sticks and rivers


Given that the water in rivers makes up only an amazingly tiny 0.0002 percent of the water on our planet, it features disproportionately in stories.

For example there is the game where you drop sticks on one side of a bridge and run over to the other side to see whose stick has won, sometimes called Poohsticks after the famous Winnie the Pooh:

Pooh had just come to the bridge; and not looking where he was going, he tripped over something, and the fir-cone jerked out of his paw into the river. ‘Bother,’ said Pooh, as it floated slowly under the bridge, and he went back to get another fir-cone which had a rhyme to it. But then he thought that he would just look at the river instead, because it was a peaceful sort of day, so he lay down and looked at it, and it slipped slowly away beneath him, and suddenly, there was his fir-cone slipping away too.

‘That’s funny,’ said Pooh. ‘I dropped it on the other side,’ said Pooh, ‘and it came out on this side! I wonder if it would do it again?’ And he went back for some more fir-cones. It did. It kept on doing it. Then he dropped two in at once, and leant over the bridge to see which of them would come out first; and one of them did; but as they were both the same size, he didn’t know if it was the one which he wanted to win, or the other one. So the next time he dropped one big one and one little one, and the big one came out first, which was what he had said it would do, and the little one came out last, which was what he had said it would do, so he had won twice … and when he went home for tea, he had won thirty-six and lost twenty-eight, which meant that he was – that he had – well, you take twenty-eight from thirty-six, and that’s what he was. Instead of the other way round.

And that was the beginning of the game called Poohsticks, which Pooh invented, and which he and his friends used to play on the edge of the Forest. But they played with sticks instead of fir-cones, because they were easier to mark.’

This is a game that Sam and I have played in the forest of course, though the little streams pass under the paths in pipes, and most usually the sticks get stuck.

And then there is the possibility of following the water to its destination…
or perhaps to its source…
or damming it up for a while…



  1. vixen said

    he he he 🙂 Good Pooh…
    When I was little some wise guy uncle of mine had told me “You can’t cross the same river twice”. It was the event of a month for me to prove that it was nonsense. I jumped back and forth across every stream over and over. I jumped over the water in the gutters. Ha ha ha 😉
    Rivers are fascinating. Once you see a river, it’s not the river that you saw.

  2. Simon G said

    Jumping seems like a very good answer!

    It was Heraclitus who was supposed to have said it first – ‘You can’t step into the same river twice.’ Though why he wanted to say this is hard to tell because only a few fragmentary details survive about him (I have just checked Wikipedia). Maybe he was talking to his crazy niece.

    They kept Theseus’s boat at Athens after he came back from Crete – for so long that bits kept rotting – so they had to replace all the boards, all the thirty oars one by one with fresh wood. Perhaps it is still there? People wondered whether it was still Theseus’s boat.

    Someone else – was it Zeno? – said ‘You can’t step into the same river once.’ Now that really is confusing. Next someone will say that water isn’t wet.

  3. Anonymous said


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