Sunday, 23 October 2016

Week 3: (17th to 23rd October 2016) or 'Farewell, Leaves'

Three weeks ago, here at Lancaster University, sweet farewells were carolling around the campus. Eighteen years of steady, parental stewardship were now complete; the baton of life was being passed on. One final family embrace and then a long wave as teary eyed parents hesitantly withdrew from sight. And then, an energy conversion. Months of eagerness and anticipation, a thirst for 'a life as a fresher', were becoming realized. The campus sizzled with a froth of change; new people, fresh stories, future friendships and novel ideas.

Three weeks later, what was sizzling is now merely simmering. Students are settled into their novel lifestyles; routines have been fashioned, nicknames have been formed and rooms have been furnished with personal effects. And yet, the air sings of another farewell. Around the campus, in these lessening hours of sunlight, branches are waving adieu to their family of leaves. What was luscious green is now golden brown and one by one, these leaves relinquish their clasp with twig and stem. Whirling and twirling like golden snowflakes in the air, they resign to fate and make their first and final journey towards the ground. Autumnal hues dust the pavements like demerara dusts a loaf. Like any parents' home without their offspring, branches are bare and void of life.

Whilst a student's future is somewhat uncertain, our blankets of leaves are all on one journey. They are the hearty, nutritious meal in the annual soil banquet! Every autumn, our soil rejoices upon the arrival of these leaves. Like a waitor, the wind conveys them to the ground in generous portions and over the next month, soils feed on this traybake of decaying foliage.

Such is life at the moment, here in Lancashire. That is, of course, when I'm lucky enough to peer out the window or, indeed, be in the county altogether. These two essential conditions, however, have not prevailed as much as you might think, this week; my gaze has been otherwise 'occupied' with my relatively less-thrilling (yet developing) soil production review essay. Like the rate of soil production itself, progress is slow and steady. Having said this, I do now have a first draft which, as I write, is somewhere deep in the heart of my supervisor's office. Both John and I will discuss it further next week. In no regard is this the final version (even, when typed). It's merely a small dose of what, hopefully, will be my first published piece of academic discourse. 

That word. Dose. 

Narrating the tale of my inherent hatred for that word would take too long and be of very little comfort to those similarly sensitive around the topic. It shall, and will suffice to say that I have a deep-seated psychological rejection of any vaccination, which has sadly manifest from a bad childhood experience. For a career traversing over global soils, the future after that event didn't look particularly hopeful. However, I am now older, wiser (protruding wisdom teeth to prove it) and more ambitious than ever to travel, and thus, I have come to accept that the syringe will never be far away. This week, it was particularly close to me. 

It's 1:17am. The mugs from midnight cocoa are cool to the touch again. Under duvets, mystical lands are being conjured. The flight of the bat whisks the air; the hoot of an owl resonates down hushed country lanes. And for reasons that can only be rationally described by those in jobs purely to 'pay the bills', traversing across a country is a Megabus driver. His double decker coach, if such a machine has a brim, is full right to it. At the very back, squashed into contortion, is a young PhD student, travelling to Norfolk for a vaccination, yet via London. The detour had little to do with my displeasure at the thought of a jab; such a route does exist and whilst this was irritating, it did not frustrate me as much as my position on the coach. That was, sandwiched between a middle-aged lifeless Londoner (whose fetish for sleeping on shoulders was being thoroughly explored) and a young, energized individual who seemed to be commentating on a boxing match to anyone similarly inclined. At the time, I could not decide which one I'd share an island with, under duress. I still can't. 

Twilight gave rise to dawn and, as if by miracle, we arrived in London. My right shoulder, now liberated from dozy heads, was now free to join me in a second journey towards Norwich. I can't report much on this leg of the journey because I slept much of the way through it. 

There's nothing like the sweet familiarity of home to soothe the worrying mind. Disturbed though I was when musing on the wretched injection, the reality was much the opposite and I departed the doctors feeling slightly better about the prospect of any future innoculation. Slightly. The journey back to Lancaster on Thursday evening was slightly improved, too, but once again, only slightly.


