Waterways and how they are used in landscapes of understanding

Text and drawings by Frits Ahlefeldt

Rivers, streams and waterfalls are strong landscape features and are also very commonly used to describe flows or streams of action, time, income or the challenge of navigating along, or crossing over to the other side. Another feature of the rivers are the amount of water in them, there can both be too much or too little – and it is possible to dam, channel or in other ways make use of the water in the river. 

People also use up-stream and downstream metaphors and talk about moving against or with the currents. Special characters are also seen by the river: The fisherman waiting patiently for his catch, and the ferryman, taking people across to the other side. are two of the classic archetypes associated with the river


Little girl sitting on the brink of a stream, watching the water float by

Watching the river float by is used in many other connections, using the river as image for contemplation and observing the change of life and time

Many small streams of income or going back to the source of things, the beginning. It is a magical place, the birth of the river. Streams are often seen as fragile and to be taken care of, like they where small streams of the much more robust and powerful rivers.


We use rivers a lot in our landscape based understandings of reality. And many cultures also consider their rivers for holy, and relate to them with respect and many different rituals. Rivers float and pulsate trough the year, like the bloods in our blood vessels

person grabbing onto a small island in the middle of a wild river

Reaching a small island in the wild river is often used in connection with recovery and stress


The often dramatic waterfalls represent in many cultures irreversible change, going both over the edge and down with the stream. People chasing waterfalls seldom grow old and when people talk too much, again the waterfall metaphor is often coming in use.

huge ship about to sail out over an unseen waterfall, while small boats try to stop it

Waterfalls can be seen as showing abrupt and irreversible change

Becoming one with the ocean

Another special place in human understanding and along rivers are the delta where the river meet – and become one with the ocean.  Often people linger in these places, both in life and whole cultures grow strong in these places. Some of the most important urban centers on the globe is also situated where the rivers meet the oceans.

Small village at a river, where it meets the sea

Where the river meet the ocean – a special place both in our landscapes and in our stories and reality

Here are some of my drawings using rivers as metaphors to create understandings: