Some thoughts on crossing rivers

Me at dusk on St Clair where I saw the eel.

About a week and a half ago I made it to a reiki hub evening after a long absence. (Reiki hub is a place for people who are learning or practicing reiki to come together and practice. The evening usually starts with about an hour long mediation and then we take turns on the table.) It was still broad daylight outside when I arrived at a few minutes past six and when I opened the door onto the dimmed room I couldn’t see a thing. People welcomed me and Jacqueline wrapped me up in one of her earth mother bear hugs (I would pay $10 just for that). I stood frozen in place in the open doorway waiting for my eyes to adjust. Finally I said, “I can’t see anything.” Someone set a plastic chair down in front of me and put my hand on it. Someone else put two cushions in my hands to sit on. Everyone ushered me into the room, into my seat. All I had to do was pause, take the things they gave me and let them lead me to my seat. It was an incredible moment. I don’t know that I can really do it justice in words.

I had been moving through the day–through life–pushing, moving, making, wanting things to happen, being impatient and also feeling tired. And I had just kept going. (We all do this. We just keep going.) Then I opened a door to a dark room. I paused in the transition from light to dark. For once that day I did not rush. The people in the room gave me everything I needed in that pause. My temporary blindness allowed me to stop long enough to receive, to feel that ache of needing something and being given it and afterwards to settle into the dark and meditate.

I am not a person who meditates regularly, even though I would like to and as much as I idealise the idea of doing it, I don’t prioritise it. Meditating for 45 minutes isn’t exactly easy. I relished the opportunity to sit in the dark and consider the dead sea eel I had seen on the beach that day and its symbolism. For 45 minutes, each time my mind spiralled away from me I brought it back to the image of the dead eel.

The eel was five feet long, grey on top and a pale glowing white along the length of its underside. It was tumbled around by the incoming surge and as I approached came to rest in the sand across my path. I touched it and felt a camaraderie with my younger self, a duplication of investigation, of curiosity that can be so heartbreakingly rare. Plain interest drew me in. Attention to the world. The eel was not gross or scary but fascinating. The eel was just beginning to soften with decomposition and was about as wide around as a downspout. Huge. Both gorgeous and ugly and so exposed. I imagined his natural habitat was somewhere deep down tucked under rocks and ledges.

Animal symbolism is a pretty big part of my life. I am usually on the look out for messages and signs coming from the animal kingdom. I look to the animal’s physical characteristics and to its nature for interpretation. Eel would be similar to Snake in the way it moves. Snakes represents transition, change, death. The eel’s being dead would go along with that. The eel hides away between rocks and under ledges. In that it reflects my own hermit nature, my tendency to hide out. Perhaps something within me is ready to be expressed? Something which has run its course and, whether I want it to or not, is about to wash up on the shores of my life.

When I opened my eyes after the meditation I found they had adjusted and I could see quite well in the room. We stood up and moved the chairs out of the way, pulled out the two massage tables and began. I go because there is nothing quite like lying on the table with three or four people running reiki. I go because my hands become so hot as the energy builds in the room. I go for comfort, connection and practice in a world where these things are often missing. When I left I felt settled and present all the way through my mind, body, soul and spirit.


A few days later my sister arrived from the US with five of her friends. When the tide was low we followed the Akatore river that borders my parents’ farm from where it meets the road all the way to the sea. Our old lab Meggie made it all the way, fording the river when the rocks were too high for her to climb up. I was ready to go in after her just in case she couldn’t get out of the swift current. Even when the tide is low the middle of the river is fairly deep and moves quickly.

Down by the river mouth I found myself in a familiar spot. I had stood in that very place with my friend Jen when I was twelve or thirteen. I had been in New Zealand for about two years and my friendship with Jen (with the exception of two kittens and a horse) was one of the first positive connections I’d felt since arriving. I had spent a year at a very small primary school where no friendships had stuck and met Jen pretty quickly after starting high school the following year. Jen and I have matching adventurous spirits (still do) and are often envious of each other’s adventures now that we are adults and don’t get to go on as many together. But back then she used to come out to Taieri Mouth for sleepovers quite a bit and excursions to the Akatore were frequent.

I think it was on our first trip down there when we stood in that very spot watching the fast moving water, both petrified to get in. The water looked so fast to us and we weren’t sure our swimming was up to it (it was). We’d also heard rumours about sharks hanging out in river mouths and one particular story about a huge basking shark someone once spotted in the river from an airplane. We didn’t know then that basking sharks are more like feeder fish than a typical shark, swimming along with their huge mouths open eating whatever swims in. Although its possible that we could have fit inside the mouth of a basking shark it would not have wanted to eat us.

