Chapter Severn – The Mouth – Deus Ex Machina

The Prince of Wales Bridge spans the Severn Estuary, viewed from Beachley; the Wye’s mouth to the right of shot. Photo by me.


♒︎      Deus ex machina      ♒︎


All feels pulled taught in the expansiveness of this place, as if the shores, the Dumbles, Sharpness, Saniger, Guscar, Mathern Oase, Northwick Oase, Portland Grounds, Goldcliff, Gordano Round, Stert Flats, Lavernock Point, are stretched in a myriad of directions by human ambition. There is a harshness about that and it is difficult. Folded up and inwards, down and outwards, the estuary is adulterated by human fear; often the thing that drives that ambition; to have money and to succeed, and not be poor and to have failed.

Fear has become my own greatest fear. The anxiety of those fears destroying me has sat with me for a very long time, a toxic little friend. Sometimes I feel I’d be lost without her pinchy grip on my jugular veins or kidneys. Despite the breath-crunching suffering it causes, I know that fear is also a vital emotion driving ecological processes. In predator/prey relationships, this intense emotion keeps the death tolls in check and encourages growth via avoidance. There are moments of dispersal, life and death decisions shaped by distress, such as perturbation, the anxiety of parenting, the dread of dehydration. Fear is a dynamic force, particularly as it infects an entire human culture or a Nation. The flow of it is complex and non-linear, encircling in more obvious traits crossing over with hatred, insecurity, and control—racism, homophobia, domestic violence, murder, war—but also the forms of habits and careers that can be pernicious and Earth destroying. As for a fear of death itself, we don’t know for sure whether other life forms experience it, but I’m going to hazard an easy guess—yes. Humans evolved fear largely shaped by predators and foe (we can observe it in our limbic fight or flight responses) but in modern life, where many of the predators are now wiped out, we cultivate it in order to justify our vestigial biochemical responses. Humans have substituted the predators with many things, not least a fear of not having cash, cashcards, cheques. These are the things that buy us food, clothes and shelter; the bread and butter of the banking sector, but the grand exploiters are ever-present, seizing opportunity, reaching through the media, advertising, and marketing bureaus, and dwelling at the very edges of the Law.

Deus ex machina, Latin for ‘god from the machine,’ is a term derived from ancient Greek theatre. In tragedy and sometimes in comedy, to miraculously resolve a dramatic plot corner or catastrophe, actors who played gods were carried onto the stage using some kind of machine. The machine could be either a winch, like a crane, to lower bodies from above, or some kind of lift to bring them up into vision through a trapdoor. Playwrights like Aeschylus and Euripides fashioned them as devices to wow, to draw a crowd, to evoke a feeling of awe and moral surrender to the idea of some greater power. And men still do it, with their grand openings of giant bridges and launches of ships and Space rockets, except this time the power is more honest and blunt ~ a self-aggrandisement of the human money-chain, domination of land, air, sea, and now space, the techno-brain, Western capital power labelled as “investment” and engineering prowess. There’s no masking anymore, no suspended disbelief. First, there must be the desire for something spectacular to resolve our plot corner or catastrophe – humans have been wired to find exhilaration in novelty—and these men meet that demand. They exploit for their own agendas, political expediency and money—it is usually both. Exquisitely controlled, it’s an assertion of the power that was once the domain of the gods, and we are all still buying in. But it’s a plot flaw, a device to replace the real work needed for life’s genuine resolutions, not least the peaceful and loving alignment of human life within all living systems. To do it often means overcoming many of our fears. Deus ex machina side-steps the need. It’s is an easy “out,” distracting when doom looms closer, where the long haul to resolution is seemingly short-circuited. There will always be a price to pay after the curtain call, and it’s usually borne by the vulnerable and voiceless.

Capital: what started as a headcount of steer has transcended into an extinction event. In a currency-based economy, we all need money. How do we get it? Most of our energy is now directed towards it. And quite spectacularly, one of our most common fears emerges – poverty. Poverty is almost a complete loss of control, a subservience to survival. Basic needs are unmet, and reliance on the goodwill of others is the only way to get through. I’ve been through it myself in sharp shocks, but the enduring poverty of an entire lifetime is something I can only imagine. In early human civilisations (around 10000 BC), once a few chieftains cottoned-on that commodity and later representative money can hold much power over creditors (Graeber), there unleashed a beast of finding new ways to accumulate it. Money can buy war, land, water, soils, families. It buys motorways and bridges. It destroys and pollutes fragile bodies and communities of flowing bodies. It can grow itself in the form of interest, or as collateral given in advance on bricks and mortar. It can earn an income in working for the machine of making money, and in dividends from consumptive companies and in their burning of energy.

In a currency economy, those with money strive to protect it, for the fear of losing it. Those without it, well, this shapes things. It manifests loss, ill-health, and despair. Poverty is traumatic, and an enemy of the biosphere because it calls for desperate measures. Fear of poverty is perhaps its truer enemy; power and physical structures built around the promises of its avoidance. In reality, these are structures organised by an elite are where trust and ecologies break down to dust. We can try to distribute money fairly, but the lure of the shiny heap of gold—or the digital bank account or cryptocurrencies, properties, vehicles, and infrastructures— keeps setting the planet up for a fall.

