Let me be an animal of the river, where the deep flow breaks across shingle and slippery rocks entice me to stumble. Sometimes, it is everything to retreat under ancient riparian trees to rest and feel the coolness of the Wye; coolness cast by the trees’ own shadows over decades. Here, in the margin between steep cliffs and river, otters tread lightly on the fossil rock, scents drawing them from stone to stone. I love this place. No other human comes down here, at least in my mind.
Come with me.
Our path is steep, mind your step, red ochre unbroken by human arrogance, lined by celandines and worn smooth by padded paws. Sit beside me on this tilted moss-rock. The canopy encloses over us and the water is loud. From here, one can perceive a wealth of opportunity through quivering sedge. Otters and badgers breathe this same air. Observe a dipper perched on half-wet boulders to eye her prey. She rocks to her own rhythm, no-one else’s. Unspoken, we are still for a moment or the encounter will be brief. This little robin-shape dives upstream into fast flow and scours the shallows, again, then skips away off to her young with a snow-white belly full of nymphs. Stillness, save for our eyes; we’ll perceive more of our kin. We’ll engage all our senses.
A heron is raised upstream, nearer the village, where the houses lean heavily on the riverbank. He flies languidly to the left, towards the untouchable summit of Twmpa, a strong landmark within his mind. There’s a perch below it, where silver fry glint in the shallows, but only at certain times of day, and at certain times of year.
Always birds, without fail…
Now hear this long, slow wing beat. It’s a mute swan, neck slung low over its own white reflection. Let’s take that sound away home with us. Put it in your pocket.
We’ve been here a while, gelatinous time. Falling light is our cue, so we climb carefully back up the track while talking of otter movement and jasmine spraint. I’ll simply tell you about my memories today because the otters are hiding. You may have to return to see them, a surreal glimpse will be enough to kindle your fire.
At the top of the cliffs, the badgers awaken deep in their setts, but they won’t appear until we’re gone. We’re their young reckless cousins, you see, with our five million years to their twenty three million. They’ve worked pretty much everything out, except you and me.
On my own once more, tramping through the flocks to the road, I imagine ghosts of auroch and cervidae. Instead, soft ewes have their young born too early. Fat lambs bleat to mothers who are more hungry for ryegrass in the dusk. I worry about them. The water meadows may be long gone, but red campion and cardamine glow to a darkening edge.