Elemental Forces

The elemental riverbed
The elemental forces that shape our changing world.

I captured this image from a derelict railway bridge spanning the Dàjiǎ River 大甲溪 in Taichung 台中 while out on a bicycle tour around Taiwan. I remember being impressed by the sheer scale of the landscape I was crossing over, the immensity of the rocky riverbed below. And then to see a lone figure, likely a fisherman, out there standing on the rocks next to one of the river’s many channels—I knew I had to capture that moment.

The rivers that tumble down from the Central Mountain Range fan out and grow sluggish when they meet the western terraces and lowlands—but they’re all prone to flooding and earthflows, especially when typhoons strike the island with heavy rains. Apart from Taipei 台北, which spans the highly controlled Tamsui River, there are hardly any significant settlements spanning a major river in Taiwan. Most riverbanks in western Taiwan are barren, empty places lined with lonely access roads and the occasional corrugated metal shack. There is little interest in building anything permanent next to these rivers—the elemental forces that shape our changing world are likely to destroy whatever works of man happen to get too close.

One thing that intrigued me about this shot is the jumble of discarded concrete cubes, looking much like alien artifacts from some kind of science fiction thriller. The coastlines of Taiwan are littered with concrete pylons designed to prevent erosion and silting—might these be something similar for riverbeds? More likely is that these cubes are the remains of some doomed construction project, though one has to wonder how they got all the way out there. Whatever the reason, I find they add something to the sense of mysterious forces beyond our control.