Showing posts from February, 2012


Air is mild in temperature and temperament, high in humidity. Wind adds a frisky chill factor, sun streams add heat, dark clouds deliberate. This is my favourite kind of sunshine, a burst of brightness before rain. I was wandering up the rough lane, slowly drinking strong black coffee, watching the mist that hides the moor peaks. Dog, bored of convalescence, jumped the fence into the field.  Trusting her instinct, me and my coffee followed. We wander from the top path down past the exposed rock face, where the stone crumbles and crinkles, it looks wrinkled like an old elephant’s arse. The tumble of cold breeze and damp sunny air remind me of peeling off a wetsuit in a sandy car park, and the tussle to get dry clothes on salt saturated skin. There is always a thermos of strong black coffee in the back of the car, waiting. The last leap year day of February starts.
I watch for the rain but the air has absorbed it. The sun makes us loll like lizards, a flake of moon rests in the day sky a…


Today we took all the furniture and unfixed objects from Boy’s room and the Spare room and the home office room that is wedged under the stairwell. The Spare room turned into Boy’s new room, Boy’s room became an office and under the stairs a futon slouches under big flora and fairy lights, overlooked by a wooden giraffe. Then we were tired and queued up for hot baths. The wood burner has been full of fire all day, if we don’t have baths it will boil the water in the pipes making them bubble and clank and the taps get dangerous. We have barely stepped out of the door into the switch on-switch off rain. Dog is convalescing a cut paw, curled in the armchair watching the furniture move about.


Forecast sunshine is cordoned off by cloud. The lazy warmth gets through, it is sinking into the ground, looking for bedrock. Every step sends a spray of rainwater back into the air, and it falls back down in a re-enactment. Dog runs in her water-world, she has had breakfast, she is out in the fields, the fulfilment of her sensible expectations bring much happiness. I have found some germs that I am sure don’t belong to me. My nose has a tide now, a fast tide that I try to hold back with strong tissues. I think, I have had breakfast, I am out in the fields, it is a fulfilment, and even two achievements. Imagine not being able to wipe your own nose. Remember how lucky you are. I say thank you, universe, and the temperate light trickles down.


The daffodil choir warm up their yellow throats. They sing up to the sky and the piercing circle of sunlight. They sing to the buzzards that scan the fields from warm air currents. They sing to me, Boy and Dog walking in the fields, under the sky and the sun and the birds of prey. They stand bold upright in the vase on my kitchen windowsill, singing their yellow-bright song, while I dip the dirty plates in hot water and soap bubbles, while I scrub with the plastic brush. I can smell fake lime, fresh air from the open windows, daffodil flowers and the sunshine that is trapped in my skin. Dog lies on the doormat, cleaning up a pot of cream.


Black night bleaches out into the pale ghost of day without any sign of sunrise. A middle chunk of day happens indoors. We are in a sports hall watching out for beautiful kicks and swift punches, to put scores on fights. After the medals are all handed out and the photographs taken and the hall empties, we go outside to find sunshine filtering itself through tree shadows, lower and lower. From an A30 lay by we watch the sunset, we talk about the clouds, how the aeroplane trail has cut through them, like a plume of impact. Sinking light in the sky is red-peach and grey, colours of flowers, fruit, metals and mist. Suddenly the moon is there, and one star, and they lie side by side resembling two eyes, one is a twinkle, the other is the moon curved in a wink.


Today the weather suspends precisely between sun and rain. All day we are carrying umbrellas and hot in coats. It is a benevolent jest. Baby laughs in the fields, watching Dog run, watching grass get walked on. Later we go into town and buy a new red kettle. The old model won’t boil water, so it has done itself out of a job. Baby laughs at the giant tv in the electric shop, she has smeared biscuit all over her face, as is customary for babies. I have been awake longer than the sun has been in the sky. Concentration is wandering off. I am retracing my steps after it. But now I can make coffee.


The fields are in their morning dress, darkly wet bark and water beaded grass blades. I have my velvet pyjama bottoms, the striped top with the bonfire spark holes, a green winter coat and my Wellington boots about my person. It is not much cold at all. Dog chases the ball over the moss slope, straight through gorse and bramble and thistle. Dog retrieves the ball, each time with some jaunty flora attached to her fur. Today there is a brown oak leaf on her front right flank, giving her one avant-garde jodhpur leg. Yesterday there was a dried thistle hat. When the goose-grass comes, with its sticky burs, she will wrap some around her head in a wild bridal fashion. 


