When I was young I spent a lot of time at the river (The Suck), which was just down the road from where I lived in the lovely village of Athleague, Co. Roscommon. There was no tradition of swimming in the river then but my Aunt Rita was a forward thinking woman and thought we should all learn to swim. When we explored the area behind the waterfall we discovered not bottomless depths as was feared but a natural swimming pool just the perfect height for swimming. On fine days we would spend hours and hours exploring the salmon leaps, and jumping off the gates into the deep water behind. (There was a high wooden platform connecting the far side of the river to the salmon leaps and waterfall with three huge weights that could be lowered and raised to control the flow of water).
One day when I was eight or nine I had gone for a swim on my own or perhaps had just gone over there for a walk and when I was ready to come home there was no one around and I decided to take a short cut across the waterfall, across the salmon leaps and the wooden walkway, and out through the mill yard. The water was low at the time and was not flowing over the waterfall but stopped a few inches from the edge. I was wearing a summer dress and sandals but I was fairly confident in my sense of balance.
I liked the thrill of the danger, the sense of being fearless (I was always referred to as a ‘tomboy’) but when I was already part of the way over I realised that there were people on the bridge watching me. It was too late to go back, and besides I was a determined and stubborn little girl, and so steadily worked my way across the waterfall, edged across the lowest of the salmon leaps, which are always flowing unless the river is very low, and then up over the walkway and out through the millyard, my heart pounding but delighted with myself. When I came out the gate at the millyard, a car pulled up full of ‘yanks’ and one of them rolled down the window and yelled out ‘Well you are the pluckiest little girl I’ve ever seen!’ and then they drove off and I went home redfaced and thrilled.
This is the bit where I’m supposed to say and that has coloured my experience ever since or that I’ve been trying to recreate the thrill of that moment in my life or maybe find a moral in the story or see it as warning to little girls on the dangers of walking over waterfalls in your summer dress and sandals. Well I don’t know what the moral is but I’d like to keep some of that sense of enthusiasm, that sense of pushing the boundaries.
When you are concentrating so hard on maintaining your balance, the adrenaline is flowing and you are nothing but steps and water and holding your breath. It’s a place I can get back to when I am creating something that involves total immersion in the words, in the moment of that story or the colours and shapes and textures of the image, whether it is painted with brushes or with words. Every part of you concentrates on the next step, complete ‘mindfulness’ and in a sense a loss of self.
As creative people we are all living on the edge – on the edge of that beautiful thing, that creation of something out of nothing , something that lifts us away from the daily realities of bills and dishes and traffic and broken things. And even if nothing ever comes of it for me it’s worth it for those moments when there is no mind and something else takes over and when you come out on the other side you look at what you have done and you think did I really do that?
So ..on the edge of failure or madness, of falling off the edge of a waterfall?? If I had fallen I’d have had to pick myself up and put a brave face on it, pretend it was funny and gone home like a drowned rat and I might not have tried it again. But that is not what happened…
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