How can we know the dancer from the dance? ~William Butler Yeats
River was only a young girl when she lead her wandering people to the river by which they now dwell. A child not searching for her name like most, but instead walking its first steps towards the familiar, the self-determined. She wears her name with comfort, like one should. Consistently more clever and generous than the rest, she aged into a woman learning new things. The limits of the horizon would play with her mind, her smile curving with the shining arc of each new day.
There are, of course, those who found alternative routes to the passing water, but she was the first. The elders re-affirm this gathered in their dimly-lit tents where they listen to to her sounds. Lessons, advice, daily companionship in a harsh world. The elders precede her time, still partially nomads. They cannot move forwards any more than River could go backwards. Some of the children, for example, take to her system of symbols so well, whereas some of the elders still cannot grasp it. How does one define a definition? They are ignorant... They cannot hear the myriad of sounds found within, nor discern the shapes--and they try and tell her what it all means? Their collective wisdom is demonstrable, but so is their contempt. Despite this, however, all they have is each other.
River sits down at the gathering table, having been summoned from her explorations in the wild. "I was listening to the sounds of a bee. It was truly quite remarkable...why was I interrupted?"
The eldest speaks: "There is something that must be addressed, and it might as well be now. River you are a constant to the people. You must not change their beliefs on the whim of each passing wind. You hold responsibility, child. Do you understand?"
"I change no one's beliefs, and I am not a child, old man. I am taller than you; I see further. I see hands clinging to my movement for theirs."
"This.." He gestures around "...is what we do, River, and you give us life. Why must you upset the order? You say you are not a child but yet you believe you should be able to act in disregard for everyone else."
"What are you talking about? I go where the shores direct me. I have hurt none."
The second eldest chimes in: "You hurt them with your speculations and shifts of the mind. When the river is calm, so are the people who feed from it. When the powers ravage the waters with behavior of the unfamiliar the people retreat, scared."
"Well we need to shed this persistent fear like the sun sheds the shadow. Just like night turning to day, it is all change, ultimately. The passing of time."
"Time..." One of her newer words. The elders chew this over. They eat an abstract supper that night.
Different nights, many different plates of tasty food. It goes on for a while. There is lots of food now. With more and more gathered the days get longer even though winter fast approaches. Fights break out; animals and women are subject to man's boredom.
One day it is discovered that the river has slowed. Silent panic breaks out. Have they done something wrong? Only a demon would wish such rescinding of the land's precious lifeblood. Thankfully they have in their company the avatar of the water. River, however, is afraid to go look upon herself. When she first discovered the river, so many years ago, she also discovered the shifting chameleon which dances on the surface. She was so young it was the only thing she really remembers clearly. It mimics her movements, as if it were humorous. The two of them, one. It has always scared her, how the gods operate--just enough to be tempered. Hiding in fear is not temperance, River. You must move on. She does, she decides she has not come this far only to halt.
She is movement.
The village Seer is venturing down the familiar path, the one she has walked so many times before. As she walks she thinks about that figure again. The chameleon, impersonator, god of the opposite. It is a silent participant. Instead of trying to figure out who is subjugated to whom, she instead imagines herself and her partner joined at the hands and feet--a sort of back and forth movement. They all move on, the pull of the earthly body and everything else.
She explores a bit beyond the boundaries of their watering area upstream and eventually she finds the answer to this quest. It is rather welcoming one--a strange creature which has built up a filter of sorts, blocking the flow of water. They scurry about, harmless. River exists in the current of this place for some time, just watching the leaves collect in the network of interlocked twigs. One of the animals eventually rises from the water to look her in the eye. She smiles at the small brown explorer--perhaps the Seer of his companions--ventures out of the water fully and onto the shore. It clasps it hands together, shaking off the dripping water. With what River can only describe as a smile, it begins to move, seemingly for the sake of moving...
Upon the sight of her healthy figure in the distance some of the local children who had been waiting run up to great her, others run back into the village to tell the others. The adults huddle nervously at the entrance to the village. River, now close enough for them to see her expression, gives them all a smile to relieve their fear.
"River, River! You made it back!"
"Are you OK?"
