Grounding

A tree lies broken on the path.  The old poplar has been rent, a bough the size of a large tree torn away in the winds.  The splintered heartwood is shredded and the tree nurses a jagged ivory stump.  Its amputated limb blocks the path, causing passers-by to stop in wonder.  It isn’t the only casualty.  A bough of the shoe tree has fallen, a mossy pair of trainers tangled in its branches.  In the dene, a large bough of weeping willow is hanging by a thread of bark, like a besom broom sweeping the path.  Storms aren’t unusual before the equinoxes, as though the earth needs to expel its energy before it can come into a balance of sorts.   After the day of wind comes a night of rain, before the morning calm.

After the storms, I go in search of stone, a balance to the torrent of air and water.  I want to be grounded by the size and the steadiness of earth.  I start at the Pen Bal Crag, the tallest of all our cliffs, where the priory and castle sits atop limestone and sandstone.  I rarely come to this small bay – the steps are steep and many and dogs are banned for half of the year.  In fact I don’t recall the last time I stepped on its sand.  Alone on the beach, I’m dwarfed by the rocks rising above me.  Boulders are tumbled at the bottom of the cliffs, some from landslides, clad in bladderwrack and gutweed.  Water drips from vegetation in the cracks and behind it all, the sea roars.  These rocks are layered in time and faith and blood and the ancient lava flow that once poured through them.  I am as slight as a grain of sand in comparison.

Strange how the memory plays tricks.  I have a very strong recollection of a barbecue here many years ago.  It has the gilded patina of nostalgia, redolent with soft evening light and the taste of sausages.  I remember clearly exploring a cave under the cliffs – so clearly I used the memory of it in one of my novels.  This is why I’m here, to re-visit it.  Yet as I stand on the shore, gazing at the cliffs, I realise that this cave doesn’t exist.  It most likely never did.  All these years, the image of it has come to me and it seems that I invented it.  I puzzle over my trickster memory, willing the cave to come into being, but of course it doesn’t, except in imagination.  A crow, the trickster bird, squawks and lands on the rock beside me, as though laughing at my foolishness.  It has something that might be a crab in its beak, something spindly and long-fingered.  I watch as it pulls the creature apart and welcomes in its mate to partake in the feast.

The sand is virginal.  There is only the faint meandering imprint of a small bird’s passage.  The remnants of last night’s storm churns the sea into boisterous waves.  But that is out there.  Here on the beach, all is tranquil.  The sky is pale blue washed with wisps of buttermilk.  On mornings like this the dawn sky is insubstantial.  It holds a luminous translucence that makes my skin seem thinner than it is, as though I too am made of gossamer.  The clouded sun turns the breakers to liquid platinum.  I can see the lighthouse silhouetted at the end of the pier beyond the cliffs.  I came here for stone, but it is sky and sea that are the most precious gift this morning.

I walk to the other side of the bay, passing a few black headed gulls and an oystercatcher.  A young herring gull bleats for food as I pass.  Up a bank lined by valerian and the leaves of silver weed, past a rusting old bench.  My coastline stretches from the mouth of the river to the island where one county ends and the next begins.  In between is a chain of bays.   I head down to the next, down to the derelict open air swimming pool and onto the sand.  Here, I search for a memento of the light, a token to take with me into the dark season.  I spot it immediately, as the thought is taking shape, a pebble that is, in fact, neither light nor dark but blushed with both.  I take a strand of kelp and draw a circle in the sand by the tide line, and bisect it.  This represents the year, with both halves in equinoctial balance.  I step into the circle and cross the line, clutching my token, symbolically moving from light to dark.

This harvest I have a sense of completion. There is nothing that niggles, undone.  It hasn’t been an easy year and the strange weather seems to have reflected its challenge.  But I have two polished novels ready for submission, one of which was long-listed for the Lucy Cavendish fiction prize; two agents asked to review my full manuscript while another said it was the strongest submission she’d seen for some time; three new stories written and a story short-listed for a short story prize.  There are things I would like to have achieved – such as one of those agents agreeing to represent me – but perhaps that is for another year.

The sun is at my back now as I walk.  That luminous sky behind me, as is the zenith of the year.  This bay is known as the ‘long sands’ and it is a mile long.  By the time I reach its end, my circle will probably have been washed away by the tide.  I walk at the water’s edge.  There isn’t much of a strand line here, just wisps of seaweed, a single maple leaf, a few pebbles, shells and feathers.  I follow it, such as it is, letting the tide seep over my feet when it chooses.  I’m always greedy for treasures from the strand line – one more pebble, one more shell – my house is full of jars and tubs of them.  I pocket a sliver of sea glass,  a chunk of sea-washed china, an intricate shell, a pebble honeycombed by piddock trails and a tiny white feather.

