Monday, December 22, 2014

Beyond Interlaken Switzerland

Beyond Interlaken

Swirling clouds  are prayers to the sublime. Water white from recent familiarity with glacial slopes plays with river rocks. Cows with discordant bells move at the speed of grass under mountains clothed with a chasuble of autumn ochres woven so finely. For a moment the tulle of clouds parts to reveal far peaks of brilliant white. The ultramarine lake is gently patterned stroked by the breeze. The church clock intones an invitation and we walk back to the train past wooden houses with finely carved Bible verse and brilliant displays of red geraniums.

There are dragon tracks here,  between silver rails, the teeth of the rack railway and the scent of oil mixes with the piquant aroma of cow. Tiny trains climb improbable gradients. I look through the oil smeared rainbow of a window, into the cab of an old box square locomotive of riveted iron and wood to a shelf of  brass and wood, dials and handles. A sleeping dragon with her pantograph wings folded, away from the fire,  resting under the shingled roof of worn sheds roofline shaped by the winter snow roosting there each year. Heaped stone ballast and the sharp blade of the snow plough reminders that these rich green fields and town prepare for the blizzard of snow where the mountain reaches down to invite these pastures to dance the dance of silent snow.

On the street great balls of sculptured stone, overhead water falling vertically from a high crag crossed by the horizontal movement of the yellow Post Bus. Angles of buildings an essence of Swiss.

To me a visitor this scene is impossible. Its as if various old photographs and tea towels brought home from holidays by my grandparents had been stitched together and the tiny clock with its  dangling weights and little roof had suddenly magically expanded into a house before my eyes, the church bell and mechanical clock alongside the sun driven clock adding verisimilitude. Then that moment passes and I am here now, not that wide eyed boy in shorts who thought that a clock that went to 17 might be possible since 17 was his special number. Twelve is so conventional  and confining after all. That boy like this man scents a wild time that runs away joyously.

The train, at this distance a toy in a shop window, traversing the slope each carriage containing a satchel of stories moving between light and shadow inviting me to ride. As I turn,  do I catch a glimpse of the mad philosopher's improbable mustache warning me that without the rack rail of a wider vision I may attempt too much. My inner wild dragon must rest as well as play. At this moment I feel for his solitary striving and yearning and once again am grateful for this family with whom I travel in experiences of travel.

Running the Cumbrian fells

Slipping on my dark blue running gear is like reacquainting myself with old friends. I slip on socks and tightly lace my running shoes feeling the tightness and the tug. It's been too long but somehow my mind and body has ached for this movement, for the pull of the heart and the rhythm of the breath.

After feeling the bolt of the farm gate release behind me I pull down my well fitting lightweight running hat and open my stride and after a few moments it's seems that brakes have begun to ease off and a new energy and looseness flowers through my body from the sway of my arms and the gentle cantilever of my backbone awake within me

I tell myself that it feels good and so it does, this getting out of my constantly turning mind and into nature, into my body. There is an intimacy with the air and earth, the senses sharpen and boundaries  become porous. Running gear feels like running unclad and the lightness of a run lifts one into a series of temporary flights over the earth, a slight jump over a mountain beck much attenuated at the end of summer.

I close my mouth to avoid the clouds of midges and experience one in the eye which I blink away. I weave past a craftsman repairing a stone wall. As I run along the wall a slow measured retrieval of a jagged lump of Lakeland slate slotted into place now become woven into a regular pattern, embracing its neighbour it's very unsymmetrical shape an asset into binding together this structure to survive winters and summers and hold animals in their allotted place. Part of me wants to stop and exchange a few words but I am urged on.

It's like a kind of inner steam engine with the breath the energy that  rings feet and legs into an oppositional harmony of motion and balance and pulls in more of me as I seek a relaxed run erect enough to provide an internal spring within.

This is wild and I am in wild, an ecstatic experience of flow in a body in motion but yet in time a temporary sojourner to these massive mountains overhead and to these young oak woodlands beginning to surrender summer leaves. I feel chipped slate underfoot, the softness of boggy mud, I slow to negotiate rocks since a twisted ankle is not an ambition and slow to walk down a steep rocky slope as I feel my heart loosen from a canter to a trot and to a walk.

