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The Stream of Everything: A reflective curio in awe of nature

John Connell drifts upstream on a wave of canoe-borne, spiritual meditation

The Stream Of Everything
Author: John Connell
ISBN-13: 978-0717194643
Publisher: Gill
Guideline Price: €17.99

In May 2020, lockdown was widespread. The prevailing silence allowed writer John Connell to wake up to the hum of nature surrounding us. Connell decided to canoe the course of the Camlin in Longford, his friend Peter in tow. In this memoir, we are privy to Connell’s musings and reflections prompted by the surroundings along the way.

This might not sound scintillating, but you would be wrong to dismiss this curio. Initially, Connell’s lyrical prose seems borderline earnest, but that’s before you get attuned to his naturalistic, bucolic wavelength. If his diction sounds peculiarly old-fashioned, it’s perhaps because he’s trying to commune with his ancient forebears and get an ageless vantage point on nature.

Connell is a humble writer of enormous generosity, dignity and openness. His focuses are admirably unfashionable: he’s found God, he has a mutually enriching relationship with his father; he marvels at everything from brown trout to mayflies; and he relishes a good stoical silence. Although the salubriousness can be a little too quaint, the more you read, the more the writing fosters a reflective equanimity in the reader. It’s refreshing to encounter a writer following his interests with nary a consideration for the zeitgeist – meditations on Trump and the internet’s corrosiveness notwithstanding. This unique book feels like a balm in our relentless age. It is radical in its quietude.

Natural world

Connell is reaching out to the natural world, rather than capitulating to solipsism. That said, his struggles with depression do occasionally bob to the surface. He glancingly reckons with a “failed marriage in Canada, a broken friendship in Australia, a life implosion”. This journey is partly to exorcise these demons – the text’s one concession to narrative propulsion.

Otherwise, nothing is sensationalised. Connell trusts that the dawdling ebb and flow of raw experience will hold us, and it does. He’s offering up a new state of mind, a blissed-out curiosity, eventually culminating in an invigorating conclusion.

Most evocative of all are the reflections on how paradoxical time is on this river, the lifeblood of his community. Amid all the mayflies, Connell wonders at how the river is “at once an ancient embodiment and also a new thing”.

Surrendering to this book is to have your eyes opened to the awe of nature, childlike wonder restored.