A group of four sanderlings scuttle in the tide in front of me.  I try to catch up with them, thinking that if I overtake they’ll see I’m no threat.  But they keep scuttling, back and forth, always the same distance away, until finally they take flight, sick of the game or never having noticed me in the first place.  A cormorant dives in the surf and I watch as three times it dives, three times it rises.  At the north end of the beach, curls of kelp litter the shore.  The tide has created an island out at sea, thronged by birds.

I came for caves and there is one bay where I know they aren’t imaginary.  I clamber down sandstone crags, feet sinking into slimy banks of bladderwrack until I reach smuggler’s cave.  A few pigeons take flight and a redshank sounds an alarm.  I walk under the arches, past limpid pools and clusters of pebbles and seaweed.  From above, these caves are sunny sandstone.  From beneath, they are grey, green and dark.  The caves are beyond the pier, cut off from the safety of the sands.  From under the arch, I see the same ship I’ve seen in my walk along the shore, the same sea, the same sky, but the view from inside the stone is a secretive one.  Here, there is no-one to know that I am a witness.  I am the watcher in the dark, looking out onto the light.

My harvest is completed and now I absorb inspiration, to take me into the creative dark.  I ground myself in the resonant stone.  Moving inwards, to the sheltered half-light of autumn.  I will take with me the brilliance of this, and other, watery dawns; the iridescence of a kingfisher’s wings; the stripes of a badger’s face.  The light is always there, running like a vein of crystal through the stone.

102 thoughts on “Grounding

  1. Storms aren’t unusual before the equinoxes, as though the earth needs to expel its energy before it can come into a balance of sorts. That is an absolutely marvelous and insightful statement. Your creative magic is strong right now I sense from the power of your words. I hope/feel/sense that you may have some rewards and recognition for your hard work. (Fingers crossed in any case.)

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  2. Beautiful post, Andrea. Interestingly, grounding was my focus for my yoga newsletter last week. Fall seems to call us to return to Earth…best wishes on your writing endeavors. I hope you find a wonderful agent for your work.

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  3. Absolutely wonderful, Andrea. Thank you so much for taking us on your walk. I could almost smell the sea water, feel the breeze. Lovely descriptions that helped to ground me vicariously.

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  4. What a wonderful walk that was! But I tell you, once we got to that silver beach with the waves tumbling in at a distance and the lighthouse, you would have been on your own and I would have been sitting in peace and a quiet ecstasy, drinking that all in.
    Congrats on such wonderful comments on your writing, the accolades/prizes, and good luck. The year is not over yet, Andrea.:-)

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  5. I love your seaside and your memories. Your observations and descriptions are always profound. I so relate as I have explored a few caves myself both real and imagined.Their symbolism is both frightening and awesome. In Central America and southern Mexico they are associated with terrifying gods and mythology. Good luck with your novels Andrea!!. I am sure they will be a wonderful and inspiring read if they are anything like your blog posts!!

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  6. Andrea, I love the term ‘trickster memory.’ Nature is always so abundant in your posts, and you describe your setting so poetically. And how could you not? From your pictures the landscape looks magical and so full of spirit! I always feel like I’m walking alongside you.
    Best wishes for all of your writing submissions. Maybe the full moon or the crispness of the autumn equinox will usher in all that you deserve with your writing. Congrats on the novel and short story successes! I’m always happy to see my fellow writers receive due recognition. Can the story be read online?

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  7. Oh, wow…such a Lovely work of prose, Andrea.
    So sorry to hear of the demise of the shoe tree (I remember that post) but thrilled at your news concerning those two novels (though mentioned so quietly – seemingly just in passing during your narrative post).
    Please keep us up on those novels’ journey towards publication.

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  8. A lovely tribute to the equinox as well as a poignant acknowledgement of the step you take from light to dark, at this time of the year. Our daylight saving starts next week. I am looking forward to the light. Congratulations on the wonderful harvest of written words you have achieved this year.

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  9. Congratulations on a productive year, Andrea. Its only a matter of time before your books are picked up and published.

    I can picture all your talismans throughout your house, sources of inspiration at hand. I have such bits and pieces too, gathered on beach walks far from inland Ottawa. Reminders of places and moments.

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  10. Storms around the equinox…I have just experienced that, too. So cleansing. Such a serene walk you lead us on here. The shift of seasons, the acceptance of what is, the harvest of the work done over the past seasons. Huge congratulations on your novels, and the agent’s interest! Great things are in store for you, Andrea.

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  11. Lovely piece, Andrea. Perhaps you were mixing up two different places in your memory and put the cave at another location in you mind?

    Those rocks look dangerous to stand near for fear a bolder might clobber someone. The awesome coastline photos almost look like they were taken in black and white, which gives them a paradoxical earthly yet ethereal look.

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  12. Andrea, I sense that your voice is one with the stones and sand, and the gulls.I imagine if you lived somewhere else your words would be woven into the texture of its environs. Superb words and photos of your walk in search of grounding stones.

