Thursday, December 20, 2012

Stories for the solstice

Words can be like wild birds: they need to fly, to be released onto whatever currents may carry them away.  I like to imagine words scattered into the winter air and abandoned to chance, landing where they will.

So here, released into the darkening sky so that they might briefly find a place to roost, is a collection of my essays and prose from 2012; articles published elsewhere than on this blog.  This LINK (Click here) should allow you to view or to download an e-book of selected articles, to give you something to read on dark winter nights.  If you do access it, I'd appreciate a comment to let me know.  If for some reason you can't, then let me know so that I might send you a copy by email.

With  best wishes to you all for 2013.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Coming down


From the crest of the hill, I can see the floor of the valley laid below, hedged and parcelled, neat as a quilter's dream. A cold spell has settled on the area, and the fields and hedges are tipped with frost, white in the low sun, as though lightly dusted with sugar. Wooded hills are islanded by the mist, remote and aloof. I am standing above a hillside which has been in sun for the morning. The frost has thawed to a damp coating of the lank grass, robbed of its crystal sheen, as though a spell has been broken. There is no wind, no sound.
Below me, the smoke from winter fires spools aimlessly into the still air. Above the height of the tree tops, it disperses sideways, unable to rise through the dense air, stalled by the high pressure which stills all movement. On windless days such as this, it is almost possible to see the cold air thickening in the valley, sinking into the darkening spaces behind hedges and copses, crystallising to frost where no sun spills.
Down there, my path leads; a gentle descent through gorse-tangled hillsides, crossing stone walls and stiles, towards the sound of the hushing stream at the bottom of the valley. I am coming to the end of a blissful walk across hilltops empty of people, into sunshine only faintly warm in the low light of winter, and what remains is downwards.
I pause on the lip of the hilltop, reluctant to take the path down. It saddens me, this descent into the clamouring world, leaving behind the thinner air of altitude, the clarity of view across pale hills and ridges to where the sea is draped in a bank of mist. At times like this, I feel that the valley below has nothing to offer; no quality that can be finer than this remote hilltop with its iced pools amongst the sedge, its thick pelt of woodrush and moss. I feel an ache of sadness for the place left behind, the silent space which will be left by my passing, the way that the hills exist outside of my presence.
As I turn downwards from the ridge, I notice the narrow trod of a path which curves gently between knolls and crags, luring the eye over the lip of this hill and on to the next, and the next; undulating waves of grassy fells. It tugs at me as I descend, this path, like a thought I hoped to speak but then forgot. I imagine walking its weaving route, on and on over the receding ridges of grassy hills, drawn onwards by the sensual curve of the land until evening gathers in the valley below, and only the tips of the hills are touched with the last, fierce orange light of the setting sun.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Birds on a wire

 I see them across the field, lit by the low sun of evening. The purple sheen of their feathers is slick in the slanting light, like oil. The breeze and flicker of their movement is stilled, save for the ruffle of their feathers in the breath of wind.
Twenty-one crows, pinned on a fence in the chill of winter. Their sightless eyes reflect the pale cerulean sky, the flare of the setting sun. They seem bigger in death than in life, their bodies sagging with a weight which is not theirs in flight, a burden of gravity which they overcome each day, each moment, each gusty swoop on a westerly wind, every exalting climb from the winter branches of a bare tree. None of these movements will now be theirs, no portents of storms or weather-vane sympathy with the roiling wind. They are carrion, the cruel irony of their own name, a curse on their lives.
Beyond the senseless cruelty of their death, I cannot fathom the purpose in exposing their bodies in this way. I suppose there is some ignorant superstition which suggests it will deter further crows. And from what? From taking the eggs of pheasants, from preferring the lives of birds we have imported for the sport of their death, to the lives of those who are so part of this landscape. Their crime, it seems to me, is the crime of all the corvids: their intelligence, their craft and guile, the way their liquid plumage seems so black against the sky, the colour of evil, the colour of our fears and darkest dreams. They fill a need we have for monsters and culprits, chosen because they are the wrong colour.
 It sickens me, this slaughter; it reeks of arrogance and disconnection, the darker side of country traditions and values. Everywhere I go, I see the meaningless disrespect for the land, even from those who claim to be its custodians: the blooms of green algae in rivers and lakes, the black plastic fluttering on windy fences, the peregrines poisoned and deer shot and moles pinned on fences as brazenly as these crows; tokens of our power, our hatred, our own pitiful inadequacy in the face of such beauty, such willfulness. I am tainted with the stench of death, I am complicit, I am ashamed.