Reading Water: fragility

Tent Exe2 December 2020

I headed upstream a little, towards the railway. Here the river and flood defence channel swing round the city in an arc. St Thomas traditionally used to flood every few decades and still comes perilously close sometimes. New walls are being built to contain the floodwaters. In the trees between the river and the flood channel I find tents, battered by recent storms, the childish colours are jarring in the dark woods. This was someone’s home, however fragile it appears. Now ripped and waterlogged, someone has yet again had to move on.


‘You go because hope, need and escape

are names for the same god. You go because life

is sweet, life is cheap, life is flux

and you can’t take it with you. You go because you’re alive,

because you’re dying, maybe dead already. You go because you must.’


(‘Time to Fly’ (from the Mara Crossing) – Ruth Padel )


Up by the railway bridge, deep in the undergrowth, I find a small pile of glass bottles someone has dug out of the earth. Often in the past bottles were thrown into dumps, and building work, like the railway, or the flood defence wall, bring them up into the light again. Most are broken, but some are whole, from all different eras. They would have contained medicine, food, drinks, superseded nowadays by plastic and aluminium cans.


‘Into the stream I flung

A bottle of clear glass

That twirled and tossed and spun

In the water’s race

Flashing the morning sun.’


(‘The River’ – Kathleen Jessie Raine)


The river is silvery, calm, running like glass down to the weir.


Glassy water Exe


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