Bleached and wilted grasses line the footpath in wet clumps. Molehills of loose rich earth rest, apparently motionless, in all directions. Air pressure, wind, rain and gravity are at work however, settling the excavations into new granular arrangements. It is three o’clock in the afternoon. It is December. Strangely, the fields to my right are filled with acres of lush and verdant newgrowth. Two magpies move to cover as I let Elsie off the lead, and a dozen gulls pass lazily out across the open farmland. The low sun is obscured by a haze of even lower cloud, creating an eerie quality of light that settles as if somehow weighted by the time of year. Leaves of oak and beech litter the path, dark and damp and almostrotten, perhaps in the final days of such complete and individual forms. The wire fence is hung with a tapestry of dead grasses and nettles that have collapsed against it in the prevailing wind. Entry to the railway embankment is therefore barred save for narrow pathways worn by rabbits and foxes. The two fences mark a boundary. Between them lies a multitude of decay.
My toes are wet and as I squint toward the setting sun the distant pup pup of a shotgun finds me, coming in off the headwind.
I hear the soft syncopated thuds of Elsie’s paws as she chases after me, no longer distracted by the network of scents that mark the worn grass corridors. She races ahead, sniffs the base of the horsechestnut then looks round to make sure I haven’t turned back.
It’s so quiet, that when I swipe in slowmotion at the single strand of cobweb floating horizontal in front of me, even its contact on my fingers seems minutely audible. Despite stopping several times, I can hear no birdsong. Just the faint hiss of distant traffic from beyond the crest of the horizon to the west. The sun seems fixed in place there behind the cloudcover, and for some reason I imagine its warm light at the bottom of an expensive tumbler filled with water and fizzing aspirin.
As we round the wedge of dense shrubs and hawthorn and dried, cinnamon ferns collapsed against the slope, one female house sparrow cheep cheeps in sequence to another. I stop to listen. There is a reply, another message, another reply, all unseen. A correspondence within the indecipherable arrangement of matter and shadow.
Having walked on to the watercourse and its meander before the bridge, the steamtrain itself comes into view down the tracks. I take photos as it passes while Elsie appears not to notice. The three burgundy carriages are filled with people who seem barely to look from the windows that are soon golden with the light of the setting sun. Once it passes, we follow the smoke that rises volcanic and dark in the almostdusk. Elsie and I cross the tracks, and thirty distant woodpigeon take flight silently downwind. The birds bank in unison left then right and up into the silhouette of a copse where they vanish.
16 December 2016
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