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, 6 January 2014

storms like birds

Down by the causeway the river looks innocuous, innocently emptied. I can tell from the debris strewn in gardens, on the lane, on the track, though, how high it has been in its tidal moments, wind-pushed even this far upriver from the ocean at Plymouth.

Across the water, where the 18th century carriage ride unfolds through the woods, past the holy well to the circular lookout opposite the lime kiln, the clumps of holm oak, evergreens, are shaking silvery leaves.

At my approach, the usual little egret close to the seawall flaps up and away, yellow legs trailing behind her. The blackheaded gulls are making no headway downriver, the best they can hope for being to be held up like kites in the gusts. Out mid-channel, on the mudbank, maybe 8o Canada geese are voicing their croonings to each other.

I heard this morning on radio 4 – yes, I was driving across Dartmoor once again – of computer-aided technology – 'hearing instruments', for a young man who is losing his hearing – which can in principle allow him to hear within a supersonic range inaccessible to humans, generally speaking. When they played the results of a geomagnetic storm – stratospheric tempests – as this technology would allow him to hear it, it sounded like a flock of waterbirds, with the gentle burbling crescendos of curlews, at first. How exciting.

On the same programme they spoke of a guy who was born unable to see colour – is it called achromatic disorder? He, being an electronics wizard, has made himself an antenna which 'speaks' to a chip in his head, so that he 'hears' colour. Blue, for instance, is C#. (Oh – there's so much to say about this! The chakra system and its notes and colours, the notes of the musical scale and their colour correspondences, the association with the planets of our solar system, the mathematical intervals and their corresondences – but that's a whole book.) Going into Tesco's, therefore, gives him a symphony. An art exhibition turns painters into composers, in his words.

Driving back across the moor was sublime – in the old Romantic sense of the word. I drove back at dusk from seeing my dad, who has vascular dementia (but today was a good day), as the clouds were gathering into a bruised and brooding mass bunched over Bodmin Moor, in Cornwall, to our West. Coming up high out of Tavistock into the wildish uplands of the moor, with their exposed reaches and tors, the storm was poised like a massive panther – dramatic, beautiful, utterly oblivious to humans. 

The hilly fields to either side as I left the agricultural land had a nacreous sub-nocturnal glow from a previous hailstorm, and everything seemed to hold its breath. Then, so suddenly that I jumped in the car seat, the sky in front of me split open, and again, and again. Lightning screamed as far across the sky as I could see, from north to south, over and over. 

By now I was up high on seriously open moorland, being buffeted. I know that lightning rarely if ever hits cars; or at least the rubber tyres earth the strike. However, I've also had St Elmo's Fire bounce off my bonnet once, taking the radio out and causing a little puff of smoke. How strange, though, this time that a little torch that lives in my car but hasn't worked for months suddenly came on with the lightning.

I love this display of elemental wildness; and part of the joy is the reminder that nature is always bigger than we humans, even if our current weather patterns are down to anthropogenic climate change. 

Not much further on, a Volvo estate car had come off the road, presumably when the heavens opened after the lightning – wild rain, wild hail, wild rain – and landed a couple of metres down from the road surface in a marsh (occupant was OK). There but for the grace – in my little skitty lightweight car (haven't yet sold the Golf as the campervan has been in the mechanics' workshop for two months with its brains all over the floor; luckily successfully operated on now, I hear).

27 feet waves at Land's End. Some guys on the radio speaking of waves like that off the coast of Donegal, which they were surfing today; mentioning 80 foot waves elsewhere (don't know if they attempted to surf there).

I think of a winter spent in a tiny fishing village in the Basque Pyrenees, myself, my then husband, and our very young daughter, about 32 years ago. The village is known for its exceptional surf break to a handful of global surfers, who trek vast distances to catch the waves over a few specific weeks each winter here. Late that February, the snowmelt coming down from the mountains meeting the Atlantic in the Bay of Biscay created what my Italian husband called a 'spindryer' effect: huge tumultuous rollers of routinely 30 feet+, which – yes – he'd attempt to surf. 

That was some winter – but that's another story.

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