The River

The River

August 4, 2021 0 By Anton

In between misty mountains, down in a green valley with deep pine forests shading an earth covered in soft moss, a tiny creek was flowing rapidly between rocks and small patches of grass. The air was fresh and tranquil. The only noise was that of branches moving in the wind and birds and insects flying by. In the distance, as far as one could see, were wild woodlands.

Thousands of years have passed, and the mountains remained the same: tall and mighty, governing the valley and watching over miles of forests teaming with life. Animals came and died, returning to the soil from which they were born, feeding new life. Through stones and fallen tree bark, surrounded by wider and muddier shores, under the naked sky that announced the changing moods of nature, the creek grew bigger and bigger.

Eventually, larger animals, like deer and bears, could drink from it and small fish began to swim in the young river. Around it, new plants started to grow as its water refreshed their roots and satisfied their hunger. The valley was full of life bearing the absolute mark of nature: calm but merciless, beautiful but indifferent.

More time has passed, and the creek was now a healthy river. It no longer had to move around the rocks that stood in its way or to wait to overflow a pile of leaves in order to push it aside: the waterflow was now strong enough to make its own way. It still had to abide by the rules of bigger elements: the trees and the rocky mountains, but it now had its own place in the valley. To earn this position, which enriched the view and nurtured countless species of plants and animals, the river traversed hundreds of thousands of years, witnessing death and birth, pain and tranquillity, storms and sunny skies, freezing moons and scorching sunrays.

One day, a new creature came to the river. It was attracted by its magical powers to keep things alive, as well as by its splendour. The creature walked on two legs and bent down to drink from the fresh, cold water. It saw itself in the river’s reflection: it was a human being, tired but happy to find the clean source of water.

The young man soon brought others: men and women who rejoiced at the sight of such a glorious valley. They gave the river a name and acknowledged that a higher force was behind its flow. The humans though that maybe its life giving powers and mesmerising beauty were the works of a god that governed the valley. Satisfied with this understanding, they settled around the river, resting assure that they were protected by that benevolent being.

In return, they venerated the river through rituals and seasonal celebrations. Soon, they incorporated in their prayers the trees around them, the mountains above, the valley itself, the silver moon and the sun. A ritualistic process of communication between the humans, nature and the god of the valley was established. Rituals were the way towards a hidden world, marking the time for the humans.

The village grew but it did not get too big, so that people would feel alienated, homeless and worthless. Nor did it remain too small for its members to feel lonely and isolated. It was the right size, as allowed by the environment around it.

People spent their time living, totally unaware that they were alive. Nature provided them with a life full of challenges and meaning, dangers and beauty. Death was not part of their world: even if many of them passed away, some at a young age, others dying of wounds sustained while on adventures and a few reaching advanced numbers of years, they were ceremoniously returned to the earth. Nothing lasted forever but nothing was ever lost.

At the centre of the village was the river, which was kept clean and pure, In return, it provided them with fresh water that sustained new cycles of life with their own risks and rewards. This silent cooperation lasted for many centuries.

However, slowly the number of people living around the river began to dimmish, with many of them simply disappearing. Something in their souls changed: some of them left the river and its surroundings in the search for something more, something better. Others began to question things and to doubt the order of the valley, leaving the place to pursue what they thought to be the truth. The more daring even mocked the god and the magical powers of the river.

Soon, only the old ones remained, and death claimed them all. Eventually, the river was without people. The earth swallowed what remained of the village and silence took over the valley once more.

More hundreds of years have passed, and the valley didn’t change much. The trees stood tall, thick and strong. The river got a bit bigger, but its water was still pure, flowing from a dark cave deep. The air was clean and fresh, smelling like pollen and leaves.

Suddenly, a horrific metallic noise began to echo through the woods, then over the river across the valley. Three trees feel down, making a painful cracking sound and a thunderous thud when they hit the muddy ground. Birds flew away in desperations and critters hid beneath the ground. The sound of chainsaws rang again, this time touching the very heart of the mountains. More trees fell to the ground, squeaking and breaking.

Strange noises were being heard in between trees falling and chainsaws cutting: voices of men giving orders, laughing and shouting.

From somewhere at the edge of the forest, a loud engine noise shook the earth: bulldozers began to move the fallen trees. The people returned. However, this time, they were on a specific mission: to conquer nature with their machines.

Slowly, the men made their way to the river. One of them bowed to drink from the crystal water. It was good and refreshing. The man wiped his mouth and then, turning his head towards the horde of lumberjacks, shouted:

‘Look at this beauty!’ As he said that, the man closed his eyes and inhaled a large quantity of mountain air: cold and strong, hitting his lungs like an alien substance that revitalised his entire body. He exhaled the oxygen loudly then shouted: ‘Bring in the bulldozers and level this field. Cut these trees and make some room. We will build something great here!’

