Succumbing to the river’s charms– and other pertinent notes by Robert Kimber

Let’s close the month of June on a poetic note.  Here’s a favorite passage from Robert Kimber’s A Canoeists’s Sketchbook.

“Succumbing to the charms of any river tosses you on the horns of an impossible dilemma.  Do you spend the rest of your life going back to that same river, knowing that no matter how many times you see it you will only have just begun to see it?   Or do you move on from one river to another and from each bend in that river to the next bend, knowing that each river and each bend has its own personality and mystery?  Most of us deal with this dilemma by resorting to those sloppy compromises so rife in human affairs.  We keep exploring the new while fitting in, whenever we can, return trips to those rivers and places that have spoken most powerfully to us.   Monet did not compromise.  Devoted to an art that can capture only static moments in a constantly flowing world, he went back to the same bend on the Seine time and time again.  Monet was not a canoeman.  His way of knowing a river was not to climb into the flow and become part of it, but to be in the same place next to it season after season, day after day, to capture–hour by hour and minute by minute– the shift from blaze of noon to evening shadow, from water hidden in the morning mists to ice flows glinting in the winter sun.   What he wanted to do, as he said himself, was record his impressions of the natural world “in the face of the most fugitive effects”.  No wonder he painted rivers and river scenes so often.  The river is a fugitive effect, always in constant flight from us, slipping through our fingers no matter how diligently we attend to it.  The river in constant flow and change is the image not only from our own lives but of everything alive.”    

Robert Kimber, A Canoeist’s Sketchbook,  1991


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