Slowly Moving Rivers
I walked by the mill-race today, and the water moved lazily past me. It was almost as if the river said to me “I have nowhere to go in particular, but something magnetic compels me into motion.”
I, too, was stuck. I had nowhere in particular to go, insofar as I had all afternoon to write, and only wanted a few good words, maybe just 450 when I can easily write 4500 in that amount of time. 450 well-placed words, rather than 4500 aimless ones, is better. I felt that I wasn’t moving much, so I went for a walk instead.
Sometimes peoples’ progress is imperceptible, or so slow it almost drives you crazy. Like a slowly moving river, their approach is wide rather than narrow, they aren’t shooting through the rapids.
They wind around, rather than going in a straight line.
Their path is full of algae, even fallen branches, sometimes trash – shiny, empty skins of old Doritos bags, Pepsi cans sitting sideways, their mouths half-filled with muck. They aren’t moving fast enough to sweep the debris.
Are they getting anywhere at all? Does it even matter to them when the world around cries out with urgency?
I thought the river was in a conversation and it would turn out that the river was the listener today, but this is not the case. Today, the river was the one being listened to. Nearly stuck, almost a pond.
But not quite. Gravity continued to gently play her part, softly drawing the river north, never screaming or begging for much motion; just a little, continuing the flow, and it would be enough.
When we’re listening, and hoping for progress, and inviting people to move, we must remember that an aqueduct such as the Pont du Gard has a drop of 34 cm over a kilometer; that the river in my town is only 801 feet above sea level and has plenty of time to get there with very little gradient.
Vitruvius, a first century civil engineer, recommended no more than a drop of 1:4800 for an aqueduct. That’s because too much drop puts undue pressure on the system and causes more rapid deterioration of the entire system.
It’s easy to panic when we think that there isn’t time.
But there is time. Be like gravity, a slow steady pull. Even those who don’t seem to be moving very fast will one day get to the ocean. Your 375 words will be like 375 cm of drop in an aqueduct. Don’t try to use gravity too fast; the system may degrade from pressure and erosion.
When things move slowly (and you move beside them slowly) you’ll see things a rushing river or a dead sprint might not give you: two turtles sunning on a log. Four ripe blackberries you can eat. A robin with a worm. Slowly, you have the ability to avoid getting goose crap on your shoes. Slowly, you’ll see a duck kicking her way upstream. Slowly, the river gets where it’s going and you don’t miss the scenery, either. It’s two for the price of one.