He could not remember the birth of his awareness, but many aeons had passed and somehow, gradually, he had changed and grown, from being diffuse and nebulous, to having the power to take on physical form.
He had learned this skill slowly. First he had formed himself into the shape of a fish, slipping hither and thither amongst the others, wondering why they always panicked and fled away from him.
Then he became a heron, stalking the riverbanks, raising his eyes to the fields and to the sky, and for the first time understanding his context, observing his domain from a new perspective.
He learned to hide his uniqueness better. Now when he played amongst the otters, they welcomed him as one of their own. When he joined the wild deer in the meadows, they only looked at him curiously and continued their lazy grazing.
And so he discovered what life was, and in doing so saw that he was different.
The questions that were to become so much part of his existence presented themselves to him early on – in the days when he lived amidst the toads and visited the nests of the seabirds.
What am I? Why am I?
More seasons passed and he learned better and better his own extent and his own nature.
I see, he thought. Whilst that is a vole, and that is a wildcat – I am a river. I am the soul of this huge and beautiful stretch of water, from the tiny tributaries at my source to the broad expanse of the salty estuary.
And a new question emerged to consume his being.
Am I alone?
He explored every stream, every curve of his course. He spent years lingering at the edge of the sea, listening for some echo of a companion.
When the eels swam each year into his upper reaches, to breed and then die, he pursued them, pestered them for clues. He looked for any evidence that maybe one of them had visited some other river, and held some secret in its form or behaviour which it could reveal to him. He found nothing.
He contrived to write messages on sea fishes’ scales, subtly changing their colours and patterns so as to represent a map of himself that others might recognise. He sent them off into the oceans and when they returned inspected them ceaselessly in hope of a return message, but none ever came.
He flew up to join the migrating birds, asking them always, are there others like me? But they could not understand him and gave him no answer.
Eventually he accepted that he was alone and if there were others like him elsewhere, he would never make contact with them.
He wept for many seasons and the river raged and flooded, but then something happened which took his mind off his own loneliness.
He discovered man.