Then spree

poetry & diary by Nia Davies

Tag: light

Finland from the air

Cycling on snow in Jyväskylä

March 30th, 2011

Pleated, becheckered and monochrome, it’s possible to see the managed pine and the white ground between trees, galvanised in the light. Palette lakes: smooth pulped and pressed flat. You can see the ripped, trimmed and scored woods, the growths left to bloom in rings like boreal fairy glens. Summer house are still submerged. From here it’s a stickle-backed land, seeming far more cottaged and tended than from the ground. You see the farm ponds and where black heated tarmac crosses the crispy white ski tracks.

The vanguard of sea ice hugs the far coast:  a barrage against liquid. The edges of the Baltic are still frozen – they hold a viscous edge that peels and retreats on warm days, crusts and extends on cold. In the  shallow seas around the coast snow furs over the islets that are hugged close and made part of the land only to be released into the sea again come spring. Some of the archipelagos are linked together by stringy bridges.

Over Turku the ice loosens.  There are beaches of snow in the bays, ringed islands that could almost be Greek with their white sands in bright blue. Over Sweden I watch the land start to brown, the lakes crack. There are long white scores cut out of the trees that stretch in very straight lines across miles of field, wood, frozen sea and island – presumably they are old imperial sledgeways?

Over Denmark the clouds come and I try to make out parts of the royal wedding magazine the Finnish woman next to me is reading: ‘Diana vs Kate’ – why are they so interested?

From the land of Finns to the land of Angles – we are both fished fine angles and filled lands, finished on an ask, an Ang, a Fin. The plane has taken me from winter back to spring. On the ground the foggy air smells warmly wet – long released from ice. The willows and thorns are leafing. I have gone from zero ice to liquid pools, the muds of the new year. We are quick to forget an English winter. But the Finnish winter I am fresh from will be harder to let go of. In the leech-grey wood one tree has come into green. As the train creeps into London the land warms another degree, and the sparse trees and track-side buddleia start to show it, begrudgingly.

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The Highlands, 21st November

Loch Lomond 2pm

We are driving north, out beyond the flat-fronted housing of Glasgow. Stuffed with the city’s finest ‘Nuclear Beans’. Into the Trossachs and there is an unexpected straggle of late colour, copper clinging to twig, golden needles in their final throws.  At Luss the scream of gulls and lap of loch. We are free of work for one week, and woollens and fleeces and no makeup never felt so flush. I had forgotten the purple of bare birch.

Loch Tulla 3pmLoch Tulla

Last show of bright sunlight in the grass, burning out the edges of the peaks. The trees grow wizened in the beginnings of a great bog. There is the drift of snow like a flag streaming off the tips of the mountains, or is it a snag of cloud? Here is the drama of northern light that bursts and fades so early.

Fort William 6pm

Standing on the pier looking back towards the town. The lights and sounds that reach us, come to our senses from a dark distance. There are the sounds of students shrieking and of roostless mud birds calling over the invisible expanse of water. The luminescence around each coloured lamp bravely strikes out across the night, nearly but not quite reaching us. We stand at the edge of the deep shadow, the 18-hour shadow that is the loch and mountains behind our backs, the shadow that these almost painfully bright streetlights and illuminated forecourts are up against.

Fort William at night

Parked up next to The Underwater Centre is a huge red bottle. Bruising metal, inch-thick red paint, rungs to climb over a curved back. Tiny portholes built for pressure. We can only guess that it’s an old decompression chamber, or some deep-water bathysphere.

The sense of sound chiming out from the bottom of an inky amphitheatre is wiped clean in the Grog n’ Grill with its piped folk ‘Singing Kettle’ CD and over-scrubbed wooden furniture. The bored staff seem genuinely shocked to see us. None of us would like to swing their partners round and round on a Monday night. But the Birds n’ Bees ale is good and my nose finally feels warm again.unidentified deepwater chamber

Sands of Forvie, Aberdeenshire. July

Forvie SandsEvery tread seems to disturb a bird, Sand Martin, Sky Lark or Tern, though I stick to the path and am careful in my step. I head through the dunes, past the beheaded Kirk which once stood over a village now lost to the sands. The joggers of Peterhead are the only other humans here today, charging through, pounding through this butterfly-strewn, grassy, flowery expanse.

