A magic place, soon after dawn (which isn’t very early) on the Fowey estuary in January. Lapwings cluster on the sandbanks and the eerie calls of the curlew heralds the progress of the seasons.
Snow drops are under the bare oak in St Winnow’s churchyard, primroses blooming and campion in the hedgerow under the golden gorse. All in the cool moist air that reminds us of our amazing good fortune as family and friends in Australia (who used to tease us about our rain) suffer unimaginable heat and anxiety. They are living with the threat of loosing everything they hold dear in a biblical inferno.
I wish I could send them all a little while in the cool of St Winnow’s churchyard.
Cameras are a constant source of disappointment to me because they rarely see what I see.
When I see the three dimensional majesty of the mountain peaks that surround me as I stand in wonder on the plain, the camera sees only the actual sky-line which is surprisingly flat.
Eyes are much better — they inject emotion. They integrate with the other senses to capture the euphoria of a landscape — the freshness of the breeze, the perfume of honeysuckle and hay, the buzzing of the bees and the birdsong. The vibrant greens of a valley re-awaken ancestral stirrings that draw us still to fertility and shelter.
Yesterday I drove to Rhyd in Snowdonia, it was a wonderful spring day — such a shame that the photos could not capture my mood (even if I had remembered the UV filter). These are the best of a bad lot.
Life has chapters but someone else is turning the pages — here’s a brief index!
1 – the bit you can’t remember but you’ve seen it in photographs.
2 – Idyllic childhood gradually eroded by the realization that all is not 100% even in your Garden of Eden. Adults not always all they are cracked up to be! Actually — the sooner you learn this the better.
3 – Teens — driven by so many peculiar drives and preoccupations: BOYS/ girls/ secretions and changes/ dandruff/ dancing/ BOYS/ men/ exams/ driving lessons/ BOYS/ getting drunk/ stoned(not me!)/ paranoid/ poetical/ no money/ weight gain/ weight loss. Generally not very mindful of the bigger picture but navigating that choppy sea with friends in the same boat.
4 – (Optional) Suddenly serious about relationships, politics and career (not necessarily in that order). Get qualified/ get married/ read the papers/ vote etc.
5 – Motherhood and child rearing (Optional) — struggling to keep head above water, multitasking, juggling multiple balls in the air (marriage/ finances/ clean socks/ hair cuts/ children/ job/ MOT/ tax returns/ cleaning out the rabbit/ walking the dog/ visiting Granny) feeling guilty about whichever one is about to drop. “Mummy, the cat’s had kittens and they are in my bed! Why’s my bed wet?”
6 — Dropping a ball (inevitable) — Divorce/ Burn out/ Son sets fire to the house/ teenage daughter pregnant (not ours)/ serious illness in the family/ menopause (that was quite a relief actually). Pretty well anything that can go wrong will go wrong and not just for bad people!
7 – Decline — coasting towards retirement with 2nd husband (if you are lucky) — is the work more demanding or are you just getting older? Science, technology and systems generally are starting to evolve more quickly than you seem to adapt. Spend a lot of time shouting at computers, often scratch the car and find it’s always later than you think!
8 — Retirement — Yippee! However did you find time to go to work. Do new things and find you are not as stupid as you thought.
9 — Grandparent and Health Service User — endless peer group discussions about eyesight/ teeth/ bowel screening/ breast screening (Ouch!)/ stents/ knee replacements/ erectile dysfunction/ prostate surgery and how you can’t do anything with your hair since your last chemo! All this is rather unwelcome but is punctuated by delightful visits from little kids that remind you of yourself (and sometimes of your X-husband) and of what a wonderful life it really is.
10 — Widowhood — sudden, though always half-expected because no-one can expect to be happy forever and you did know he was ill although he pretended not to be. Now your children (who are suddenly definitely grown-up) worry (and probably moan) about you at least as much as you do about them. You keep wondering why people are being so nice to you, then you remember. Suddenly you can do whatever you want although you don’t really want but you do it anyway — yesterday I climbed a mountain with a group to look at historical sites, one of those Welsh mountains that are really a huge hill. I was interested in the archeology, the others seemed to be serious, serial walkers — there was talk of Kilimanjaro! It was very cold and steep and I got extremely short of breath (probably not the altitude) and hobbled a good deal on the way down but I walked 8 miles and didn’t die. I’ll tell you about it another day.
Last night was very quiet — I went to listen for owls and nightjars at 4 am but all I could hear was the occasional high pitched bip of a bat passing overhead, looking for the last of the midges.
