Thursday, May 14, 2015

Elez - my life in a river

I'm writing about the Elez for the autumn exhibition on Breton landscape. It's made me think a lot about the comfort and inspiration of a river, something that emerges as far more significant to me than the rhythms of the sea. It's to do with one directional flow, an infinite variation of pace and the coherent trace from source to mouth or confluence.
Looking down on the Yeun Elez
The Elez is intensely interesting for the variety in its short length. Most famous is the Yeun Elez, a vast marshy bowl said to contain the entrance to the Celtic underworld, and the setting of many a Breton legend. Here near the source, the river immediately settles into stagnation and the lazy squelch of bog, its force constrained in a peaty reservoir. The 1930s Lac St-Michel flooded the area to hold a mass of water for producing hydro-electricity, with a barrage at Nestavel, and later serve the 1960s nucelar power station on the lakeside.
Once resolved of such serious responsibility, the Elez can breathe freely and move at a rapid pace, becoming positively light-hearted at the magical Chaos of Mardoul, where it lilts among the granite boulders with playful insistence. Held up again for another functional duty with a lake and barrage at St Herbot, it somehow manages both to fulfil the demands of the artificial channel to the electricity plant and yet retain enough energy to power down spectacular tiered cascades over massive stones near St Herbot.
Mardoul Chaos
Cascade at St Herbot
After the drama, a calm rural meander across eastern Finistère, passing (and occasionally threatening) a friend's mill-house between Collorec and Plouyé, before reaching the Aulne near Penity St-Laurent.
My affinity with this river is, of course, in great part a matter of scale and accessibility. I doubt I'd feel so strongly for the Limpopo. But while the sea remains too vast to grasp, too over-whelming, predictable and unpredictable, diurnal and eternal, the Elez is simply a beautiful river with a beginning and an end to its story, easily analogous to a life's course with all the attendant rises and falls.

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