Some dunes are so big and bare that if you blinker your eyes and cut out the smell of the sea and ignore the terns returning to their nests and the eider ducks splashing in the mouth of the estuary, you could be in the Sahara. Well almost.

An iron-red stream has caught fishing nets in its mouth on the beach. Once there was fishing, now there is petroleum.  It’s that same peaty North Sea as I found in Rye, still unfamiliar to me. I lived on the western shores of this island for two years and I miss the rocky drama of the Welsh coast.  The sea here seems muddier, but the land is lovely, full of sky and cloud and wind. It’s a place where you sense that the earth’s tilt and rotation. The flatness of the land makes for a certain quality of light: brightness from all directihigh brown butterflies on thistlesons, that northern clean-air light.Forvie Kirk

Culver Hole

Culver hole isn’t on my OS map. It’s a secret. A lowtide fortress for smugglers or is it pigeon-racers?

The sea spits a brain-splintering light today, here on the south shore of the Gower. Down we clamber to the shingly rock, the worn plaster-shattered plateau. This is Overton Mere – a mere mere – no sand in this crevice.

We travel with a dog, Ed – a dog with no strap to strap on, with a smaller-than-he-thinks complex. A little legged dog who has to be carried like a baby on the homeward road. ‘The reefs are working the waves,’ says Leon and I wonder how the moving parts get worked on by the solid parts. But maybe that’s the surfer’s trick – to be knowledgeable in crashable substances.

Perhaps message bearers hid here in the well-worn sea smooth crack of the cliff. The blues are pale and the cobbles round. But above the tide-line the rocks stay jagged, unworked on by the waves. In the crack is what seems like a building’s façade; stonework that includes windows and doors. It towers well above the beachy bottom.

It’s all perfect for bouldering, hanging, swinging but my limbs have gone dis-flexy since London claimed me. Leon is up in the masonry before we know it whilst Zoe and I are left wondering where our courage has gone to. We try to dangle on the rope but uneasiness takes over. Neither does the hobbly ladder dangling on another bristly rope and clanging against the cliff-face inspire much confidence. Ed is more interested in rock-pooling. Leon says it smells like pigeon shit in there. And so one purpose of the place is made clear – it’s a pigeon roost.

And maybe smugglers took roost here too. Inside there are walkways and stairs. Perhaps the hole’s one-time occupants caught the brandy flotsam and the rum jetsam. Little crafts could row right up to one of the portholes to drop off their contraband.

Nothing about Culver hole is very clear. But the name may come from the Old English for pigeon and, according to my google search, this place may have been somewhere to farm pigeons in a time when foul winters drove ‘desperate people’ to eat these scraggly birds. It is the home of the Blue Rock pigeon, a species gone interbred and feral. They are quick-shaggers, independent of tilling and sowing and back breaking. Tasty.

It also isn’t far from Port Eynon’s Salt House which is could be another clue. There are mentions of a pirate lord, John Lucas, who built a smuggling empire on this coast in the 17th century. Kind, powerful and criminal in turn, so the story goes, eventually he was beheaded by Cromwell. In other lore I find that Culver hole may have been used to store ammunition and could have also been the sea entrance for a long-gone castle.

And then I find, that in an archaeological dig in 1989, ‘a small fragment of an antler was found trapped in an alcove’. Well well, the mystery deepens and it smells distinctly of pigeon poo.

(copyright, Nia Davies, March 2010)

Walking Diary – New Year’s Day, Edale

Winter Peaks

copyright Eleri Davies, 2009

Gritstone is my familiar, my birthcode. Grit has gone green over on the drystone walls, these ancient fences crossing the white fields. There is ice in the air, is it snowing or brushing off the hills?

