Friday, May 04, 2007

two rivers.

I had been travelling long when I came to the town. It lay in the valley. Its buildings were soft in the evening light.
I could feel the coolness gathering in the air about me. The murmur that comes with night's approach.
Birds were singing in the trees. Small brown flecked birds. They flew into the turquoise above my head. Their wings were darkened under an ochre sun.

I came from the pass. The mountains were steep. Their pathways narrow and difficult. The midday sun had beaten down upon me and my progress had been slow.
I was making my way to Serano. On the coast. Westwards. The craggy, cliff-high shore of the Merna Sea. Island strewn and wild. With its headlands and river-soft inlets, its small fishing ports and wind-bent trees.
I thought of the fields of lavenders in the silted estuaries. I thought of the salt marshes. I recalled the sea flowers, the great pines, the narrow pathways, spray soaked. Long had been my absence.

I was in the country of the north. A mountainous region. Dusty and arid in summer. A dry wind blowing up from the southern plains.
Around me rose the peaks of the Joran. A mountain range that stretched from the coast and into Coricia. It was from there I had come.
They were a ring, a defence, a natural barrier. Few were the pathways through them. Travellers went south and came over the Ireb. Journeying through woodland and across plains. There were the roads and great towns and places of rest. There were the routes used by merchants and princes, soldiers and thieves.
I was a traveller. A wandering musician. I did not follow the way of the world.
The little known trail, the wild path, the forgotten road were my compass. A traveller learns the world reveals its secrets, its beauty where there is tranquillity, where there is simplicity. In the places where earth is free to show her abundance.

Meadows lined the road to the town. Olive trees stood under the sun. Their shadows fell long and as though stretching to me. A small beech wood shimmered in the breeze. Its leaves moved in a wave of green light.
I came down and left the rocky pathways, the sharp mountain air. The sound of the birds rang in my ears. They called and whistled. Their song was sweet. Music to my musician's ears. It spoke of orchards and woods and the things of towns. Of gables and roofs and alleys and the corners of buildings.
Yet for the traveller there is ambiguity in a town. A town is a refuge from the open road. In a town are the hidden chains that bind. Chains that take freedom.
The traveller's life is marked by the town. Arriving and departing. The town is what the traveller travels to and longs to leave.

Buildings appeared before me. A bridge marked the place where the meadow ended. It crossed a river that ran swift. Stones, copper coloured were visible beneath the fast flowing water. The walls of the river bank were high and moss covered with small yellow flowers.

I crossed the bridge.
The sun had fallen since I had first left the mountain path. Its gold had deepened.
It hung in the western sky, flaming. It marked the mountains I was yet to cross to come to the coast. The western-most ridge of the Joran. Steeper than in the north and sweeping to the turquoise sea. Sweeping down to the forested shorelines, the hanging cliffs, the island strewn Merna.

In a town in the evening there is a sense of concealment. As the sun sets a town wraps itself in its private activity as though in a secret. The day is ending. There is the return to homes. Outward actions turn inward. Windows are open yet the stranger is not greeted with a carefree smile. Backs are turned to the street. Doors are closed over. Children are falling into sleep. Dreams are beckoning. Food is being prepared.
Old men and women sit in porches and remember their many evenings. Their lives running backwards in the rustle of leaves, the play of shadows.

I walked. Following the river. It narrowed and deepened. Its water darkened. The walls rose and I looked into its quick moving surface. Bronze under the falling sun.

I came to a place where it divided. One part running south, the other north. In the distance a hill rose. On it stood a castle. It had high walls, pale coloured and its turrets were russet. A thin tower rose into the sky.
Its appearance was magnificent yet somehow sad. Lifeless. There was an aura of silence about it.
I stopped. Should I take the way south or the way north?
To the south were rows of houses. Cramped and close to one another. Smoke rose from simple chimneys. It drifted slowly over the river. Dogs barked. Nearby a woman sat before a door. She wound yarn about her fingers. I heard that she sang sweetly to herself.
A bell sounded. It rang and echoed with the murmur of the river. Water's silver ring. It carried the voice of the mountains.
I thought of the sea. To which I journeyed.
Is the sea not our home? Do we not rise from a dream as the wave rises from the sea?
Why are we afraid of death? Is death not a return to the sea of our departure? We return to that from which we came. Enriched maybe. Carrying the rewards of our courage.
Did I not seek the sea as I had been travelling long? Had not my journeying brought the longing for home.
Death is a friend when life has been full. When it has risen, reached its crest, its fullness. Then ebbs, returning to the greater dream from which it came.
Death only breathes fear into those who have turned away from their journey.