"Is everything going to be normal again?"
That night River tells the story over a grand feast. Everyone in the village is in attendance. "My fellow villagers, I have found the source of the river's change in speed. Its waters are flooding upstream due to the clustering of an animal--the 'beaver' as I have defined. These creatures use the waste of the land; their collective contributions--the tiniest of morsels--have significant effects in total, as we can see. They are not unlike us, in that regard. We all help out, and look what we have built here."
The villagers smile, some of them murmuring to themselves or individually offering grunts of agreement.
"What now, though? I ask this my friends. Not to cause harm, or undue stress, but to save us, ultimately. We have come from utter wilderness. What still lies within that is yet untamed? What lies within that makes us blessed with change, instead of the victim?"
The crowd falls silent, wondering what she is talking about.
"I stood outside of myself today. I stood in the eyes of the beaver. Though apart, we moved as one....and what became of me was most exquisite. I just...moved, with sustained enthusiasm. Pure expression. To the animals, to the Earth Mother, to myself. I must create a new enunciation here: 'dancing' -- we were dancing."
The eldest has had enough. "The girl 'dances' with the beasts of her--our--problem. Foolish. Chaos. She introduces this idea with little concern for the others. The river has still slowed, has it not? This is not normal!"
River moves on, unfazed. "...Dancing to 'music'--these are the sounds. Have you ever heard them?" She asks to no one in particular. "You know how to do it, surely...." The Seer tries to further explain the ex-stasis to her fellow villagers, but to no avail.
Has she gone mad? The creeping shadows of the darkness whispers winds of criticism through the flapping door of the main tent. The sound of the wind chime elicits the same from the crowd: No one wants a spiritual possibility... we want to go home with our families.
The Eldest finally stands up, motioning for the others to come to order. "Tomorrow we will arm ourselves and confront the beast. It is decided."
River moves to a local high spot so as to watch the small procession of mostly men moving out of their comfort zone upstream. Hopefully the beavers will flee before the brigade of fools works up the courage to storm the knot of the forest which irritates them so.
When the water receded it revealed a strange landscape previously unseen. All kinds of things: some curious and inviting to exploration, and others disgusting and rotten-smelling. When they see it they will hate it. The water itself is easier to access now; the unpredictable and often times overwhelmingly strong currents of the river in its prior state made fishing and crossing quite difficult, but with the help of the beavers it is now calm and shallow. She explained this, numerous times, but the only one who seemed to understand that this change was a good thing was the youngest of all the villagers, a young girl by the name of Zora.
"It's probably just what beavers do, Mommy." she had speculated innocently.
"Well they can do it somewhere else."
River turns away from the water in the distance and instead allows her attention to fall on a tree which stands near her. She is restless. The tree, she considers, can't move at all, and yet there is so much motion in the leaves. The wind plays with them, and they with the wind. How divine. She smiles. She starts to dance with them, allowing a soft hum to escape her lips. The vibrations feel nice, along with the wind. This person is one. Holding hands with everything she steps in perfect timing. This is the order of all things. The Seer drifts off into a lullaby tango. Her worries move beneath her feet, trampled on like blades of grass. The world moves away and finds herself now in the eternal embrace. She is everywhere, can feel the twigs as they are uncombined, and the dying breath of an innocent animal. The villager's boots land demoralizing blows to a community which has to now start over. Somewhere, in another layer of thought, sadness grips the land. The river flows strong again, draining the tears.
The melody distorts.
When River at last opens her eyes she sees the village--nearly all of it--enshrouded around her. The energy is one of a decision long beyond the possibility of redemption. Circling, somewhere in the back of the crowd, is her partner. The grim spectre, waiting to be paired up. His arm is a line, of which there are two directions. "Those who cannot hear it think me insane, but what will you do when your song plays?" River offers out her hand to the dark figure, and they all walk closer.
The song is upbeat, and this woman is the instrument of bestial vigor. They rip her apart.
Zora stands looking at the blood-stained ground where the village seer lies unrecognizable, and in pieces. There is roaring scream in her head and it won't go away. The only other thing is that which mutes it by comparison: the orchestra of the cosmos.