The river remembers: eddies of time on Dog’s Beach

Benjamin P. Taylor
4 min readFeb 6, 2024

The river banks where I love to walk my dog are changing. Not development, though they’re building a bridge upstream which is already changing the water flows. It is in its nature to change.

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The water’s been high this year, parts are still impassable and submerged. Other parts are too muddy to explore, but the current was enough to cover a small part with sand, perhaps moved from the dredging which, two years ago, created huge flat beaches, perfect for chasing balls.

Some trees, weakened by last year’s storm which destroyed many neighbours, floated up on their root balls as the waters came. Some grow still, sideways. Others, including endangered black poplars brought here by the Romans, stand tall.

I’ve been here in 42°C and -25°C, in fog, snow, scorching sun, rain, hail, mist, and, rather stupidly, in a supercell thunderstorm. There are wood pigeons, ducks, swans, herons, egrets, huge flocks of crows, small waterbirds flocking in the thousands, and once a grey partridge. Water snakes — they don’t like to be seen — and frogs who announce themselves with their departure. Sometimes pollution, natural or human. Usually, sadly, litter. Last year someone distributed scrolls of poetry under little roofs on posts.

As well as dog walking, swimming, and teenagers hanging out, the place is used for bonfires, drinking, drugs, fishing, camping for cyclists and kayakers travelling the river. My mother-in-law tells me it used to be the place to see and be seen if you were open to suitors. It’s not the fancy town beach, it’s ‘dog’s beach’, where you take your chances and we all look out for each other.

The place adapts, and we adapt. After the storm, people brought chainsaws to open up the paths. We break off obstructive branches, lay planks across small gullies, put down brushwood to firm up muddy paths.

I could probably come back in a thousand years, or go back a thousand years, and however much the trees and vegetation and beaches and water flows might have changed, they wouldn’t have changed that much.

Some parts of the riparian land are now little islands, as the river fills space. That standing water will silt up, get overgrown, dry out. Some landmark trees have gone and their beachheads eroded, but new trees will take their place. Beaches come and go, water levels rise and fall, but the paths trodden by generations of feet, the breeding grounds of generations of fish, somehow they re-establish themselves. Perhaps exactly where they were, but with different scenery, perhaps in a different place, but with the same purpose.

My point, if I have one, is that we’re all in these swirls or eddies — of short time or of deep time — and we need to pay attention to the immediate flooding, and also to the way the patterns re-establish themselves. Whether it’s management fads, technology, war, climate crisis, or economics, look for the swirls and eddies of the water, the accumulation of soil and life, the tramping of feet, the patterns, the possibilities.

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