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Fig 1: Detail. The River Ericht, Blairgowrie, Perthshire, Scotland, 2020. Image courtesy of Mary Modeen.

We are first and ever in the world by the time we come to know where we are. As we come together, what we share here are stories from places and people across the world showing and telling and singing songs that reveal more than one place, more than one story. These are sharings that resonate with how we are in our places and what these places mean to us.

Open Rivers e-journal Issue Twenty: Rivers and Meaning

This issue of the Open Rivers is dedicated to an international perspective of rivers, particularly in an overview of the current place-based research conducted by artists, writers, and socially engaged practitioners who lead fieldwork studies, regeneration schemes, and collaborative community projects. From rivers as far afield as China, Brazil, Canada, Scotland, Ireland, and Aotearoa/New Zealand, rivers as rivers and as “waters of life” will be considered, along with the importance of what rivers mean to human and nonhuman inhabitants and how they come to these meanings.

A river as a metaphor so easily functions symbolically that we take in, all at once, an understanding that what we are seeing is simultaneously water flowing by, but also, from a distance of history, geographical changes, and epochs, how rivers have agency. They are the barometers of environmental health, or they may separate us from the other side; they may divide as political separations and borders, and yes, they may even conjoin creatures, human and nonhuman. They are the forces of erosion as well as of life, carrying away soil, plants, and even more in spate. Rivers are component parts in complex watersheds, separating into two streams that flow in different directions; they can be dammed to provide energy, can be tapped for irrigation, and can even be forced to change the direction of their flow!  Rivers can disappear underground, flowing unseen in cavernous depths. They can even disappear entirely, as the water tables are depleted, redirected (as in the case of the Chicago River), or lost entirely in a process of climate change. The slower lessons show us even more, as time passing, as constant change, as stages of life and mortality, with hints of well-being and joy.

To explore the complete issue online you can visit the Open Rivers website.

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