Water knows Posted on March 7, 2022

Highly rated as Poohsticks is, or are, as a non-violent water-sport, I can recommend one even better. You need a steepish slope, well-carpeted with leaves, preferably under substantial oak or beech trees. For equipment a stick will do, although a light border fork has the advantage. And you need a water supply; the teeniest stream will do. The game is to design a river. The power of gravity is both your collaborator and competitor. This is how I got on this afternoon.

I was climbing the slope, which falls to our very minor stream, when near the top I spotted a patch where leaves were afloat on a puddle. It took one poke with my fork to breach the rim and let a dribble out, a dozen beech leaves stirring, then lining up to spill over the edge. The dribble disappeared under the leaves, then a moment later came up, gleaming, and pushed more leaves aside to head down the slope a few feet, before it lost momentum on a tiny plateau.

Which way next? I watched it spreading, speculating which was the low point where it would make a breach. A moment later it chose the spot, pushed a few brown leaves aside and gathered speed downhill. I looked back; already a silver thread had formed, water organizing into a rivulet and picking up speed, gravity calling. Where next? I nudged it one way; it decided on another. My survey was a millimetre out. Water knows.

A few feet lower it met a dam, a stout twig barricaded with leaves. A little pool started to form, soon a few crystalline inches deep. Impatient, I put the boot in, trod on the twig and the weight of the puddle surged out, no hesitating about its direction. I stood, surveying, where would it stop, regroup and choose its next route? It headed for a grey beech trunk, met a young holly that deflected its flow, was balked by a patch of moss, gathered its force and sped on. The slope got steeper here; through bracken stems I could see the glitter of water lower down the slope. Walking backwards, balancing with my fork, I used my decisive weapon, my heel, to show it the way, a little trench in shiny clay. Leaves danced through, jostling, hiding the incipient stream until they reached the drop. It was a cascade now, pulling the silver thread down the hill to splash into the swelling stream below. How long would it take – perhaps another day – to meet the sandy estuary tide and join the sea?

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