Last summer, I am swimming in the cool Arrow just west of ye olde Penebrugge, keeping my nose above the silk-smooth, trying to find a rhythm against the strong flow. The sun is strong, and all winter’s ghosts abandon me for the ocean.
Under me swim a million Atlantic salmon lost to hunting and distress. Above me are the spectres of a thousand white men culpable for the loss. I’m not grieving for the men today.
I get out of the water, and warm blood returns to my cold skin, flush-blush, and I breathe deep the oxygen offered free by the immigrant balsams that shoot from anthroturbed, hot, shade-less, phosphated banks.
Man ~ anthro ~ disturbs ~ turb, from Latin “to stir up”. Anthroturbs.
You ghosts! I ache for you to come back to me, animated and full of the essence of life, like the blood returns to my epidermis, as real and vivid as you ever were.
I look up to a mewing raptor circling under a bright cloud in a deep blue sky ~ a fantail. Buzzard in all her glory, kindred buzzard; your lungs take in my air and mine yours. What are you saying to me? I think I might know. Your polarising eyes bear witness to my dullness under all the silver drops of water and soaked, sun-bleached hair. You’d rather talk to the others who might come to you, and avoid my predatorial shadows. I understand this. I am whiteness, and with all the river washing, I cannot get rid of that.
But you are utterly safe today in the brightness, as I neither possess the inclination to kill you nor a gun. My love for you is about as iron-strong as things are. Do you know it? Others are harming with poisons, and game rearing, and poultry sheds, and I do fear they will turn you into a ghost if you don’t stay away from people who look like me.
Can we ever stay away? “Stay away” is really an impossibility of matter in our dimming biosphere, because we are altogether in flows, bound into processes, like it or not, even in death. You are inside me, and me you. I’ll just sit here and warm for a while, and smell the undergrowth, and keep my eyes open for any other symling to greet who flows into my senses. The river will do its thing, taking my skin cells and some of my microbiome with it.
This early Spring, dressed hard for cold weather, in boots and jeans and overcoats, there is a human path I follow worn down under cracked willows, where the tree creepers hop from bottom to top. It’s a place forced under pressure between the sewage works ~ subcontracted to a profiteer by the not-for-profit water company ~ and the banks of the Wye just South of Bartonsham Dairy. Raging floods dig down deeper into the buried shingle of ten thousand years, like salt in a wound.
I’m going to check the sewer outfall for a point-source phosphate pollution event.
The path here is the beginning of a chasm, and there’s a terrible and awkward dance to walk it. I call it the Bone Path, where salix roots finger across it like skeletal hands. Fishermen come here with their maggots, their carbon rods and alum hooks. I sometimes find the nylon bits in tweavelets, and they do anger me on behalf of all the animals.
I find the outfall and it is spewing white foam that reeks of soap. White foam of phosphates, the wastes of capitalism down the supermarket aisle where you and I buy our plastic bottles full of washing liquids and chemical softeners. I take pictures, imagining the entire journey to get these eutrophiers here.
There are three fishermen waste-deep in the channel across from the spewing, and I am not sympathetic. But then I change my mind, worried. So I shout across through twigs and willow tits, and suggest they take care with all the phosphates coming straight at them.
“I do not know what you are talking about,” one man shouts back in a heavy accent above the din, and continues to throw his line.
I repeat my concern and he waves me away like a bothering mayfly. They laugh at me. I reach for home, passing more flood erosion, where the river in its fury took more lives from the soils and dumped them somewhere downstream and unappreciated. Ghosts.
I am thinking about the freshwater, which is hardly water at all, so full it is of symbiotic life. Here is where all is easily indivisible like me swimming below buzzard kin and breathing balsam air. We are to them, and to everything in the air, and everything that has been stolen. All matter leads to the ocean, oceans to oceans. We are all ghosts, and that is my exquisite grief.
I have just sent my pictures to the non-profit. We’ll see how it goes.