The Sarre Penn is the smallest of streams. It rises just a few miles from where I live and after an 8 mile journey it is absorbed into the larger River Stour. You can find it on an Ordnance Survey map if you are keen of eye and determined to look for it. In summer, the Sarre Penn dries up completely, leaving not much more than a muddy rut in the landscape. Come the autumn rains and it flows once more, lively and purposeful. In spring its banks are rich in wood anemones, celandines, cuckoo flowers and bluebells. The Sarre Penn has become my familiar companion. I walk through the woods to be beside it. I follow its course through the fields and observe how it has shaped its surroundings, Here and there the small stream has birthed a valley out of all proportion to its flow. Has this been the slow work of time, or was the stream once a mighty river? Or did it find its way into a depression cut by another – now lost – watercourse? Walking through a field I notice numerous clusters of fragments of clay pots. Was there once a settlement here? What was it like in time now lost to live beside this stream?
How do I begin to measure the significance of the Sarre Penn? It is unknown to all but a few who live locally, and the landscape continues to be transformed by its seasonal flow. Walking by its side I begin to remember my friend Mike, who died just a few weeks ago. There are no obituaries in local or national newspapers. No blue plaque will be affixed to the place of his birth. For most who met him in his lifetime he was one more person on the street; another passenger on a crowded tube train. He left no foundation named in his memory and made no discovery to change all our lives. And yet this small tributary has forever shaped my landscape, and the recurring memory of his presence with me will continue to do so until my own life ceases to flow. If I could walk along the course of his days, how many other lives would I see that he had touched? How do I begin to measure the significance of his life? Or is it enough just to walk for a while by that stream and be thankful?