Production of objects for sale in exchange for capital means waste. It’s all discarded here, hidden in the estuary, flushed out from the land where human fears to the north, east, and south gather in suspension and dissolution, along with heavy metals, plastics, oil and anthropogenic chemicals, to travel out to sea and be buried. What lives and their lovers pay the toll? Scarce creatures who cling to ephemeral subtidal sandbanks—snails, worms, shrimps, and bivalves—violently displaced by dredging barges; the rare twaite shad, along with millions of other organisms, sucked into intake pipes of Oldbury Nuclear Power Station and spat out like rubbish, birds drowned in slicks of oil drifting out of Portberry Dock… and all those at the end of a gun barrel. There is some good from Capitalism, but for another system that might have also produced the same things. There is even creativity and innovation in widening market niches, and in breakthroughs in medical science and global communication, depending on the moralities of the leadership of the organisations. But it has also incubated a culture where the wolves of Wall Street are idols, where the richest 1% own 45% of the world’s entire wealth, and where debt, poverty and trauma are taken for granted as a human cost. Global-inequality, catastrophic biospheric change (the ultimate cost), the Capitalist extremes and the neoliberal power with a vice-like grip on governments and economies. Capitalism cannot fix what Capitalism wrought. The effects of this truly invasive alien body here in this tidal rip ~ poverty and the fear of it ~ are not so visible but they are ingrained.

Here at Beachley, at the mouth of the Wye, where the heavy tides bulge and shrink with lightning speed around the peninsula to the Severn Estuary, the second-highest tidal range on Planet Earth, you’ll also find The First Battalion The Rifles, just returned from Afghanistan. I hear them firing their practice rounds over land evicted from its community of villagers, trees and wilder paddocks over one hundred years ago and never returned, a war requisition to build a shipyard that never produced a ship. The failed National Shipyard trio included Chepstow just across the Wye, and Portberry, now one of Britain’s biggest hubs for the international trade in cars.

As a species (disparities aside just for one moment), we produce engines to run machines that do the heavy work, like we produce guns to do the worst of our bidding when we feel threatened or seek to control. What’s more, a new movement has squeezed through the gaps, one to give accent to “progress” – an industrial aesthetic validation for new materials forged from engineered combinations of the old. It began with early Modernism and still goes, perhaps heralded no less by architects Richard and Su Rogers and their ‘honest’ mechanical, inside-out building, the Pompidou Centre, Paris. Juxtaposed is to recall a false nostalgia, a falstalgia, would we so easily fall into the trap of the “picturesque,” especially in relation to rivers since Gilpin published his “Observations on the River Wye.” Those mellow tones still play widely with our ideas of what is framed and beautiful.  Smoothed by an artist’s brush or the slow shutter speed of a camera, don’t fall for this either; imprints upon our shortbread tin minds and enamelled paradise gardens. This is not what life is.

Spread over these overworked British Isles, then exported through the brutalities of Colonialism, our ancestors have enslaved ecologies to a point that they are subservient to the whole human experiment and in a plummeting order of worth. If individual wild lives were valued as a social class, they would be the third or the fourth, or perhaps even lower. There is no real levelling, apart from those who might grant them membership of the Human Club with similar Rights under the jurisdiction of the higher justice of the Courts of the land. This is the prevalence of our dominion. It really is extreme. Would valuing them with personhood belittle their identity-in-difference, their better sense of wisdom and beauty through vast interconnectedness, the spectrum of their senses, some of which we’ll never fully comprehend? Are they as themselves never enough? Or will our culture always take pride in the conquests, so there’s little choice but to label them as persons if we want to save their lives?

Meanwhile, the intense manicuring, agricultural maximisation, and giant road and rail stuper-structures also tap into our species-vanity, jets and rockets selling the idea of winning and losing. Fear of failure still lurks powerfully in the shape and skin of the land and water, and the causes and effects that bring about an intrusion into the flow, then several intrusions, and finally a broken ecological flow dwindling to dust or flood. It is the same human fear that builds power among the many and discards the vulnerable, oppresses old ways of knowing, and breaks the spirit leaving the biosphere in a hyper-tide of trauma.

Like a passenger plane crashed into the jungle, or a ship sunk in the ocean, the trauma is here right now in the estuary, perhaps overrun by roots and holdfasts and tendrils, a reef-like sanctuary of sorts for the animals that live in the shadows. But the wreckage is also a poison, with its paints and oils; an unwarranted picturesque artwork, bleeding its mythology into an ancient ecology. These are the sunken coal barges, the car ferries, the timber ships, The Brunswick, Ramses II, The BP Explorer, and a Victorian railway bridge demolished by deathly collisions in a place that is so turbulent and dangerous, yet full of life and those trying to love, even under a slick of oil. At the same time, this is also a place where old bones and magnificent auroch horns still dwell, trapped with split oak planks and mussel middens of long-dead ancestors. Even the footprints of Mesolithic human children still just appear at the lowest tides, real and tangible to those lives where murk is the ticket to life. Up here on the bridge, we don’t have to face any of it. We can cruise along at speed thinking about our busy lives and where we are going today, glimpsing the sparkle of the setting sun on the horizon, unaware, unconcerned, of what lies beneath. As if 14 metres of tidal rip, and all the junk and the heavy metals drained from the land—Cd, Cr, Ni, Zn and Pb—have no bearing on us and our daily lives. Enter, giant burnished silver bristle worms, filamented, glowing white heat in the sub-mud, articulating their armour in little, sudden jerks. Lead sabellaria worms the size of cranes harden to each rising tide, sucking in plastic, spitting out fire. Nickel prawns the size of men pop up from the vast trap doors to dance for bronze two-ton gobies; automaton puppets. The separation from reality—that suspended disbelief—becomes horrific, and the “jumpers”, by whatever turmoil tears through their minds, make an assumption that stepping from the bridge is the end of it. Broken bodies, broken minds, the troll of this bridge is in the myths of industrial Capitalism.




