"She lives the poetry she cannot write" – Wilde
I knew this would happen. It always does.
In my last post I mentioned hiraeth – the Welsh word for a kind of homesickness that settles in the blood. Now I need a word for its opposite – the sudden rush of love you feel for a place you’re about to leave, and the people in it. A word for missing a place, before you’ve even left it. Every boater will recognise this feeling.
The Kennet & Avon canal knows that I am planning to leave. Like a scorned wife, it’s putting on its finest show to remind me what I’ll be missing as I head for the Severn. What has Severn got that I haven’t got? At every turn there are flag irises, moorhen chicks, the sweet smell of elderflower in the air, the sound of familiar boats steered by friends. The bar staff know my name in the canalside pubs. The dry dock nearby is full of laughter and conversation, and has become the focus of my little community.
I have a tight knot of friends here. A few nights ago I sat with some of them in one of the most spectacular settings in England, and saw the moon rise over the Avoncliff Aqueduct. The weir boiled and rumbled, the slow reaches looked like molten glass and the sound of sea shanties drifted across to us from the pub, where the local shanty group (yes, really) gather on Tuesdays. It was a perfect summer evening in perfect company.
This, friends, is the most dangerous time for a boat-dweller. This is when the voice in your head says; You don’t have to go. Stay. Stay.
So why not stay? Because…. we don’t live on boats to stay still. Because…. one gets an appetite for more of everything – new rivers, new places, little journeys in the England you can only know by water.
I’m gobsmacked by the beauty of this corner of Wiltshire. In June its allure is breathtaking and I feel it to the core. I’ve been so lucky to know it, and the people in it. But we don’t lose people, nor places – not even lovers for that matter – by moving away from them. That particular wealth never diminishes, it only grows. You meet old boat friends in new places. You can’t lose a landscape, as Elizabeth Bishop pretends to in One Art; you only gain new ones. The old ones stay with you – and you can always come back.
Boating is not like mountaineering or charting new territory. Our adventures are small, domestic, slow. It’s not Everest. But you still have to do it – because it’s there. Because it’s not here. Because it’s always somewhere else.