then moves out into the shallows and feeds, half submerged in the water. Soon it is joined by a companion and eventually they fly off, skimming the surface of the water upstream.

I look out again and see, about 400 yards downstream on the riverbank a tall slender white object standing in the sunshine. A heron. And then, I see something moving in the water just beyond that. I think it is an otter, but at that distance I am not sure. It certainly isn't the mink we saw here a few days ago. A hurriedly fetched daughter and a pair of binoculars reveals it is a duck, but I am not sure exactly what it is as it quickly disappears. Heron and daughter disappear too and I am left by myself with the river and dippers again. 

The river is a place where there are varied interactions between light and water. A few days ago I was down here in evening watching the sun set between the remains of rain clouds. The sky was full of various patches of pale orange whee the sun light was filtering through gaps in the heaven grey clouds. The river was flowing away from me directly in line with the sun and so this light was reflected in the ripples on the water. It looked beautiful and it felt a privilege to witness this combination of events. Each part of the river looks different depending on how it is observed. I. The shallows before me I can see through the trees to the pebbles about a foot below the water's surface. Elsewhere all the light is reflected off the surface to give a silvery shimmering where the water flows over the shallow rapids. Under the trees in the distance the water looks almost black.

The river is an interesting place. It is always here and yet the water is always on the move and never in the same place again. It is always different. Its calm serenity can give way to viscous flooding. Even in the past few days with just a little rainfall I have observed the height rise and drop again. It is a place of continuous energy, power and change.

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