The rivers tell stories. Can you hear them? (Part One)

In the middle of learning to use wordpress, I accidentally deleted this post. A friend was able to recover it for me. I was grateful to have the text back, but I also realized I was relieved at the erasure. I needed more time to sort out what I wanted to say here. I wrote this after my sister asked me whether “these rivers” were real or metaphorical, but I’ve been thinking about if for some time. My husband, who is always my “first reader,” was quite sure that this piece naturally breaks into two parts. So here is Part One, which is far shorter than Part Two.

I live half way between two rivers in Toronto, right inside the former shoreline of an ancient glacial lake. If you were to portage a canoe along Davenport Road from the Humber to the Don River – which would take you about four hours, and which is what the original inhabitants of this land might have done on this very route – you could stop at my house for lunch.

I’ve lived in this area for about fifteen years. First just north of the ancient shoreline, now south.

I like to know these stories of the landscape of the place I live in. It makes me feel part of the pattern, part of the stories that the land around me holds.

Years ago, I studied literature. What I was good at was reading texts closely and finding the hidden patterns: following clues to what wasn’t being said; reading between the lines; intuiting the subtext; tracking the story behind the story.

More recently, in the last three years or so, I’ve been learning about animal tracking, about plants, about the language of birds. I’m not as good at tracking as I was at interpreting human texts; not yet; not by a long shot. It’s an uphill battle in so many ways: I live in a big city; this learning is hard and sometimes feels infinite; my daily life holds many other roles and responsibilities; the world is immersed in pressing problems. How do I even make it fit?

And yet, I’m determined to keep working at it. Something about tracking keeps drawing me in. It feels worth struggling for. Because following tracks and signs of animals across a landscape is the oldest and deepest form of reading. Reading in a way that engages all of the senses and body. Reading in a language beyond the human. Reading which, until recently, was at the heart of human survival.

I want to understand the stories of the world around me. I don’t want to talk about ecology, from a distance. I’m tired of theory, of detachment. I want the story behind the story, straight from the source.

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