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Book review: The Comfort of Water

July 18, 2011

Did you like the book?

I loved it!

If you are not convinced, here is a more elaborate description:

It is good to receive books as loans or gifts, so that you try something completely new. Although a title and a backside blurb normally tell you something about what to expect from a book, I was still surprised when I began reading Maya Ward’s book The Comfort of Water – a river pilgrimage. 336 pages. Transit Lounge Publishing. info@transitlounge.com.au

I love reading, but sometimes I make a joke and say there is no point in reading anything new (unless scientific), because they simply repeat what has been written for the past 300 years, just using new names. War, crime, love, stupidity, greed, generosity, religion, magic, fairy tales and heroism have been perfectly described in the past. There is no need for a second Pride and Prejudice. However, this time I must admit a modern book can present something new.

Before I began reading Maya Ward’s book, I thought it would be more of a geographical traveling description. It turns out the river is simply the scene. In 2003, Australian architect Maya Ward and her friends decided to walk along the Australian Yarra river, from its mouth at sea to the springs in the mountains. During this three weeks long hike Maya formulates interesting thoughts about society, civilization, technology, history and environment. It is not academic, although written by a thinking mind who can address biology and geology and adds references, it is not a hippie romance because Maya’s mind is clear and free from drugs and aliens, it is not religious in the sense of a certain sect – but there is still admiration for life and earth. The first 56 pages are quite philosophical, and then there is a mosaic of reflections and pure landscape descriptions.

I think the book is a milestone of 2011, useful for future generations who would like to understand the thinking, hopes and worries of our time’s advanced minds, and hopefully it is important in the sense it will make today’s people think. Maya spent eight years working on the manuscript, and I can see it has been carefully done. There are no illustrations apart from maps, and I think illustrations or photographs would draw the attention away from the intellectual thinking. There are Dickens-like descriptions such as ‘the urine-scented platform’ for which I think future generations will be grateful – they will be able to smell the world of the 21st century.

Another relief is that the reader is comforted by the fact that other people like Maya have gone further in their thinking. You are not alone thinking something is wrong.

An amusing conclusion of mine is that while Maya embraces the experience of the Australian Aborigines and their songlines (fairy tales based on landscape features to enable orientation, a kind of a brain GPS), I embrace her. Indeed peoples who live from their lands in Africa, Asia and Australia have tremendous survival skills, but according to my humble experience they do not cherish their surroundings until they lose them. With a modern gun and a chain saw they would happily exterminate everything in sight in exchange of a cell phone. Their descendants, influenced by western romantic views, would glorify their ancestors, but they were just ordinary greedy people like us. People who know their lands thoroughly usually do not know much about other peoples or methods, and are stunted by deep superstition, which is why I think Maya and permaculturists belong to the most advanced humans. They are capable of combining modern science and all the experience of all peoples anywhere at all times, and they respect and admire life in all its forms. I guess Maya is too humble to realize that, looking for salvation in the bon sauvage.

I think Maya will repeat her hike in a few decades, to contemplate how society has changed, and maybe write another book. I also think the current book will inspire people elsewhere to make similar pilgrimages, but in the case of Australia, USA and many other countries, it is difficult due to land ownership laws and permits. In Sweden you can walk anywhere out of sight of a house, also on private land. Fencing out people is not allowed. That is pretty much the case here in Thailand too, but here trespassers usually cause a lot of destruction.

Naturally, we are all individuals and it is expected that the reader may disagree on some conclusions of Maya’s. The important thing is that she makes us contemplate. The book should be translated into Asian languages, to wake up a content middle class which is unaware of the state of the planet.

Cherish the creation and think positively, like Maya!

Eric Danell

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