You swim

Little Ouse in Thetford Forest. Photo by Carl Bigmore, 2017

It’s the August bank holiday, and you take your bike on the train. It’s warmer than it has been for much of the summer, and the air condition on the train is broken. The person with you means much to you and makes you happy, but you are unsure if you make them happy enough to be more than friends. You smile to one another when people struggle to get past your bikes in the aisle.

Half an hour later you’re there. You cycle through the not much to remember village to the forest, and reach the Little Ouse’s welcoming trickle. Butterflies flutter and flies buzz. You lock up the bikes against a bridge, and find a bit of dry ground in the river that can be reached by a calculated jump from the bank. The sandwiches and crisps you brought for picnic bask briefly in the sun before they are eaten.

The oil on your hands from the olives are wiped into the grass you’re sitting on. You think about how the earth will absorb it, before letting it out particle by particle into the dark cool river in front of you. Oil isn’t soluble in water, so it will be separated but not destroyed. Maybe some fish will eat it as it swallows algae. Will the oil make it taste different? That fish will then be eaten, then something bigger will eat that and with it the oil from the Sainsbury’s olives, all through the river to the really big fish out in the ocean. Until that big fish dies, and algae feed the oil particles off its bones. You remember your science teacher telling you that energy never dies, but transforms.

The river also transforms as it flows from source to sea. And where is the source? Was there a journey underground before it broke out into air? Some rivers are melted snow from mountains or glaciers. Do they also flow from other seas, all the way from the great ices around the Poles, before they pulse through our landscapes offering quench and nutrition to life around it, and then evaporate and enter the sky, only to come raining or snowing down on us again. Like energy, water doesn’t cease but changes form.

Little Ouse

Leaping back up the bank, you begin to walk. The sun warms your shoulders, and you sweat on your lower back where your rucksack rests against your skin. You find the pine forest and a different temperature under the trees. The smell of warm pine needles on the forest floor brings back your childhood, and its giddiness enters you. You try and climb some trees and fail, you laugh as your friend walks face first into a spider web and tickle them when they ask you to help them get it off. You look at the multitude of bugs under a log, wince at white-mouldy deer excrement, see moss and fungus reclaim a fallen tree, slowly bringing it back into the earth.

Next to it, the moss is soft and inviting like a mattress. Some of the sunshine breaks through the canopy, and you lie on your back with your face in the warmth. You hear the life in the ground below you, feel it crawl over you, its trickle and pulse permeating you. The forest surrounds you, sounds you, and you surrender. You let yourself become part of it. Lie there long enough, and the moss will claim you too.

Your friend lies down beside you. The sun catches the little hairs on their face, and tiny tentacles of moss embrace them. You sense the same peace enter them, you feel them become one with the forest too, and so is one with you. You think about the loves you’ve had before, and those of your friend. You have both had others with passion, with respect and loyalty. Some things went wrong, some things were right. All the people in your life that have come and gone have helped turn you into you, have directed you onto the path that led you into this forest today. You have been loved, and you have been happy, and unhappy, before. Each new encounter informed the next. Each heartbreak set you up for the following healing. The love you feel for each other is not better, or more special, or worse, than any of the previous ones. It’s just different. And without the ones that came before, you would not be feeling what you feel for one another at this moment.

When you open your eyes your friend does too, and you know. And with the forest under, around and inside you, you open and enter and are truly one. Love does not die, it simply transforms.

Thetford Forest

After, the two of you return and follow the path along the river until you see the small bit of grass in the water where you’d had your lunch. The sound of the trees reaching into the air matches your breathing. It’s so still and quiet that a wood pigeon’s call sends an echo. You get changed, and sink yourself into the cold water, syrupy brown around the edges and liquorice dark towards the middle. A tiny trickle of duckweed colours the current, and you feel its pull as you go deeper in.

The first reaction of your body is shock at the cold. But as you let yourself be taken by it, by the stream, and lower your head into it and let it wash you, you relax and your thirst drifts away with the duckweeds. You again remember similar adventures in your childhood and the giddiness returns together with relaxation and its vulnerability. The river is shallow and you sit down in the sand, leaning your shoulders into the water. You feel it. The life. The neverending undying transformation of the water, the energy, the love. You tilt your head back into the river and you hear it, all around you. The warmth of the sun with the coolness of the river makes you unworldly comfortable.

Little Ouse River. Photo by Carl Bigmore, 2017

You let your mind go. You feel at one again. It’s not imaginary. If you let your body go now, you would truly become one, flowing in the water until the sea, being dissolved and ingested on the way, forever regenerating and transforming. You take a deep breath. And you swim.

In the Little Ouse. Photo by Carl Bigmore, 2017

All photos by Carl Bigmore © 2017

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