In a few months, the men built a big tourist resort, with bright lights above a main restaurant, multiple swimming pools and terrains for playing games, even creating a skiing slope higher up on the mountains. The whole project was displayed on a map placed outside the resort. On it, a bridge over the river could be seen and higher up the river, a building for rafting lessons was placed.

The resort had everything to make the guests feel comfortable and safe: hot saunas, large beds, room service, experienced cooks, plenty of entertainment, hunting grounds, packaged foods and parking space. Men, women and children came and took the valley for themselves.

Noisy and blissful, the humans took advantage of every bit of beauty nature had to offer. However, unlike the people who lived there before, these newcomers were visitors, strangers to the wild with no knowledge of the god of the valley or the rituals that honoured the river. They had to make nature familiar to themselves, so they transformed it into a comfortable playground.

After a few months, the resort became quite popular. Word spread quickly that it was close to good hunting grounds with plenty of game and near to a clean river in which people can bathe and sail on it. More tourists came, hunting more animals, going in the river to play, blasting music and sports commentary, eating chocolate bars and sparking up barbeques.

In less than a couple of years, the place was internationally known. Music festivals were now taking place, moving the drunken crowed on sounds that echoed far up the mountains and deep into the woods.

However, people eventually became bored of the resort. After a few decades, the place wasn’t as appealing as it once was. The river got dirtier, and the trees were rarer. The game wasn’t as plenty as before and the mountains above became boring. Eventually, the resort was abandoned and the whole complex was simply left there to rot.

Rust and dirt began to pour into the river. The garbage containers were spread across the valley by the wind and plastic bags were now hanging from trees and bushes. The forest’s animals were drinking contaminated water amid a ravaged landscape of abandoned buildings and left behind candy bar wrappers.

After ten more years or so, another group of people came to the river, finding nature beginning to regain some of the lost land: weeds and trees started to grow through the abandoned construction and the river washed away some of the ruin.

‘This is the place,’ a woman’s voice stated confidently. ‘Bring me the plans,’ she ordered and someone wearing protective gear akin to that of a construction worker brought the woman a long paper roll which she opened. ‘Yes, this is where the factory will be.’

In less than a year, using large machines that made the earth tremble under their weight and mechanical screams, the ruins of the resort were removed and replaced with a large black box-like building with many small windows and four tall furnaces. Around it, fences of barbed wire and concrete were erected, engulfing an area much larger than the resort. More trees were cut and plenty of land was removed to make space for a parking lot.

Groups of human beings in lab coats marched into the building, guarded by others with guns and camouflage uniform. White neon lights sparked around the factory as the men and women in coats commenced their work. A thick white smog that often smelled weird and sometimes turned grey began erupting from the four furnaces. Two large metal pipes that were opening into the river started pouring colourful chemicals into the water.

The river soon began to smell strange: an unnatural odour was preventing animals to drink from it. Fish began to die and trees that grew around it dried out. Their dark green pins turned to yellow, then to copper and fell. Their branches were so weak that when birds sat on them, they cracked and collapsed.

From the mountains, winds came to the valley, carrying the poisonous smog throughout the woods, infecting animals and contaminating the soil: when it rained, it burnt.

This lasted for multiple decades during which more buildings were erected around the factory, all connecting to it and all swarming with more people throw things into the river which was now a flowing canal of infections and chemicals, moving downstream carcases of dead animals and materials developed at the factory.

For thousands of years the river flourished. From now on however, nature was conquered by humans’ machines. A new age was dawning over the river, one of submission and abuse as civilisation continued to extend. Progress invaded the mountains and violated their tranquillity.

Humans no longer needed the wild. They became creatures of higher knowledge that saw everything around them as possibilities to answer their burning questions, to improve their condition and escape the savages of the past.

Eventually, the river disappeared, and the valley was turned into a waste land of dry rocks. The woodlands around it were gone and the mountains overseeing it were emptied of animals and plants. Cold sones covered in snow was all that was left of the mountains. The earth was no longer breathing: no plant could grew on that land anymore.

Where once the river flew, a city was eventually erected. Swarms of efficient workers and preoccupied professionals populated the asphalt streets, driving cars and carrying large bags full of stuff. Not a single tree for miles. Only the sound of airplanes and the engines of construction. A jungle of concrete inhabited by creatures that turned paradise into shopping malls, military bases and tall buildings of glass. In this new world of progress, no god was venerated anymore, and everyone was equally miserable.  

‘I love this new phone. It is the same as the last ten. It does have a glamorous metallic case, however. But I don’t like how it shines,’ one human said to another while they were waiting in a long line at the end of which it was saying “New phone to be released in ten months. Que here”.