Wednesday, 4 January 2012

How now

I went to watch the sunset; tramping the short hundred metres out from my house to the edge of the village where I could see the horizon. It was far away over ploughed fields, the earth turned from a grey soil, pallid and sundried to a gooey, melting brown. Earth from the deep underneath.

But two things happened and I didn't see the sunset. It's a shame I didn't as the sun was glowing a strong friendly orange, outlining the line of clouds above it in brilliant gold. The clouds were grey and smeared across the horizon but the undersides glowed a surprising pink, as if unable to contain their merry nature.

The first thing that happened was that, as I crouched at the base of the first tree lining the straight rocky road, I saw a walnut and realised I'd chosen a walnut tree to watch the sunset by. So I started to scuff around in the leaves, head down, looking and not looking. It is often the subconscious that will see patterns in the landscape, the telltale circular shape among the curled leaves. I lost my phone the other day; I looked on my bedside table....lamp, book, mug, no phone. It was only after a few hours that I realised I had only looked around the book and not at it. Or on it. There was the phone.

The second thing that happened, back in the landscape, was that I found a cow skull, upside down, full set of teeth, remnants of membrane stretched across the cheekbones and leaves rustled in the nasal cavity. Itchy. There was still a topknot of white brown hair clinging to the bare bone and two fine horns, black tipped, protruded from the nest.

I looked at the skull and the skull looked at the grass, my presence did not amount to much I suppose, a mere whisper in time, a flicker on the wind, stirring leaves for a second and then, gone.

I scuffed some more, making a slow circle around the base of the tree and thought about how unmagical the skull is to me. No shock of a new sight, no amazement at the majesty of nature, still struck wonderment at the purity of the process of decay. The great crawling nature, condensed into an off white cowskull lying beneath a walnut tree in a windblown, bare landscape.

Somehow this magic has become mundane for me. I just shrugged, in a way. "Oh look, a piece of dead cow" and I wondered if I could rip the horns off and use them for something interesting. There was a hoof lying in the road the other day, an abandoned dog toy. Have I gained something with this nonchalance or lost it?

When I looked up to the sky again, the sun had gone and dusky blue light was settling, darkening down upon the land. I trudged back again to the house, pockets full, and stopped to return an axe to my next door neighbour. I offered her some walnuts and she said "Wait, wait", leaving me leaning against the doorjamb, watched by a nervous dog on a short brown chain. A hen fluttered down from the top of the door and I could see a row of turkeys nestled, companionable. She returned and dolloped a beach ball bag of walnuts into my arms. "But I wanted to give you something!" I protested, useless, unintelligible and we both giggled as I pressed my walnuts on her, my paltry pickings. Yesterday she gave me a single hen egg.

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