My friend Nigel Pugh @nspugh digs a deeper refuge for pondlife on community-owned land near Cardiff. An act of naltruism. Photo by me.


Life on Earth is now under obvious duress from dominant human action in all living systems.

Human empathy exists as part of a topography of the moral imagination. We who are wired this way feel the pain and suffering (or the comfort and exhilaration) of other living beings and symlings as well as our own species. This is not exclusively a human trait. It is a feeling that needs to be nurtured and grown in resistance to individualistic Western culture and is a pre-requisite for survival – not simply of our own species but of all life as we know it.

What it means to be alive may be expressed in kindships, mental and emotional healing being an important bi-product. Mutualism is a symbiotic reference that exists as a word to describe equality of flow between two beings, commensurable benefits to both organisms involved. Reciprocity is another keyword applied to the human-nature accord to describe the process (Wall Kimmerer). Altruism is a word to describe the actions that may come at some cost to one being for the benefit of the recipient. Each term is used, to a large degree, in human sociologies only (e.g. Mutualism and Proudhon, et al).

Fluminism as an ethic of love and ecology is mutualistic but also altruistic to all living beings. Here, I create a simple extended term that is more specifically dedicated to altruistic actions of love and care towards teresapien lives which may involve interacting with both organic and inorganic materials to that end.


N is for nature

Alter- latin for the “other” of the two

Ism – English for practice, system, doctrine, teaching of a thing.


Examples vary between small acts of love, care and generosity, wildlife, pet, and livestock support and rescue, children missing school to “strike for climate” relating to species extinction, dedicating human space to wildlife in housing and commercial properties, using fewer minerals so shutting down ecosystem-destroying open cast mines, using less electricity (use beyond well-being), to full locaceding of land and sea for Rewilding, refugia and migration. Some may consider it a privileged position, but I would contend those ancient cultures still living close to nature already do it on a daily basis. This is not the same as sacrifice and is a voluntary practice or responsibility.

Altruism for fellow humans under duress continues to be an important and significant force for good.

I usually and deliberately use the term “Nature” and root suffixes to include both organic and inorganic. So I am using the suffix letter “n” as I did in creating nagorasphere.

“Nal” also happens to be a suffix relating to “belonging” e.g. maternal, paternal.



Chapter Severn – The Mouth – Body Bio-Continuum and To You, Sturgeon.



The Mouth of the Wye as it speaks to the Severn Estuary. Photo by me.


♒︎     Body Bio-Continuum     ♒︎

There is a nature of beauty pushed away by all but those who live closest to the living world. It is the part of life that is the fear of danger. It is discomfort, pain, death. It is the smell of decay. From a place-time where-when our ancestors’ bodies were on constant alert for predators and harm from cuts and infection, there came the control, the corralling of wild beasts, the taming of the soils. They had evolved a sense of belonging, to sprinkle fruit seed and grains nearby, and to know the plants that eased the suffering of their loved ones. They built set nets and traps along estuaries and coasts. Inland, they killed and cut back, domesticated and pacified; an expunging of as much danger as felt easier. Fences were built. Animals and humans of burden, defeated and enslaved, all were put to work in the mastery over those dangers. Humans still play the master, harnessing machines and chemicals on top, advertised and bought, an immense Earthly naivety for the sake of profit causing untold harm. Human bodies now controlling all bodies; what a body should look and feel like in the magazines and on film; what’s permitted in public or private or not. Robots in selective human likeness are designed from scratch. We carry the legacy of the strangeness of the Neoplatonic Great Chain of Being, where all are cast into hierarchical order with the white man sitting on top surrounded by angels, pulling the strings, sitting on top of bones. And the legacy is affecting; in real ways its own engine of fear.

The truth is that our own human bodies, all shapes or genetic expressions, are symbiotic with millions of bodies. Inside and outside, desperately reliant, imbued in flows of signals and mutual work; the bodies we see and microbial lives we don’t see are the beings that make us who we are and who we are not. Multitudes are what makes each of us sublime and of miraculous worth, but also intricately delicate and unsafe. Like the estuary is never a single body, it’s a huge pulse of multiple, miraculous lives in porous forms, agents of the flow, making absolute sense from the thick silty paste of the idea of chaos.

Riverine silt is lifted from the land—the catch of a vast inland catchment; add to it the ingredients from estuarine cliffs, brown Triassic butter scraped by massive tides caused by hyper-luna-earthly gravity, from a dish made of rock laid down in ancient hot deserts of the equator. Strong turbidity, the colour of chocolate milk—a mix of red and grey particles suspended in the brackish—block most light from penetrating even the top few moments of the water column. How can such a body be ecologically productive? There are forms of life other than sun-reliant phytoplankton. Our own liver-gut axis lays in relative darkness, yet the communication of circulating nutrients and endotoxins between microbiota and liver tissue is critical to our immunity. The benthos-community axis, the communicating organisms that live at the bottom of any body of water, in the shadows or in pitch black, like the diatoms that are the foundations of aquatic ecological immunity – take them away or smother them in poisons and the dying is unstoppable. Tell me that we are autonomous units and I will show you the estuary. Like liver or river, the estuary-marine continuum is no single person, and neither are we. Here is the turmoil that is more in our likeness, the skin, and what metabolises beneath; the tension but also the life-love between everything giving rise to the drama.

