Bloomsbury Wildlife, 2022
Reviewed by Janice Every
Amy-Jane Beer takes us on a journey of rivers, mostly in the UK, interweaving their flow with her memories – of rivers, studying them, kayaking and swimming them, and just being present with them. The rivers wind through memories of her childhood, friendships and travel.
Amy-Jane – biologist, activist and writer – has interacted with rivers for most of her life, but this love of water had lain dormant since the heart-breaking death of a dear friend whilst kayaking. Many years later, after feeling able to visit the spot where the tragedy occurred, she resolves to rediscover her connection with this part of herself by kayaking, canoeing or swimming as many waterways as she can, particularly those which resonated with her: this became ‘The Flow’.
Amy-Jane’s scientific knowledge is conveyed in an engaging way – and in a way that engages the emotions too, and sometimes expressing it in an almost poetic way. Her knowledge and descriptions are carried with humility and are beautifully woven into the narrative. Her writing flows effortlessly between personal memories, science, descriptions of the landscape through which she’s moving, whilst also sometimes referencing history, art and poetry – all brought together in a graceful flow. She is thoughtful and observant, and writes with wisdom, gentleness and passion, allowing us to see and feel her deep connectedness with water and the living Earth.
Each page is a delight; just opening the book again, I read this: “I’m adjusting to the idea that sunrise is not going to be much of an event when a skylark takes off from the moor above me. I don’t see him rise, or perceive the brightness that perhaps persuaded him to do so. But when he begins to sing I automatically turn my face up, and it seems then that he is casting something so bright and fine it must be a spell. It snags the fabric of the sky and the snag becomes a tear and the tear becomes a thinning. The thinning is dark blue rather than grey and in the blue the moon appears, like a faint, floury fingerprint.”
She is adventurous and often intrepid in her explorations as she navigates rivers or explores their source, or discovers springs, though always with humility and a respect for water and all life. Alongside her close bond, she remains aware of the potential power of water, and we also learn of the many challenges facing our rivers.
The writing is lyrical, with beautiful expressions of her water-based experiences – current and in her memories – which, together with a sharing of her inner journey, draws the reader into a magical and visceral experience. The language is delightful, deep and meaningful, yet light and airy, with an innovative style. The sentences feel fresh, with what felt like to me some newly-coined words, together with a number which I had to look up, and so expanding my vocabulary! Her description of the landscape, water, plant and wildlife are evocative, and drew me deeply in to what felt like an enchanted experience of water and the surrounding Nature
The Flow moves effortlessly between finding meaning in the landscape, the individualities of water and the characteristics of the terrain it flows through, together with her personal journeying, and is all the more meaningful for it – completely captivating!