books


It sometimes feels like we skirt around the edges of the winter days. We wake up in the dark and cling to the cold light of the stars and maybe the moon, before driving off to work.  Then we work.  On the way home I hate the light, the light of cars.  The density of city traffic is something I feel glad to leave, into the dark.  It’s with irony that I found myself working in daylight today; on the shortest day.  In between shovelling the sludge of fallen leaves and the foul fowl bedding in the chicken house, I would find myself looking up at the sky, the novelty of it; daylight.

 

The chickens also had their shortest day today as the car battery feeding them their false daylight was flat.  The electrickery of the LED lights seems to be working to some degree.  The two young hens still lay continuously; they lack wisdom and know no better.   From the older hens we have just received two eggs this week, something unknown until late February.

 

We used the eggs to bake a cheesecake.  The little man and I smashed biscuits into crumbs and mixed things in bowls.  This is a present for his teachers.  Baked things are the best of presents for teachers.  I received a gingerbread me this year from my A level class.  It’s nice to receive something that someone has put a lot of effort into, more importantly; took delight in making it.

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Overcharged with daylight and exhausted from baking, the little man, the little lady and myself lay on the sofa and watched the 1970 classic, ‘Santa Claus is coming to Town.’  Then I kept the light to a deliberate solstice low as we played lego by the woodstove.

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Later on I fell into my solstice tradition.  I opened up Kathleen Jamie’s ‘Darkness and Light.’  The lovely sharon looked at me with a little confusion and asked if I read that every year.  I ask her how could I not:


Mid-December, the still point of the turning year…………

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I wonder if the most efficient gardening is done in the rain.  Under a steal grey autumn sky I put my head down and dug out the weeds of the raised beds.  I don’t remember ever doing this kind of digging at this time of year.  I would usually dig out the weeds sometime in the middle of winter.  This year I am trying the experiment of Hungarian Rye Grass.  In the main vegetable patch it was sown a week or two ago and seems to be getting itself settled in.


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The sowing for this kind of grass ends in a few days, hence the weeding in the rain.  A couple of espressos and the colour of the beech trees keeps me warm in the drizzle. Being in the garden lets me see all the jobs that need done.  I classify many of the jobs as just dreams and I try and add them to my blind areas.  Then there are jobs that I need to create time for; the crab apples need transformed into jelly with cloves and rose hips.

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One of the hives needs its block of winter insulation under the roof.  Both the hives need mouse guards fitted; too late in many beekeeper’s eyes.

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Books.  We guiltily took the little people to their nursery school and had a day for ourselves.  Over the course of the day I watched the lovely Sharon relax a little and un-knot her neck and shoulders.  She is a mother, a full time teacher, and a carrier, incubator, of a little soul.  As part of our day off we visited the big city and were drawn like magnets to the old second hand book shop.  We spent ages in the narrow passages with books pilled at awkward angles feet above our heads. We browsed shelves of books two books deep.  We filled a couple of bags with our foraging.  I carried the bags.  The lovely Sharon is quite independent with such things and protested on several occasions.  I stood my ground.  I would love to think that chivalry is not dead, but in truth, it is not out of chivalry that I carried the bags.  It was just so I could say, “you have enough to carry.”  Those were heavy bags and it was a long day but it was worth it to deliver a cheesy line and see her roll her eyes and hold back a smile.

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At last.  I ordered it months ago and patiently waited for the publication date (always closer than actually published).  Then a few days ago the heavy tomb that is Kith arrived in our post box.  Jay Griffiths is an amazing writer.  Not light, not fresh.  She is deep and rich like the heavy cheesecake that you just can’t stop eating.  Her latest book is re-engaging me with childhood and all that it means and is.  It is making me rethink and savour, just like her other books did.

“…….Before any sense of myself, before a mirror had meaning, before my skin was a boundary, I remember nature as if it were inside me. Birds sang and I heard it inside. It snowed: I snowed. It rained: I rained. As if in some pre-verbal state, whatever ‘it’ was, I was too. I was warm in May because the sun was: I couldn’t tell the difference. I was all the world and all the world was me, saturated with presence. Grass. Blue. Tree. Water. Wind.

It was a kinship so primary that the senses understood it long before the mind.  Water was the touch of it; I could feel the sky and taste the dampness of leaves in the uninstructed mud the body knows. I had two older brothers, each of us a year apart, and our mother, a gardener, thought that children, like seeds, grew best unobserved in good black earth, so in daffodils we were crazy with yellow and by autumn we were brown and shiny as conkers, but all through the year we were frank and stout with dirt. Our mother dressed us in three little pairs of black tops and three little pairs of black trousers, so no one would ever complain about us being filthy for the very good reason that they would never see it. Every once in a while, six little bits of black clothing went in the laundry and three little bits of grubby childhood went in the bath.