We stood looking at the river, scared out of our wits but also in love with the adventure of it all. Crossing the river would require courage. We would have to be brave. For half an hour or more we watched the torrent of and discussed how we would do it knowing that crossing would mean also having to cross back. After much deliberation we held hands, counted and jumped. The current was lazy quick at best but we kicked and swam as fast as we could creating so much whitewater that any shark would have been scared out of its wits. Once we made it across we laughed at how ridiculous we were and at how easy it had been. We laughed and laughed and for the rest of the day ease came to us lightly.

Fear and anxiety are like that. They build up tension between where you are and where you want to be. They won’t quit and until you do the thing they pester you and work on you and you feel worse for having not done the thing you are terrified of doing. Eventually it gets so bad that you just do the thing already to get anxiety and fear off your back. I’m in an anxious cycle now. Something is building and calling me forward and I oscillate wildly between fuel and fear. What I wouldn’t give for someone to hold my hand and do all the things I am afraid of along with me, to spend time agonising over the approach, the plan, the worst case scenario and who then at the crucial moment would grab my hand and jump with me. Someone to celebrate and laugh with on the other side. How lucky we were then!

I think we’re given things physically to learn symbolically. Once we integrate the learning we don’t necessarily need the physical container any longer. When I found myself wishing I had someone to cross rivers with (literally) I realised that we are all crossing rivers, all the time, everyday. Life challenges us and we find ourselves doing hard things. In 2018 Jen had a baby and I swam with whales–both things scared the living daylights out of us and yet have brought us so much joy and learning. I still have Jen in my life–and a surplus of other great friends–though we’re separated by a twelve hour drive or a $400 flight. We’re still crossing rivers together it’s just that the crossings are more spiritual than literal. I realised how lucky I was to have had that moment at the riverside at all, a moment that will live throughout time in my heart, reflected in all my freezing, in all my jumping, in all my courageous actions.


The last few days have been full of rare animal sightings. I have animal symbolism coming out my ears! Two days in a row a large pod of dolphins traveled past the farm house, leaping and feeding. Rock pools down at Livingstonia beach revealed rare treasures: a camo crab (it puts little plants all over its body to conceal itself) and a baby stargazer (fish) or shark (couldn’t tell which). Down at the beach below the house yesterday we saw a juvenile leopard seal basking in the sun, exhausted after its swim from Antartica. Their large skulls and spotted pattern makes them easy to spot.

The leopard seal / sea leopard.


Today was my first proper swim in the ocean (not counting scuba diving of course) and it felt celebratory. The water was blue green and crystal clear and I caught several waves body surfing. My sister was in the water too and it’d been a long time since we we went in the ocean together. We each took turns being ‘shark guard’ (the person out farthest in the water) though we didn’t go in much past wading depth! It was lovely to have lots of people to be in the water with. In fact, I’ve had a surplus of that in the last year with all the new people I have met scuba diving with Dive Otago.

I learned a lot underwater in the last couple of months and I have been processing a ton of fear related to being submerged, to going deep, to putting myself in the way of the wild. Some small part of me is determined to never go in again which is frustrating because I have had nothing but good and/or learning experiences in my water time. I have been well taken care of under the waves. After swimming and bodysurfing today in the wavy shallows I took my underwater camera and housing in and took some photos of kelp and rock and water. It was lush being under. The beauty of kelp astounds me every time. It brought back instant body memories of diving through towering fronds of kelp, of seeing the shape of things underwater: boulders, wrecks, sea tulips, octopus, blue moki, kelp forests, the bows and beams of ships, sealions. Beauty. Bounty. I was swirled around in the kelp, in the whitewater of the waves hitting the rock ledge, tossed gently around in the surge and I knew then that I would get back in. I would never stop getting back in. Not until there is no more in or no more getting.






  1. Anne, who is man in photo with you and Jessica? Enjoyed reading this. How do I enlarge these photos? We had ice storm last night with light snow today. Very beautiful and dangerous. Love, Aunt Jane

    1. The man is Blair! Or whoever the actors name is that you think he looks like. Eek, an ice storm. We’ve had some crazy weather here too. Not sure how you can enlarge them. Email me a list of the ones you’d like enlarged and I will send you the original file. 🙂 Love you too, Anne

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