On a back road near my house once stood a hand-written sign for the ‘River Don Office’, pointing to a nearby lane. To my regret I never went to investigate, though I liked to imagine a bucket of water on a desk, processing its paperwork on fishing licenses and mulling cross-community projects with the river Dee. Since the sign’s removal I have reclassified a small portion of my brain as my own River Don Office, throbbing away night and day in sympathetic rhythm with the gurgle and flow on the other side of the park, halfway between where the Don rises in Glen Avon and its appointment with the North Sea.
Clambering into bed beside my son one night (we co-sleep) I am transported more dramatically to the river when I notice I’ve left the extractor fan on in the bathroom. Rather than get up to correct this mistake, I allow it to mutate into the outboard motor of a small boat, in which we set off, he and I, for a night cruise up and down the fast-moving river’s tricky waters. We chug downstream in the direction of Aberdeen, shadowing then losing then shadowing the railway line again. Out to sea we spot the moonlit outlines of the tankers, which often rest at anchor for weeks on end, waiting for the price of their oily cargo to rise before they come into harbour. Fearing a jaunt to Norway may be beyond us we turn back, passing the village and heading west again.
In the mountains, there you feel free, even as they close benevolently round you, the high-sided pinewoods of Pitfichie and Clova Hill looming up in the moonlight as though about to pitch headlong into the current. Feet tucked under him where he kneels on the bow, my son stares into the silvery tide, with occasional glances over his shoulder to where I navigate. Soon we are closing in on the head of the Don, zig-zagging crazily in waters so shallow I feel us bumping along the bottom. What is this, I ask myself, a fantastical children’s book? – turning over where I lie in bed and brushing against the children’s books piled high in the cot beside the bed. A thin stream of drool has dampened my pillow, and by morning my carefully-drafted report for the River Don Office (in fact, these words) has been lost overboard.