The River

High in the hills where the air is thin and the wind is keen, the snow-capped mountains weep.

Their tears fall from the edge of the frozen blanket and trickle down to mingle with the tears of the other mountains in the range.

Soon there are enough tears to become a crystal stream and that stream soon becomes a gushing river carving its path through the foothills.

The river cascades through the tree line and sweetens the high pastures before slowing down as it meanders through the meadowland in the valley floor.

And from there, it crawls lazily across the flood plain to an estuary and thence to the sea.

In this land there were two tribes.

One tribe lived on the lush slopes where they cultivated the land and lived well from the fruits of their labours.

The other tribe lived further down near the coast where the great river began its greatest journey into the wide ocean and on to the end of the earth.

This tribe did little farming but enjoyed the harvest they caught from the sea.

Each tribe had its own language and traditions but once in a while they would meet to trade and barter.

Rich butter and soft cheeses from the cattle that grazed in the high meadows would be exchanged for dried fish.

Or for ornament, beautiful shells exchanged for bright crystals found in the hills.

It was a happy arrangement while it lasted.

Then one day, some people from the high folk began to talk of how much more they could grow if only the river were diverted to irrigate some of the poorer land within their borders.

And so plans were drawn up and channels were dug and soon the waters that had flown straight down to the sea were made to work a little harder.

Down on the coast, the low folk began to notice that something was amiss.

The estuary that had provided them with fresh water to drink had become little more than a trickle.

There may have been plenty of water in the sea but none of that was fit to drink.

Life became hard for the low folk. By contrast, the high folk were enjoying bumper crops. There was plenty of food and the mountains gave them all the drinking water they needed.

A delegation from the low folk was sent up to meet with a delegation from the high folk.

They spoke of their concerns and pleaded for the waters to be allowed to run their original course, as nature intended.

But by now, the high folk had grown used to the high life and were not prepared to give it up.

Instead they agreed to give a small share of their bounty to the low folk in the form of aid.

Though not entirely happy with this solution, the delegation from the low folk agreed to take this proposal back to their people on the coast.

On their return, one or two of the delegation began to talk of what they had seen. They gossiped of the great wealth and of how fat the high folk had become.

“We work hard for what we have. We are simple folk who live by the laws passed down by our ancestors. Now all that we treasure, our very livelihood is threatened by the greed of the high folk.”

Those of the low folk that listened found it hard to disagree with what was being said.

“The waters from the mountains are our birthright, we must reclaim them!” they exclaimed.

And the crowd, for it was a crowd now, agreed.

There was, however, one dissenting voice.

“Why whip up anger?” said the voice. “Anger never achieved anything. We must talk to the high folk and make them understand our concerns. Besides, think of what we have that they can never have.” The voice pleaded.

“And what is that?” The people asked.

And the voice replied,

“We have all the fish we can eat. That is our wealth.”

“Whose side are you on?” questioned the crowd.


Later on, under cover of darkness a small group set off up the hills to where the waters had been diverted. They set about the earthworks which held the mountain waters at bay, with picks and shovels and broke them down.

The waters crashed through to flatten crops and knock down houses as the people inside them slept.

Their work done, the raiding party made their way back down to the coast.

In the morning, the high folk gathered to survey the damage done.

“An outrage!” one cried.

“They are little more than animals!” cried another.

But there was, however, one dissenting voice.

“Well, what did you expect?” asked the voice.

“We have taken ownership of something that is not ours by right. The waters of the mountains belong to the earth not to any one man. We had food enough before, we should share our wealth with the low folk.”

“Whose side are you on?” questioned the crowd.

And later on, under cover of darkness a small group set off on the long trek down to the coast. And once there, they sabotaged the fishing nets that had been hung out to dry in the wind.

In the morning, the low folk gathered to survey the damage.

“This is an outrage!” said one.

“See how they treat us? To them we are little more than animals!” cried another.

There was, however, one dissenting voice.

“See where your anger has got you? Now we cannot fish until the nets are repaired. What shall we eat?” said the voice.

“Whose side are you on?” questioned the crowd.

And with that, a figure stepped out and with his stick drew a triangle in the sand.

“How many sides?” he asked.

“There are three. Any fool can see that!” they scoffed.

He wiped away the triangle and drew a square.

“How many sides?” he asked.

“There are four sides. Do you take us for idiots?” they complained.

Then he wiped away the square and drew a circle.

“How many sides?” he asked.

The crowd were baffled. There was much scratching of heads, until a small girl stepped forward and spoke,

“It is a circle.” She exclaimed, “There are no sides.”

The crowd muttered in agreement as if they’d known the answer all along.

“Exactly.” Said the voice.

“This circle represents our planet. This is where we all live. So when you ask me ‘Whose side are you on?’ I can only reply that I live on a planet that has no sides. My actions are dictated by what is best for all.”

High in the hills where the air is thin and the wind is keen, the snow-capped mountains weep. Perhaps now they could be tears of joy.

copyright 2010 Jon King



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