Go, sit upon the lofty hill,
And turn your eyes around,
Where waving woods and waters wild
Do hymm an autumn sound

Elizabeth Barnett Browning, 'The Autumn Poem'

After two trips into the majestic Forest of Bowland, I awoke on Saturday morning with an appetite for a different aesthetic fragrance and thus I headed north. Still somewhat absorbed by fatigue from the week's travelling, I didn't quite have the tenacity to make footprints in the Lake District or re-visit the Yorkshire Dales. But nestled between these two majestic bodies of land stands a smaller, yet no less spirtual place: Holme Park Fell. 

Cycling to Lancaster, I approached the fell by means of a train to Kendal and then a short bus journey back south to a quaint speck of land belonging to Lupton. By depositing me here, I was some distance from the edge of Holme Park but I enjoyed ambling through a labyrinth of narrow country lanes and happening upon relics of a bygone age. There is something so timeless about these passages; these channels lined with hedge. There is nothing here to indicate the year, or even the century. For instance, read this: 

"To know what lies on the other side of the hill - this feeling inevitably draws you up the deep-carved lanes along which the summer flowers grow richer as the soil grows poorer and whiter, up to the rising wall of beeches and the eternal copper floor of leaves swept by dark yews. The depth of silence here on hot summer days, when there is no wind and the chalk is blinding on the eyes and the rock-roses are brilliant lemon in the sun, can be immense, the feeling of isolation splendid."

H. E. Bates wrote that in 1949 about Kent, and yet he could have wrote that yesterday, there in the 'deep-carved lanes' underneath Holme Park Fell. These lanes are the very stitches in this patchwork quilt of countryside; the arteries and veins which convey farmers and labourers about the land. 

I happened upon Holme Park Fell by accident, which is slightly curious seeings as I was headed for it. I was, however, expecting many more miles of country lane before such a gateway into the fell appeared. But there it was: a rust-speckled iron gate which required a good deal of coaxing before surrendering its clench. What I happened upon was something of a surprise. I had completed only minor research on the fell, which was evidently not enough to inform me that it's one of the most impressive areas of limestone habitats in the British Isles. 

Under the tred of my boot was rock formed before the dinosaurs, 350 million years ago. The grikes and runnels that are etched into these limestone pavements are signatures carved by many thousand of years of rainfall. Harbouring themselves in these time-worn grooves are the most hardy of flora: rigid buckler ferns, carline thistles and helleborine. I wandered with all the wildness portrayed by Brontë; hopping from boulder to boulder, absorbing the vista until finally I was ready to lunch. 

Having responded to a few rumblings, I headed on; further and deeper. It was refreshing, once again, not to gaze nor listen nor inhale the burdens of city life. Between my feet and the Yorkshire Dales to the east and the Lake District to the northwest was a green moat; a monochrome only addled ocassionally by the lacy dark hedgerows. I watched as the sun reflected off the roof of a cruising tractor and the back of a soaring raven. Ahead of me was one final ascent, known as Farleton Knott. Peaking at over 200m above sea level, there is almost too much to absorb here. In the background, indenting the horizon in large dollops, stand the skeletal arches of the Lake District. The M6, a road which employed some of the rock from this very fell, is there but its sense of presence is out-performed by the multi-checkered landscape behind it. I sheltered myself between two boulders, withdrew my binoculars, and fixated my gaze on some individual assets: a church spire, a farmyard gate, a sheep. And I marvelled at how small they were and how comparatively large a single lichen seemed to be.

I sat, as Elizabeth Barnett Browning suggested, "upon the lofty hill" and listened to the autumn hymm. The winds were, indeed, stirring the trees and I noted that some trees had already parted with many of their leaves. I opened this week's blog with the theme of farewells; the farewell between student and parent, between leaf and twig and as I retraced my steps back to Lupton, I too bid farewell with Holme Park Fell. But I shall return. As every parent knows - as my own parents found out this week - students find some reason to escape the hurly burly life of study and return home. And thus, although the leaves do fall, more will return next year. As Browning herself states:

Come autumn's scathe -- come winter's cold --
Come change -- and human fate!
Whatever prospect Heaven doth bound,
Can ne'er be desolate. 

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