I almost did not come along, but the skipper put me at ease – I felt I trusted him and decided to risk it. We chug along, mostly sitting still, letting our eyes and thoughts wander over the water, a pleasant sort of dreamy introspection. For a while the river’s presence is a bit undefined, surrounded by human contraptions, fairly straightened, useful. But then suddenly she breaks loose and begins to sway, meandering along woodland, birds flying and calling overhead. We perk up. Very graceful, slender, the river moves, not at all threatening. However, yesterday, watching those massive waves on my PC, I realised that that power is always there, and I will always be wary on water, however calm.
But that is not a bad thing – it means I will be alive to water’s agency. As the anthropologist Tim Ingold says, there are no ‘things’ in nature, only movement - no waves, only waving, no stream, only streaming, and living properly in nature is to move with it. We don’t live on the earth, but in it. It is not so obvious what that means, how we can learn to be present with water, with trees, with animals…in mutual sentience. Yet many indigenous peoples do know, and our skipper did too.
I have become interested in how poetry and science might meet, because good poetry so often has that flow, that moving ‘with’. I remember how years ago I was driving home late in a clear frosty night, and heard a poem on the radio about the moon, and again I was mesmerised, it was so sharp, so evocative, the moon was so there. Science could not improve on that immediacy of understanding – yet poetry is so personal, what works for me might not for you, how can it ever have communal value…? But it is a conversation, a personal expression, and surely could unlock doors for us. I have very much enjoyed reading other people’s blogs on this website, they are all poetic, personal conversations, transporting me to different places and experiences, connecting me and making me feel at home. How to bring such flow into our knowing….?
Our fourth workshop took place on the 1-2 of October at/on/in the River Torridge. We worked with artist Antony Lyons and members from the North Devon Biosphere Reserve and the Devon Wildlife Trust to explore whether the recent Connected Communities-funded Ethical Guidelines for Community-Based Participatory Research might be extended to working with non-humans, specifically water. This is the fourth in a series of reflections on the workshop from our participants and is written by Françoise Wemelsfelder.
For this project we spent a lovely day experiencing and engaging with water, and here are some of my reflections. Water always brings flow, life force, fluidity, transportation, open-ness. Most people enjoy being near water, it has a presence that differs from being on land, it is moving ground. But it is also dangerous, nothing to hold on to, and when that force gets going, it is terrifying. Last night I happened on some youtube clips showing huge storm seas and waves and swells in which boats were tossed around like little toys. I was mesmerised, awed, by the power visible. I experienced that power too close for comfort, capsizing in a yacht at sea steered by an incompetent skipper, tossed into the waves. And so at our water workshop, my body, climbing into a small motor boat to negotiate a placid river on a calm day, remembered and shuddered.