Lament

IMG_0004.jpg

Lament

I remember the hawk well. One moment the garden was empty, next he was there, on the ground beneath the feeder, feeding, or rather, fed. I didn’t see the kill. I walked past the window on my way through the kitchen from somewhere to somewhere, and there he was, perched upon a pile of feathers. Whatever the victim was, all edible evidence had disappeared and only the feathers remained. I guess the hawk saw me, sensed, or caught the sound of the camera. Within a second, between click and click, he had flown.

IMG_0007.jpg

I went outside to look at the wreckage of what had once been alive. Feathers and blood. The grim reality of avian life in my Little World of Island View. Between cats and hawks, a great deal of destruction is handed on from generation to generation. But although I have witnessed nature ‘red in tooth and claw’, I have seen nothing like the devastation caused by the avian flu. We tried to follow all the appropriate instructions, but the passerines all vanished and they never came back. We still have a couple of mourning doves grubbing around on the porch and back step, but I can remember counting, one day, sixty or seventy perched in a cluster on the clothes line. Pine grosbeaks used to swarm, now to see one is a big event. We still get the occasional evening grosbeak, but the grey jays have vanished, as have the swallows who used to nest in our garage. We know of a pair of cardinals in the neighborhood, but they rarely visit us. We can hear a Greater Pileated Woodpecker in the distant woods, but they no longer dance and play among our trees. A few years back, we had a garden full of bees balm, but no bees. Last year we saw very few butterflies, though they used to be regular visitors. Our hummingbirds have become occasional visitors, and I do miss seeing them.

I long to see again all those beautiful creatures, the cat bird with his endless imitations, the orioles with their songs, even the sparrows seem fewer and further between. As for the garden, the crows have taken over. A family of seven caw in the trees and visit regularly. They are sharp, wise creatures and I am always bemused by their aerial manoeuvres. They still sit on the garbage cans once a week and announce their triumph to the world. But woe betide if you leave a plastic bag alone at the roadside. They make short work of it with their shiny beaks ad the bag’s interior is soon strewn all over the road for you to pick up and everyone to see.

Dog

IMG_0040 (3)

Dog

Dog buries under the bedclothes, snuggles up close, frightened by nurses and cold medical smells. Dog knows the meaning of needles, long thin silver teeth that sink into the flesh and make Dog feel woozy. Dog rolls its eyes and growls as doctors wearing long white coats walk around the ward talking to those patients who are still capable of responding. Long stethoscopes twist around the doctor’s necks like tentacles. Dog knows them well and doesn’t trust them. Dog shows its teeth, growls deep and low, draws itself in, even closer, shivers beside its mistress, in spite of the in-bed warmth. Mistress shivers too. She doesn’t understand how Dog got there, but she loves Dog’s warmth and companionship, and trembles at the thought of its absence. Nurse holds that threatening needle, the magic wand, as nurse and doctor call it, but Dog doesn’t believe in them nor in their magic. Dog’s cold, wet, wrinkled nose is out and its soft brown eyes. It sees and smells and senses and is ready to defend or befriend. The patient puts her hand on Dog’s head, smooths it, soothes it, ‘Good dog’, she says. Dog wags, a small jerky motion of a short, stubby tail. Nurse slides the needle into patient’s arm. “There,” she says. “You can sleep now.” Dog whines, gets out from beneath the blankets, lies beside the patient as she lies in her hospital bed. Dog licks the salt tears from her face. When she stops breathing, Dog howls. But nobody sees it, nobody hears it, nobody pays any attention, nobody comes.

Squirrel

IMG_0266.JPG

Squirrel

He’s here for the food on the picnic table, of course. He’s been here before, even in bad weather, and he knows where the treasure is: buried beneath the snow. I can’t believe he’s out in this. He should be in some little squirrel cave, tucked in, nice and warm. One of my best friends told me he was going to drive to Halifax today. What drives people out on a day like today when the snow is deep and still accumulating, when visibility is such that I can hardly see beyond the trees at the edge of the garden, when more snow, higher winds, drifting snow, and blizzard conditions are all around us. There is also the possibility of ice pellets and freezing rain when the snow finishes. “Stay home, little squirrel, stay home,” I told him. “It’s not a good day for travelling. I can hardly see the road through the falling snow.”

IMG_0251.JPG

 

Squirrels are tough, though. They must have Welsh blood in them the way they tunnel and dig. Unsnubbable on the trail of some winter seed and totally defiant against wind and weather. “Did you see him?” my beloved called out. “See who?” I asked, clicking away busily with my Christmas camera. “The squirrel,” she said. “You should take a picture.” So I did. And another and another. I caught him first head down, back towards me, guzzling, deep within his snow cave.

