from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Monday, 13 August 2012

my Walden Pond week

My Walden Pond week has just tipped over the halfway point. I have finally, I think, today, begun to relax a little. I know this because I spent quite a while beside the little lake just idly watching the fish rise for flies (big ones – do you get mayflies in August?), and a moorhen pecking her way through the waterlily pads, and listening to a flock of goldcrests in the fir, without once thinking I should be somewhere else doing something different – well, doing something.

In fact, I hardly thought at all (if what normally passes for 'thought' in my head, that stream of unstructured, unordered, disorganised and disjunct prompts and impulses, could be graced with such a noun).

Today, like every day since Sunday afternoon, has been dedicated pretty much to doing only what I want to do. Luckily this has included a fair bit of writing (an essay and some poems), and a lot of walking. Apart from one night when my mind forgot how, I've been catching up on sleep a little too, when I'm not reading.

I expect Thoreau caught some of his food, and gathered more. Apart from a few wood sorrel leaves to tart up my salad and some watermint for my potatoes, I haven't. (Have I told you about the time, decades ago now, when a boyfriend and I hitch-hiked off to camp in Scottish woodland – this was in February, when it's really quite cold in Scotland, with a plastic decorator's sheet as a tarp/tent [nowadays of course that would be called a bender], a bag of oranges, a bag of oatmeal, rather too many books, and the intention of tickling trout? HA! A bar of chocolate, bought after hiking for hours to a village shop, after a few days of just oranges and oats, made one of the best meals ever.)

Here I've been eating what and when I want – fairly simple, if rather strange, vegan+free range organic egg combinations, much of it raw (not the egg). (Oh and there was that bottle of a nice organic Sicilian red.) I confess that my dairy-eating ex-self slipped a small packet of parmesan cheese made with vegetarian rennet rather than calf's stomach enzyme rennet – and if you're veggie you'll know how rare that is! – into my basket when my severe vegan self was on a brief break with her attention on the sprouting sunflower seeds. (She – the latter – was happy though when I woke up with a severe headache after eating a good-sized chunk. She danced and crowed: 'See! There! It's not just morally better for you, being vegan, but you can't take cheese anyway! See what happens when you break the rules!')

But tell me WHO would mix salted peanuts into a fruit, nut and chocolate mix? No wonder it was on offer. My only sweet treat, too. (And no it didn't work even with plain chocolate, vegan-friendly, no; though I know you can buy Cornish chocolate made with Cornish seasalt. Although being a Corn myself I tend to defend most things Cornish, that one doesn't do it for me. And btw, although they are now growing tea in Cornwall – the tea-bush is a camellia, and they do well in our climate – as far as I know we don't yet grow coffee or cocoa beans.)

The only thing I've done because I felt I 'ought' to was to listen to the news just now on the posh iPal here. What an intrusion that was. I know that all this misery happens. It's one of the reasons I can't get to sleep, being too porous to the world's troubles as is. Of course it affects us all, psychically, a fairly endless stream of bad news coming into our sitting rooms. It's one thing if you can do something about it; and maybe sometimes it really does prompt us to, even if that something is just bringing your thoughts, perhaps at the beginning and end of a day, to those who are suffering.

Anyway. My lovely day today consisted of a bit of editing first thing – yesterday and on Monday I wrote a 5000 word essay – with a cup of tea. I read a bit – Jenny Diski, a fortuitous find, her book of essays here, and completely engrossing in her self-revelatory and sometimes acerbically funny travel observations; the more so as she manages to be disclosing and completely private at the same time.

Then Dog and I had quite a decent length walk. Down by a newly-dug pond there's a day-glo neon-green hi-vis dragonfly; I've seen it several times now. It buzzes by to investigate as we pass. Then there's a bit more hanging out, outside, another cup of tea, listening to the swallows and house martins up high, and the call of a buzzard echoing and re-echoing around the hills enclosing the valley. A young sheep in the nearby field baas at my voice; baas and coughs, baas and coughs. In the trees something yelps and whines in the way that an injured puppy would; takes me a while to work out that it's a young green woodpecker.

For a few minutes the sun appears; hot enough and strong enough for long enough, just, for me to think about taking some clothes off before it disappears again.

A bit more writing. Lunch. Fifteen minutes' – well, not-quite nap, but nearly. Haven't quite mastered that art yet.

And this afternoon I thought I'd go and uproot some of the invasive Himalayan balsam (also called Indian balsam, or policeman's helmet – where do they wear pink helmets?) from the riverside. K told me that you're supposed, he's learned recently, to cut it just below the first nodule rather than uproot it, so you don't leave a gap for more invaders to colonise. I spent quite a long time searching my bags and the car for my trusty Opinel knife to no avail, so decided I'd go and see if I could snap the stems.

A happy hour later I'd snapped half, uprooted half, of a small patch of the balsam, and was scratched and stung all over my forearms by brambles and nettles. But the sun had come out and I wasn't thinking, for once, just gently finding a small way to repay my hosts' kindness, by the river, in seclusion, in a Devon summer meadow. Not far off bliss – the more so because I didn't have to do it and it wasn't my problem, and nobody would care if I didn't do it.

Dog and I wandered back towards the river, where it's shallow enough to ford. A beautiful emerald damselfly was perched on a stone by the water. I squatted down slowly and held out my hand, and it flitted onto the back of it. It perched there, a glorious deep turquoise-green ornament, whole minutes. I guess my hand must have smelled sufficiently of riverside-foliage. What a treat. Then a pair of flying sapphire jewels came and chased it away, upstream.

So then, at Walden Pond meets Wind in the Willows meets Le Grand Meaulnes, we had our lake hour, too, just watching, where once again I managed this no-thinking business, mostly.

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