The sun sparkles from the river running also between rocks it's path as twisty as mine, birdsong from the woodland, the flash of a magpie with long blue black tail tangents before my gaze. I'm hot and sticky yet feeling the surge of wildness even as the body tires. Up an incline and down the other side, joining a track, crossing the river by an arched bridge and moving into the next village passing walkers with a brief greeting. At the end of the day few walkers and they all seems to be birds flying to their over night roosts with their Ordinance Survey routes now turned into stories and images for discussion and recollection during winter evenings.

It's a beautiful sunny warm autumn day and here I am my body being possessed and possessing this run experience. Through the farm and white painted buildings and then I turn onto the road. I'm less familiar with this part of the journey and have to cross and recross the road to be careful of the traffic. There are more pauses for walking now and less of running as I begin to think ahead, keen to arrive back at the 17 th century Borrowdale farmhouse from which I began.

Then nearing my destination a moment of grace as I meet a red squirrel sunning herself on a branch before my eyes. She waves her tufty tail as if to rebuke those grey squirrels from America who have exiled the few of her kind to this narrow valley and runs vertically up the tree as if to tell me that my horizontal movement is too easy.

My body that began this run, the first for many many months although there have been fast and hard walks and short sprints, that felt light and young now seems to be a burden, a bumping bag of body, and I can trot slowly to the double bridges than span the river and lead me back to the village of Grange.

The body and mind are stilled in movement, the mind drawn away from its chatter this endless turning over of the soil in conversation. The rhythm of the breath and the focus on the journey brings the runner, since I'm not even conscious of myself as a self into the flow of moments the only decision to live within the constraints of heart rate breath and strength. This is a silence that refreshes as much as it tires.

This is 55 minutes of an experience I would not have missed for the world and about 5 miles and in a boast to myself I fire up the body and sprint for home pouring out my breath in pants and feeling my heart rate soar until I slow, warm down, enter the house and begin stretching out this run. Shedding this light skin of running gear I feel the warm water of the shower strip away the grime of this journey and later I feel my aching bones and body with a warm affection. I feel alive right now and feel released.

fragments of a Mary Oliver poem

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
Mary Oliver

Ancient Stones in Cumbria

Ancient stones

There is no sign, no board to inform but only an ancient circle of stones. Easy to drive by, easy to shrug off as people so used to the machine and to buildings that make us feel small or lift us high in the sky.

These stones are silent now, the subject of scholarly conjecture but they serve us visitors as a marker for memory. Half in jest and half in wild desire I remove my shirt feeling the keen wind kiss me gently and eddy past as I move clockwise in respect since every human sacred site demands this direction, touching the pebble I carry in my pocket this holiday and which I have touched other stones, other churches, other shrines and my fathers grave, against these stones.

Leaving them they lean into the turning earth upright like a hand of love accepting me as a distant grandchild of a client people. This is a tribal place with room for me and I am grateful and half naked half born between worlds.

Thank you stones may you stand here another 5,000 years assembled in this place as silent witnesses to people who saw greater horizons.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

taste of travel

Shaftsbury Street evoking Thomas Hardy
British WW1 Tank,
In this entry we travel from Bath UK to Bosham via the Tank Museum at Bovington.

Winding out of Bath in fog, tree fingers seeming to stir the swirling vapour, to Shaftsbury where in the fog I'm transported back to my love of Hardy novels where characters encounter new truths amidst mists. The taste of black sausage at breakfast
does not confirm a memory. It's pleasant, almost biscuit like experience amid a delicious breakfast well earned after cleaning the flat this morning but the tang of coffee allures. So many years ago did I like coffee? Yes but not that much. Am I yearning for an unchanging self but then there would not be room for growth. I am eating black pudding as a visitor and not as something I eat, or could choose to eat as part of my everyday diet. Here is a dialogue between selves and memories the interwoven layered self framed in beliefs about past, present, identity and future.

At Bovington I recognize firstly the names surrounded in red for Ministry of Defence, once I belonged to this family and had a place within its hierarchy. We pass the HIVE and I remember how these places came to existence in 1990 in the lead up to the Gulf War for service families. The crack of gunfire and the shape of tanks and the grey green of NATO establishments, that sense of impending war and living with the threat of attack.