 

IMG_0273.JPG

He reminded me of Lorca’s roosters: “Los picos de los gallos cavan en busca de la aurora / the roosters’ beaks dig in search of the dawn.” I wanted him to come out and look at me, to show me what he had found. I didn’t have to wait for long. Then it was in (click) and out (click). What a cheeky chappy.

IMG_0275.JPG

I wonder why I always call this squirrel ‘him’. Maybe I never learned enough about the birds and the bees when I was a child. I find it hard to tell the difference between the genders of animals unless they have antlers (male) or, like the birds, they have distinctive plumage. Then it is much easier for me to tell them apart. I had a tortoise once, back home in Wales. I called him Henry, don’t ask me why. It took me two years to find out that Henry was actually Henrietta.  I guess I was slow on the uptake. Dai Bungalow: not much in the top storey. Or should that be story? There, I’ve looked it up:  storey in the Oxford Dictionary’s English English, but story in Webster’s American English. Oh dear, there are some things I still have to look up.

IMG_0282.JPG

So there he is, Mr. Squirrel, perched on the balustrade, about to make his final farewell. Fare well, Mr. Squirrel. Come back soon. I am so glad you didn’t decide to drive to Halifax.

 

 

Take These Chains

 

IMG_0196.JPG

The Great Chain of Being … Happy

The Great Chain of Being, a concept applied to Medieval Literature by Arthur Lovejoy, suggested that all beings are related in hierarchical structures that link them from top to bottom in an ordered chain. I have always liked that idea and see myself as one among many voices, past, present, and hopefully future that feel and write about the joys of living on this wonderful planet that we inhabit. This thought immediately poses the question: do we write from joy or sorrow? Obviously, it depends upon the individual. Equally obviously, we can write from joy at one stage of our career and from sorrow in another stage.

Antonio Machado phrased it this way: En el corazón tenía / la espina de una pasión. / Logré arrancármela un día: / ya no siento el corazón. I felt in my heart a thorn of passion. One day I managed to pluck it out. Now I no longer feel my heart. Machado is a seemingly simple poet, but that simplicity is oh-so difficult to translate and imitate. So: what happens if we write from that interior passion and then, one day, we wake up and the passion has gone? Good question. Some people stop writing. Others take to drawing. Others take photographs. In my case, I have sat in a south facing window just gazing at the sunshine reflected off the snow and pottering through my favorite poets.

Francisco de Aldana is one of my favorites and I am drawn to reflect on these lines: Hallo, en fin, que ser muerto en la memoria / del mundo es lo mejor que en él se asconde, / pues es la paga dél muerte y olvido. I finally discover that to be dead in the world’s memory is best of all, since the world’s wages are death and forgetfulness. While these words will seem gloomy to some, to me they express the joys of retirement, the wonders of just sitting and looking out of the window, the escape from the necessity to produce, to achieve, to be ambitious, to grow a career, to drive myself on and on. “What is this life if, full of care, / we have no time to stand and stare?” Words of wisdom from the Welsh poet, W. H. Davies.

When I sit and stare, I also think, observe, and remember. And I see things I have never seen before: how light changes the world, how sunshine falls on the petals of flowers, how texture is changed by changing light, how light slips through the fingers like water or sand. The end result is an inner peace that accepts things for what they are and the world for what it is.

IMG_0187.JPG

In my privileged case, and I realize just how lucky I am and how fortunate I have been, I have grown to appreciate the tiny things, the small achievements. And small things now satisfy me: the completion of a crossword puzzle or a jigsaw, the nature of light, the beauty of an orange, peeled and tasted, its life blood still fresh upon my fingers and gracing the air, words prancing in lines and chains across a page, the dance of shadow on wall.

IMG_0173.JPG

 

Birthday

 

IMG_0187.JPG

What a gift for my birthday: sunshine and light among water, glass, and flowers. It’s hard to believe sometimes that light and angle make such a difference. Who would believe, for example, that these are the same flowers taken from a different angle in a later light?

IMG_0185.JPG

What is it about birthdays? They are the same length as any other day, 24 hours. And yet, like milestones along the roadside, they mark our passage down the long journey of life. Miles, kilometers: my father could never make up his mind. When driving from Wales to Spain, he loved the miles, because they were fewer in number, yet he also loved the kilometers because, although there were more of them, they passed by more quickly.

