Along the River
School teachers educate, we all know that. For many kids it’s simply keeping them occupied while everyone else can go about their day, for some kids they will be inspired by their teachers and go on to do great and fulfilling things. We thank the schools for what they do. Then, every once in a while, a genius will come along and the only thing a teacher needs to do is keep out of the way, just let genius get on with being what it potentially can be.
Now, stay with me on this, we all have some genius in us and sometimes it is just a matter of keeping the rest of ourselves from messing it up. I guess for people here, reading this, it might be creative talent – painting, writing poetry, music. Who’s to say cutting someone’s hair is less creative, less brilliant an expression, than Turner’s work in the main hall at the British National Gallery? To be fair I do think Turner has the edge here. One doesn’t rank the arts, simply doing art is a win.
The hard bit for the individual is spotting what that is and being given opportunities to let it grow. I’m way too self-conscious to sing, dance, paint or draw, write poems or declare love. Even writing this is more difficult that you might think. But I do dream, and my dreams I listen to.
I dream I’m by the River Swale, it bubbles down from the moors of the central Pennines, towards Richmond, and out to the North Sea via the Humber Estuary. That’s Geography, we know that. However, in my dream it is a fantastic wild torrent, foaming white water racing through impossibly huge rocky chasms. It’s not an anxious dream and the water is never taking me anywhere; it is just there for the finding. My dream is welcoming; tempting, full of emotion, it is beckoning me.
In my real life, subconsciously, I’m looking for that torrent; those chasms, those splashed rocks, whirlpools and waterfalls. That searching, that keeping fear and self-doubt out of the way of my inner genius and letting it do what the dream was telling it to do has given me a lifetime of pleasure. For me it is a creativity, and that creativity has given me calm, a place, mental sureness. I publish books for a living, even write them, but as you can see I’m not really a writer. I publish books about the sorts of things I have seen while I’ve been looking for those torrents. Books from all round the world, running over mountains, diving into flooded caves, swimming in still waters, climbing up rock faces, peddling, so very much peddling. Is it hubris to think I’ve helped writers and readers to find their genius? To find the calm I found.
Recently, my mum was ill, and my dad needed some looking after at home. I’d visit Dad in the evenings after work. On occasion I’d spend the afternoon in the Pennines just to break the journey up and I sometimes delay getting to where I was meant to be going. One day I decided on the walk from Muker up to Keld at the top of Swaledale, along the river. I ever so vaguely remember walking this route from my childhood, probably being five or at most six years old. I was retracing those tiny steps. I set off up the river from Muker village, parking near the church and following the path down through the wildflower meadows to the riverbank. I think I heard it before I saw it, quiet but ever so beckoning. There, before the path leaves to climb out to Keld, as the dale narrows between Halls Edge and Birk Hill were my torrents. This is what I had dreamt about for so many years, my waterfalls and rocky chasms. They weren’t dreams but memories my tiny brain had taken in and romanticised. Something that day on a first childhood walk in the wild, a lifetime ago, had been ignited and happily, contentedly, I’ve spent an entire life looking for it since. And every now and again, if we let ourselves go, we will find it.