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.

Parched

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Unsettled

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It has been a season of fits and starts.  I struggle to find the rhythm of creativity.  There are moments when I catch the thread of it, begin to weave it into the trace of a pattern.  But then the design is lost, strands abandoned on the loom or fading into incoherence.  This is not a fallow period, nor a fit of the doubt doldrums.  It is something altogether more insidious than that.  Anxiety haunts my mornings and the year is vexed by a mercurial bleakness.  And the poverty of creative inspiration disquiets me.

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The weather too can’t settle into a rhythm.  Languid days fretted with heat, the air thick, close and stale.  I struggle to breathe in the treacly heat.  Rain of every kind: heavy splodges, misty drizzle, pin-prick hail.  Moments of storm-quiet, those rich, still moments when you feel the coming of the storm in your blood.  And magnificent rumbles of thunder, moaning across the sky as though they never want to end.

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The summer meadows are blooming, but already the flowers look crisp and ragged around the edges.  The Dene beds are empty of water, the ponds stagnant.  Wild cherries jewel the trees and lie abandoned on the grass, unwanted by the birds.  But small creatures flutter everywhere, over clouds of ox-eye daisies that invade the land like delicate occupiers.  The birds are quieting, as they do after the hard work of spring.  This is weather to seek out a patch of grass under the shade of a tree and to feel its cooling balm.

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I struggle with this part of the season.  My body feels the turn of the solstice, the inconspicuous move towards shorter days.  I begin to long for autumn, for curling up and turning inwards.  I dislike the heat and the excesses of summer, my least favourite season.  But we are just moving into the most extrovert months of the year, long hot days filled with the voices of freed children, the acid tang of barbecue smoke and the waft of music.  It’s a paradox that my spirit battles against.  But this, like every other season, like every state of mind, is transient and perhaps this year, the pattern is an acceptance of that.