Baked

The last weeks of August sizzle.  Furnace days that pass like treacle.  Hottest days on record, air so close it’s hard to breathe.  Air so hot it’s impossible to get relief.  Sleepless nights.  Sticky, long days of hard brilliance.  August is stuck in amber: it seems it will never end.

But finally the amber cracks.  On the morning of the storm the world is damp with dew and the sun is a blazing orange balloon.  We know the storm is coming, but it isn’t until the hour before midnight that it appears.  Two booms of thunder and a neon flash herald its arrival.  The next crash envelops the house, as though giving birth to it.  Lightning flares every few seconds.  Thunder grumbles.  Rain hammers down.

In the morning the landscape is scoured clean.  Green is greener, more vivid after rain.  There is energy in the air.  In the deluge, autumn’s blooms have blossomed: a bouquet of fungi along the paths.  It has been a good summer for fungi, despite the heat.  There has been a bountiful harvest of field mushrooms in the park and a scattering of fairy rings.

A day after the storm, it is cool enough to walk the wagonway.  The hedgerows bulge with fruits.   Birds nests of wild carrot, fat with lilac seeds.   Horse chestnuts ripe with conkers, still encased in green.  Bushes full of blackberries.  The wind teases willowherb seeds from their stalks so that I walk through drifts of down.  I hear the steam train chug and whistle down the nearby museum track.

The flowers are few now: a clump of willowherbs here, ragworts there, clusters of fleabane and sow thistles.  Insects jostle for space on those blooms that remain: hoverflies, bees and flies, speckled wood butterflies.  Dragonflies dart across the path moving between ponds and patches of damp ground.   There is still little evidence of birds: a couple of wood pigeons, the song of a robin and the twittering of a few hidden blue tits.

In the dene, it already seems like autumn.  The avenue of lindens has released a drift of tawny flower casings that look like heaps of autumn leaves.  August is finally over and the scent of a new season is in the air.

I was introduced to the wonderful book Saxon’s Bane by Geoffrey Gudgion some time ago and I was thrilled to see he was crowdfunding to publish his next novel Draca through Unbound.  The book is about a former Royal Marine haunted by his past and possibly by the old boat left to him by his grandfather.  Half of the profits will go to the veteran’s charity Combat Stress.  Geoff has been offered a great opportunity to promote the book at a festival alongside a ‘household TV name’ if it is published in time.  Pledges are currently at 89% but he only has two weeks to reach 100% if he is to get the opportunity.  That’s only 60 books, so please consider pledging to enjoy what I expect will be a great read and to help out combat veterans too!  You can find out more here.

The slow work of the soul

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.