We walked by the river today. A beautiful winter’s day with a blue cloudless sky and discernible warmth from the sun. The footpath was flooded after the recent rain and eventually we had to turn back. Not only was it threatening to wash over the top of my boots, but there was a pull from the current as the river water washed across the path. Not to mention a newly-discovered hole in Hubby’s welly boot!

We found a sunny patch and paused to sip from our flasks of coffee (with a seasonal mince pie!), turning our faces up to the sun. There were plenty of birds flitting through the trees and we enjoyed watching a woodpecker drumming for food and some cormorants sitting in a tree, one of them with its wings outstretched to dry. They looked like modern-day teradactyls.

On our way back we passed a woman coming in the opposite direction and we warned her the path was impassable further along. She asked us if we had five minutes to hear a story. And she told us about her time in Malaysia, swimming in a river with her husband, almost being swept away by the strong current…. not to mention the crocodiles!

We talked a little about natural forces as they are manifesting right now: not the pandemic but the wildness of the river and its strong current, the storm last night, and the snow forecast tomorrow. We agreed that experiencing the elements in this way is enlivening. This feels really important to me: I have been sheltering at home for so much of the past year and fear that I will be deadened, impoverished in some way, by the confinement.

This simple exchange with a stranger is what I really miss during lockdowns. I can get outside in nature for my daily walk, but it rarely involves a casual chat just for the joy of connection or whatever imperative of reminiscing that this woman felt. What was the deeper story? Had her husband passed away recently? Why was she walking alone yet desperate for company? So despite the fact that Hubby’s boot was slowly filling up with river water and we were braced against the current, we stayed a while for storytelling in the sunshine.

It cheered me. I hope it did her too. She thanked us for listening to her, I thanked her for sharing her memories. And she walked off shaking her head gently in self-deprecation. I would have liked to have hugged her.

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