I walked south. It was lodging I sought. The open road has its charm. The night spent beneath the stars. Under trees. Or in a shepherd's hut. In a town one wishes to be under a roof.
I passed the rows of houses. The river widened and I saw the banks where the women washed their clothing; the banks where they came to fill their water jars. The smoke drifted in the air and I thought of the fires being lit each dawn. The children playing in the streets.
These were the houses of those who work the fields. The shepherds who tend the sheep. The drovers who drive the goat-herds through the mountain passes. The tailors and shoemakers.

The river turned. Above me the hill towered. Its castle was quiet. I could see its walls. Pale coloured and warm in the evening sun. It was as though the rows of cramped houses circled it. Congregated at its feet.
I came to an orchard. It was full with apple trees. They were in bloom and thick and leafy. Two lovers sat. They were close, their arms about one another. They spoke softly.
Do not lovers always speak softly? Their words are not meant for the world to hear. Their words are whispered on the wind. Carried in the rustle of leaves. Their words are spoken into the memory of their lives.
Lovers speak and deliver the promises their dreams watch over.
I walked past the orchard. I did not disturb them. I left them to make their memories.

I came to the chapel. It had a blue dome. Faded and uncared for. Its arched door was closed.
To the side there was a building. A small house. Through an open door I saw the patriarch. He had white hair and wore a heavy gown. An old man. His face was lined and sad. He sat before a meagre wooden table. The evening candle not yet lit. He read a book. The book that all in the mountainous region of the Merna read.
Perhaps he read it every night. Over and over. Hoping that in the ritual, in the custom, understanding would come. A shaft of light in his lonely life.
Still the dust gathered about his feet. The leather binding of the book was worn. The beggars took their place each morning before the chapel's door.

I thought of the river and how it ran past the houses, past the orchard, past the chapel.
To know a town is to walk its river bank. The river is the thread from which the garment of the town is woven.
The river is connected to the town as the mother to the child. The river is the dream from which the town takes form. The river runs down from the mountains. It begins as a small spring of fresh water.
Such are dreams. Quiet and clear in their beginning. Growing until a world flows from them. Until they are a town, a city, a coastline; a life, a sea, a star.

I thought of the cities I had seen. North in Coricia. In Maris-ma along the Ireb. In Damel, far to the west. A country of great forests, unending and untamed.
Before my eyes scenes arose. Buildings in cream and red with ornate brick work. Canals and thoroughfares, market places. The poor quarters, the palaces and villas. I saw crowds. The conceited and the wise. I saw the soldiers with their curved swords. The merchants who travel from city to city.
I felt the years parade past me. As though they were but pages of a book. They came and went.
I wished to sleep. Tiredness came over me. I had been many days on the open road. Yet had I to reach my destination.
There comes a time in a life when it seems the world falls away. As the husk falls from the seed. Not when one is old. But when the years are enough to allow looking back.
Then there is the sense of journey. Too far along a road to turn back. There are still many steps to be taken.
The world breaks away and life shows itself. The wise see that the world is but a shadow. All its grandeur, its wealth fades. Becomes paltry. The tree grows and grows. The rock remains. The sea washes up on the shore. The wind blows. The sun rises. Who is to say that they too are not dreams.
It was for this reason I travelled. For under the sea-pines, along the rocky shoreline I wished to remember myself.
In Serano the sun would rise over the islands and set, fiery and glowing long after I had gone. In the wash of the sea, the endless rising and falling of the tides I would be reminded of my brief stay.
It is strengthening for the mind to see itself outside the bounds of time. To find in the sway of the sea a thread of its infinity.
In the time it has taken the stone to become sand how many lives have come and gone on that shore?

