The following quotes are taken from The Water Road by Paul Gogarty.

Will I live differently when I get home? I doubt it. I’ll clear out the cupboards and shift it to Oxfam and then try to resist replacing it. I’ll try to go more slowly – as Sebastian de Grazia declared in 1962, ‘Perhaps you can judge the inner health of a land by the capacity of its people to do nothing – to lie abed musing, to amble about aimlessly, to sit having a coffee – because whoever can do nothing, letting his thoughts go where they may, must be at peace with himself.’ I’ll use the bike more in preference to the car. I’ll try to stay in the present and focus on the task in hand. And I will fail. In London I drive and am driven. But I will get away to the water as often as I can to renew myself because I know so much depends upon the red wheelbarrow glazed with rainwater beside the white chickens*. pg. 327-28

*The last line of the quote is referring to a theme touched upon earlier in the book, and I hope explained below.

I sit at the stern, hand vibrating lightly on the tiller, legs crossed, chin resting in left hand. As I observe the shape-shifting of trees and wheat fields, it strikes me that while we spend an inordinate amount of time feeding different needs that simply set in motion new needs, it is at such moments as this, when we inhabit the aesthetic sense and the divide between the self and the world vanishes, that we really sing. A man in a boat is singing his way through the countryside.

I remember once being on a trek where each night the members of the group chose different poems from a compendium to read. Voices reverberated with heaviness and meaning, words were polished, and only poets dressed in finest tuxedos chosen. The poem I selected by William Carlos Williams left everyone singularly unimpressed:

so much depends


a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Williams is right: so much really does depend upon being able to see a red wheelbarrow glazed with rainwater beside the white chickens. And on the Cut there are unlimited possibilities for seeing. Apart from the glorious countryside, there’s the simplicity and beauty of the lock gates, the eloquence of original warehouses and boatyards, and of course the rainbow of colourful narrowboats. All have an enhanced aesthetic value because of their aquatic setting. pg. 114-15 

I want to live more in the moment, with a little less distraction, with greater calm and more focus, and with a degree of attentiveness that allows me to appreciate the red wheelbarrow.

In the rush of daily life, a life too often defined by clocks, by lists (that never get completed) and schedules; by the ‘ping’ of incoming texts or yet another e-mail; by the chatter-chatter of the office, the TV, the radio, the children and the streets; simply being in the moment seems impossibly distant and unrealisable.

However, in my experience, being by water, in water, or on water… something transformational happens. From puddle to pond, from stream to river, lake, Cut or sea; being in proximity to water I find myself more able to strip things back or peel away the layers; more able to allow the whirlpool of daily life a chance to settle into sediment. By water I feel in touch, at peace, less stressed, more energised. By water I notice, and delight in – a heron, the sunlight playing through the branches of trees, the lazy stare of a ruminating cow, the play of ripples as a coot hassles the water, the sarcastic har, har, har of a duck…

It’s why we own a boat.


One thought on “Attentiveness

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