The River Continuum is a truth observed, a communal and real chain of equal being. Beginning high above the tree line, it pushes down into ocean currents like a long outstretched foot. It is a theory by Robin Vannote and colleagues published in 1980, cited more than 11,000 times to date. Natural disasters and human interventions aside, it’s a theory that fits permanent flows, at least with no interrupting lakes, a shimmering riverine zonation in three dimensions. It’s not the kind of hierarchy we humans compulsively crave, the pyramid or the obelisk, but one of energy flow and nutrient streams, where resident beings (biota) process organic matter and utilise all opportunities in a fairly predictable manner. Matter feeds some, some feed others, others feed more, a few dart in and out—the predators, the migrators—adding and subtracting from this beautiful equation. And so it pulses into the estuary and on into the sea to merge into all other continuums: Oceans are perhaps the ultimate coalescence that shines this planet blue.

But the Wye does not end or begin at the mouth. All the way from those springs in the Cambrian hills, evaporating and extracted, it is both part and feeder of the swirling nagorasphere. What is carried in its flow by gravity to this dynamic turbidity in the estuary is cycled by the smallest of beings and turned into a festival for all beings: those that live or visit this place, those that shield here to grow from vulnerable to strong; those who are touched by its protective storm-buffering and surge-quelling. The matter of the basin—the huge lasso of the Wye—is swept here by rains and floods and held in suspension on top of the saltwater, pushed around the peninsula and sucked back towards the oceans by the tides, time and time again, mixing all of us under the bridge and back until we, and all our junk, are mud banks, sandbanks and longshore drift. Here in the flow that switches east to west and west to east with the weight and wobble of both the moon and the Earth, the ebb current to seaward and flood current to landward, filling the mouths and the lower reaches of all the rivers that drain here with salt and the anadromous fish at high tides who swim upstream to spawn like king salmon and their parasitic dependents, the ancient sea lampreys, and the catadromous fish at low tides, who swim down the rivers to be unleashed into the great oceans to spawn like the eels, mullet and flatfish flounder.

European sturgeon, redlist critically endangered anadromous species, ghost to our rivers but now, once again, curiously visiting our estuaries. As long as alligators, with a gentle mouth for kissing mud, what a species to see again in the Wye.

To you, Sturgeon,

Stay with us. Live with us.

Bat’Umi, Basel, Fethiye, Toulouse, Reykjavik, Tangier.

Way below the plate glass of the cities, deep in the rivers, your unfamiliar body winds upstream under the night lights. I can just make out your huge dead body in silver nitrates, museum plates of iron and steel greys next to all those proud, fading men.

Your underwater knowing is as old as the triassic cliffs on these Severn Estuary edges, my spectral kin. Like smooth-hounds and thornback rays, flick your strong fossil tail for that exquisite downward force, shimmering from tide to river and back with the burning electrosensitivity of your pitted upturned beak, patterns like beetle bark burrows, and running in floods along those beautiful lateral lines.

Swimming in from the depths of the sea, you stay in Winter to syphon the bottom of the estuary with your soft mouth, tasting for shelled morsels and goby enzymes with your long barbels and electroreceptors. Mine is the quietest of observations; yours is a full more-than-human sensory devotion of self that is the whole river-estuary-marine continuum; an internal blueprint of the movements required to get from where you are now, the bed mud and bristle worms, to the fine river grit at the foothills of the mountains when you are mature enough, to where you’ll gather in oxygenated pools to leave your young. Then, to twist through a meander with a freshwater surge, to swim-out each run into salinity, and bend this way and that way to a shallow coastal sea in falling light. Your young ought to be safe here if they reach the estuary, and they will grow well until they are fit for the pelagic, yet to return to their natal rivers to reproduce. Everything about you is revered by me. There’s a glint in your ancient, metallic orange-bronze eye.

You are a patientist, realised in acute potential—if we humans could remember it’s within us too—primed for imagining the moment of exquisite love in the flow of all life. How patient must you be, waiting for us to clean up our act and destroy those dams. Would you come and stay, then?

Your spirit presence is the result of a swim of magnificence, from the misty Gironde, the Garonne and the red wines of the Dordogne, and the Bay of Biscay, to this moment inside a future Welsh Wye, a time also threatened with Gaian fury, with flash floods, heat waves and drought. The crowd who came before have all gone, shadows blocked by weirs and finished by bullets and huge gill nets. But you came here curious, tested the water for ripeness. You have sent news back: made signs. And now they also know to be here, pulled by the smell of Welsh hills, the magnetism and internal maps of 400 million years. Ah, sister, to match your devotion! To stop our sewage pouring into your mouth. Standing perfectly still, staying present with your strength and intelligence, distraction would be unwelcome; not even to raise an underwater camera. Your hunt is too important.

Your ichthyolite ability to swim elegantly from the ocean through a curtain of silt and into clear green emeralds is for all to know, and fewer ever to notice. See, unlike me, your electro-centrism helps you navigate complexity without injury. How would the expanse of the English Channel shine as you swim under waves and ghost-whale bellies, steel hulls and oil slicks? How you would rise again without giant, slicing propellor blades.

How does electricity reflect off of me?

