the river mother
Photo by Manjari Misra, Assistant Editor
he Sun Mother sketches breathy ripples with shimmering fingers, parting the River’s water into paintings of the ancients. They dance together, the River pulling the light skimming its surface into a twisting waltz.
A fresh bead of water, glazed sunlight looping inside her, sits on a stone crevice. The droplet watches her sibling drops leap out of their mother’s warm embrace, colliding with each other in bursts of white foam, cresting in dulcet rainbows. She watches, enraptured, as some relinquish their mother completely, soaring out of the stream. They land on black crystals next to her, prematurely starting a new life with the Earth Mother.
The drop is brushed off her perch by her mother, sweeping her along with warm love. The River Mother is everywhere, stretching over the river to encircle every droplet with fingers of comfort. She shares her mind with her tiny children, letting them explore the expanse of the River by looking through each other’s eyes.
The droplet connects with a sibling far ahead, creeping into his eyes to watch the jade leaves of the forest swirl, speckled with metallic sunlight. She is jolted back to her own mind when the Mother throws her skyward, breaking through the River’s surface. The Wind Mother swallows her, puckering her in a numbing, ethereal grasp. She curls inside herself, slicing through the air like the slider of a zipper, unlocking the blunt teeth of the air headfirst. The Wind Mother hears her tiny cries and takes pity, gently pushing the breeze aside to clear a path for her.
The River Mother is waiting when she stabbed past the water’s surface, quickly enveloping her in fluid sweetness. Her hug is a fuzzy blanket, honeyed with hope, protecting her from the crawling blizzard outside. Did you enjoy it? The Mother asks, seeping warmth back into her. Shock and chill melt away, leaving behind a fused core of euphoria. Saturated with bravery and sunlight, she presses past her siblings, floating in Mother’s twinkling laugh. I’m glad you did, little one. I have much to show you. And the droplet beams, eager to live her new life to the fullest.
It crushed the River Mother when the drop’s bright soul faded away that same day.
The droplet had been nothing but excited when the waters started to change colors. The River Mother was a jeweled blue, a blue with hues of rubies and citrine and emerald cracking through it, like swimming with shards of a shattered necklace. When the gem chips darkened to a stained black, she was only anticipating her next adventure.
In the clouded water, like the black of a factory’s toxic waste, the blanket of sweetness covering her started to fray, tendrils curling backward. Her excitement died when she felt the River Mother’s mind fold away, severing their connection.
Suddenly, she was blind in the inky water, alone and scared. The River Mother’s presence had disappeared, taking her siblings with it.
Without the Mother’s protection, the drop grew heavier, her lungs involuntarily inhaling the darkness. She started sinking, gravity and exhaustion pulling her down, towards a new embrace. She fell into something thick and sticky, smothering her in glossy gloom, forcing poison inside her. She wriggled at the beads of blackness slitting through her, festering black against her pure soul. When the first drop struck her core, she cried out, feeling the River Mother’s spirit staining with darkness. The darkness bloomed in her core, unfurling like a black lotus, claiming the drop as its own.
She still moved with her siblings, still flowed the stream-etched path, but she was empty. Everybody around her was empty, a shell of what they had once been, their life force tainted. No more dancing with sunlight, no more oneness, no more warmth or love. She still lived, carving down the river, emptying into the ocean, joining the Cloud Mother in the blue above—she still lived.
But she was not alive.
There are some who felt the moment she collapsed, the moment her core succumbed, the moment the darkness overran her being. There are those who connect to the River Mother, the Wind Mother, the Earth Mother—those who feel the spirit of the Mothers run deep in their souls, who feel every birth and rebirth and death as one of their own.
The Indigenous tribes of Standing Rock protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Fonag water fund in Ecuador that protects the rich páramos. The Buddhist villagers who monitor the Tibetan Plateau. Every water protector, from environmentalist lawyer Rob Bilott, to the governments taking action, to the children participating in the Ocean Awareness Contest, to the volunteers cleaning up trash on the Mother’s beaches—they all hold a piece of the River Mother. She’s lent them parts of her spirit to help save her children, sacrificed bits of her soul to salvage the world. If she fades, she will survive, her soul living on in those few. But if she fades, we will not.
The River Mother has honored me with the privilege of her voice, the ability to spread her story. She tells me that there is a piece of her inside you, too. She tells me your spirit is strong. Meshing with hers, it is powerful. She tells me, if only you would connect to her, feel the River Mother pulsing inside you, you could save her—and the world.
The River Mother calls to you.
Can you hear her?
Aarushi Ammavajjala, 14
Gold Award, 2021 Ocean Awareness Contest
I know humans tend to relate to those like them. What’s water? Non-living, bland, and everywhere. But if I portrayed a drop of water as real as the girl-next-door, maybe it would inspire somebody to think about their actions. Her loss was tearful, but necessary to drive my point home. Nobody gets a second chance. Not the drops in the sea, not us. We can repair the damage, but we can’t take it back. How much time do we have left? Not enough to start over, but enough to follow in the footsteps of water protectors and save our future.