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First Chapters: The River Wife

January 22, 2011

Rock Island Bend, Franklin River, Tasmania

As the sun crests the dark line of land, I wake and step from the river, and that in itself is what is called magic.

We have always lived here. We have been here since the lakes began. We have brought the rivers to the oceans since the world was cold. We are bound by a spell so old there may be none left who are caught by it, except for me. My father once said that any story of a place was a story of sadness because everything changed. So a story of belonging would always be a story of losing.

One Mile Billabong, Badger Bates

I have walked beside the river all my life and listened to its music. I have climbed to the reaches where rivers are born and I have swum in all the lakes that rest in the hands of these mountains. I have watched lakes filled with sky, hurried by wind, hidden by mist, whispering in rain. Lakes that overflowed into one great river that slipped away from the mountains. The river ran, sometimes quiet and filled with light, sometimes shouting through rapids, growing as it tumbled down into the deep of forest, spilling over outcrop and boulder and around the roots of trees, swept into moss banks, glinting under the watchful gaze of trees, hastening over shallows until it reached the greatest lake, which stretched further than I could see by day. From there the flow of water became a broad penumbral river that moved through folded hills and cast its tributaries across the land.

Rainbow at Dove Lake, Cradle Mountain, Tasmania

Water is a message. It is a truth that asks nothing, a story older than people and older than mountains, a holder and deliverer of memories beyond time. It runs away and never back and it takes with it everything we are.

One day, when spring had taken the earth to her breast and warmed it, love lay down by the river. He slept in a blue shirt and through the afternoon he did not stir but dreamed with the river’s song beside him. When we woke he saw me.

Love was not the pattern of leaves and the texture of bark, it was not the underbelly of river or the way of fish, though all that was here was part of it. Love was the passing of the sky across a face, it was the arc of conversation, the thought of forever, the yearning to go on and never back, the desire to be something other than I was. I see him standing there in farewell and my breath hurries to me, the day falling away behind him, the sky about this shoulders. I never thought to ask what belonging was, nor how I might be free of it, until I loved Wilson James.

Lune River Agate, Tasmania

This is a story of a river and the making of stories and the nature of love. Some would say that any story of water is always a story of magic, and others would say any story of love was the same. And being a love story it begins with a broken heart.

~ first chapter, The River Wife by Heather Rose, 2009

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