Cold circles back with icy grey skies and thoughts of snow. We watch the sky and, intermittently, it rains. It’s the sort of weather that can be shrugged off, cold enough to warrant preparing an evening fire. In the evening we are driving to Plymouth. The windscreen is rain speckled. Beyond the glass, cloud has filled up so much of the sky it has spilt over onto the ground. In the mist, whispers of shapes. The traffic is a river of brake lights, slow flowing. Trees, older than the road, crouch. Domed industrial units menace with bulk. Things in the mist are hidden, it makes them easy to imagine transformed. This is not what everyone means by the phrase ‘living in a fairy tale,’ but my ego thinks it should be.


Mr has laid down so many hedge branches it looks like a storm has torn through, following the rut of the muddy stream. Dog is in the stream, picking up mud samples that will not exactly colour match the brown leather sofa. I throw the ball into some prone treetops and pretend Dog is flying. If you are prone to idiosyncrasy, the opportunities to make your own entertainment are increased. All along the hedges, the cut wood stumps of the hazel and the willow are pale as Ophelia floating drowned in the pond, while the alder is brassy like a vintage fake tan.


Pheasant lies in wait at the top of the drive. He is going to chase off the car that invades his territory most mornings. I think I have driven around him, I look in my wing mirror for his fancy feathers, but somehow I must have missed his flight over into the field, or imagined the bird was there. I’m not that tired, and the frost of the morning has sparkled me into wakefulness, so I am puzzled by this. There is an empty lane reflecting in the car’s looking glass, until I turn to line up for parking. Pheasant reappears, he has run in the blind spot all the way down the track, ruffling his impressive plumage.  Pheasant remains out of sight while Dog and I walk around the fields. The frost has crept away. Sun comes down and I smell warm earth. I have my winter coat on, but undone. My hands are bare, but hidden inside the coat sleeves. There are still leaves from autumn, slowly trodden into the ground, slowly being absorbed. The earth has a slow metabolism. 


Sun, unencumbered, surges in through every curtain gap. The birds see it long before I think to open my eyes. They are calibrated to sense the first twitch in the fabric of night. Their chorus resonates. This is how the nineteenth day of February begins. I take my mug of cold yesterday’s coffee from the pot and out to sit in the garden chair in which Cat likes to sleep. Tired, thanks to Baby’s unsprung teeth, I close my eyes and raise my face to the sun, and browse along the inside of my eyelids, following warm colours from a golden peach to the deepest heart of red. This expanse of colour can only be the span of my eyelids, but from here it is the size of space. Open my eyes, frown at the stuff-pile waiting to be taken to the tip. It has its own junk appeal, this untidy slice of life. Shut my eyes, escape in the mosaics of glowing cerise. Later, when the laptop workings are reinstalled with all the reverence of surgery, and the rebooted reincarnation is marvelled at, of course I laugh…


Today is woken by a satisfying release of rain. It throws itself down all morning. In the afternoon the monocloud mutates into individuals, allowing the sun to startle people. A nipping wind reminds everyone not to discard coats. Later I roam the fields with Dog, I walk under a cloud shadow, looking out at sun patterns on the moors. I look down at drops of rain lined up on grass blades. Just drops of water, not unusual objects, but these little dots all join up, they are all part of the water cycle and the miracle that life exists at all. Just like most people, ordinary and amazing. And then I came home to write about it, and found my old lap top unresponsive. Where there should be words and familiar icons, there is a blank screen. I am able to borrow a strange machine, and struggle with the odd ways of doing things that should be automatic. Many of my words and pictures are lost in the blank screen.  I suffer a miniature grief for it. The sky settles to an off white, and the sun slips…


Fine rain filters down this morning, the weather finally makes a choice. A subtle choice, as the drizzle is too light to disperse the cloud and the clouds are too thick for the sun to be seen, leaving the sky in blended greys. Yesterday a burst of escaping sun threw out an abundance of heat, I could see from winter right through spring to summer. This day’s rain comes like a relocation, back to the end of winter, to a precise place in the perpetual flux between seasons. In the afternoon more sun sneaks out, and the laughing wind chases cloud and shakes the tree branches. The trees are not yet come to leaf, though I note the tall lymes are flecked with dark rosy buds. Blue is seen in the sky, warmth sensed in the air, clouds are whipped into egg white shapes, the crocus swells into flower. Here I find equilibrium, where the description is the narrative, where I am noticing the gauge of the rain.


