In the heart of the heatwave, our usual walks are too exposed to the glare of the sun. My dog doesn’t like the heat and neither do I. Seeking relief, we visit one of our less frequent haunts. The path was once a railway line, hauling coal to the coast. Here there is shade and shadow under bridges and trees. The hedgerows burst with bramble and bindweed blossoms. Stinging nettles as high as my waist and wild roses like vintage china. Speckled wood butterflies and hoverflies like lozenges of amber. Though the sun is blazing, the fog horn signals a sea fret in the distance. It is still too hot, even in the shade. A blackbird sunbathes at the edge of the path. He’s a beauty, with glossy feathers and a bright orange bill. He spreads out his wings and lies with his back to the sun, in a posture thought to get rid of parasites and spread the preening oil in his feathers.
We are used to a more temperate heat. Not this dry glare that continues for weeks with no forecast for rain. The grass parches and begins to yellow. Leaves droop and curl. On the moors in the north west of the country, a fire rages. I find spiders drowned in my dog’s water bowl in their search for refreshment. Amid nights of disturbed sleep, there are strange, vivid dreams: I watch volcanic ash tumble down like snow; I climb precarious wooden structures to escape grizzly bears circling below. And I dream of rain: heavy, drenching rain that washes away the heat. I fill the watering can and water spilled on stone gives off the soothing petrichor smell of rain like a false prophet. Morning sea frets bring some relief. But there is no hope of rain for a while yet.
I struggle to find poetry in the glare of the sun, when it is too hot to breathe or to think. I walk with eyes scrunched against the dazzle. The landscapes this sun reveals are too harsh, too flat. Fire is the element I’m least drawn to, and when I am, it’s the flame of a fire on a cold day or the dance of candlelight, not the unrelenting heat. Time seems to pass more slowly in this heat – particularly when I don’t want it to. It saps energy and inspiration. This hottest part of summer isn’t conducive to creating. It seems designed for lethargy.
But there is a poetry to the sun, and to me, its poetry is in its nuances of light. It is not in the noon brilliance, but at the book ends of the day when the air is golden or gauzy blue. It is in the deep pooling of darkness within the light, the relief of shade, the shape of shadows. The falling of light on a leaf, making it translucent, the way it gilds a buttercup. The dappling of light and the way it shafts through the canopy to highlight the undergrowth. Dandelion clocks become spheres of quartz in the morning sun. Gold washes the underside of seagulls’ wings near sunset. Stone becomes honey and the sky blushes.
Without these patterns of the sun, the world would have only one note. It is in the contrasts and the wavering spectrum of light that the landscape finds its character. It is easy to forget the life-giving properties of the sun when it seems only to desiccate and deplete, but in the depths of December, when my bones are chilled, I will appreciate that my skin was touched by its warmth. When the nights grow long and I feel that I have always woken to darkness, I will remember waking to the shimmer of dawn.