When my heart is sore, I go to the river. When I want to forget my human separateness and remember how I am merged with nature, I go to the river. When I wish I had a sister to talk to, or a lover to hold me, I go to the river. The river is always there.

Sometimes it is in a fierce mood, with a strong current and leaves and debris sweeping down. Often it is gentle, the water soft as it washes around me and the view above – a ribbon of sky, with clouds, birds, framed by tall trees on either side – holds me serenely, telling me of the changing constancy of this place. Today there’s a bird, tomorrow clouds, the next day I watch leaves falling down the height of the tallest tree towards me, swimming underneath. Sometimes the mood is sleepy, the water not moving if it hasn’t rained for a while, leaves gathering undisturbed on the surface and the temperature layered down, mild on the surface but cool, colder, cold as it chills down through the water’s depths.


I’m in Northern New South Wales, in temperate rainforest a thousand kilometres away from my Blue Mountains circle, back to the place I lived in before. It’s where I worked my original Circle of Eight and the house I lived in for ten years or so. I love this house so much I didn’t let myself think of it, those eight years I was away, but I did let myself remember the river. All the other places I’ve swum in the meantime never replaced it, in my affections. It stayed a magical, hidden place – my summer secret. It’s a creek really, but where I swim in it is deep and long, so I call it a river. Not many people come here, locals only, maybe one time out of every six or seven that I visit there might be someone else; some kids cooling down or someone dropping by after work before going home on a hot afternoon.

I enter the water slowly, it’s deep and usually cold. There’s a rock I sit on, letting my temperature adjust, cooling by degrees until I feel ready – or nearly ready, anyway – to launch myself into the whole experience. It’s a commitment, each time. Yes, I give myself to this cold, to this water, to this river-being and trust that it will hold me, floating, let me swim through it, let me become for a little – as long as I can stand the cold – a part of it. Leaves flow over the top of me and sometimes stick to my skin for a while. I let the current help me downstream at its own pace. I partake of this river life and it soothes me down to the core, even when I’m swimming as hard as I can, to stay warm.

This section of river is amazing – a few hundred metres upstream, where its shallow, splashing through rocks and the road crosses over it, you wouldn’t guess it could become this. Narrow and deep, between high banks of rocks and trees, it’s swimmable for fifty metres, through a slow curve; I navigate it swimming on my back, guided to stay in the deep channel by the pattern of branches and leaves overhead. The days when I ran aground, or scraped by knuckles on rocks close to the surface are many years past, I know the river road here and stroke by stroke correct my course. 

It’s so beautiful and this extraordinary thing happens, most times I swim there. I become a part of the beauty. It’s like being in a painting, part of the painting; when I’m swimming I don’t feel like an intruder, like someone whose gaze is converting this wild place into a human frame – though I guess that could be argued. But it feels like I’ve joined the river, become a tiny part of it and share in its life. The water washes over my skin as I move through it and the river is my lover, caressing me; the water holds me up as I lie on my back and I feel supported, not on the surface of the planet but held within its embrace, my body, my breathing, my life and death cradled within its greater life and held amongst all the other lives and deaths of the river – the magnificent blue quondong trees dropping red leaves, selectively, to float with me, a drowned bee, a tiny fish, the elusive fresh water turtle, the spikey lomandra helping hold the sides of the bank together with their matted root mass. 

The river has a whole way of being that I enter, and leave, each visit. I reclaim myself, swimming, the wholeness of my self, held by the river. The river reclaims me as part of its own, part of the world and for a little while, in the cold of it, I remember again that I am the eyes, and body, and sensibility of a tiny fraction of the universe, experiencing a tiny fraction of itself. I could equally be swimming among the stars, or in the ocean out of sight of land, or within my bloodstream or even my thoughts. I am reclaimed back to the great magic of life.