Interlude Three

Interlude Three

I’ve spent two days staring at a hospital cubicle curtain. It was beautiful. Its folds held a graded sequence of intense blues, midnight in the deepest recesses, a pale sky at the edges. I got lost in those colours, drifted away for hours while Julia slept or sat up for another round of tests. Those blues are the ones Vermeer painted in his masterpiece, Woman Holding a Letter. They’re in the folds of her dress, the chairs, and the deep shadows. Blue is the colour of stillness and slow breathing. 

 

There are two major buildings in Hereford. One is the hospital, a machine manned by people meant to behave like machines, their purpose to pull us back from the edge. But the staff are all lacking in machine abilities. All day they laugh and snap at each other. Sometimes they sit next to one of their patients, a person they’ve only known for a few hours, and tears come into their eyes. 

 

The other building is the cathedral. Every inch of it was made by hand, the huge stone arches and buttresses, the carved and painted ceilings, the stained glass – all reds and blues. A cathedral’s purpose is to push us over the edge, to what is beyond the sensory, beyond life. We’ve almost forgotten how to do that, but not quite. I lit a candle on a table that looked like an altar, made a wish that sounded like a prayer. 

 

Now we’re home again and I’ve left the boys to keep an eye on their sleeping mother while I go for a quick walk on the hill. There’s a buzzard calling, rooks spiralling over the village. As I circle the pool more birds begin to rise from the hawthorn trees. They all have pale underwings. More rise, then more, out of the trees and bushes, out of the sedge. A couple of ravens are trying to mob them, to push them away from their territory. The ravens have already given up. The flock gathers and swirls, lands, launches again. Thousands of fieldfares. A swarm. I’ve never seen so many. They’ll pick the trees bare in a few days. 

 

Life is the colour of sky, the colour of blood, and hawthorn berries. 

Old Growth

Dusk approaches. The hill is windless and quiet. Moorhens carefully crosshatch the surface of the pool wrinkling the inverted images of  squall-clouds that have been gathering for an hour. A faint curtain of rain closes across the mountains twenty miles away. I am...

The Blossom Front Line

How beautiful they areThe people brushing past meAs I stroll through GionTo the temple of KiyomizuOn this cherry blossom moonlit nightYosano Akiko There is a stretch of road over the border, not far from here, which rolls and curves between acres of orchards. In late...

Up Close and Far Off

I don't remember the name of the town where the railway started, or the destination at the end of the line, only that the train sometimes arrived, but most of the time didn't. I think I waited a week. There were a handful of half-ruined colonial buildings on a single...

Heartwood

The statistics: it has taken 12 hours to smooth the surface, 4 shifts of 3 hours, first with 60, then 80, then 120 grit paper. Dust gathering on me, my hands following the rings as they appeared from beneath the deep scores made by the chainsaw. I could have done all...

Offshore

On the last day of a family holiday I sneaked out of the caravan just after dawn and walked to my favourite spot on the cliff to say goodbye to the sea. The place was near an old stone hut where fisherman used to keep watch for the pilchard shoals coming close to...

Unremembered

The cloud is down. My navigation is reliant on the recall of shapes close up: twisted trees, broken walls, mawn pools, the bends and intersections in tracks. In the past week fieldfares have returned, I can hear them now, ransacking the rowans. A small flock of...

A Desertion

I remember that the sand whispered and sound carried for miles. And dunes the colour of tanned skin - their perfect, female contours. I remember how the desert engulfed the town, dust blowing down narrow streets, gathering and drifting in doorways. There were blue...

The Nocturnal Bottleneck Theory

The most useful thing I learned in an 18 year education was that a white sheet of paper is never white. I learned this by spending five full days staring at an unmarked A1 sheet pinned to a wall, trying at first to draw, and then to paint it. The exercise was set by...

The Roundabout

It’s an ancient-looking structure cresting a high hill. The stone was formed in the Silurian period, 400 million years ago. It was gathered from the surrounding hilltop quarries and assembled into a head-height circular wall for Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee....

