… consider making it The Comfort of Water: a river pilgrimage.
‘Walk the path and journey to the source.
These are not metaphors; they are instructions.’
So begins and ends Maya Ward’s extraordinary account of her pilgrimage, undertaken with three friends, as they walked the length of Birrarung (Melbourne’s Yarra River) from the ocean to the source.
Water is symbolic of emotions and this book does indeed record a journey of the heart and spirit, grounded by sturdy hiking boots and illuminated by profound realisations, insights and wisdom that informs a way of living in harmony with the earth.
As a lifelong devotee of fiction, I approach non-fiction works reluctantly (other than to edit them – which I do regularly). Yet when a random email invited me to the launch of The Comfort of Water, I knew I had to go. Something about rivers captivates me to such an extent that much of my own fiction writing has rivers flowing through it.
Apprehension vied with anticipation as I began to read. What if this lovely woman turned out to be a less than gifted writer? What if the book was a disappointment, a great idea that amounted to little more than a trickle?
Within pages, though, I was immersed. By page 50 I had wept and laughed out loud, sighed, laid down the open book in order the ponder issues raised, and emailed Maya to thank her for her gifting of this experience to a wider audience.
Let me give you a taste …
[midway through the first day’s walking]
I ran into a friend in Flinders Lane, and I felt the bizarre incongruity between my everyday working self and my pilgrim self. In the dark, canyon-like street, where bands of sunlight burnt through to patches on the ground, I explained to her that I was walking to the mountains by following the river, and as I spoke, I felt the city, almost new in river time, grow insubstantial around me.
[towards the end of the ninth day]
As the day starts to fade, when the evening light washes gently over the valley, that is when the dream of the land is strongest. We are tired, we have been walking all day, we are thin in energy and thick with rolling joy. The time is endless. So is the land. Neither is true, both are utterly true in the vast spreading moment.
[on the twenty-first day, approaching the source of the river]
We walked across earth that had felt few human feet, earth so delicate our boots tore at the moss. I needed to put my sadness and confusion to the side and tend to the task. I must walk respectfully. The land showed me how to be.
We walked tenderly through the dark cover of the myrtle beech, and came down to the clearing, the frost hollow. On three sides, the trees watched. The basin spilled gently down towards the west, open to the lowering sun.
… A river was being born below me.
By now you will know whether this book speaks to you as it did to me.
I’ve set it aside for a while, and am inspired to take a little time off from work to engage again with my own writing. Sometime soon, I’ll be reading The Comfort of Water again. I know it has more to teach me.