Monday, 5 April 2010

Journal Notes: Spring Equinox, Sunset

6:14 pm - Sunset. Back out into a fading world. Over the course of 12 hours - from dark to light to dark again - observing an extraordinary range of light. Even - especially? - on an overcast day. Subtly of shades, tones, monochrome, gleams of bright, light, colour.

At sunrise in the lightening but sunless realm of field and woodland, the perceptible brightening of the day drains colour and flattens perspective. There is a glare by mid-morning that somehow exhausts the gaze. The light comes from the sky, spreading, submerging; colours are washed-out and the landscape appears veiled. At dusk, though, the rapidly fading light seems to highlight colour and adds depth, tone and complexity to what I see. There is a richness, a rare luminescence to the woods and hedgerows.

As we walk from the old swimming pool - which is crowded with mating frogs and toads - it beings to rain. Serious rain. Now the light appears to come not from the sky, which darkens with every minute that passes, but from whatever has colour in the landscape. From the rust-red ranks of dead sorrel; the bonewhite of the blasted oak; the bronze and mauve of the budding trees; silvered branches of catkins; the emerald of hemlock and bluebells shoots and emerging celandine. It is these things which glow.

I feel so sick now, my body is begging to be taken home to bed. But I plod on doggedly, entirely fixed within this day's routine of walking certain paths. It is almost unthinkable that the work will be left undone. For there is a prosaic sense of jobbishness about our walking, heads down against the rain, hands in pockets. Paths have to be covered. The mud sucks at our boots but we are surprisingly sure-footed. Businesslike. Something flurries underfoot. I stop, peer down in the gloaming. "A toad!" I cry out, in warning. Suddenly our walk is something else - a dance to avoid the migrating amphibians that fill the wood. The warmth and rain have wakened them, and now they are making their way to the ponds and pools and brimming ditches to mate. Utterly single-minded. We tiptoe. We walked hunched over, watching the ground for any sign of movement.

Then it is so dark we cannot see our own feet. We walk in single file to minimise the damage we do. Ready for home. Wading through the bog that leads to the last stile. I haul myself over it, coughing, wretched. Inside we turn on the kitchen light and immediately the windows are blacked-out. Night has fallen. The cottage is filled with the scent of a lamb stew we left in the oven. We fill bowls, beakers of red wine. Settle down to read the last two of Elliot's Four Quartets: The Dry Salvages and Little Gidding. His words fill us also.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Journal Notes: Spring Equinox, Sunrise

5:30 am - I leave my bed with the greatest reluctance. I'm sick with an upper respiratory infection that will ultimately only be banquished thanks to a hefty dose of antibiotics, and the day of our second Quarter is when the dread lurgy really takes hold. I am snotty, wheezy, and whiney, but nonetheless I head out into a world that is warm, moist, misty and pulsating with life. Astonishingly, the cold, hard winter really does seem to have broken on the first day of spring. The birds are jubilant; they too can feel the warmth working through the winter-cold earth. As we head towards the village, Sian and I can sense the resurgence - at last - that herald's spring.

Next week, on March 29, will be the Sugar Moon - a North American name for the moon that coincides with the time of year when the maple trees are tapped. The sap is rising. Sick and phlegm-filled as I am, I feel it too. My body yields a little, opens. I lift my face into the damp morning air.

5: 50 am - The Cottage is dark when we arrive; the bedroom window open. We call out, and Johnny's torso emerges. "Good morning, good morning! Be right down..." We are strung about with bags, waterproofs, Wellington boots, notebooks and cameras. A day in the field. No pack animals. Just pockets full of tissues, lip balm, notebooks, pencils, tobacco, sanitary towels, an apple, throat lozenges, a thermos of tea... Not too many layers today, but thick socks and tall boots. The ground is sodden.

6:04am - Sunrise. We beat the boundaries of the wood. Along the stream to the furnace pond and the old road. No sign of the sun, again, today. Just warmth and the clamour of the stream, full and rushing with almost unseemly haste, drowning out the dawn chorus. Below the hammer pond, Johnny and I paddle. The sandstone rocks are slippery and streaked with red iron ore. There is a shallow crescent of gravel, then the bank rises. Clay and sandstone, steep-sided, cut by the stream's insistent surging - an overhang trailing a filigree of roots, bright green with mould, bearded with moss and lichen. The smell of the earth-bank is fetid, fervent, rich, replenishing. We dig out nuggets of charcoal and slag, crumbling the fine earth with our fingertips, childlike as we look for treasure. Grubby hands now. Earth and charcoal beneath our fingernails.

We walk the high-road back to the Cottage and there eat hot cross buns, hard boiled eggs, anchovies and strong tea - my family's bastardised version of a Slavic Pascal feast - somehow seems appropriate for the vernal equinox.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

The Clootie Tree (& T. S. Eliot)

Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time

Words move, music moves
Only in time; but that which is only living
Can only die. Words, after speech, reach
into the silence

Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness

Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still

The detail of the pattern is movement,
As in the figure of the ten stairs.
Desire itself is movement
Not in itself desirable;
Love is itself unmoving,
Only the cause and end of movement,
Timeless and undesiring
Except in the aspect of time
Caught in the form of limitation
Between un-being and being

***from, Four Quartets, 'Burnt Norton'

Memory Maps

We started making them after the 1st Quarter, and a week or so ago I found that Marina Warner has already beautifully articulated what it is we are doing:
Mapping memories involves listening in to other people's ghosts as well as your own. Dérive - the French for drift - characterizes this approach, rather than more purposeful terms like quest or research, though memory maps demand processes of investigation and endless curiosity and an impulse towards wonder. Memory mapping grows out of daydreaming, reverie, and the unbidden images that come up in the mind. This is writing as fugue, as enigma variations, as ... the phantasmic flow of consciousness. A dériveur arrives at 'astonishment upon the terrain of familiarity,' writes Robert Macfarlane, and becomes 'more sensitive to the hidden histories and encrypted events of the city' - or the country.
I strongly encourage you to read and relish the rest of this wonderful essay and explore the Victoria & Albert's Memory Maps site.

Perhaps my favourite part of Warner's piece is the penultimate paragraph:
As the Memory Maps grow, they will go on connecting different people and places across time and in the present. Such an exchange between images and writings, past and present, memory and imagination, releases energy: the energy of stories.
The energy of stories is certainly what has drawn me back to the Weald, and particularly to the one small patch of it we now spending a year documenting and exploring. I feel inspired to try and find others in the village who have memories of Parson's Wood and weave their stories into my own.