Some take me back to a boyhood of AIRFIX models as my fingers hold a memory of glue and carefully placing the gun of a Sherman and Lee Grant or Churchill in its plastic turret. Then in the tank Museum ( I always wanted to go there as a boy but it was too far away when I could not drive) I confront a shape that arcs across my memory and my feeling. These are figures in respirators and NBC suits and my body remembers the smell and feel of those suits, the rubber encounter on my face, my fingers recall changing the canister in the tear has filled room as we carried out 'buddy buddy checks' and the old Cold War is present once again. Once again the Air Force which often I dream about returns to front of consciousness, appearing from the mist of the mind.

Later in the Pub at Bosham with the taste of English Cod in my mouth I recall that it was in this pub that on the day before my 18th birthday I was challenged here as I bought beer. Was I served or not, I can't remember and I must have been with Frank and Paul after Mass or a visit to the church to light a candle to our Lady of Walsingham.

Again and again, as memories telescope in familiar landscape here in West Sussex where I grew from a boy with endless dreams and fantasies, castles of the mind, to the war of secondary school, the illness of dad and his spiral into death, being found by God, the embrace of religion but also the outer landscape of boats and birds, grey skies and ploughed fields, cycle rides and friendships, that sense of a long history of which I was a part. The colour of trees the shape of roof lines, fences and doorways suggest the dreamlike and misty nature of memory.

Ancient paths of cobbles at Shaftsbury     

Lines and Buried Lines September in Bath UK

Lines and buried lines recounts a visit to Bath. After so many years I see the city afresh as an Australian rather than as a young air force officer just married on his day off from RAF Lyneham, civilian civilization after a week of immersion in the front line of service life.

I make my way across the city stretching out my legs still cramped after flying across the world and now moving my body across space and time.  Initially I am chilled but soon warm in the hazy early morning light of Bath. I feel the pull and push of the body climbing and descending, negotiating roads and narrow pathways bracketed by lush summer vegetation.

I let my eyes run across lines and angles. I notice the symmetry of rectangular classical windows broken at the centre of each tall house, a window with a classical arch. Stopping to look I notice sameness and variety and how another street carries the theme yet changes the design. Those on the wide straight road are more richly ornamented. The classical columns arise from the flat vertical and often margins have playful displays. Here is a city that in its 18 c clothing displays a love for the rational with the irrational places on the boundary. Light and straight lines the emblem of an enlightenment.

I note the square paving stones now eroded by feet and weather into irregular shapes. Against the houses there are undulating lines and colours of cars the symmetry suddenly broken by a car facing the other way.  Cast iron railings in deep black against the light colour of the stonework.

The predominant stonework provides a canvas for a still life of shapes and forms, flowers and stationary cars yet suddenly interrupted by the long curving sweep of a bright dress as a young woman cuts diagonally across the road, a comet like movement of red cutting across the orbits of cars and lorries their path determined and expected.

Hidden away are flats beneath the houses, some dark others alive with red geraniums and other flowers, steps garnished with lichen winding down to their doorways.

Along the way my eyes are being drawn to road names and other names written in black script on stonework. The typeface is above all else a reminder of another age that lives in writing since its so unfamiliar when compared to the way that we make words today for display on signs and shops. Some incised into the stonework others painted denoting a commitment to preserving this plain upright script.

Paths lead downwards to the river, to a riverside sports field, and church spires thrust upward towards irregular clouds as I stretch my neck to look. Everywhere is the fine vertical wire to deter pigeons and gulls. Then almost by accident to the old Green Square station of the Somerset and Dorset railway, a beautifully proportioned face to the square and then through walkways to see the curve of the canopy that once enclosed trains that traveling onwards would have to reverse. I imagine them resting here like steaming war horses, sleeked with sweat replenishing their energy after an arduous battle.

This is the line my great grandfather, probably with too much loyalty to his community living in Glastonbury bought shares in. I doubt if there was ever a dividend. Yet it's satisfying to walk along the tracks of the old trains across the bridge and to imagine the excited echoes of children and adults crossing the land for summer holiday specials. The curve of the train canopy now enclosing a market is most satisfying. It's a kind of birthing chamber and not just a place to protect travelers. Here is an enclosure, yet one that is glass a cathedral from which trains arrive and depart an inside outside place so very unlike aircraft terminals.

