Monday, 17 September 2012


Without even looking at the bedside clock I knew it was early when I woke up this morning. The warmth of the night has roused me several times making me kick off the last remaining sheets from my body. It is dawn and I have awoken alert and aware. I lie for a moment listening to the final fading hoots of an owl somewhere distant. I leave the house without any refreshment. No breakfast, no drink. The new morniing sky catches my eye as I make my way through empty silent lanes. As I arrive at a high point I have a panoramic view stretching before me. The scene is bathed in a light grey blue haze, like bonfire smoke. The sky is changing with every breath, a red glow thickens and forces its way through the canvas, haemorraging around the clouds’ silhouettes, dispersing sunlight and illuminating the landscape. daylight is now on full power.

Occasional glints of intense sun sparkle through the shifting sheets of cloud, there are golden shafts beaming down to the bare earth, while blackbirds sing from leafy perches. There's more of a wind today - it provides a consistent and obstinate obstacle as I ride up my first hill. The lateral lines of the landscape interest me; from on my bike I glimpse at the view over and through the gaps in the hedge. The scenery looks like a picture painted by some giant artist, perfect parallel lines of umber, ochre, green and yellows upon sloping gradients and rising seams of rotovated earth. The sky is like a distant seascape, clouds as white as horses with the sun a bright, clear perfect disc. It is liquid -flowing and blending. 

For many years I was lucky enough to live with a river running along the bottom of my garden - there is immense pleasure to be gleaned from quiet contemplation close to water. Each day, each hour would offer something of interest, the passing swans, a visiting heron, the flash of a kingfisher, coots, moorhens I even saw snakes swimming one hot summer afternoon. I watched butterflies, saw dragonflies perform that miracle of emergence on still water surfaces among water lillies in high summer. I paddled, fished with nets, and did much dreaming by the river - idyllic and generous stream. the memory nourishes me still, although the best thing about a river is its permanence. You may cherish the memory of a house you lived in only to find it has changed beyond recognition, but the river remains the same.Like hills and the sea, rivers defy change - they are indestructable, they have something eternal about them, a thing of wildness and tranquility, of motion and stillness, of music and silence, of life and solitude, simplicity and secrecy. It is a complete world. It not only has its own life but attracts an astonishingly diverse life from other places and things. 

The best of a country's history might be written its rivers. Water has a powerful mystery about it. Still waters, moving waters, dark waters; the words themselves have a mysterious ring. Roads, meadows, towns, villages, gardens, woods are man-made: a river is a primeval piece of work, ageless, perpetually young. It travels and yet remains - a paradox of eternal age and eternal youth, of change and changelessness, of permanence and transcience. 

If there is a certain flavour to these words it may be comforting to reflect that they will be true, roughly speaking (barring astronomical accidents) in a thousand years time.

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