Yesterday’s idea of a storm has passed. Weighted clouds remain, without menace, a soft compression overhead. The rain is swelling, the air is warming, the earth is calm, meditating, not sleeping. Underfoot, the mud is firm and pliable. I am looking down at the first push of nettles when I discover a headless blackbird. The head has been snicked off at the base of the neck, quite neatly. Blackbird’s feet are curled in, as though it could still hold on to a branch. The body looks untouched, but, under a closed wing, tiny ribs are visible. From the shape of the wounds, I am guessing the crows did this. I see how the feathers are so finely layered, how light the bones, how strong those little feet have been. Maybe bird-souls turn into clouds, fly up and wrap the earth in a grey nest. A few gentle fat drops of rain fall, I hold out my palm to the sky and catch three. ‘Pheasant, wood pigeon, blackbird,’ I say, and the snowdrops nod. 


The wind is lively in the trees, it gives them a voice. They gesticulate, discussing the idea of a storm. A storm would take out the deadwood before branches get heavy with leaf. The hollowed oak doesn’t say much, though the wind channels up through the open centre of it. A layer of rainless cloud sits in still air, the wind does not reach beyond the tree-tops. The storm is only an idea. With my coat zipped up it is too warm. With my coat undone I aware of a lingering chill. Celandine leaves are populating the grass, the daffodil buds are fat and yellow in the sparse hedge. The sense of seasons turning is the sense of life progressing.


The fourteenth day of this month arrives in a tepid mist. Again the weather is unsure, vacillating between chill and light warmth, as spring unsettles winter. We take a measured stroll around the field perimeters, which are marked in numerous ways. There are fences of squared wire, straggling lines of barbed wire, hedges in various states of repair, broad boundaries of blackberry thickets, impassable knots of willow, a clot of laurel, a clogged stream, sheets of corrugated tin, coppiced hazel and many types of over grown tree. Where Mr has chopped down the sycamore, thick sap drips and orange splatters appear, like the stumps have vomited carrot soup in protest. We marvel at the attribute, although it is not pleasant, it is interesting behaviour. From the top path, we look out across the valley and onto the moors. The perimeters of the horizon are hazed, as winter blurs into spring. 

Sunset In Wood

I'm not sure this picture does justice to the flaming colour hidden inside damson wood. We pick a lot of damsons and make many pots of jam and chutney. It's a beautiful colour, as most fruits are, and it never occurred to me that damson logs would be every bit as bright, in an oppositional colour.

451 All day the aeroplanes Will pass overhead, regular Cloud stripes tracing lines of Escapes and returns
452 There are holidays, business trips Emigrations, travels of many applications My best reason for travel is that you often see What you have best from a distance
453 Some people walk the earth To find nothing, some people Take one step to find everything Even if it isn’t perfect
454 The branches are assessed, they are Re-angled for dividing down into log sizes The first two cuts make a platform, two Wood lengths, to rest the branch across
455 The chainsaw zips through Each suspended branch The air smells of sap I lift up each fresh cut log
456 In wheelbarrow loads the wood is Pushed, over the thick…


Neither the sun nor the clouds will fully commit, leaving the day overcast. These are the dull conditions in which boredom can spread. Outside, the nuances of cloud and filtering sunrays can be observed. They require an effort to appreciate, an acquired taste of weather, unlike the instant deliciousness of blue sky or the immediate bitter-sour jolt of lightening. Outside the air carries a smell of spring that I am unable to describe, maybe it’s just the rise in air temperature over the cold of the ground. The wind has chill but not ice, the ground is wintry damp but not frozen. When winter is approaching, filtering in through autumn, one thinks of thick knits and the possibility of wearing a bobble-topped hat, but now, spring must be sifting into the air, for I am thinking of pretty florals and short sleeves, like some ancient instinct is telling me to shed my winter coat. My Wellington boots have a floral print, so I’m prepared. 


Usually the night is full of sleep but last night was different, containing about 5% sleep by volume: discontinuous sleep, the least useful kind. Without sleep, tolerance suffers. Concentration wanders off. I can’t find mine and the effort of search is frowning my head. My teeth get unnecessarily sharp and unyielding claws spring from tapping fingertips. Hot water drops from the tap, is imprecisely mixed with scented foam. In the steam, floating limbs and mind click back together like a mended toy. Sharpness relocates. Some preciseness of thought makes a list of what will happen next. Get out of bath. Wrap inside the towelling robe and look out at the infinite sky. The oblique orange moon stares back, like the iris of a dragon.