Dry paths – water once in a tractor’s tracks are now frozen, deep and creaking. There is a sudden give and mud reclaims my boots. Air and water trapped under ice makes concentric circles like a metre long white blood cell or a cartoon eye. And there are two eyes looking up to the blue sky.

Where there is ‘no access’ the hills look maddeningly beautiful. Fewer footprints ahead. I do my own slippery dance. There are wind-hugging trees and there is frozen dogshit.

Three ramblers rising. Why keep us out? We are not exactly dangerous. But you don’t always remember that the land is all owned here, we are allowed to pass only by the grace of the landowners and the Peak National Park. So long have we been able to lovingly trail over the heathery Peaks, we have nearly forgotten our paths are hard-won and flimsy too – we only walk here because we have been given permission, not because of an ancient right.

Still, I don’t quite feel like a Kinder Trespasser, I just feel furtive, unnaturally cautious. But the air is full of glitter. Frozen fog? Particles of ice drifting like migrating insects.

A standing slab marks a lost significance, an interned soul? A measuring mile to Manchester? A older kind of marker for time and space – less intrusive than a road sign, more soul in it than a new year’s countdown. And yet the Peak National Park guides you sign by sign – ‘open country – please keep to the marked path, no roaming no dallying, no looking at the stones in the brook or scaling the empty fields to see the view.’ Quick – jump that fence!

There is a gentle melt under the ice of a little road-rivulet. Sluggishly pooling its way down the slope, marking its own trespass. The sun makes its wetted inroads into the ice, but not for long. The day will be short.

Kitted out in gaiters and alpine walking-sticks, two rambling snappers snap the scenes. I don’t think they look as hungover as me. They are fresher robots. In a flush of phone reception I receive four new year messages!

On Kinder, a stream’s tributary looks cosier than it must be – as if under a cotton coverlet. My boots stomp and crunch the frosty grass and old snow. Village kids tumble off the first train back from Sheffield. I return to my friends by the fire.

Diary – Dyfi

There’s sweet haze over the sand behind Borth. The light over the beach looks dusty but it’s really full of moisture, marking where the Irish sea is thrown up in the sundown.

The train snakes past Ceredigion’s green dragon hump with their spiny fences and blackened marks on the undulating horizon. For a long time now, I have thought of these hills as a perfect combination – soft but exposed – mossy green tufts with odd, crooked edges.

From the estuary we follow the Dyfi inland. Pink strips of sun-cloud reflected on the river’s surface make a glistening strip that coils bright through the dark soaked grass. Green eve turning blue.

I’m thinking of rivers, thick and furious in places, swollen but calm in others. Rain here, in the words of my taxi driver in Aber, is ‘like a dishcloth – always needs to be wrung out’. It’s a place of literary cabbies and a land ripe for kayakers. In Cumbria there are ‘extreme care teams’ – canoeing rescuers paddling around checking that the stranded sheep have got plenty of bales to chew on. I imagine these flooded fields hide sheep corpses – there are no paddling saviours here. Oh well, they must make do.

The Dyfi’s watershed is an ever-damp net that is always catching the Atlantic’s squalls in its lush skirts.  And Aberdyfi’s sea-front’s glints white, ever bewitching. The unavailability shines at me across the water. I have never ventured that far, making the place practically exotic.

Meanwhile, London’s giant grey pull is hauling me back after a few frenetic days in Aberystwyth. The cities have undergone a brief role reversal.

But now I’m thinking rivers: the one I was floating down in my dreams recently. The kind of summery luxury only dreamt of in December. I was drifting downstream, past the buzz of water-skaters and the trees spilling in on both sides. Roger Deakin passed by and I greeted them lazily.

Watery imagination is elliptical. And now I come round to it – perhaps I am sailing past some sort of psychic conference – where my Elysium future on earth is cupped in the hands of certain powerful people currently in conversation in Copenhagen.

© Nia Davies, 2009