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  13. The sea and its endless gifts. I envy you being so close to it. I liked your equinox ritual – something I think would help me accept the change of seasons with a form of reverence. Congrats on the completion of your books and the prizes and interest they have garnered. Well deserved, I’m sure.

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  14. I like to think think that the broken branch at the beginning will be pulped and used for the print copies of your books. Good luck with all your literary endeavours. You are a wonderful writer, you evoke your scenes so well that I am looking forward to the books, and to them doing well.

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  15. Isn’t it wonderful when we merge into the sky and sea and feel how our flesh becomes gossamer? Of course, I use your words on this feeling, because you write it so well. You have accomplished SO much in a year: two polished novels! three new short stories! The next part – getting an agent and then being published – is a gossamer accomplishment, having little to do with the hard rock of your talent – that’s not in dispute. Getting your work ‘out there’ seems to be more a matter of luck and persistence. Persist on!

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  16. What a wonderful walk, Andrea. Those cliffs are so different to the ones around where I live, that are all chalk and glaringly white. And your sand is a different colour, too. I would love to find wide open places as deserted as around your parts.
    I really hope a literary agent falls in love with your novels enough to offer you representation soon. You certainly deserve it, and you sound so nearly there. I believe in you 🙂

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  17. I feel as though I was walking around the fallen trees, through the sea, sand, wind with you – you’ve a knack for bringing the reader into the scene. I love picking things up along the beach, examining them and either laying them back at rest or putting them into my pocket – an attempt at keeping the feeling and connection to the place. 🙂 Congratulations on completion of your two novels and beginning the submission mode ~ and with it the best wishes to finding them published soon, and enjoying the autumn.

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  18. Gorgeously described, as always, Andrea.
    Thank you.
    Caves are amazing aren’t they? They seem to suggest so many possibilities – shelter, sounds, discoveries, peace, colours and maybe, if we’re lucky, some drawings too.

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  19. A beautiful narrative, Andrea, and the photos are spectacular! The part about memory is a wonderful element here. I love the way that images relate to things in our histories though they may evolve and be different than the original incident! Congratulations on all the writing and future publications. What a great feeling!

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    • Thanks Carla, it is good to feel I’ve achieved my goals! I had a dream just the other night about rocks and caves at the coast – different to how it really is – and the dream was so vivid I had to argue with myself to accept that it didn’t exist 🙂

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  20. Congratulations on your novels and short story to be published, Andrea! I hope you find an agent soon. I was pleased to join you on your early morning walk and loved your descriptions of the sky (..’pale blue washed with buttermilk’ and its ‘luminous translucence’) the sea (the sun turning the waves to ‘liquid platinum’) and those amazing lumpy, cliffs. Your posts are always such a joy to read.

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  21. I’m so fortunate to have read this post, Andrea. It reads like a prose poem full of beautiful imagery. As always, you take the reader with you on the trail. I saw the sky, felt the sand, heard the birds and smelled the air. Happy grounding! Congratulations on your story publications. Looking forward to reading them.

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  22. Some fabulous rock formations there to accompany your words Andrea. And I’m interested to know you have not one but two completed novels. I’m afraid the delay in awaiting agents, publishers etc. is not for me.

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  23. Hello Andrea, I hope you are well.
    Now that was beautiful and like all of your writing a pleasure to read.
    For me beaches have always been a special place, and as a child growing up on the Cornish coast they were my playground.
    But beaches are not wheelchair friendly, and that makes them a no go area for me now.
    My point is, this piece triggered so many memories for me, that it took me back to those summer days and the lazy hours spent exploring rockpools.
    I thought I wouldn’t get that close to the sea again, but you proved me wrong, excellent writing.
    Until next time Andrea, take care. Thank you.

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  24. I feel the same toward autumn. I was just saying to my email subscribers how I have to set an alarm to *stop* me from writing so I can go do things like feed my children! Haha. That’s how intense my creative process is at this time of year. It’s such a good feeling. 🙂

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  25. A sense of completion? I love that. Nothing better at this time of year. That’s peace. And I did not know about storms and the equinox. I buy your theory. Beautiful as always, Andrea. Thanks for sharing your talents.

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  26. Beautiful writing and photographs of the afterstorm. Love your recollections about the cave – amazing the way imagination becomes a memory. Congratulations on the completion of your books! So exciting!

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  27. Your way with words always inspires me. “After the storms, I go in search of stone, a balance to the torrent of air and water. I want to be grounded by the size and the steadiness of earth.” I find myself going into the forest for this. It’s intriguing how deceptive our memories are even as I find myself inadvertently relying on them more as I get older.

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  28. Once I again your words and rhythms here mesmerized me, Andrea, grounding me. I love the idea of being inside the cave and looking out, having a secretive view, a watcher in the dark. Enjoyed your descriptions of the craggy cliffs and boulders, the specific birds and plants — photos a pleasing accompaniment. Thank you for taking us with you to this marvelous seaside spot.

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