The Comfort of Water

I suppose I was poetically pre-destined to really like this book: a walking journey up a river from the sea to the source. Local, reflective, meditative, walking as pilgrimage and a creative act.

Maya Ward’s The Comfort of Water traces the Yarra River from Port Phillip Bay to its source up in the mountains; a twenty-one day walking journey that upholds the local as the thing most prized. Yes to that!

And there is lots to like here, the celebration of the place, the recognition of the past in the present (particularly the indigenous connections) and the simple beauty of the concept itself. Start at the sea and start walking upstream until you can go no further.

As the Australian review said:

This book belongs to a genre that runs back through Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau in America, and the peripatetic tradition of romantic poetry in Britain. It is seeing a revival, as Mark Tredinnick, author of The Blue Plateau: A Landscape Memoir, suggests in his introduction to this book.

Nature writing, until recently, was associated with a dissenting politics, characterised as a subculture. Now, due to global warming, it seems increasingly mainstream, an ideological avant-garde in the endgame of Western industrial societies.

I’ve written a lot about rivers and streams, they’ve been in my thinking for a long time and in my small way I’ve walked and mapped my local streams in my writing. What disappointed me in the end about the last quarter of this book though was that it became too much about the walkers and not enough about the walk. I liked the natural history, the details of the river itself unwinding through the changing landscape rather than the internal reflecting, theorising and eventually proselytising that took over. There was lots of hand-holding, lots of teary faces and lots of moments of profundity where the place itself seemed to fade into the background a bit as the pilgrims became the story, not the pilgrimage.

Still, a beautiful concept and a really affirming part of that ‘local’ that I think we need to prize more.

You can read more at Maya Ward’s website here


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