I followed the river and saw it turned and met the part of it that ran north. It circled the castle. Making the hill that rose an island. If I continued, I would leave the town. Indeed I saw the road ahead. A shepherd came toward me. It appeared the setting sun glowed at his shoulder. Falling lower and darkening the mountains.
I thought of him sitting in the wild swaying grasses. High and the blue sky marked with patches of white cloud. About him would be the blossoms of spring flowers. His sheep would bleat and he would wait and watch and know when it was right to bring then down to the lowlands.
He called out to me and I acknowledged his greeting, passing on.

I turned north. The shadows darkened.
The river ran narrower. Its water brown and rippled. The last of the sun scattered from its surface.
Great trees stood now. Growing from the ground, their roots breaking the earth. The houses changed. No longer were they small cramped rows. Walls rose and I saw there were villas. Gates were closed. The walls were tall so that no passer-by could see within.
Here were the homes, the residences of the wealthy. The magistrate, the merchant, the landowner.
I felt like a stranger. More so. If I was not known in the town, I was not welcome among these people. These were people who looked with suspicion on any who wandered. To them the wandering were less than the poor. Providers of entertainment maybe, but no more.
I walked, wondering if I should turn back. I could ask at the chapel or at a simple household for hospitality.
The great houses, for all their splendour, had an air of collapse. Dust lay against their walls. Stonework was broken and not repaired. I saw the timbers of the wooden gates were rotted and darkened with decay. And above these houses the hill rose. With its strangely defiant castle. Majestic yet closed. Like a tomb. A sarcophagus.
The air cooled and I knew the sun was gone.
Where the sky had been lightsome, now it was sea-like. Above the mountains to the west the stars were appearing.

In the town of the two rivers I slept and dreamed. A dream as clear as crystal and as ungraspable as the light that sparkles off the surface of the sea.
The castle on the hill was once the palace of a beautiful goddess.
A goddess whose body was the great river that ran through the town.
Whose hair was the grass of the meadows, the trees of the orchards, the woods on the foothills of the mountains.
Her eyes were the eyes of any who could see. Her ears the ears of any who could hear.
Through the mouths of those who could speak she spoke. Her words were the words she whispered into their hearts. And when they listened deep to their hearts they spoke with truth, spoke with wisdom.
She moved in the people and they in her.

How weak the heart can be! How shallow it can become. It grows hard and grasping. It grows tired and forgets. Over years it replaces the jewel of its knowledge with learning that is false and practice that is empty.
Those of the town grew vain. Their conceit was the weed that binds the flower.
Soon each thought it was they and they only who heard the goddess's voice. That she spoke only to them. Only they saw with her eyes, heard with her ears. They imagined her favour to be their favour.
If once they spoke with one voice soon they spoke with many. Where once there was unity there was division. If love had been the form of their expression now it was pride. If once their hearts were open now they were closed.

Such is our nature. That when we close our eyes to truth we imagine deceit to be everywhere. That when given the gift of love we must claim it as ours. Fearful that another should take from us that we most deeply desire.

So the goddess divided. Her body that was one became two. The river that ran broad and swift separated and ran north and south.
In her separation she was the one thing shattered into the many. Leaving her self in the hearts of those of the town as the sparks of the fire leave themselves in the air in which they burn. So that all held a spark but none the fire.

The goddess left. She wandered the wild places of the Joran. Where she is still to be found. Where the water falls, where the forest is thick. Where the slopes are steep and the pathway narrow.
She looks out for those travel and seek truth.
Those who understand that the gift of love is freely given. It cannot be divided or claimed singularly.

I rested that night in an inn where the rivers met. Perhaps for that reason I dreamed. Where the rivers once were one they still spoke their story.
At dawn I rose and continued my journey to Serano. Leaving behind the town.
Its castle high on the hill with its great wooden gates closed.
I longed for the craggy cliffs of the Merna; the scent of the lavender fields of the bay. To be in Serano with its coast-torn trees bathed in the light of the rising sun.

The world is the dream in which we see the reflection of our self.
To look into the dream is to look into the ocean of our self.

Copyright (c) Peter Millington 2005

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