We are in the car, driving; the landscape, the daylight, the season, everything is in flow. The mysteriously attentive corner of my eye catches a shimmy of tree, like they are dancing when they think I cannot see; the fat evergreens and the austere deciduous celebrating the spring tide, while daylight is turning down on a dimmer switch, is dissipating into the edgeless suffusion of sky, and the stars come on automatically in blinks. I have bought a new wash bag today, thinking through spring, all the way to summer. I am thinking of watching the night gather outside my tent, while I sit with a brandy and sun blushed skin, breathing in the fresh dark air. My new wash bag hangs from a tent pole.


I read out the date; Ten Two Twelve, it sounds like a time check, nearly noon, or nearly midnight. It is midmorning. The sky is a blur of wet grey. There’s no amazement from anyone that cloud covers the whole of the visible earth, it’s merely a bland layer. People are mentioning that the weather has warmed, to balance rain disappointment. I wonder if our reluctant daffodils will open some buds. I can see wet naked hazel branches from the window, sat with my notebook while Baby sleeps. A rose in a single stem vase has not run out of water but the heated indoor air has dried the flower petals. The clock here does not tick, it makes a subdued rhythmic rattle, like a heart monitor picking up an unborn beat. I am doing that dangerous thing, picking up my pen and deliberately thinking of what to write, when I write the date and read it out loud.


Sun is sleepy this morning and won’t get out of the cloud cover. While light slumbers the ice is matte white, and the landscape appears as a cold haze, like I’m not awake either. Dog is not sleeping, therefore she is running, she will not mind if I am dreaming, as long as she can run. In the midst of my uncertainty concerning wakefulness, I find the bonfire Mr was constructing yesterday. Some people merely place wood in a pile, but Mr has made a precise and clever structure. I admire the central twists, twigs curved around and splaying out like a nervous system, and the slender branch exoskeleton. If the winter white represents a laboratory, here is a new species, if it is an art gallery, here is a new exhibit. The fields boundaries, in spite of Mr tidying the hedgerows, remain vague.


As soon as the curtains are drawn back, light dives in, splashing the walls and the chest of drawers and the horrible carpet. Swirls of light push through the star shaped crystal that dangles by the window, and they burst themselves into three oval splats of rainbow. I think of having a curtain of cut-glass baubles, filling the room up with bright gradients of colour, and promptly dismiss this thought, as it would need dusting. In the fields, ice stripes decorate the grass and Dog fights the silvered reeds to retrieve her ball. Mrs Pheasant is disturbed and rises, kite shaped and complaining, over the copper beech. She sounds so annoyed, Dog seems to be laughing. When she runs past me I can feel the heat steaming off her fur. Dog does not know if she is the happiest dog in the world, she does not compare herself to others, unless they have food and her bowl is empty. 


If I go walking in my fields looking for inspirations, they hide. I can make a habit of being inspired, but wild inspirations are skittish. The way to catch one is to not be thinking of anything in particular, which leaves my mind open, the permeable membranes of my imagination inviting and mysterious. Wild inspirations are curious things, they will swoop by, and the more I ignore them and chase about the grass, finding that the sun has not warmed the air enough to evaporate the morning’s dewdrops, the closer an intrigued inspiration will weave, till it weaves into my consciousness. I never trap them, I always let them fly. I see how the sun has set a prism in every drop of water, see how I am running over transient gems. I swoop up the slope, head full of natural, fleeting riches. 

The Happy Cartographer 1993

Just two relevant entries for this year, I was quite busy doing teaching practices and writing essays and reading one million books, or thereabouts. I was in the library a lot. Both of these diary notes were written at holiday points. 

‘January 1993 A sad New Year’s Day.  Great-grandfather died suddenly of heart failure. He was nearly 93, never had to suffer, lose his senses or be bedridden, so for him the lack of fuss would have been a great relief. I still miss him. Went to say goodbye at the Chapel of Rest: the body was there but he had gone, it was strange. At the funeral I didn’t want them to take his coffin away, it didn’t seem right, he was ours and we didn’t want him to leave.
October 1993 Leaving behind Granny’s sheep to go to the abattoir. Feel like I’ve been in a different land all summer. I’ve swum in the Cornish sea, clung to warm granite, felt a kinetic happiness, a physically recollectable restoring of the soul. The very blood in my veins is transmuted into a tincture of su…


Baby rolls across the floor, wrestling a pink plastic bus. She is laughing as though she understands the hilarity of scale and babbling in sound effects; the story of the gargantuan baby and the alphabet bus. And just when she thinks life is as amazing as it could possibly be, baby is plucked from the carpet to the bouncer and the washing machine is switched on. 

