I was raised in what felt like the very heart of the countryside, with no shops or train stations particularly nearby. A house that sits on an unnamed road, and backs onto several fields before a large hill covered in ancient woodland. The woodland is in flux, constantly evolving in the same way year round, as leaves turn from green to orange and back again. An oroborous; an endless cycle.
The landmarks near our home are a grit box one mile down the road east, and a ford one mile west. These two landmarks have been subject to multiple local debates, conquests and trials. It’s a small and unique sort of politics. The ford is our most special place. It's the point that the river first meets a road. The first junction of nature meeting man. Nature interrupting a man made structure, or vice versa. I'm unsure how many people notice the presence of the ford, but for us living near such a point is momentous.
The road provides two small ecosystems for the river either side of it where it drops back into the landscape. One side of the ford is a sort of pool, where frogs spawn and tadpoles begin life. Miniature insects surround it and once a year spawn on top of the pool. On another day all of the baby frogs when large enough hop across the road, to the confusion of timely walkers, or to the horror of cars who might find themselves accidentally squashing them. Its prehistoric, like the rocks and earth have been there forever, untouched. But that’s not true, since these ecosystems are new in the grand scheme of geological time. Ever since humans began settling in these areas and sculpting the land to their own needs the path of the river has been redirected many times. And what about the water flowing through the river, where and how far has this water travelled across the earth since the very first signs of life after the void of chaos.
On the other side of the road is a fast flowing, miniature waterfall that picks up speed as the water tumbles down the roughly laid, falling tarmac, it drops about a foot, and continues this new speed across the low flowing thinner channel, through larger rocks and mossy sides. This new lease of life, provided by the dropping road, is a stark contrast for any critters having found themselves pulled out from the pooly paradisal abyss and over the tarmac-ed road. The river now flows with its new road-given energy out to the sea, yet disappears into the trees either side of the road, leaving those who know the ford so well, unsure of its onward journey.
Its strange to think that you can feel such love of a place, but know so little of its larger picture. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, the ford and the river are not untouched by the myriad problems facing the world. No small and un-wanting corners of the earth are left un-stretched by human demands. Local groups of people dedicate their lives and careers to protecting these rivers, and studying the small but important ecosystems that live there. But I certainly have never delved too deeply into our pure and safe-from-the-world patch of water.
Take the curious Fairy Shrimp. Within the woodland behind our house, on top of the high hill, peer into the lumpy, seemingly desolate mud, to find the home of the only British species of this mysterious shrimp (Chirocephalus diaphanus). They inhabit small puddles and can survive as eggs when water disappears and mud dries out. They’ve been found elsewhere in the world, often making their home in extreme places, like antarctic ice or dry deserts. These versatile creatures seem more at home in Paleozoic times, long before humans, apes or dinosaurs appeared. When the hill and ford were filled only with ingenious and independent critters, reliant on a minuscule fraction of the resources that humans have come to ‘need’. Should humans be taking head from the Fairy Shrimp. Need less, want less. If we are to survive this messy time then is looking to the past, further and further back our only option?.
The Fairy Shrimp
That puddle water, with enough rainfall might make its way down the sharp slopes of the hill and into the beginnings of the Rother. Hundreds of trickling flowing channels head to the calm pool in their wait before crossing the road and embarking upon a journey to the sea. Once at the sea the cycle continues, as it sits among a huge mass of foreign waters. Old and new, from around the world, mingling to create warmer and cooler patches. It shifts, constantly moving through the ocean for over 3,000 years, passed by jellyfish, whales, sharks and pods of fish. When warm weather strikes it becomes weightless, an out of body experience as it is lifted up out of its own self, looking down at the growing blueness of the sea below, becoming part of the atmosphere, the soul of the water. For less than ten short days, water is the sky, shooting and bumbling, encountering other body-less souls, looking down on the rest of itself, at water bodies living physically on earth. I wonder if this is where the name body of water stems.
The time eventually comes again for the cycle to continue, and the eternal forces combine to pull and heave it back down to the overworked grounds below. Pulled quickly alongside more droplets, witnessing and feeling the body reappear, a reincarnation. Feeling that rush of re-becoming. And then plod, bouncing off the leaf of a new area, a tree, a puddle, the sea, the return to earth, to ground, to terra. A new terra. Like the fairy shrimp the cycle continues on Earth’s terms. This earth will look very different to the water who has been out of touch, trapped by the sea for so long, or maybe this change was visible from the sea, with less and less encounters with sea-faring creatures each year. Also like the fairy shrimp, water inhabits, and has lived within all corners of the earth, for varying lengths of time. Water plays the long game. Often the slow game. A water particle in the oldest Antarctic ice sheet might have been there for 2.7 million years.