…to the National Parks.
Category Archives: landscape
I bought a set of cheap cast iron dumbells. They arrived in the kind of plastic case you associate with home drilling equipment, which smelled strongly of whatever compound the manufacturer had used to keep the iron from rusting. It was an intrusive smell–not quite mineral, not quite organic–so, since I intended to store the weights in the case, I put it out on the balcony & left it to the cleansing rain of Suburb Barnes. It’s been out there ever since. Internally it has the shape of a set of dumbells with the weights affixed in increasing rather than decreasing size, & it opens flat. Within hours these graded rectangles were full of water. A few days later the squirrel turned up &, after an angry look around to make sure nobody wanted to make anything of it, took a drink. She’s been visiting the new pond daily ever since. If I keep still I can watch her suck it up, an act she performs with as much aggressive, whole-body physicality as she does everything else. Chemical residues don’t seem to have turned her into any more of a monster than she already was. I’ve had a lot of use out of the weights and now the squirrel has too. I was wondering: if I introduced a few small fish, would I perhaps attract a heron.
A car park in a strangely shaped corner of the village. The gritting bin looks like a plastic toy, the PAY HERE sign has been photoshopped ineptly on to a previous landscape; for a moment, in the end-of-afternoon winter light, the pay & display machine seems awkward, abandoned, not part of anything. Behind them, something’s reasserting itself. This curve in the road is older than any of the buildings that surround it. The past doesn’t so much force itself on the present as embarrass it.
It’s hardly a new story. The priests convinced people that the world wouldn’t work without their intervention. They constructed myths about which anything we can say is only another layer of intervention, a wad of the same cultural chewing gum which sticks to everyone’s shoe. So usually I would bypass “history” & write about the site as it is now, the ruins I see in front of me & the people I see working among them. But today no-one’s working, so that’s out too. In the end there’s the landscape, the footprint planed off the top of the hill thousands of years ago for reasons I can’t hope to understand, the white tower of cloud building up in the blue sky above the mountains to the south; the black smoke on an adjacent hilltop. Oh, & I can say I like the shade trees, which are a shock and a comfort in this high, dry heat. Down in the town, which is named after a local plant with seedheads like accretions of oily dust at a street corner, people drive around in pick-up trucks trying to sell one another liquid propane; all the computer keyboards are configured so that to produce some quite common symbols you have to make no less than four keystrokes; there are oompah bands & parades of children in identical tracksuit bottoms. After two or three days it’s the most boring place you’ve ever been. The gods don’t come forth. The priests are long dead. The approaching thundercloud stays on top of the hill & after a few grand but silent flashes of light, nothing happens. & that’s a good thing, because they were all quite clearly mad anyway.
“…the steady climb, bare land either side, and ahead, on a soft blue sky, the moment of going over. She had in her an intensifying presentiment, a mix of foreknowledge and memory, a place, a state out of childhood into which she was advancing with the sureness of a sleepwalker. Imminence! The brink of a vision of freedom!” –David Constantine, “Fault”, from Tea at the Midland.
Where the stream slows and deepens it is the colour of petrol. Grebe, mallard, tufted duck, moorhens, all with young. The older moorhen chicks look less downy than hairy, like some combination of mammal and bird. A mayfly is stuck on the surface of the water. Later the afternoon turns windy and cold. We pass some half-timbered houses with steeply-pitched roofs, trapped between sewage works and a railway line. New build is going up all around them. Two guinea fowl huddle together, staring intently into a bow window; while through an open side door we glimpse a figure running up stairs. “You can tell water’s deep,” B says, “simply by looking at its surface.” By the time you’re ten years old, she claims, you’ve learned to interpret its colour, the way the light plays on it. Over quite a short period you’ve learned to weigh it by eye. “There’s an organic need to make estimates like that.”
The park, yellow & brown. Water standing in short grass. It’s water on everything & stags’ heads over the bracken as if someone’s crouching in there holding up horns. The hill opens out & I’m back thirty years: I’d have spat on a park then. I would have run it so totally into submission, seeing myself drift instead down the side of Kinder waving my arms, utterly free (apart from a bad knee & no money). In the park’s car park I check out this really brutal-looking Subaru Impreza WRC then walk thru walls of trees to get back to you. Never imagine I don’t have such talents.
Richmond Park. Cold & clear but no frost. An argument about how few cyclists are out this morning–C rightly points out that all we can know is that there is one cow in Scotland & one side of it is black. We run downhill at first, round a wood, along a stretch of bridle path slightly up hill in sand. Stags regard us with momentary irritation from the bracken, then go back to honking & clearing their throats at one another like theorists. It isn’t the Peak District but I feel good just to be outside & not in a street. Later at the hot snacks stand, two men chat about computers. “Of course, of course,” they agree. They laugh. They’re knee deep in terriers, one of which–a Border bitch dubbed “Maisie” –is very clever with a stick. The sunshine looks as if it was applied to every individual item during the night, like gold leaf. It’s as if someone worked so hard to make things nice for the people who come here from Kingston, Richmond, Barnes, East Sheen, as far away as Clapham. Later, Billy the bloodhound arrives, queen among dogs. The Saturday trade is mainly in bacon sandwiches, although one boy eats a frankfurter with thick squiggles of mustard & ketchup at 8.30 in the morning before he gets across his rather beautiful road bike.