I am not afraid to tell you, I love you, and all our kin, as I care for this place–a happy place–down on the banks of the River Wye in June. I love the microbiota and the symbiotic relationships that sustain all the lives that exist right now, though the majority I can neither see nor hear. But I want you here too. Fluministic love means more than they think. It’s not a uniquely selfish act, but specific for this place linked in flows to all places, and little to do with my brain’s reward centres—though there is that. My life is an expression of your way in the flow, you as part of larger flows, that are part of the flows of life that distinguish planet Earth from all else yet known. We are together. Flow runs into itself and all matter, even in death. This is the truth continuum.

Sturgeon, you and the things that creep in and out of the water beside us, the things that never enter the water, the things that never climb trees, share everything through drifts in the nagorasphere. It is felt by evoking our patient imagination—you have it, like the salmon and the eels. This is a process too. Being a Fluminist is a process because we are all creatures of process not objects nor even subjects. All are a verb through time and space.


Palermo, Arkhangelsk, Prague, Odesa, Galway, Paris, Lisbon.
Chepstow, Ross-on-Wye, Monmouth, Hereford, Hay-on-Wye, Builth Wells.
Stay with us. Live with us.


I write about you so that others may choose to protect your interests in this constant dynamism, to remember that flow exists between every life, even in death, true beauty to celebrate and protect. This place is held close, and this ocean, this estuary, this river—and back again—you, the bristle worms, and the benthic deeps, the places where old weirs have imploded and now let you pass, the ranunculus riffles to those crystal clear pools. We declare these waters sacred. We share hope, in our kindship, for a unified love of the exquisite nature of natural moments, everything joined at the hip, undivided, and for the continued liberty of life and the living. It is, in a way, our small act of resistance.


Here in the estuary, a KBA (Key Biodiversity Area of international importance), a SAC (Special Area of Conservation), there are five main rivers that open their mouths to salt, with little pills or streams to create a softening in the juncture between land and water. This is a body of land in dissolution, where aquatic beings have adapted to the storm surges or cling to the banks of mud, where some hang in the water column rushing along with the tides at 1.5 metres per second, and some ripple against and with the tides. Some move in and over the shore, some shelter with the carbon sequestering eel grasses, fly high with the South Westerlies, the strong prevailing winds that snag an outgoing tide in sentient antagonism. For you and me, orange-red signs for danger but for many, a brown hatchery, a brown nursery, fat for winter storage; sanctuary deep inside a maelstrom.

Tiny soft pink-white bodies form dark crystalline reefs on the rocky substrate, or on top of years of the devotion of their own ancestors, like cities on top of cities, under the tides and in between. We—the catch of the land—are filtered by millions of these honeycomb worms (Sabellaria alveolata), quartz and mica, forams (shelled algae), shell bits, polystyrene and plastics, cemented by their tiny bodily secretions into large biogenic reefs that provide stability for their feeding and reproducing, and shelter for more beings like Brittle Stars and Beadlet Anemones.

Cobbles to gravels to clean sands, muddy sands and muds, here holds restlessly 7% of Britain’s mudflats and sandflats, a tenth of all that is supposed to be lawfully protected. Ragworms, Catworms, Sludge-worms, Baltic Clams, Laver Spires Shells, Mud Shrimps, Sand Digger Shrimps, Speckled Sea Lice, free-living Bristle Worms, Peppery Furrow Shells. Some suspended, some globs and slivers of benthic biofilm on mud banks; long, pennate bodied algae, seasonal algae diatoms, tube-dwelling diatoms, epipelic diatoms residing at the kiss between water and sediment – all silicon-cyclers on a gradient out to the sea, like living glass.

Black Goby hunt through the Dwarf Eel Grass and Seawrack beds also harbouring Nilsson’s Pipefish—at home with low salinity—sequestering carbon and grazed by wild ducks like the chestnut Widgeon, sociable birds with their noisy whistles and growls. Straggling, motley Great Pipefish, slender Snake Pipefish, Straight-nosed pipefish surge in with the storms. With the heads of seahorses and the bodies of snakes, pipefish males rear their young in marsupial-like pouches to be freed into the tide and out to sea.

Saltmarsh Glassworts, Common Reeds, Sea Barley, rare Bulbous Foxtail dwell and stabilise the ephemeral into thriving, brackish feeding and nesting grounds for waterbirds. Pills—little streams leaking land close into the estuary—and human-dug back-breaking ditches bring life to the hinterland where Water Voles plop, Common Toads croak and Little Egrets, Grass Snakes and Otters hunt. Knots, Oystercatchers, Curlew roost in crevices of rock and mussel scars foraging Barnacles, Limpets, and Winkles as well wading for their worms and clams.

Common Goby, Sand Smelt ~ these beauties stay in the deep heart of the brown to spawn. Bass and Cod are opportunists, they’ll swim in and out of the estuary to find food and seek shelter to grow. Whiting eat Brown Shrimp, shimmering silver Bristling or Sprats eat microscopic Copepods who eat anything they can find, flat Dab eat the rotting dead, along with young Shore Crabs. So many babies wash through here, but they’ll move upstream to safer waters, or back out to sea.