Along the path I cross in front of the old Holy Trinity Queen square and try and remember the name of the priest I met at St Stephens House who went to serve his title there. Now the church is closed down but still retains that sense of mystery within and the old Anglo Catholic perfume of hassocks, incense and romanticism lingers in my memory as from a previous life, an incarnation and identity I once inhabited. 

Blocks of stone hold up railway sweeping diesel snakelike across the city intertwining with river. Arches of bridges and straight lines of the old railway bridge. Then the uneven path along the river beside narrow boats some humming with life to power the generator others paint peeling and up for sale. Old bicycles, black plastic bags filled with who knows what, a shrine with flowers by the bank to someone who perhaps drowned there or worse. It's not a bank of the river I would like to frequent at night.

The bright tourist heritage city is moored alongside a poorer community. I step into the road to navigate past a group of people waiting for the Baptist community centre to open and steady steams of people part to make space for the Big Issue seller and his dog.

Lines, some high like the railway and it's horizon, others low like the river and others enclosed by the old Kennet and Avon navigation with locks like doorways inviting another kind of travel a path of water. Other horizons are high houses, church steeples and the St George's flag flying above Bath Abbey as church and state are woven together.

At night as we return home from a restaurant a huge electrical storm and slanting sheets of rain and under street lamps the regular shape of paving stones is highlighted.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Night walk swimming in the sound scape

Cups fly in formation across this Bosham cottage wall

A reflection from a stay at Bosham in West Sussex September 2015

I step out into the night diving into darkness from the pool of light from this ancient house well rooted in earth on this rough track that extends like a stream of stone into this tilled field where in daylight rooks caw their ownership. The night sky full of stars covered with the light mist of human light from southern cities yet stars still strive for attention, the philosophical gaze of wonder, humility and appreciation, the taken and released breath of appreciation.

I feel my body take on the rhythm of the walk on deserted roadways conscious of shadows of fences and hedges, homes and cars. Autumn perfumes of trees and plants greet my passing, honeysuckle like the glimpsed perfume of an elegant older lady passing by.

I notice my breathing deepen and my body shifts to lift my feet higher to avoid tripping. I sense a kind of smudge about my body as if I am swimming yet blending with this warm darkness, that I can release into this flow of eddying moments of time.

The pub at the crossroads acts like a compass with lights casting pools of radiance across the space where ways converge and part. Beyond this point there is only darkness and I suspect this is a dark night village. Lights of cyclists arrive silently followed by hazy shapes of riders. On homes tiny red and green lights show to deter thieves. Squares of brightly etched windows shadowed onto the pavement.

the distinctive Sussex shingle

These cottages which have stood here while generations have come and gone escorting the trackway which has no official conclusion since the tides which rise and fall like the breathing of an ancient creature provide the demarcation. Tonight at low tide a calm which magnifies a laugh from some distance away, the cry of a bird. The calm water reflected by stars is like a bowl of water utterly still holding all around it in stillness. The pungency of weed and pools of salt water remind me that this is a harbour where sailing boats laze on the mudflats or stand like sleeping horses on blankets of shadow. This water which seems to this bystander motionless, is a distant relative of the sea at which it does it's bidding each day like an old family retainer still entrusted with greeting guests.

I return, my steps echoing where the houses become coterminous with the narrow path, I turn now switching on a modest torch to prevent my tripping and into this narrow beam of light my feet appear one by one like fish darting forward for food. The tone changes on reaching the lane and now looking up through shaggy hedgerow reaching above me the stars are framed anew.

sea, steel and wood in an aging alchemy
Stopping I hear a passing rhythmic train, the distant tongue of traffic and tracing a path through the stars an aircraft far above heads to its destination descending from dark skies to the arc lights of its terminal. So far away it's as silent as a glider or the wing of an owl wheeling above to survey the rook tended rows of this field. The slap of shoes on pavement now crunch on gravel as if I stood on the shingled shore now two miles distant. Perhaps the beach followed me home, hiding in the shadows. I bid it goodnight. Taking a breath with mouth opened wide and lifting arms to the skies arching my back in animal like stretch I prepare to be embraced by the lit house, the hum of conversation and the tang of tea.