Monday, 7 November 2011

All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath. F Scott Fitzgerald


I have not been to the dacha for months. I have been working feverishly and  forgotten about me for a moment. I kept saying to myself that I will have to think about priorities, plan different ways of working, redesign my approach to life and work in general… and then I went away. The decision was sudden and actually stressful. I wanted to rest, needed to rest but at the same time did not want to leave everything behind, not even for a week. Nevertheless, I went..

It took me nearly a week to relax. Throughout the whole time away, I did the usual holiday things with my friends: visited interesting buildings, the beach, had delicious meals in restaurants, attended a wonderful birthday party and snorkelled.. Except for the snorkelling, everything seemed an enormous effort initially. Whereas everyone just wanted to chill and take it very slowly, I was still busily working inside my head.

What really helped me was water. Salty, soft, warm water. Water with light streaming through it.  Blue water, green water. Surrounding and supporting me effortlessly.

I have always felt safe in water. Even before I could swim my grandmother would float on her back in the river near a small town where she was brought up, with me at seven months happily cradled between her breasts. My summers were spent in the water, mostly in fresh water as I lived 500 miles from the nearest sea. In rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes said Leonardo da Vinci. In that small sentence he describes the mystery of rivers to perfection. Time past, time present and time future slips though your fingers as you submerge yourself in the river. The current, which you follow down stream with your eyes, becomes someone else’s future. Then you turn and look upstream, towards your own. I did not think about this three-dimensional attribute of rivers when, as a child, I swam under water holding my breath. I was a naiad, a fish, a water sprite enjoying being wet.

The riverbanks beneath the water line team with life invidiously protected by opaque light and mysterious shadows. In my early teens I remember fishing with my uncle. We waded in, waist-deep and crouched near the bank where the crayfish hid. I looked at him with trepidation as this type of fishing involved inserting hands into the nooks and crannies below the water line, fingers splayed for the crayfish to nip. My uncle moved like lightning. The moment he felt the crayfish pincers close over his finger, his hand would come out of the water and in the perfect arc flick the incumbent onto the riverbank. Soon, there were a dozen of light brown spiny lobsters on the grass.  Unfortunately, the very thought of pushing my hands through the mud and roots of unseen, underwater vegetation immobilised me. My hands never uncurled from rigor mortis of tight fists and my uncle marvelled at my enthusiasm for fishing without ever catching a single crayfish.

But it was the river that drew me in as I waded deeper, plunging under the surface to look at the world beneath. That wonderful other world of shadow and light. I am not the creature of air alone. Somewhere, unseen but definitely there, a reminder of the primordial me, I have a set of gills. I am sure of that.

4 comments:

Anhrefn said...

I am happy you have come back to the dacha Madzia. This a beautiful post, your affection for your grandmother and uncle so palpable. Thank you for sharing your story.

Madzia said...

I am happy to be back Anhrefn.
And I love your new post.
M

cricket7642 said...

Madzia – I am happy to see you back in the dacha as well. This post reminded me of a passage from Pip Pip by Jay Griffiths – it is about the sea:

The sea, clock of ages, is full of time. In the tide's ebb and flow the sense fo the moment is critical, but it is the coasts which are affected by tides, not the ocean's depths, so while the sea, at its shoreline, represents the *now* of events, yet the paradox of the ocean is that in its depths it is a symbol of *eternity*. (Byron called the sea 'the image of eternity'.) The everlasting consolation of the sea is not *all will be well*, but *all will endure*. To Western scientists, the sea is the source of life. In Taoist thought, similarly, the ocean is equated with the Tao, the primordial and inexhaustable source, 'informing at creation without being exhausted'. Jainist thought of the sixth centurey B C E describes an 'ocean of years' being one hundred million times one hundred million palyas. Each palya is a period of countless years. Otis Redding picked the right place, 'sittin' at the dock of the bay, wastin' tim-ai-ai-ime', for the sea is creator of endless hours of time.

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