And the Dark Wheels Again
Text on A3 aquarelle paper
and the dark wheels again
a line drawn straight up
a line of beauty
up into the heights
and on those winding circles
(wide wings outstretched
no beat or flutter
to rest his tail against)
up goes the hawk
round and round
Collaged from ‘Birds Climbing the Air’ by Richard Jefferies, found in ‘The Life of the Fields’, 1899.
A key feature of Jefferies’ writing is its particularity – its detailed observations of natural phenomena. ‘Birds Climbing the Air’ describes a pair of buzzards circling on air thermals. These birds are a prominent species here in the valley, eviscerating sheep corpses and thereby opening them up for other scavengers.
The longest day and the valley is shrouded in mist. On such days the sun passes from ridge to ridge without ever being seen. A veiled presence. After the blazing days of the last few weeks this is a return to what we experienced last summer. Mist slowly advancing up the valley, retreating, and advancing once more. Perhaps it has something to do with the narrow shape of the valley, our elevation, and our proximity to the sea. Black Combe, only a few miles away, seems always to have a cloud halo, even on the brightest day.
In the picture above my daily walk takes me above the ridge that dominates the left, high above the old ash tree on the right, and then steeply down into a nearby derelict farm, before returning up the valley road. I remember walking on a mist-laden day last year and hearing one of the ravens that nests in the disused quarry. I didn’t see it, and it didn’t see me, but we heard each other, and it came over to investigate. It circled me twice, low over my head, and I could hear so clearly its powerful wingbeat, and its beak, opening and closing, as it sounded the gloom.
I began writing this collection in 2009, about a small wood that I used to visit almost daily in south-west Cumbria. I continued writing it on the west coast of Ireland, in 2010, influenced by the many dense thickets of hazel scrub, hawthorn, birch and willow in the Burren. On returning to Cumbria in 2011, I discovered a narrow remnant of ancient oak woodland not far from our hillside cottage. In a sense, although much of the writing deals with specific – and highly individual – locations, each place also elides in the memory, is connected, becoming part of a larger internal woodland.
Three recent finds from what has become an almost daily walk here at the head of the valley, crossing the Dunnerdale Beck twice. My vague idea was to walk the same track for at least a year – to observe and remember, without taking notes, or ‘responding’ through artistic means. I thought that perhaps duration was important here. That if I got the chance to observe the same landscape, and walk the same track, for a full year, then I would be better prepared to ‘respond’ when the time came. It’s now been 18 months and more, and what I’ve learned is that each day is different, regardless of the preceding year. Today I talked to a man who has lived in the valley for over 30 years, and he remarked on the profusion of small umbellifers that congregate the meadows and verges – the like of which he has never seen before.
I’ve occasionally allowed myself to collect certain findings. In a way these speak more eloquently than I ever could. The tiny bird’s nest is particularly exquisite, fashioned almost entirely out of a knot of sheep’s wool threaded with moss, lichen, hair and feathers. I found it in the verge and so small is it that I can’t help but think that it was brought down by a gale before it was completed.