THE village of Linton, where I live, is blessed with five bridges. I can cross over one of them on an early stroll through the place, delighting in the clarity of the stream below, the light glancing off its ripples and dimples, as it runs over shallows, purling and turning in the wake of a scurrying duckling, and think, “I’m glad I saw that,” only to find that, five minutes later, the river is back, rippling ahead of me and saying “Look, look! Here’s another bridge: cross me again!”
Even when I walk beside it for a while, it’s always diving in and out of cover and emerging to surprise me, like a very young child playing peek-a-boo.
These are the upper reaches of the Granta, and it’s hard to imagine that this playful little stream, curling and chattering round the church and the green, is the same one as will later run a little straighter, a little deeper, but still young and lovely, along the famous stretch of Grantchester meadows, and thence to Cambridge, where it will be very grown up, change its name to the Cam, and flow in stately and straightened procession between the arches and chapels of the old colleges. There it becomes the river that Milton saw when he was a student, and solemnly hailed as
Camus, reverend sire . . . footing slow,
His mantle hairy, and his bonnet sedge. . .
I also make the daily journey downstream from Linton to Cambridge, and, although I don’t change my name, I do, I suppose, change my garb and my demeanour. Perhaps I, too, become a little straightened.
But there I have the pleasure of meeting, listening to, and occasionally teaching the young. They arrive in Cambridge from many places, and, while they are all always themselves, they also acquire something of the character of the place through which they flow collectively. They, too, are straightened a little, in good ways and bad.
Contrary to the popular image, these students work very hard, and their energies are gathered and channelled, especially in this summer term when so much might invite them to a little playful meandering. Instead, I see them, concentrating and deepening, between the high banks of bookshelves in the library.
But sometimes, when they drop into my room to see their chaplain, they tell me stories of where they’ve been and where they’ve come from. They reach back into childhood and give me a glimpse of the playfulness, the energy, and the mischief that lie upstream of their Cambridge days.
On other days, they come to me clouded or troubled, when their lives seem muddied and unclear, and I wish, a little subversively perhaps, that we could both be taken upstream for a moment and enjoy again that early combination of clarity and playfulness. Just occasionally, before I turn upstream again to Linton, there’s a moment in prayer or silence when we both find ourselves much further upstream, up at the fresh and playful source from which everything flows.