For years, I’ve been trying to find the river between the Czech Republic and Germany.
I visited the Czech Republic 4 years ago with the school choir, and the first thing we did upon disembarkment in Prague was to head to Dresden, Germany.
The trip wasn’t long, but every cold December evening seems long. We started the journey while the sky was still murky and soon after, dusk began to set in. The gloom seemed to stretch for miles and miles, and it felt like we were surrounded by a shroud of greyness– lonely, depressing greyness. The road was a long, and rather empty one, but the view outside was eerily beautiful.
I do not know if I saw this river in Prague or Dresden. Somewhere in between, perhaps. Back then I did not have much of an interest in national borders, and thus never noticed any checkpoints along the way. I only remember looking out the window, letting my eyes flit across the wispy trees that line the road and the neighbouring elevations like the Vatican guard, their frail bodies moving with the wind. I only remember the sky going darker and darker, not black, but settling into an even darker grey. And I remember the bus stopping, due to reasons I can no longer recall.
It was then, that I took a long hard look outside my window.
The scenery was beautiful. The highway was situated on a slightly higher ground, and I could see a thin, meandering river down below. It was lined with pine trees, somewhat haphazardly, and white snow blanketed the ground and dotted the pine needles. Behind was a hill-like region peppered with pine trees, with black needles that contrasted starkly with the ghostly-pale snow.
The river was just…there. Sitting alone by itself. Beautiful. Haunting. Peaceful. In the bus, I could hear the stillness of the river, the ripples trapped in the cold. I could see the slight mist outside, the cold air thick and painful against my nostrils. I could imagine sitting by the river, just looking.
It was just a feeling I cannot describe. A mixture of feelings, rather. I felt an urge to join the river in its reverie, to just sit there and never be found. I felt like getting lost in the woods forever. I felt like leaping off the bus and into the river, entering eternal peace in my watery grave. The beauty- it brought tears to my eyes. So much yearning, desire, sadness. Looking at it, I felt both alive, and the jadedness of life. So much beauty, but so much danger. In that moment, I was horrified at the thought that I wouldn’t mind being swallowed whole by this river, succumbing to its mesmerising hold over me. I’ve never felt so helpless.
I never saw that river again, not on my return trip. I’ve tried to find this river online; for a while, I thought it was the Elbe and pictures revealed how different they are. I’m pinning my hopes on the Vltava now, a river I found by tracing my route using Google Maps and Google Earth, but I am still not quite sure. Many a time, I’ve found myself looking for mountainous lodges, and I know this stems from my desire the relive and rediscover this moment.
I am convinced that one day, I will drive the exact route, at the exact time and find this river. I think only then can I find a form of closure, to take back the heart and rationality that the river has stolen from me. And this time, I will stop the car, and spend some time beside the river. Feel its magic swirl around me. Listen to the nothingness. Taste the snow that it is clad in. And simply stare at it, relax, reflect and think.
And softly I will read Robert Burns’ “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”.
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Do you know this river?