Tundra and Bewick Swans, Shelducks and Northern Pintails, Ringed Plovers, Eurasian Curlews, Dunlins, Redshanks, Turnstones, Lesser Black-Backed Gulls, Grey Herons, Goosanders, resident, passing through, topping up, gracing, dying. An incredible place for wading birds, named by human conservationists as a global Ramsar* site of feathery significance, this is a place only recently given back to the elegant re-introduced Avocets and uncommon Common Cranes (Grus grus), but a place worth life itself to avian kin, where all length beaks find all depths in the mud and the shingle to find what is eternally desired, the wiggling, creeping proteins and lipids and carbohydrates caked into these living shores of abundance; a place of sanctuary for them all, a passing plane, a global meeting point on major air routes from Sub Saharan Africa to the Arctic. This is a place of Earth’s Body Bio-Continuum worthy of great reverence and the highest protection, of Praximund.

And back to the Wye’s Mouth, overseen by Old Man heron and his spindly legs, between the tyre distribution centre and firing range, between two banks of slippery mud. Here hosts the lampreys, salmonids, twaite and allis shad, and the ghosts of the centenarian sturgeon, all ready to rise north on a big swell of brackish water, to heave their lithe fragile bodies against the weight of flowing fresh water, to find sanctuary upstream to breed. As tough as the ocean is, the toughest is yet to come, where the animal must endure a race against gravity, and spates, pathogens, and human scorn, and banks lined with khaki and fish hooks, to get to another sanctuary – the mythological place in their ancient minds nestled in the foothills of old, worn mountains, of transparent water and scattered sunlight, a clear little nest in a shallow shingle bed, some one-hundred miles or more inland.


*Ramsar, City of Iran, where the Wetlands Convention of International Importance was signed in 1971.


Chapter Severn – The Mouth – Suicidal Intertidal – Jumping

♒︎     Suicidal Intertidal     ♒︎

Photo by me



I am standing on the old ferry slipway at Beachley, just around the headland from the mouth of the Wye. Above me is a monumental hulk of steel girder and wire spanning the Severn Estuary from Beachley to Aust. This is the old Severn Suspension Bridge, which also vaults the Wye (technically, another bridge). It was built to replace ye olde car ferry, and it’s just a little bit older than me. Our lives have spanned the deepest wounds ever inflicted upon the sum of all wild lives of the British Isles, and the span of time seeing the largest rise in global temperatures for fifty-five million years. I stand and glare as if I am arguing with myself—the troll under the bridge—carrying all the blame. My daughter, long hair pulled taught into a bunch, is flitting around me with her precision-made camera phone, looking up from her beautiful open face and following the lines all the way across to Aust. We are trying to absorb the scale of it all. We are both taking pictures by volume, not quite sure how to portray the colossus, and pouring out sentences in a mix of insult and awe.


“Would you listen to that!”

“It’s so eerie!”

My parents euphemistically called it the Holiday Bridge. Rarely, because my father worked long hours, the route took us to airports; 1970s plastic exotics like Gatwick and Luton, and to the package holidays he sold in their hundreds from his travel shop in Aberdare. Customers came to our plush shop decorated in dark greens and golds; a wave of new Valleys working class, the lull before the social ligament sprains and bone breaks of the coal miners’ strikes. They came wanting guaranteed sun and sangria instead of a chilly fortnight to Barry. I remember as a small child the smell and sheen of the Intasun brochures piled high in stock. I’d hide under my father’s mahogany desk, turning each page, smelling the print ink and mesmerised by the fake blues—hotel swimming pools and empty sandy bays – ah, the seduction of the Mediterranean Costas, themselves now rows of concrete walls, palms, marinas, shadows of their former spectacular flolocas.

Such a drop from those dizzy heights among the suspension wires, or even the strangeness of fixed aeroplane wings, to the murky brown swell of the Severn Estuary, the way that bridges and Capitalism lift us all from the ecological “mire” and the sublime, beauty that demands more knowledge and a micro and macro imagination. Turbidity of estuary water, rather than crystal transparency, is a beauty that is anti-aesthetic, that rushes through the human mind more like a violent storm. We aren’t supposed to be here, sucked down into the maelstrom or getting stuck in the mud. But the animals adapted to its ephemeral fronts down in the brown or around the sand and mud banks are a perfect fit. And so are the animals that use it to pass through from place to place. They know the storms that blow them in, and they know the storms that can carry them away.

Storms are exciting though, especially in places with big skies and big expanses where the changes can be measured from this moment to that, lined up one after another for comparison, and so is the potential of interconnectedness in and around this body of life. People have navigated the estuary for thousands of years, fishing and hunting using nets and boats, thinking that the risks are worth the reward. Think of the complexity of this storm as some kind of constantly moving three-dimensional loom of life and devotion, the shimmering patterns and lightning strikes of a symbiotic flow created in the mind, and where the mind becomes part of the pattern, transient before the next wave of movement leaves its wake.

Kathleen Dean Moore asks powerfully in her essay Field Notes for an Aesthetic of Storms;

“What reed in the human spirit vibrates with the violence of storms?”

“Beauty, as Edmund Burke pointed out, relaxes” [storms aren’t generally relaxing.] But the opposite of “beauty” is not “ugliness”. The opposite of “beauty” is “sublimity,” the blow-to-the-gut awareness of chaotic forces unleashed and uncontrolled, the terror and finally the awe.”