Ryokan and the Rooks

I have a small but growing collection of bird skulls, mostly found on walks in the woods or on cliff-top paths. My favourite is from a manx shearwater. I found it on a clifftop path on Skomer Island, which is home to a hundred thousand of these seabirds in the...

Interlude One

Interlude One

Walking the track again, into the first high wind of autumn, after a week of continuing horror stories about the ever-more disturbed earth and the ongoing satire of inactivity that is modern politics. It’s times like this when whole sections of the path disappear behind the curtain of cluttered thoughts spinning in me like fierce static. Three words have been circling me like a buzzard all the way up here – “Just move on.”
 
 
The farmers have cut and baled bracken for winter bedding. The ground is bare. I’ve been reading about beech woods, how the trees feed each other, how even the stumps of long fallen trees can still be green below the bark, still alive because other trees are nourishing them through their roots. I’ve never seen a mature beech wood. This hill should be on the southern border of a temperate rainforest stretching from Assynt. I don’t know why the absence of something that hasn’t existed for millennia makes me mourn, makes me angry.
 
 
I see an old farmer riding his quadbike just beyond the pool, and there is an orange shape nodding behind him. The shape becomes a bobble hat worn by a little girl who is giggling and shreaking with excitement as her grandfather climbs the slope at less than half speed. Beyond them a field far below in the valley suddenly flares green under a shaft of sunlight. There is no more beautiful place on earth than this. A place like this can stretch like a root though the generations, keeping us nourished, even though there is little to nourish it.
 
 
I stop beside the pool and watch wind shape water. A patch of reeds quivers, slate grey reflections flooded out by the white of the low sun.
 
 
Just watch. You don’t need anything more.

 

 

Old Growth

Dusk approaches. The hill is windless and quiet. Moorhens carefully crosshatch the surface of the pool wrinkling the inverted images of  squall-clouds that have been gathering for an hour. A faint curtain of rain closes across the mountains twenty miles away. I am...

The Blossom Front Line

How beautiful they areThe people brushing past meAs I stroll through GionTo the temple of KiyomizuOn this cherry blossom moonlit nightYosano Akiko There is a stretch of road over the border, not far from here, which rolls and curves between acres of orchards. In late...

Up Close and Far Off

I don't remember the name of the town where the railway started, or the destination at the end of the line, only that the train sometimes arrived, but most of the time didn't. I think I waited a week. There were a handful of half-ruined colonial buildings on a single...

Heartwood

The statistics: it has taken 12 hours to smooth the surface, 4 shifts of 3 hours, first with 60, then 80, then 120 grit paper. Dust gathering on me, my hands following the rings as they appeared from beneath the deep scores made by the chainsaw. I could have done all...

Offshore

On the last day of a family holiday I sneaked out of the caravan just after dawn and walked to my favourite spot on the cliff to say goodbye to the sea. The place was near an old stone hut where fisherman used to keep watch for the pilchard shoals coming close to...

Unremembered

The cloud is down. My navigation is reliant on the recall of shapes close up: twisted trees, broken walls, mawn pools, the bends and intersections in tracks. In the past week fieldfares have returned, I can hear them now, ransacking the rowans. A small flock of...

A Desertion

I remember that the sand whispered and sound carried for miles. And dunes the colour of tanned skin - their perfect, female contours. I remember how the desert engulfed the town, dust blowing down narrow streets, gathering and drifting in doorways. There were blue...

The Nocturnal Bottleneck Theory

The most useful thing I learned in an 18 year education was that a white sheet of paper is never white. I learned this by spending five full days staring at an unmarked A1 sheet pinned to a wall, trying at first to draw, and then to paint it. The exercise was set by...

The Roundabout

It’s an ancient-looking structure cresting a high hill. The stone was formed in the Silurian period, 400 million years ago. It was gathered from the surrounding hilltop quarries and assembled into a head-height circular wall for Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee....

Ryokan and the Rooks

I have a small but growing collection of bird skulls, mostly found on walks in the woods or on cliff-top paths. My favourite is from a manx shearwater. I found it on a clifftop path on Skomer Island, which is home to a hundred thousand of these seabirds in the...