Late last spring, when schooling and work had taken its toll on the whole family, I needed space. I needed solitude. Ideally somewhere wild, in nature, with flowing water. The canoe was hauled from under the hedge and loaded onto the roof-rack. Two tie-straps later and about as many minutes’ drive to the river Fergus and I was ready to untie again and push off. Canoe and paddle: check. Life jacket: check. Water bottle: check. Car locked again and keys wrapped in a plastic bag: check. Ok. Good to go. From a hectic household straight into the still silence of the river. Wonderful.
Pointing the canoe upriver from the weir at Mill Road in Ennis, I paddled in slow steady pulls against the current. The morning was bright on my back, catching the droplets of water with each stroke so that they shone like diamonds against the river’s surface. A brief push and I was through the faster flow as it squeezed under the stone bridge at Cusack road. An old fallen tree sprawled from the Bishop’s Palace out into the main channel. Further on, the Claureen River entered from the west. I followed it through grassy banks and alder thicket to the Cusack road once more, curling back now on my compass bearings to face the low sunshine. The going was clear; with easy paddling through still, slow-moving water, past the back walls of housing estates and gardens. Then all in one magical moment I turned a bend in the river. The light slanted in through low-hanging trees that reached out over the lazy surface. In dense clouds, thousands of small insects transformed the scene into some Amazonian adventure. Branches, briars and drooping ivy almost blocked the way entirely. Eddies drifted ballerina-like below the bits that touched the water. In places, the paddle served as both staff and machete. Every small flying thing rejoiced in the new warmth and the seclusion from people and the excessive neatness that might swish them away. Evidently they hadn’t heard that insect numbers had plummeted in just a generation, such was their enthusiasm and abundance. Beautiful as they were, I was happy that they kept to themselves and were content to feed on something other than this lone explorer. In places, the branches were so dense across the channel that twigs and leaves were gathering in profusion. Not only natural debris, but whole plastic refuse sacks. Like spills from oil exploration in the Amazon, these oil-based plastics had found another river to pollute. I made a mental note to return with a sturdier craft and haul some out, rather than letting the next storm wash them to the sea. Beyond the bypass bridge the sacks vanished; a clear indication of their source. The river channel narrowed; alder and willow shoving in on all sides. After some heavier hauling through the passageways and gaps, I called it a morning.
The homeward journey was much quicker, predictably; travelling with the flow, without the distraction of novelty to slow me down. I gathered a motley collection of river-stained polystyrene to avoid it being further broken up into its constituent beads and mistaken for food by birds or fish. Even with that brief delay, I returned to the main river channel and then the car park in no time.
Out again. Loaded up. Dripping river water smearing the windscreen. Tired yet rested. Ready for home. No matter how hectic life would be over the coming week, I would hold onto my Amazonian experience and feel the river continue to work its spell on me.