I’ve written before that I love rivers for the pattern of ripples and reflected light on their surface, whereas my husband looks for fish as signs of life beneath. I took my interest in surface patterns to a new level when, for idle amusement, I zoomed in on a tiny patch of a slightly bigger photo of the Wye at the National Trust’s Weir Garden near Hereford. Suddenly I was looking at something completely unlike water, with none of the usual cues of context to tell me it was a river.
If you look at the original photo, taken from a path above, looking over a stone wall, you might be able to see a bit more of what was happening. The flow downstream collided with the backflow of the water bouncing off the stone wall. Meanwhile, there were weeds just below the surface, which set tiny eddies spinning before they unrolled themselves to continue their journey downstream.
Imagine a novice folk dancer attempting to ‘strip the willow’, who gets confused and starts prancing the wrong way up the set. With luck, someone kindly turns her around to face in the right direction and the dance flows on. Water doesn’t let itself go against the flow for very long before sorting itself out.
I started by thinking ‘How can water look so much like stone?’ But you might turn the question itself in a different direction: ‘Why would a surface of stone display the ripples and eddies of a river?’ There’s an answer to that, of course. It’s because a slab of stone may well have once been a slice of mud, marked by the current of water across it, then placed under enormous pressure over millions of years. The rippling textures in stone are the fossilised ‘footprints’ of water streaming away in the distant past.
Back to the present day – and a wider view offers no chance of a mistake. That’s a river, and a beautiful one, too.