Night Sky by gaigegarza966 (CC BY-NC 2.0)
I leaned against the field gate and listened very hard — faintly there was the white noise of the stream, fifty yards below, a billion splashes and glugs of millions of different, asynchronous frequencies vibrating the air. But above that there was another sound. Above, because it seemed to come from above, but below in pitch — a celestial hum. There was no wind, no traffic for fifty miles, not a plane in the sky — only drifting cloud over a hazy moon and this strange brown noise (or maybe it was purple). Infinite sound from an infinite number of sources — jet planes in Cardiff, a generator in Machynlleth, the creaking of the trees, dogs in far off farms barking at the moon (too far away to distinguish individually and too many), thunder on the coast and the sea lapping on the shore, back doors opening (to let out cats), snoring from upstairs windows and sheep (millions of them) eructating — burping in the moon shadows.
All these sounds bounce over the Earth, off the sides of houses, resonating in tin sheds and ricocheting off cliffs and bouncing off the underside of the clouds. They can be muffled by the mist and absorbed by the moss and the snow but they all combine to make the hum of our planet.
We value the darkness of our nights (the lack of light polution) that allows us to see the brightness of the firmament. Last night I appreciated the stillness of the night that allowed me to hear beyond the silence!
Whatever is happening in your personal life the world goes on turning.
The clouds roll over the hills and sometimes they part and the sun comes out.
After a long winter it is all happening again — everything is moving! Even the lazy oak trees are greening. The cuckoo is calling, the cock pheasant strutting and glinting in the sunlight with a double squawk and a percussive thrill of wings. The woodpecker answers with his own drumming from up on the hill. There are bumble bees over head and the first orange tip butterfly flutters over the carpet of white flowering shamrocks on the shallow water of the unfinished pond.
There is a scuffle of illicit nesting beneath the soffits of our roof. Two squirrels, normally too busy to play, are cavorting amorously in the lane as, all around them, life springs anew.
We live in a place that is forever asserting itself, whether via its climate or its wildlife, or by knocking over trees or blocking culverts. The place has its own agenda, its own friends and relations (they often arrive unannounced for tea) and it is quite possessive.
Recently we were celebrating a sacrament (coffee and biscuits) with a friend on Sunday morning when there was a knock at the door. Outside, in the drizzle was a young woman we had never seen before. She was waving a long cardboard tube.
‘You don’t know me but I’ve come on an adventure!’
She wasn’t after out souls or even trying to sell us something.
She was just another one of the people that our cottage-holding had sent for (it’s happened before!)
Deborah is an artist, and buys strange things at auctions that inspire her — she cuts them up and stitches them. She had bought the map of our place — 1901 Ordinance Survey, at a sale in Leek, Staffordshire. She’d bought it years ago but could never quite bring herself to cut it up. It was personal to the house, you see; it had all the field names pencilled in, in Welsh, and even had the new well marked (circa 1980).
She couldn’t use it, and was passing within ten miles, so had brought the map home. She couldn’t explain it and felt it was rather an odd thing to want to do but we didn’t — we know our home. It doesn’t like to let go of things or people. So we will hang the map, once framed, next to the horse brasses, the dresser, the polished pump-nozzle, the wooden rake and the photographs of past residents and their New-World descendants, who have visited — all things that this sentimental old homestead has collected or reassembled since its original scant contents were dispersed at a farm sale in 2005.
It is the mating season… For trampolines — a male bowls across the hillsides looking for a mate, tumbles down the bank and leaps over the hedge. He bounds down the slope then soars on a powerful gust, trailing his long netted plumage as he hurls himself down the valley.
Storm warning in Wales! 150mm rainfall forecast over night!
The wind moans high above our house– we are in the lee of the hill. It was built where the sheep sheltered — in the 1840s they noticed those things. I noticed the tall trees at the end of the house flailing about in the turbulence of the mounting storm but Alan wouldn’t sleep in the spare room at the other end of the house — out of the reach of falling branches.
In mitigation for my cowardice I’ll tell you that two branches of Douglas Fir did fall, crushing a steel hurdle but missing the rotting old chicken coop, home to our precious new domestic fowl. The old coop has been gradually sinking into the mud in the last week as the rainfall has reached 109mm. It’s been a dry summer and autumn — ever since I started measuring the rainfall — only 718mm since April (believe me — that’s not much) so we know we are in for a deluge — a couple of meters, at least!
As we obsess about our perennial preoccupation another storm hits Europe… A different sort of storm.
We watch our television and we catch sight of four people hunched over a coffee table at the edge of a crowded room full of milling men in smart suits and the occasional power-dressed woman. We are looking anonymously down on a room at the G20 and upon President Obama and President Putin and two interpreters. Did you see it? Their body language says it all — in a bubble, in a crowded room, they are straining to concentrate, to hear and to really understand each other. It is so contrary to their normal stance that it is shocking.
Here, back in our world, a man is startled by an unfamiliar shadow, he looks up into the great oak tree on the edge of his yard to see a skeleton hanging, draped in a black cape — it is the spent trampoline — like a giant dead crane fly.