Two days ago there was nothing wrong with this gate.
I looked for large footprints but found none.
I thought I might describe every single step of this staircase, every crack, flaw and grain in the oak as if it were a landscape. But if I can’t describe what’s outside the window–the way the winter sunshine falls on houses half a mile away while the High Street lies in shadow–how can I attempt something that much more complex? Close up, as far as language is concerned, the stairs exist off the edge of resolution. I continue to be an observer who was never much good at observation, stuck with a means of communication which can’t carry enough information. No wonder there’s this constant retreat to metaphor. The attempt to push through into something else is always a failed attempt to be in the real.
Woods at the beginning of winter. Cold air. The residue of sunset visible between trees. Lights on in the power station, early night in the medieval quarries. Time in arcs like that, invisible layers of time along the side of the hill, time lacing the branches together, in among the leafmould like a hard frost. Three grey lurchers! Running down the muddy hill! Holly. Your own breath. The sense that you still function. The sense of an ending and of someone keeping pace with you not far off.
Seventeen jackdaws were conducting a meeting in their invisible boardroom between the pub chimneys. I felt a bit thin on the ground that day so I took the green slot up through the woods. My hearing was back in my left ear. Welcome home baby, I said, but I wondered if my affair was over with the binaural world & we were only going through the motions. The pylons made a sound like a bottling plant in the distance. There were church bells. Half-tuned motors snarled up from the garage in the valley like dogs behind a security fence. Sounds of an English village. Later, rain slopped off the front gutters of the closing shops in the twilight. Dark before seven, TVs on before eight; front rooms full of flickering light. The ads don’t even seem to be selling anything anymore, just updating, reprocessing their brand in the light of current consumer perceptions, fine tuning the engines of consumption. It’s less important that you buy our stuff than you buy any stuff. Soon be winter in a strange house.
Nettles grow high up in the bank of the lane, leaning over to head height where the pavement is narrowest. They smell dry even when they’re wet. Shocking orange berries on a shrubby rowan tangled in the hedge. The retirement builds set back from the lane always smell of cleaning and washing. Further along, the woods lean over too. From this point, you can sense the river down there in the gorge. The bridge too, although you can’t quite see it. I turn off abruptly, contour the slope into more open land, trudge up to the Hall, and bring back three kinds of willow leaves to identify. My body, perhaps retaining muscle memories of eight years in the Holme Valley a generation ago, is adjusting quickly to this kind of morning walk, shedding its London weight, leaning enthusiastically into the sharp little hills and grim old weather.