The Island

Our river didn’t have a name. It still doesn’t. Though fed by a large spring and several farm
drainage pipes, I suppose it wasn’t a river; more of a fast-flowing stream. But to me, as an
undergrown child, it was a river. It was the obstacle I had to jump over on little legs. I stood on
its banks feinting attempts to leap across, shying like a nervous horse as I looked down into the
depths. It may not have been particularly wide or deep, but in my imagination the current was
strong enough to carry me all the way to the sea. Perhaps I would be picked up by gypsies or
pirates just like the ones in my picture books at home. Yet, what waited on the other side was
worth the risk. I called it The Island.
The Island was an island in name only. Rising a good eight feet above the water in
summertime, the patch of ground was bordered by two dry ditches which only carried water
when there was a heavy rainfall. The far side of this patch of ground was so entangled with briars
that it was completely impassable. Sitting atop my little grassy patch above the river, I might as
well have been on my own little atoll I was so cut off from the rest of civilisation. Shrouded by
the extended limbs of large beech trees, well fed by the river and the rich soil it deposited around their roots, the rest of the world seemed to disappear. I sat in the hush with the smell of water in my nostrils, the babbling liquid in my ears.
The grass was always short since the leaves above prevented the touch of direct sunlight.
And, while the trees benefitted greatly from the presence of the stream, The Island was too high
for the grass’s roots to stretch down. In the summer, the earth turned to dust and the edges of the little promontory crumbled away into the water below. Indeed, the stream contributed to the
disappearance of these grassy edges by greedily eating the foot of the bank every year.
Sometimes, you could feel the overhang droop under your feet, bending towards the emptiness
carved out below. Only the grass and tree roots anchored it. It was why I used to lie on my belly
to gaze over the edge. I was afraid of falling in.
The moisture of the moss would dampen the patches of my clothes that the dust did not
stick to. The hard, woody cases of beech nuts would score bare elbows and knees with red welts
that looked angry but faded quickly. But it was worth it to watch the sunlight play on the water,
the liquid bubble and hop over smooth protruding stones, ripple around twigs and briars. I
observed and tried to identify the leaves, seeds and flowers as they drifted by. And, if I was very
quiet, sometimes little black fish would gather below where I watched. Occasionally, I even saw
the tell-tale silver flash of a tiny minnow.
It’s a long time since I crossed the stream. There is very little left of The Island. With no
one to care for it, the briars took over. One winter, the stream swelled in a storm and took several feet of overhang. But when I pass by, I sometimes stop to listen to trickle and lap of liquid
dancing over stone. I peer through the tangle of gorse and briars to see my island lit from below
by the sun reflected on the cool, clear water.