Kathleen asks us why do we crave it, this chaos of something so much bigger than ourselves; this danger, the desire to reach, at least, the boundary of what it is to be human? Aristotle’s “attraction of tragedy” won’t do. This is no tragedy. A living storm like a tumultuous estuary is no less of a tragedy, nor a monster, than the existence of the universe. Or even our own bodies and microbiomes, with our pulses, blood pressure, sweat and heat, and all our unique vulnerabilities hidden beneath the skin. The estuary is a wonder of LIFE, only in a highly dynamic and opaque form. Reserve “tragedy” for the brutal depression of inevitability, an unnecessary death like suicide, or just a plain morbid fascination with dead things and extinction. I do see this from time to time in so-called environmentalism and reject it. How can suffering be attractive? What bridge shall we all jump from now?

I know too well that which brings tangible mortality right up to the nose. The flow of adrenaline does raise up like a water spout; that subconscious, quick-acting fear that is spent by movement. It makes us use our muscles, fight or take cover. Endorphins are released to dull the coming pain; the same endorphins that rush when we eat good food or enjoy good sex. As dangerous as this tempest of an estuary is, we cannot afford to avoid it. Instead, submerge ourselves deeply within it, only with the fullness of our fluministic imaginations. Publicly love it, for all its volatile expanse, revere and protect the symbiotic lives that make it what it is.

Mark Fisher in “The Weird and the Eerie” writes; “The eerie concerns the most fundamental metaphysical questions one can pose, questions to do with existence and non-existence: Why is there something here when there should be nothing. Why is there nothing here when there should be something?” Our experience under the bridge is eerie because the bridge shouldn’t be here – the sharp juxtaposition of cool, engineered steel lines over a wild and tumultuous body, yet now dwarfed in comparison to some of the s(t)uperstructures of control between States, rail or road, like the Hong Kong-Zhuhai crossing over the Pearl River Delta, China. Despite our being nature, these impositions are ultra-dominion—dominion on Speed—we’ve created our own weather systems, our own storms and forced them on all living organisms, conquests that affirm our own sense of power by their scale but with impacts we can no longer control. We can stand at the edge of them and exclaim (or jump), admiring the transformation of nature into capital, into something man-built that generates more capital, extra processing of resources by a creature like no other on Earth. We are, for the first time in human history, outside of the clade of the evolutionarily “natural,” jamming, jarring, manipulating the whole planet for our own ends only. Fisher answers his own questions: Capital is eerie at every level, “conjured out of nothing, capital nevertheless exerts more influence than any allegedly substantial entity.” Go further. The bridge is a manifestation of Capital promising to raise us out of the mire and danger, to grow the economy and make some people rich, with the promise of a holiday on an aeroplane at least twice a year. It’s created its own mire and danger, where there should be something perfectly sublime ~ a wide, impossible, racing, untouched body. Akin to more industrial and technical advances, it procures novelty in nature-divorcing experiences laid bare for the consumer. The turbulent wash of body that is the estuary is all but eerie. The bridge is that which deafens us from this point underneath, the objective imposition, the purpose of what the Queen said of it at its grand opening “a new economic era for South Wales” and an affirmation of Nationalist Union. Little else matters in the battle for cash.

I’ve since driven The Severn Bridge, or perhaps now Queen Elizabeth II, hundreds of times myself, a few of the billions of journeys—stories—that have proffered atmospheric roasting and ecological laceration. Queens, and ministers, and Pathé News were all there on the day of opening, along with ten thousand Royalists and families of the men who built it, six of whom died in the original construction. The Royal car made the journey from England to Wales, not the other way around; no doubt symbolic, some kind of affirmation of Anglo conquest of the old kingdoms of Wales. Today, we are under it, this Capitalist beauty that Pathé instructed sixties cinema audiences in commanding Received Pronunciation. There is a kind of odd serenity not having to negotiate the traffic, just standing here staring, yet the rhythmic tyres of cars and lorries bumping the joints of the box girders are relentless. I feel sickened by the low-grade thunder of the engines high above, and of being temporarily mesmerised by those constant vibrations that must surely be felt by all the bodies who live in the air and the water body beneath. And that I still own a car—the guilt of a little white paint-chipped Toyota parked over there—the one that carried us here today all the way down a windy Wye Valley, and on to Cardiff and Gracie’s father.

And now there is this second bridge crossing, “The Prince of Wales” because the first one could not cope with the sheer volume— of traffic and noise. Will there be a third crossing to shoulder the EV boom, or perhaps an egregious and ecocidal tidal barrage to snag the enormous potential of tidal energy to feed the addiction, because the consortiums are still poised should any Government wave a wand of consent. Meanwhile, this bridge will be formally preserved, for now, by our Planners—the main Severn Bridge is a Grade One Listed relic to biospheric loss and rising seas pushing at its concrete feet. And when my Toyota dies, so will my driving habit, and the irony is it will be harder though not impossible to get to these places and bear witness.

Who will walk this bridge during the next fifty years, when perhaps thousands of people and animals file across the gentle curve of its 990ms to move north away from the heat, and storms, and wars; when those high wires begin to buckle under the weight of it all, morning, noon, the full moon of the night. How many R.I.Bs in their rescue-orange-reds will patrol this now turbid-less “sea” pushing all tides and mudflats higher and deeper inland, looking for all the survivors left behind from the great emptying, or jumpers Broken Necks Paralysed Shattered Spines Drown Killed? With each wave of Earth Crisis and the rising tide, the myths of the Capitalist ideal and the “jumpers” float away in the strong ebb, pushed in by the flow, and out again, and in, and out until eventually it is carried away into a new era, almost completely unknown to us now, and buried deep in the sea.

