20 Finding the River

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Stephen Whiteside
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20 Finding the River

Post by Stephen Whiteside » Tue Nov 01, 2011 5:50 am

20 Finding the River

© Stephen Whiteside 01.11.2011

All of the fish now lay high and dry. Indeed, as far as the eye could see, there was no water at all. The flood had receded completely while they had slept.

In its place lay a landscape of utter devastation. Chaos in all directions. Whole trees lay strewn across the plain - for a plain indeed was what it now was, or a very shallow valley, perhaps. Smaller branches and sticks lay everywhere. Horatio was amazed at how large some of the rocks were, at the power of the flood at its peak. It all seemed now like a bad dream. Had it really happened at all? It loomed in his mind as such a frightening spectre, it was much easier to imagine it had not been real.

But it was real enough. He did know that, though still his mind struggled to comprehend the vastness of it all. And where to now for them? There was no doubt that what they needed was the river. Of course, that was where they had started, where they had met, beside the river, but the flood front had been broad and powerful. It had thrown them off course, and dumped them far away on the flood plain somewhere. The challenge now was to find their way back.

Their plans for night travel were once again in complete disarray. They had led charmed lives to this point, at least as far as predators - especially birds of prey - were concerned. This was a puzzle. It did seem to Horatio that the sky was strangely empty of birds. There must be lots of dead animals lying around, so food surely would not be a problem.

So many trees had been uprooted, though, and birds nest in trees don’t they, generally. And those trees that still stood had mostly been submerged, so presumably nests and birds had been swept away and drowned, just like all the ground animals. That must be the explanation. Still, it would only take one exception, one survivor, one especially hungry survivor, and their lives could be thrown into immediate peril once again.

So there was no doubt about it. They must find the river once again. The river was the key to their future, even as it had almost snuffed their futures out. Water. Food. Shelter. Direction. The river held the key to all of these. Without out it, they were lost. But where was it? Which way to go?

Low ground. That was the key, surely. Just as the flood had lifted them away from the banks of the river, so they must descend once more into its welcoming fold. But this was easier said than done. The gradient was gradual indeed. The terrain about them was all but a plain. If they could find some grass, they could observe which way it had been bent, but there was precious little of that. It all seemed to have been buried in a layer of fine silt - and silt doesn’t bend in the water. No, they would need to be cleverer than that.

It was Magnifico who came up with the answer. Of course, both animals were close to the ground, but Magnifico was the lower. He was also the more practical of the two, and less prone to panic.

Magnifico made the very interesting observation that there were the remnants of tiny rivulets on the ground. It would appear that after the flood had receded, small pockets of water had initially remained - often adjacent to rocks, for instance - and that these had continued to drain for some time, scouring out tracks in the silt. If these were followed long enough in one direction, they could be found to join up with others. It was like the pattern of the world’s mighty rivers, writ small. Like a microcosm of the world.

It shouldn’t have amazed Horatio, he thought to himself, but it did. Rats had more respect for larger things than smaller, as a rule. But Nature was utterly indifferent. Whether the pattern was enormous or tiny, it was just as beautiful, just as detailed, just as perfect. A mighty river, or the tiniest of rivulets. It mattered not. The rules were the same.

Magnifico became convinced of the direction in which they needed to travel by the pattern of these small depressions. Horatio was not impressed, though. Surely, he argued, if two small steams could meet up, they could just as easily separate. It told nothing of the direction of flow. Yes, argued, Magnifico, but if they separated, each should become narrower. These were becoming broader. This meant they were carrying more water, not less, and therefore indicated they had joined.

Still Horatio, somewhat to Magnifico’s exasperation, remained unconvinced. Finally, however, Magnifico clinched his case. He found a small rivulet that was still flowing. There was no doubt now about the direction in which they needed to travel. Magnifico had been right after all.

And so, without any ceremony, the two began their journey back to the river, the wild, dangerous, unpredictable river; the life-giving river that had almost killed them. Yet Horatio reflected on this also. What would have been their fate if the flood had descended upon them on the plain somewhere? What had saved them had been the log. The log had fallen off a tree. The tree had been close to the river because of the water it offered. Their chances of finding such a large, broken branch on the ground out on the plain were far, far less. So it would appear the river had saved their lives after all. Sure, it was the source of the flood, but a flood that size would have caught them wherever they were. At least the river had offered them their means of salvation, as well as simultaneously sewing the seeds of their destruction. This was a sobering thought. And further reinforced upon Horatio the importance of finding it once again, and as quickly as possible.
Stephen Whiteside, Australian Poet and Writer

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