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So there I was reading the little man his bedtime book. We delved into the realms of story and make believe, a world with morals and lessons around every corner. This particular story (spoiler alert) was about a tiger who did not want to go to bed. His mother decided to let him learn his lesson and told him he could stay up all night. He went searching for his friends, the lion, hippo, elephant etc. only to find them all in various stages of bedtime preparation. Eventually he wandered back home exhausted and regretting not going to bed. This was a nice little story which was spoiled by the visit to the elephants.

I know there is something wrong with me, but seeing the moon like that upset me so much. It could not be unseen. With the setting sun on the right the moon should be a crescent facing the other way around as it is lit up by the sun. The same realisation happens when I see actors drinking from empty cups.

It ruined it for me. I know it shouldn’t upset me, but it does.

At the weekend I ventured out into the mountains.  It was a very late expedition, chasing the daylight with only a few weeks until expeditions are closed down for the winter.  The weather was perfect for walking, cool clear air and magnificent blue sky landscapes.  The autumn darkness seemed to arrive very quickly and coldly.  The chill was softened by amazing star-scape, the familiar constellations in their bold crystalline  glory.

The cold nights have made me more inclined to curl up with a good book.  I have a pile of ‘to read’, but I find my self digging out the same books to read again and again.  These are the books I love.  This is my book list..

the wild places by robert macfarlane

findings by kathleen jamie

a year’s turning by michael viney

winterdance by gary paulsen

wild by jay griffiths

the old ways by robert macfarlane

pip pip by jay griffiths

sightlines by kathleen jamie

I’m thinking about time again. It all started a week ago when I did something that I felt loathed to do; I signed up to a gym. I believe that exercise should not be an exercise; it should be a part of our natural interaction with the world. A gym is the reverse of this; it is isolation away from the world. There is no bird song to be heard on a running machine. That said I have failed to fit proper exercise into my life since the little man arrived and it has been a hard fact to face up to. So, the gym is part of my time now as it can be slotted in and allocated its portion of me.

I got hold of a copy of Earthlines and I was reminded of Jay Griffiths. I was reminded of her book; Pip Pip, a sideways look at time. This has prompted me to think about our interaction with time again. This morning I slowed myself down to bee time. The bees actually operate at a faster level to us but they are sensitive to our normal speed of motion. I moved slowly during the inspection in order to convince them that I mean no harm. My motions were smooth and sluggish. I removed the frames at a bee’s walking pace and I relaxed into a persona of calm without fear. To be honest, the sun was shinning and the air was warm, this meant the bees were quite calm and relaxed. In the second hive I spotted two play cups which had eggs in. Play cups are a normal part of the hive, they are the beginnings of queen cells which are part of the preparation to swarm. Play cups themselves are not a sign that a swarm is imminent, but eggs in two play cups are a hint in that direction. They are a sign that I must make preparations for swarming and the possibility of tricking them with an artificial swarm.

As it is swarm season now;

A swarm in May is worth a load of hay; a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon; but a swarm in July is not worth a fly.

This means that weekly inspections are part of the flow and pattern of chores here at the cottage. The chores have been increased too. Where we had a few hens to look after we now have a few hens, a few older chicks in a coup in the garage and a lot of new fluffy chicks in the brooder in the utility room.

The cats have slipped down on the list recently. In my mind I have made their welfare a priority in terms of their food, water and accommodation, but I have let their affections slip away from me. I have been so busy that I can’t remember when was the last time I sat down with one of the cats and scratched them under the chin or gave them any kind of attention. So it pleased me tonight when I scratched under Tillie’s chin. She just appeared serendipitously as the little man and I finished earthling up the potatoes. To be honest I did most of the earthing up as the little man sat and watched while occasionally thrusting his had into the dirt and muttering something that must seem comprehensible to him. Tillie approached and I scratched her under the chin as the little man sat down on my knee and looked at the sunset. Tillie was the first ever animal that the lovely Sharon and I took into our care. She was thrust upon us unexpectedly and we loved the challenge of looking after, and loving, an animal. As I scratched her under the chin I thought about how many animals we are caring for now.

A few days ago the little man and the lovely Sharon and I were walking down the lane and I jokingly asked when we were going to get the little man a puppy. The lovely Sharon’s response took me by surprise; she said it would be nice to have a few more animals around the place. With goldfish, cats, hens, chicks and about sixty thousand bees, I had to give her the look. The look that said, “really?”

I cannot remember how I found the book ‘Findings’ by Kathleen Jamie, but I am glad I found it long ago. I am glad I read it, and then read it again, and then read it again to my son as he settled himself to sleep in my arms. Kathleen is not so much a writer of books as a sculptor of words. Her words end up being unpretentious and uncluttered. Her words seem to highlight the life in things and the life in us. The book ‘Findings’ has been categorised as nature writing that has broken the mould. In my eyes it is because it is not nature writing at all. It is about life and our experience of it.

Yesterday I took delivery of Kathleen’s next instalment ‘Sightlines’. So far I have found myself immersed in an arctic voyage and visits to a pathology lab. These two different glimpses do not do it any justice. You have to sit still and absorb yourself into Jamie’s prose. So far not a single word has disappointed.

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