The quest for nirvana

by Claire Marsden

I find myself tramping over the old packhorse routes, hundreds of years of footfall have polished them smooth like river pebbles.  It’s what I do when my mind feels fragile like the skeletal leaves I used to find and bring home. I walk. One step, followed by another then another. And I breathe. For what feels like the first time each time, I really breathe.

I greet the echoes of the men, women, and children who walked these same paths to the old mills and churches with a sympathetic smile. They reverberate around me as we walk the hilltops and moors together, connected by stone and sky. I find myself wondering what worries they may have had. Who were they when they were alone at night with their thoughts, in that uneasy paper-thin time between the dark and dawn?

I imagine the parents at home in their cottages, teaching the children the art of warp and weft, their hand looms once as ubiquitous as our cars. I think of life and how things constantly come together and fall apart, come together and fall apart, come together and fall apart. It has a rhythm to it, strange comfort like the sound the of the power looms that were introduced to mechanise this once skilled craft, and I think of the sad fate weaved for the cloth makers in the name of progress.

A bubbling curlew breaks my thoughts. Above me, I notice jackdaws tenacious on the wind. How I envy their wings. I’ve seen them, at what feels like the edge of the world, free fall, loop and play with it, challenge it. Such courage they have. Below me, I spy a wasp struggling to swim. Wings aren’t much use here. I save it and hope it won’t repay me with a sting. It doesn’t, even though it’s within its nature to sometimes do so. Just as it’s within ours to hope.

I pause to stand on the grassy bank I’ve reached. Sweet is the greeting of the water. This is my destination; a small quiet mill pond hidden among trees. Fed by freshwater and Victorian ingenuity. I forgive them their greed and undress, stepping tentatively in. The cold on my skin draws my breath sharp.  I feel alive and squeal. A moorhen clucks as if in recognition of such a chilly delight. Some people say it’s masochistic.  Perhaps they are right, after the initial frigid gasp the feeling is one of sublime release.

I ease myself away from the edge and start to gently swim. There is the scent of honeysuckle in the air and I can hear cowbells singing out in the distance. Around me, the silver birches, graceful ladies of the wood, anchor both the light and my thoughts. I float, held by water, and sink deeper into myself. Layers of fear and worry start to dissolve, and the undulations of thoughts finally slow, stilling themselves. I forget the people who have been before me and have no mind of those yet to come. I hold no memory for the mills that like rivers have come and gone. For a few precious moments under that forgiving blue expanse, I am sheltered, unified. Unhurried and grateful. Even the words, ‘twenty twenty’ are no longer on my mind.

At one point, I think I feel a fish brush past my foot. It could be a pike, they like to hide in the reeds, but I simply take a deep breath and smile; wild swimming is my axis mundi, the connection between heaven and earth. And perhaps, after all is said and done, that’s all nirvana really is; a place where we can find peace, a quiet Yorkshire millpond.


Claire Marsden enjoys writing poetry, CNF and flash fiction and is pleased many of her pieces have found wonderful homes. When she isn’t wild swimming or tramping through the woods she can usually be found squirrelled away at home, writing. You can say hi to her on twitter via @occulife


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