Sunday, 13 May 2018

Week 84: (7th to 13th May 2017) or 'The Sun, the Stream and the Slipper'

Bank Holiday Monday - Written beside a stream in the heart of the Forest of Bowland 

I have found, upon deep reflection, that life is a steady sailing away from the harbour of serenity, where once a childhood was spent, cradled upon the ripples of innocence, and safely moored from the waves of trial and vexation which inevitably rock the years ahead. As years pass, and the cord that has for so long bound you to a state of bliss begins to unfasten, so you slowly begin to drift out to sea; that embittering ocean of sin and responsibility. There are moments later in life though when you find yourself being drawn back to this harbour, perhaps in a current of nostalgia or desire, and for an hour or two, you are anchored once again to this magical place of tranquility. And so it was this morning.

Had I been born a butterfly, I could not have hoped to find a greater measure of sweetness than that which was cast, like a spell, over my pillow this morning. I awoke to the verse of Springtime, recited by a chorus of those treasures of the season: an unclouded sky, a beaming sun, a warm fragrant breeze, an air of simplicity, the spirit of youth. Spring had, for a while, served custody amongst the clouds, but today it was, again, released and free to chaperone the Sun over the county. No sooner had the first shadows been sketched, I was cycling down the labyrinths of lanes and hollows, hushed away from the irritations of the world. Any burden that befell on me was soon diluted to insignificance in an overwhelming esctasy. I swept past farmsteads and cottage gardens, over bridges and under the falling blossom which lined the edge of the tracks like sequens sown along a seam. Towering above the handlebars, the banks were intensely green and rich with life and I could hear the workers, busily employed amongst the wildflowers, making fresh deliveries of pollen to sustain the beauty. The branches of trunks were sketching small pools of shade upon the banks and an unseen stream was feeding the lane with the sounds of something timeless.


I mused and pedalled. How do we allow ourselves to become possessed by nonsense, by annoyance, by folly? Why do our minds soak up the tide of burdens and grief? The thirst for, the search for, the battle for simplicity seems to enlargen as the years pass, and yet with each year, we feed our hearts and minds with all the saturated fat of unnecessity. A diet of simplicity is what is required!

Up the steepness of the hill, my front gear was one and my back gear was one. The product was one and I was at one with the hill, and the hill was at one with the fields, and the fields were at one with the trees. I mused upon a wall hiding behind leafy growth. The drystone walls are merely faint scratches upon nature; they are peremable, seeping light from field to hollow, secreting the scent into the lane. See how the wild weeds climb to conquer it! See how they veil it, embrace it, conceal stone by stone so that it becomes lost under a cloak of greenery, zipped at the top by the interlocking palms of flora, lost forever.

I left my bicycle beside a tree and sauntered as the mind pleased, up a track to the Forest of Bowland. During my previous visit here, the track was submerged under a brown, peaty gravy that had poured off the shoulder of the moors. Now the track was arid and dusty. Soon I became enveloped by a woodland, caught in a corridor of a light ray filing through the trees, and entranced by the unforgettable, unmistakable sound of a stream. It was the same stream that once saved me from a fate I do not gladly like to think about, some time ago, when I was a naieve visitor to the moor. Hopelessly lost one winter's evening, I caught the faint melody of water whistling over the boulders, and it became my sonorous compass, guiding me through shadowed distances, back to more familiar territory. That water has now passed; one can never become acquainted with the liquid of the stream, only its resonance and spirit.

I am now sat, atop a cushion of moss, resting against a trunk, recalling that spirit. My feet lay draped over the bank, where a network of tree roots outcrop like a ribcage. Down in the stream, the unshaven beards of moss and the freckles of lichen festoon the boulders which face up to bathe in the sunlight. My view is of a staircase of ripples and pools, and the glistening light that shimmers off the back of the stream and its deep, caramel hue. I sit and read, whilst my ears are away, engaged with the monologue of the stream. Occasionally there comes a reply from a songbird or bumblebee. Sometimes my eyes roll off the page too and into the stream, to catch sight of a dragonfly and - yes, that is a Water Shrew! I am aware that to the locals, that is, to the native woodland communities, I represent the very strangest of colours, shapes and scents in this scene but as one hour passes to the next, and my legs become the landing strips for a dozen flies, I am being slowly accepted as part of the natural state of things.