Long journeys those: crossing the channel by ferry, then down the various routes nationales from the channel down to the Spanish border where we entered into Franco’s Spain, a very different world. Tricornios, the Guardia Civil, checking everything and everybody. We soon learned to carry an extra packet of cigarettes, some chocolate bars, something small that could be handed over or ‘confiscated’.

So what is it about birthdays, those milestones that mark our ways and our days? And where am I now on my life’s journey? Two years older than my mother, when she passed. Two years younger than my father. I look over my shoulder and see behind me the shadow of a bearded man, with a scythe, walking after me. He stoops at Lords cricket ground and, at six thirty, on the dot, he removes the bails from the stumps to signal the end of the day’s play.

Shadows are lengthening. I check my watch. The days are closing in. The umpires pass the stones they carry from hand to hand. One more over of seam, two or three more overs of spin? I adjust my stance at the crease, back away from the wicket and, like Sir Donald Bradman, I ask the umpire to give me a new guard …

IMG_0178.JPG

… I take it, scratch my marks in the crease, and look around me … shadows and the fielders are closing in.

Light

IMG_0179.JPG

Light

We are so lucky, those of us blessed with sight, doubly lucky if we have the time to stop and stare and look around us to see light falling on objects or filtering through plants and flowers. Last fall we placed two unused mint cuttings in water glasses in the kitchen window and the clippings rooted and grew. Almost by chance, I caught their beauty, leaves translucent, the window filled with sunshine, as I was walking by. A macrocosm, this picture province in which I live; a microcosm, my house where light falls on objects and transforms them.

IMG_0177.JPG

Here are our mini carnation pinks. We were given them on December 21, 2018, by Gwn and Victor, and still they thrive. We lost some, just a few, and to the rest we added a new bunch. Here are the smaller heads, nipped off and placed on the table in single rose glasses. The light from the window flows through flowers, water, and glasses to create a flow of warmth and joy. Sometimes, we travel the world in search of beauty, only to return, disappointed, and discover it at home.

IMG_0181.JPG

Last, but by no means least, I looked up from my journal and saw the light catching the leaves of this houseplant, given to me in 2010 by Barry and Susan. Plants and flowers survive in our house, thanks to the magical skills of my beloved. I try to preserve their beauty in image and word. The ephemeral, caught for a moment in the camera’s eye, and preserved, if not for eternity, at least for a little while longer.

I sometimes wonder if the souls that thrive and perish in these plants think like the indigenous in the Oaxaca Valley that life should be lived and not petrified in pictures. Maybe they don’t want me to trap the consummate  beauty of light falling on their leaves since their capture on film in still life and inanimate form prevents their migration from one plane of existence to another. Who knows? I don’t. Maybe one day I will find out. But in the meantime I will continue to celebrate the innate glories of light on leaf and to share them with you.

Reinforcements

 

 

IMG_0172.JPG

My grandfather used to tell me how, in WWI, when communications in the trenches were at their most primitive, information would be passed by word of mouth down a long line of soldiers who whispered the message into the ear of the man standing next to him. He would in turn pass the message on to the next soldier.  We also played this game in school where it was sometimes used as a language teaching method. To preserve the message without distortion was never easy and there were some spectacularly garbled mix- ups.

This is one of the most famous ones, though whether it was apochryphal or not, I cannot say.  However, I can say that, as schoolboys, the story was related to us as if it were true. I guess it was an object lesson in don’t believe everything you hear and double check your facts. Anyway, the message starts out as “Send reinforcements, we’re going to advance” and ends up as “Send three and four pence, we’re going to a dance.” True or not, it serves three purposes: (1) it is quite funny in itself,  (2) it introduces us to the now vanished English monetary system of pounds, shillings, and pence, and (3) it initiates the theme of reinforcements.

So happy have I been with my mini carnation pinks that when I saw some on sale yesterday, I immediately bought them. “Saw some equals awesome”. Well, it as awesome for me because I was not sure what these flowers were. I am not a flowery person, in that sense. I don’t know if these new flowers will last 23 days, like the old lot, but whether they do or don’t, I have put some together in one jar on the kitchen table and mixed in the rest with the best of the survivors from the earlier bunch. I placed those on the cabinet in the room where I surf the net. I guess I’ll follow their progress and we’ll see how they do. They are a much deeper shade of pink than the originals and it is easy to spot the old and the new in the photo. Also, the sun has gone, turned the corner, and walked to the other end of the house. Tomorrow, I’ll see them in full sunshine. That will also be fun.