Gone canoeing

It’s the August bank holiday here in England. This is a note I left in the kitchen on Saturday.

Going canoeing reminded me of a poem I wrote on May Day bank holiday 2018. Reposting it here:


A click of the shutter

I don’t have a waterproof camera

and my phone is wrapped in plastic, safe in a drybag,

for emergencies only.

And so I have no photos to share

to say I was here,

to try to convey the meaning of a moment.

But how often does a photograph really do that?

After all, there are other senses than sight.

So.

Bank holiday monday,

Coniston Water

the end of a scorching weekend.

Paddling south (first time in my canoe this year)

away from the crowds,

my arms remember how good it feels,

burn of working muscle

taking me further from the voices and barbecue smoke.

Past open water swimmers towing orange floats

who stop for a chat in the middle of the lake

unfazed by the deeps,

complaining of the cold water.

Past moored boats, and pine tree promentaries,

shingle beaches overhung with oaks,

until, at the south end of the lake

as yellow reeds narrow to reveal the start of a river,

I turn around to head back north and see

spread before me the calm lake

bordered by woods in the first flush of spring green,

low bracken-covered hills glowing

in the early evening sunshine,

the Coniston fells beyond, blue and slightly misty.

That is the moment I would have pressed the shutter.

But could that photograph record

the pleasant ache of shoulders and arms,

the gentle forward motion of the canoe,

the sound of water lapping,

a mind quietened to contentment?

One moment, containing

a sense of returning, of welcome,

a glimpse of childhood,

a farewell to winter,

and the seed of all the summers to come.

Walking in summer rain

I walk on,

aware of grey storm clouds

gathering,

darkening,

first few spots of rain.

The estuary beckons.

I walk on.

The clouds open,

rain pounding on my

waterproof jacket,

pouring streams down

my legs, drenching

my cotton trousers,

filling my shoes.

I walk on,

the estuary misty

shades of silver.

For the raindrops

bouncing off my head,

running down my legs,

I am simply a detour

between the clouds

and the sea.

I walk home,

feet surprisingly warm

as my body heats

the rain in my shoes.

This is what it is

to be

alive.

Garden newsflash….baby slow worms

As you may know if you’ve been reading this blog recently, there is news in the garden too. And usually it’s more interesting than the actual news.

Today’s breaking garden news, baby slow worms, curled like bootlaces under some old roof tiles. So small! I see adult slow worms in the garden occasionally, but never baby ones.

Here is one, it’s not a great photo, I was tempted to poke it so it unfurled, but the slow worm would not have liked that, so I didn’t!

Easter heatwave

This easter we are gifted with a heatwave.

It’s 21°C, and people and plants are starting to wilt.  I imagine my overseas readers laughing at this, but really, 21°C in April is a heatwave in this part of the world!

I was busy weeding the herbaceous border, then it got too hot.  The sun was beating down on my back as I dug, boring into my winter-cold body, warming my core.

I stopped, sat in the shade for a while, then decided to go for a walk in the cool woods.

My regular route is rendered unfamiliar by the warmth, the hint of summer in the air.  It’s so early in the year that the leaves aren’t all the way out yet, so the shade is dappled, sun filtering through to warm the carpet of spring flowers below.  Birds sing in the canopy.  I reacquaint myself with the sound of various warblers, swallows and house martins, welcome migrant voices joining the familiar chorus from great tits, robins and blackbirds.

Above my head, in the canopy, insects buzz.

There is traffic noise in the far distance, and the sudden harsh discord of an ice cream van doing the rounds of the village.

I sit on a piece of limestone in the deeper shade of a yew tree, to write down some of the ideas whirling around my head.

I look around and everywhere is the power of spring.  Ferns uncurl, buds burst, leaves expand, flowers turn their heads to the sun.

A dog, out for a stroll with its owner, growls at my unexpected presence beneath the yew tree.  It’s owner is too polite, or disinterested, to ask what I am writing.  We talk about the weather, and she moves on.

The limestone is lumpy.  Uneven rock sticks into my flesh, finding the tender spots from yesterday’s cycling, first bike ride of the year leaving the imprint of the saddle.

So I carry on, feet crunching on the leaves of autumn which still lie on the woodland floor, patiently waiting for fungus and earthworm to turn them to soil, to recycle them into plant food.

Several times I hear a noise in the undergrowth, loud, like a deer or some other large animal scuffling through the leaves.  Each time, it is only a blackbird raking through the leaf litter for insects, a sound so much louder than its creator.

Sycamores dangle lime green flowers below their darker green newly emerged leaves.

The insistent repetitive tweet of a nuthatch catches my attention, it’s high in an oak tree, but I can’t spot it.  The oak branches are still bare, just a yellow-green haze where the buds are swelling, usually the last to burst into life, the herald of summer.

Blue splashes are just starting to appear among the green leaves; a foretaste of the carpet of bluebells to come.  They join the wood anemones, violets and all the other flowers of spring; racing to make their mark before the canopy closes over and they are plunged into shade.

The trail narrows and I brush against the softness of newly emerged beech leaves.  Wild strawberries flower along the edge of the path.

I emerge at the estuary edge, saltmarsh almost covered, tide high this close to the full moon.  Back into the sunshine.  The sky is hazy, hills of the Lake District hidden from view.

The tide pushes dog walkers up to the railings; familiar paths submerged beneath the gently lapping wavelets.

I stroll along the coast.  The sun burns into my winter-pale skin, but I am shielded by sun cream and cooled by a sea breeze.  Even though I am high up the estuary, the breeze and tide bring the smell of the open sea, the dreams of the ocean.

The tide has pushed flounders in to the flock of fisherman, waiting at the estuary edge with baited hooks and bated breath. That tide has now turned.

I sit again, this time on a flatter, more comfortable piece of limestone.  The tide rushes out like a river toward the railway bridge, draining away, returning to the real sea.  The distant cries of gulls mingle with the voices of walkers along the embankment behind me, the sound of cars, a distant plane.

I move on, following the tide.  It moves faster than I do.

A tendril arm of the sea snakes up the saltmarsh to my feet, disgorging its water back into the bay, wet mud at the creek edges glistening slippery in the sun.

I turn inland.  A steep narrow lane curls up past ancient farm buildings, fringed with wild garlic, first flowers starting to show, white bundles of stars above glossy green.

I feel sweat on my back, wishing I’d done the walk the other way round, down the sunny steep lane, back up through the shady woods.  That is summer thinking and I’m still in winter mode, where what matters is the wind direction and strength.  Walking into a cold wind on the estuary edge is not fun.

I stand in the scent of garlic, in the shade of an old drystone wall and realise that I have taken off the armour of winter, literally, my muscles have relaxed over the warm weekend.

Then I head for home, past gardens on the edge of the village.  A lilac tree is starting to bloom.  The last few daffodils stand proudly among the pinks and forget-me-nots.   The blackthorn and damson blossom have faded.  Spring has moved on a chapter.

I walk into my garden and I swear, in the hour or so I’ve been away the plants have grown.  Back home to a seat in the shade and a cold drink.

I hope you are enjoying the weekend, wherever you are!