***

Later that day, I left the sundrenched bank of the stream and climbed one of the fells. There was very little breeze, and that which did waft over the moor was intensely warm. Lethargy began to infest itself within the muscles and progress became sluggish. There was some strange creature inside my head, beating hard upon my temple, seemingly crying out for a drink. And so, conquering at least one of the summits, I laid down upon the heather and slurped some liquid with a vista of barren, expansive moorland.

Miles would have had to be traversed to set eyes upon another walker. There I laid in the absence of company, almost in some other world. In the distance, the lowland countryside of Lancaster appeared like a faded photograph; the green banks of the hollows were veiled behind a stagnant haze. Beyond the town, a scene, half painted by the light, and half by the imagination, emerged of the tidelets of Morecambe Bay; pools of orange and brown melting away into an indistinct horizon. I followed small motorcars as they rolled down the lanes, disappearing as if engulfed into the Earth and then spat back into sight later on. Occasionally, a gull would pass over, sometimes a seaplane, often a hybrid of the two, surfing the haze. And then, laying my head back to the moss and searching the clouds, the music of the moors continued to play. A songbird carried away a sweet tune. A sheep bent a few notes. Somewhere, a cuckoo. Elsewhere, a grouse. A tractor, a bee, a dog, a plane, and all of this slowly fading, fading, fading, until the silent waves of sleep fell upon me.


***

Back in my flat, I had trouble sleeping that night. The pillows and mattress were no substitutes for the heather and moss, and as much as I attempted to recreate the moorland in my head - the sound of the songbird, the gruntle of the tractor, a distant seaplane - I could not grant access to sleep with such trickery. The other, perhaps more bothersome problem, was that the night had all the thermal similarities to that of a sticky morning in the Mediterranean.

It was half past four, and having surrendered all battles to re-enter dreamland, I got up and dressed and headed outside. What can one say about such a morning, apart from nothing, and then all has been adequately described? The skies were still clear and even the breeze, which can often be found dusting the streets of a morning in Lancaster, was soundly sleeping. Silhouetted trees, as if thin fragments of the sky had been cut out to reveal deepest Space, came into view and then, one by one, they started to sing. To one not familiar at all with the dawn chorus, it might have looked as if the very trunks themselves were whistling a call for the Sun. Indeed, I could not see one bird, but they were there, in their hundreds.

A dawn has, in its nature, the restraint from detail and the singleness of purpose sufficient for one to notice things which are often unnoticed in the complexities of day. For instance, during the day, when cars zip past, birds fly by, and shoes pace the pavements, the commute of a slug is almost intolerably slow. But at dawn, in the absence of exterior movement, it is deceptively speedy and its trail of slime, if sufficiently dispensed, can glisten in the moonlight. And further along, the air appears as if it is quarrelling under a streetlamp; it is in fact, our friend, the moth.

I ambled quietly, almost apologetically, up one of our campus woodlands and took a seat amongst the college orchards. I began to feel very sleepy again but fenced off the temptation and sauntered back to the lane which winds around to my flat. And then, I saw one of life's strange mysteries. A slipper - a solitary slipper - was perched on top of a fence. Having been estranged from the world of textiles, and when permitted in finding absolutely no interest in the making, design or fashion of any garment, I find it difficult to describe this shoe. I find it even more difficult to explain my deep fascination with it, apart from the fact that it had played a role in a complete stranger's life and now, being made redundant in theirs, it was finding itself caught up in mine. Let me add some detail. It was, as I've said, a flat shoe of feminine persuasion, with a silvery (almost metallic) grilled outer finish. A black ribbon adorned the crown. I reckoned that most of its life had been spent indoors; there was evidence of significant wear from inside, but the sole bore no sign of outdoor use. It was not of a style often seen worn during the day, though, so I considered it to be one of those 'easy slip-ons' that people use to greet guests prior to 'going out'. But how it came to rest so elegantly on the fence, and how the other had avoided this fate, I am still perplexed. It is possible that here two pairs of shoes were exchanged - the flats for some heels, let's ponder - and the unfortuante subject misplaced one, but why should it end up some distance from the ground? I carried on up the path, thinking about this slipper and listening to the birds serenading the sunrise.

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