All babies adore washing machines, the blur and the buzz and the centrifuging water provoking the innate capacity for celebration. And just when she thinks life is as amazing as it could possibly be, baby is plucked from the bouncer to the high chair to discover lumps of carrot.


The edge of winter flirts with spring. Snowdrops, always bashfully regarding the ground, nod their bonnety heads in a sunny breeze. In the broad-bladed green grass, a fresh kill site; one of our clumsy wood pigeons has become fox food. The feather pile is white and concentrated, like a small pillow has burst, and a few drops of blood remain, still red and wet. Fox has had a late breakfast. Soft pink flesh fastens together some wing tip quills, just a tiny blob of pale pink. I think of pigeon pie, and how I’ve never tried smoked pigeon. I think, poor pigeon, but that’s how the food chain works. You are now part of the fox.

The sun is slipping in and out of clouds, deciding what to wear. Streams of warm and cold catch my ungloved fingers, mostly cold, biting like invisible piranhas. Maybe it was the wind that ate the pigeon and not the fox at all. It brushes at my cheeks, and I think of feathers. 


The icicles are a surprise. I make a literal jump, in the passenger seat. If the roads were icy that expression of delight might have skidded us into a tree. Mr saw them first, glancing up as he drives by. Where the road is cut into the steep hillside, where the water drips down, seeking the river level, there are solid spindly rows of frozen teeth, so many rows, maybe it is more like icy fur, or prickles, like a hill sized ice porcupine. ‘It’s like we’ve been on holiday!’ Mr enjoys my mini-whoop. ‘We’ve just toured the fjords,’ I tell him, exaggerating our travels. We are driving from Launceston to Plymouth on a cold morning. This snow, a crochet blanket, lies on the fields. Little brown fox runs from its cover, across the road in front of us, it runs from the field to a row of cottages, like it is ready to put the kettle on.


Rabbit runs out this morning, invigorated by -8 centigrade. He has intrepidly thick fur. Dog sleeps on the sofa in the room with the glowing wood burner. Cat strolls in, getting underfoot in the kitchen. Her fridge stalking skills are clumsy. I put her on a chair safe from grumpy morning feet and grouchy milk hunting. The faerie tale landscape of clearest sky, sparkling ground and cut out trees continues to exist.  Practicalities of living here are good; frozen mud doesn’t make soggy steps across the laminate floor; and bad. My car doors have frozen open. It’s undriveable.  Mr has a car with doors that open and close, and, after we have cleared a viewing hole for the windscreen, it is driveable. 


Everything that ice has touched has changed. The long mud puddles in front of the house are ice bridges over trapped water, the water presses bubbles up, the structure of the bridge is compromised. There are heel shaped holes where Boy has tested it earlier, on his way to school. He has prised an ice circle from the top of a wide bucket, there is a plastic bowl full of ice trapped in the circle of ice, it’s beautiful and quickly vandalised by the jealous sun.  But the sun on the ice in the fields lights each crystal up, I walk, Dog runs, the ground beneath sparkles like precious stuff. Over the frosted leaves her paws make a crunch like the sound of a giant eating a bowl of cereal. I see snow on the moor peaks, the mysterious towers of granite, and the sky is heart-liftingly clear. Two aeroplanes draw lines in it. I am not dreaming of faraway places this morning, I am living in one.

The February Experiment

During February, I am attempting to blog a description everyday, with prose and pictures, although I will let myself lapse into poetry if I really feel the urge. My blog, my rules! This is a lead up to the A-Z April blog challenge which I have just signed up for. The 1,000 Miracles In One Day will continue, maybe offline for a while, but they are there and I will find them. Meanwhile, here's the story of February. 

The second month of this year arrives, in late winter style, on a coating of fine ice and chilled mist. There will only ever be one February First 2012, and if that is not impressive, this year the month is trailing an extra day, a magic day that appears on our calendars once every four years. Things we don’t see every year we can remember to hold in higher regard.  This, the first day of the second month, calls for our attention with sharp air and soft horizons, a low pinkish sun lighting the cloud line behind the intricate lace of leafless trees. All day the sky is clea…