August is a month of waiting. Not the desperate waiting of winter, when you can no longer stand the darkness, but the sweet longing for something anticipated to come. I look at the calendar and am always surprised that the month isn’t yet over. There are days in August that seem poised on the edge of time. Perfect days, like this one, when the sun is hazy and still low in the sky, giving a blurred luminosity to the light. A day when the earth seems to be holding its breath. When I feel myself expand out into the silence and every step is like a sigh.
The dene belongs to the birds: gulls, magpies and wood pigeons. Mallards are motionless on the pond and a blackbird takes a leisurely bath. A rat dodges two moorhens to reach the undergrowth and a grey wagtail bobs on a rock. At the marina, the river reflects the hazy light so the world doesn’t feel quite solid. Swallows chitter and swoop above my head while arctic terns scream. I watch a gull pluck a crab from the water and devour it as a youngster looks on, crying for its share of the feast.
These are the dog days of summer. When the hedgerows are lit by the purple and yellow beacons of wild parsnips, melilot, willowherbs and thistles and it seems that autumn may never come. It is the month when the birds turn silent while they moult, adding to its sense of stillness. I remind myself to listen for the exact day that their songs cease, but of course it is only afterwards that I notice I haven’t heard the chatter of the sparrows and the goldfinches for days.
Autumn is breathing on the neck of summer. Already the festival of the first harvest has taken place and the spirit of the sun is captured safely within the corn. The goldfinches have re-appeared and starlings gather on the chimney pots. But August lingers and I yearn for autumn’s respite.
Lately I have been feeling the speed of the world. I’m young enough to have used computers for two thirds of my life; old enough to remember when shops closed on Sundays, when letters were written by hand to far-flung penfriends, when, if you needed information, you had no choice but to visit a library. Lately, the world often seems ‘too much’ and I long to return to what I remember as a slower time.
British artist Chris Ofili recently unveiled a tapestry The Caged Bird’s Song at the National Gallery. I watch a documentary about its construction. Four weavers laboured by hand for nearly three years to create it, unable to see whether they had captured the final image accurately until they had finished and the tapestry was unrolled. The artist commented that he thought there was something about the slowness of the work that meant the soul of the weavers was woven into it. I marvelled at their monumental patience and faith. No wonder that over that period of time, so immersed in colour, line and thread, the soul would seep in.
I lack the kind of patience displayed by those weavers. And yet, my writing has always taken its time. Sometimes a story arrives fully formed, but more often it needs to gestate. The words need to be chosen carefully and woven in the same way as a tapestry, with infinite patience and without knowing what it will look like at the end. If you live with a story for a long time, your life is woven through it. The story is who you are now and who you were then. Some stories are those of an instant, completely of their time. Others have lingered and breathed with you, absorbing experience and memory and more than a little of your soul along the way. Creativity may be sparked in a moment, but to birth it is the slow work of the soul.