“I am haunted by waters.”


“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

I am haunted by waters.” — Norman Maclean, from A River Runs Through It

Last night I finished reading The River of Consciousness, the final collection of essays by Oliver Sacks. It’s a beautiful book, full of lively, erudite, and humane explorations of memory, illness, and yes, consciousness. I put it on my bedside table, turned out the light, fell into a deep sleep (helped a little, I have to say, by my homemade tincture), and woke with one thought in my mind. Do rivers themselves have consciousness?

I suspect they do. Think of how often we use river terms for our own metaphorical purposes. River of consciousness. Stream of consciousness (that wonderful narrative device so beloved by the Modernists). Time and the river.

If a dynamic, flowing consciousness allows, at the lowest level, a continuous active scanning or looking, at a higher level it allows the interaction of perception of memory, of present and past. — Oliver Sacks

The photograph above is the moment of the Thompson River entering the larger body of the Fraser River, at Lytton. How long before the Thompson is just a memory of green water in the darker water of the Fraser? What does it retain of its essential self? Its origins, its sediments, its particular history, its…yes, its own fluid memory?

My husband’s new book of poetry is due out from Harbour Publishing later this year. Its title? This Was The River. I’m thinking a conversation about rivers and their own consciousness might well begin this evening, by our fire, over a glass of wine. And later this winter or early spring, overlooking the Thompson and the Fraser, a place we stop every time we drive up Highway 1 into the Interior.

I made some notes this morning and I hope to enter the river of consciousness as well as its obverse during these dark days of January. Maybe most particularly its obverse.

4 thoughts on ““I am haunted by waters.””

  1. I love these reading nudges and questions, Theresa, thank you. I was lucky to attend a reading by Marilyn Bowering at our local library last Friday night, and she read this passage from her novel Cat’s Pilgrimage, which really captured my attention, since part of it described what I had visualized in meditation that very morning:

    “A river winds round the world. You can’t see all of it now that the continents have drifted apart. Once upon a time, though, you could follow its current even through the oceans, which were much shallower then. They called it the Amazon, the Mackenzie, the Nile, the Tigris, the Limpopo, but it was all the same river. The river brought news from one part of the world to another. If you put a leaf in the river, at some point it would return to you. The river began in the sky. It flowed, milky white, along a great swathe of stars, then fell over the edge in a stream of moonlight to the earth…. Some people will try to tell you that the river and the earth are separate. Don’t you believe it. The river carries pieces of the earth as silt and moves them along: the earth, bit by bit, is moving through time. This means that wherever you are, you’re home: some piece of where you’re standing has already been where you’ve been, and that leaf you dropped in a river long ago is on its way.”

    1. Isn’t that a beautiful passage? And so Marilyn. My favourite of her books is To All Appearances a Lady. I’ve been reading her (and have known her) for 40 years. How did that happen?

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