Since our Don River adventure I’ve been thinking more about sound, time and rivers. I’m from the Westcoast, so water noises are evocative for me. Sometimes people ask me what I miss about home. I miss my family and friends, of course. I miss the pacific ocean, the sound and smell of it in paticular. I miss the mountains, big trees and the rain. Rain falling is a really soothing sound. The other day I was in a coffee shop hut in Kensington Market while it was raining and I felt exactly like I was in a surf-rental hut in Tofino. As a forklift and clamp-truck operator I often got to listen to one of my favorite sounds, rain on a metal roof. The truck containers I unloaded are made of metal. You can’t hear the rain very well when your machine is running but you can on breaks or when you turn off your machine to make a load or do a count. The rain reminded me to pay attention, to look for beauty.
I wanted to go to the Don River and listen to water flowing. It was disapointing to hear the water so faintly under the loud highway noise.
Rivers are key to my understanding of time. In the Buddhist novel Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, Siddhartha and the ferryman Vasudeva find enlightenment by listening to the river. I’ve included an excerpt from the novel below that is fairly long for an internet read. However, it is highly relevant to this residency’s examination of the temporal.
In a friendly manner, he lived side by side with Vasudeva, and occasionally they exchanged some words, few and at length thought about words. Vasudeva was no friend of words; rarely, Siddhartha succeeded in persuading him to speak.
“Did you,” so he asked him at one time, “did you too learn that secret from the river: that there is no time?”
Vasudeva’s face was filled with a bright smile.
“Yes, Siddhartha,” he spoke. “It is this what you mean, isn’t it: that the river is everywhere at once, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the rapids, in the sea, in the mountains, everywhere at once, and that there is only the present time for it, not the shadow of the past, not the shadow of the future?”
“This it is,” said Siddhartha. “And when I had learned it, I looked at my life, and it was also a river, and the boy Siddhartha was only separated from the man Siddhartha and from the old man Siddhartha by a shadow, not by something real. Also, Siddhartha’s previous births were no past, and his death and his return to Brahma was no future. Nothing was, nothing will be; everything is, everything has existence and is present.”
Siddhartha spoke with ecstasy; deeply, this enlightenment had delighted him. Oh, was not all suffering time, were not all forms of tormenting oneself and being afraid time, was not everything hard, everything hostile in the world gone and overcome as soon as one had overcome time, as soon as time would have been put out of existence by one’s thoughts? In ecstatic delight, he had spoken, but Vasudeva smiled at him brightly and nodded in confirmation; silently he nodded, brushed his hand over Siddhartha’s shoulder, turned back to his work.
And once again, when the river had just increased its flow in the rainy season and made a powerful noise, then said Siddhartha: “Isn’t it so, oh friend, the river has many voices, very many voices? Hasn’t it the voice of a king, and of a warrior, and of a bull, and of a bird of the night, and of a woman giving birth, and of a sighing man, and a thousand other voices more?”
“So it is,” Vasudeva nodded, “all voices of the creatures are in its voice.”
“And do you know,” Siddhartha continued, “what word it speaks, when you succeed in hearing all of its ten thousand voices at once?”
Happily, Vasudeva’s face was smiling, he bent over to Siddhartha and spoke the holy Om into his ear. And this had been the very thing which Siddhartha had also been hearing.
And time after time, his smile became more similar to the ferryman’s, became almost just as bright, almost just as throughly glowing with bliss, just as shining out of thousand small wrinkles, just as alike to a child’s, just as alike to an old man’s. Many travellers, seeing the two ferrymen, thought they were brothers. Often, they sat in the evening together by the bank on the log, said nothing and both listened to the water, which was no water to them, but the voice of life, the voice of what exists, of what is eternally taking shape.
Rivers are also in my DNA. My great-grandmother, Elsie Jeffrey, was Gitxsan from Kispiox, BC. Gitxsan culture is matrilineal and I am part of the Frog Wilp through her. Gitxsan means people of the misty river or people of the skeena river. The skeena river is famous for great fishing and huge steelhead salmon. My great-grandfather told me when the salmon were spawning the river would become so thick with fish you could walk on water. Fish were a huge part of the traditional First Nations diet. In our reading “What is a River” by Annea Lockwood, one of the speakers, Nicolau Vergos says, “The delta means freedom for me. You can still go there with a backpack and stay for a month without spending a penny. Not that it is about money, but this gives you a feeling of freedom and happiness that you don’ t need anything, and you can live from God, fending for yourself.” If you’ve studied Anthropology you know that of all the societies, Hunter-Gatherers have the most free time. The Northwest Coast is a resource rich place. This has allowed the Northwest Coast First Nations people to develop an incredily rich tradition of art, ceremony and storytelling. Perhaps there is a lesson here for artists struggling to make art and pay the rent. Hunt, gather and forage when the hunting, gathering and foraging are good. Spend the rest of your time making art and telling stories. Thank the river for your freedom.