A pair of goosanders float on brown soup like tiny bobbing corks just offshore, accepting this anthropogenic monstrosity around them as run of the mill. I stare at an emerging bridge shadow laying flat on the surface of the estuary, even penetrating the silt, and wonder whether fish take solace in its added shade, as they would under a giant tree on a huge riverbank somewhere. Its seemingly indelible marks come and go with the clouds, and then I imagine the road salt dissolved in rain or hail-melt, falling on their little heads like bullets in winter. That sound from beneath the surface, all the way along the underside of the span, blown this way and that by the winds that funnel through and over and under. I try to fathom the scale of that first concrete stanchion and imagine its slow decay by wave and sand action and eventual collapse. It’s about an hour after low tide and the water levels are creeping back up its pocked surface, nearly four stories up, to the high tide mark. I am imagining what life may cling to it, and down below, in the turmoil.


A few wasplike figures in yellow and black dry suits appear like an apparition, reversing an R.I.B hooked up to a four-wheel drive down the ramp ready for launch. This is the Severn Area Rescue Association based here under the bridge, along with HM Coastguard Chepstow, the hull and their life jackets in signature rescue-orange-red. This is their HQ, based at this key point along the estuary for access to the rivers, like the Wye and its cliffs too, here to help those in distress, human and beyond, to investigate drifting objects and even old World War ordnance found in the mud. They’re also here to retrieve the occasional body of a “jumper” from either of the two Severn bridges, at least the ones where witnesses are able to report. As we walked past, I asked them about seals, even Arctic walruses like the one making his way down from the Arctic, possible Svalbard, via Tenby to Bilbao. A woman with greying hair and kind eyes was pulling on the top of her drysuit and life jacket. She told me they never see any cetaceans, not even grey seals. Today was just a training launch, a test of a new vessel, and we walked back towards the car to get out of their way.


♒︎      Jumping      ♒︎

Photo by me

On those most beautiful days, the contrast seems almost impossible to reconcile, like July 18th – the hottest of days, so exquisite a summer’s day when, after the ambulances arrived to relieve me from the responsibility of my mother’s body, I stumbled into the field to lay among the wildflowers and the insects trying and failing to make sense of an unfolding emotional nuclear explosion. Today was a beautiful day, and the nuclear all but decommissioned. But the clouds were now gathering into a storm over Aust and I felt troubled by what we saw next.

We gazed at the white “Wall of Remembrance” where black, slender empty vases awaited cut flowers. Next, there was a sign zip-tied to an upright girder. The black silhouette of a person jumping from some kind of construction through a bright yellow sky.

In red, “Don’t jump into the unknown.”

In crazy writing designed so that it becomes blue sea below, “Broken Neck Paralysed Shattered Spine Drown Killed”

Emergency Call 999 Coastguard, HM Coastguard.

If you were down here in the water just offshore after jumping, here near the memorial wall some fifty metres below the tarmac at low tide, I think it would already be too late. Just like by the time they call in the infantry it’s already too late. Like Capitalism itself.


Chapter Severn – The Mouth – The Mythological

♒︎     The Mythological    ♒︎

Photo by me


Here, by the flow, I know I am one move away from the idea of feeling no pain. But it is a leap into mental nothingness and a physical dissolution into all the bodies of river life, not peace. There is no peace in suicide; an ecological death, perhaps, if only we weren’t dredged out, split open, organs weighed and then cremated.

You see, I know too well that trauma cannot end at that point, when my life becomes void, because it rips through all those you love; the clever puzzle-solving daughters who love you, the impulsive rescuers who put their lives at risk by trying to save yours. I am fortunate, I guess, in that I could never bring myself to do it, now, for this knowing. But it also a place where I could never find solace. My experience of surviving my mother’s gentle shift of her weight from a chair (no sudden leaps required), is what kills my own thoughts of a death submerged in what I would otherwise cherish—river as life in perfect flow. My fiery neurons quieten, dopamine deactivated, thoughts moved squarely to the responsibilities to loved ones in the tracks of my brain, used-up proteins floating away the myths into the oblivion of my very own bloodstream.


Chapter Severn – The Mouth – Danger

♒︎     Danger     ♒︎

Photo by me.

Don’t be fooled by their seductiveness. Rivers are dangerous bodies of water. Know them less, and they’ll grab your hips and pull you down, and all the way along. They’ll fill your lungs with mud and blood clots, and turn you intertidal.

Awkward, we huddled around in triage waiting for my father’s final admission to Hereford General. It was just three years after my mother’s death and the next cubicle bulged with an inflatable forced-air warmer. Its tin foil deformity, puckered at the seams, hid well the shadow-person deep inside. We were told—in whispers—he’d been hauled from a “jumping” at the Wye. These lunar-pale faces are not uncommon in triage. As gut wrenched as I was by my father’s now life-snuffing growths, this stranger moved me, and to remember my own special symbiosis with suicide.

On a bad day—a really bad day— the Wye is as lethal as any body of water. You don’t even need to jump, just a lazy slip will do it, and immersion into totality.


I know how those black, liquid-slick bubbles of bio-continuum entice, especially in high summer; colours too colourful, people too happy; everything’s bent above a body’s surface made of thick plated cylinder glass. In the Unit, my mother tried to tell me about it, and then I came to know something of it too; all you love is muffled, warped, yet still comprehended; like pointing a camera at the things we are supposed to adore, but cannot find with no lens attached.