Monday, June 11, 2007

Into light

Traveling on a canal is a curious experience. One is presented from moment to luxurious moment with a luminous surface reality.

You push inward, as if pressing against this surface and you seem to penetrate it without ever really piercing through. The tableau shifts and morphs from lush vegetation, to silvery aspens, to hayfields and plum orchards, to farmhouses and chateaus, and arcing bridges, statuesque herons, and sociable ducks.
It's a bit like sailing slowly into an enormous Monet. The mottled light on the water, the mirroring surface holding undulant bridges, overhanging tree limbs, wispy clouds, and burgeoning blackberry bushes. And the surface of the water itself, equally varied, flecked with leaves yellow and green, white blossoms, black shiny twigs, spurting water skippers.

Mostly though one is cocooned by the elevated banks which rise just above eye level and train your eyes and thoughts forward or aft toward two vanishing points, past and future, both mirror images of each other.
The entire visual experience is framed by birdsong and the submerged, muted rumbling of the diesel engine.

Always there is the light.
The morning light filters through a vaporous fog. The boat deck glistens under a slip of dew. Spectral bridges hang in the air. The dark and dense foliage closes in.
The midday sun bears down on you. The movement of the boat generates a slight breeze but you cannot help but look at the water is, of course, filthy - unfit and unsafe for swimming. As they say here, what goes in the boat goes in the water. I wonder to myself if there was ever a time when it was otherwise?
We pass makeshift shelters built by the local fishermen. They consist mainly of branches or tarps and plastic lawn furniture. Orange bobbers float tranquilly in the channel, the lines attended by stolid men and once in awhile a young boy. We exchange greetings. I always inquire about the fishing, but no one has any luck...l'eau n'est pas jolie...the floods are to blame. We shrug and smile at one another.
The cooling evening air gradually displaces the heat, and with the boat moored in the middle of the countryside, there is nothing but the sound of birds all around us ...that and a mysterious, faint, metallic tinkling - a sound that eludes our understanding, it is almost musical though its rhythms seem other wordly and distant.

The slant of sunlight now produces shadows the fall across the water and our boat. Our minds are preoccupied with preparing dinner and with leading the kids up over the grassy banks onto the treelined trail running alongside the canal.

And then the chiming suddenly comes back into focus, accompanied this time by the plaintive bleating of sheep. I look across the canal and on the opposite bank I see a procession of sheep has already gotten nearly past us, filing steadily up the trail, here and there a lamb wandering down toward the water only to scamper back. The flock continues by for five minutes. The shepherd waves to us and bringing up the rear, an enormous sheep dog, heavy and slow footed, his head drooping, plods along. Spellbound, we watch them all disappear into the shadows.
We eat between nine and ten, the sun about to set. After preparing the kids for bed, Beth and I take them outside onto the deck. We sit on a bench cushion and in the dusky light we watch the bats flit crazily around and over us. Tess and Colm stare into the black canopy of trees or into the still luminous sky wondering which one will deliver them a sudden bat. Each time one swoops near the boat and veers away the children are delighted.
Beth tells them that bats eat insects like mosquitoes .
"Do they eat mosquito eaters?" says Tess.
"Probably. They're bugs. Bats eat bugs."
A brief pause, then Colm says, "It's sad for the mosquito eaters."


Anonymous cjones said...

Fine, beautiful pictures -- T & C on the cabin roof, the bridge and reflection in the haze.

I believe this was your first posting that made me squemish. The filthy river -- unfit to swim -- followed by all the stolid men hoping to pull the evening's meal from those waters. Whew.

7:55 AM  

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