This winter has been marked by mist and haze in long periods where the air has hardly moved. Today the mist is rising from the watery meadows between the two drains. The sun struggles through the bare branches of the willows along the road which crosses this curious gap in the world. The last light shines through the iron work of the long footbridge which stands above the low road. The tree branches and the rusted latticework of this lifeline across the threatened flood create a light show through the fog, twisting and segmenting it into long fingers which probe the rising mist. As the sun falls behind the land, its lava brightness becomes a neon point and then vanishes. Where the sky has rubbed against the hard-frozen land it is raw with icy pastels the colour of serum and bruises and blisters. The last sunlight has warmed us more than the content of its rays can account for and now it grows cold. The air is wet with mist. The ground is still frozen from the night before. A buzzard watches the thickening fog with disdain from a half-rotten fencepost.


The elements themselves are falling asleep. The Wind has fallen sleep and lies curled upon the fast-sleeping Earth. The fire of the sun has fallen asleep. The Water seems asleep in the river, like metal cooled and polished. The Water is curled together with the Earth, asleep on the grass and between the grains of soil. The Water sleeps in the arms of the Wind, in tender white curls turning grey and black. The Water sleeps in the face of the sun, stroking its last warm colours away with the mist rising, rising. The Water has put the whole world to sleep as fog rises past the level of my eyes and tries to stroke me to sleep with its cruel penetrating fingers. But the Water is not asleep at all. The water slips silently in the bed of the steely river like a slow, silent and invincible fist. It runs deep under the Earth in secret streams stealing the warmth away. It creeps silently across the sky pulling its blanket with it. It fills my lungs with its soft chilling voice. There are moments in the fens when the air is not simply still. It is as though the air itself has been startled by some predatory presence and all motion stops. The little hunter at my ankle, who speaks the language of the world and its spirits more cunningly than I, touches my calf with his nose. Time to leave, he says.


As I walk back to the Night Planted Orchard, which sits a few metres above the fen, I can see the mist lying on the Earth, still rising. The stillness of the air is more chilling than any blizzard. The water spirits walk silently, dancing and playing their slow games in the bitterest of colds: that cold just around freezing where water can do its most cunning work. The spirits walk among the hazy trees. They dance inside the hayricks and break their backs. They toy with the poles across the fens, making them slant at crazy angles. They work in the Willows, breaking them and laying them on their invincible backs. At last, as the light itself flees the world, the ice spirits wander from teasel to teasel, from reed to reed, from tree to tree, from grass stalk to grass stalk and sip sip sip the last colours from their dead leaves turning them paler and paler over this cold winter, until at last they turn to glass and shatter.


I see our reflections in the window as we enter and both the little hunter and I are a little greyer, him around his muzzle, me around the fringes and the ice starts to form beguiling and beautiful mocking patterns from our breath upon the glass, hiding the reflections. Hiding the evidence.


Out in the still, silent fen, something makes a noise, not unlike a screech, not unlike the call of some frozen hunter, not unlike laughter.


Recursive Recession

I bring things home with me to the fens. Sometimes like treasures to be stored away, sometimes to be slaughtered like rats and tossed in the deep, hungry ditches.

After my quite possibly sleep-derived ramblings about recession I returned from the dust of the desert to the frosted fens, armed with my new theory of the toning of the low sun lying sideways, I watched the sun rise. It came up behind a low hill on the edge of the Isle. Beyond the hill, to the right, the flatlands graded away into the distance and I saw two things. One was the endless shading of the recession, lone tree after lone tree, low hedges and the occasional church spire, rolling miles away across the fens. Each lit by the morning sun. Each a shade darker than the other. I expected that the tone of a single tree would not shift its shade as a mountain would, but they did. The trees and hedges stood in fields stained white with ice and the reflections of the sideways sun graded them individually in a very subtle way. The air was so cold and so dry, and the light so clear and so brilliant, and the thinnest layer of mist over each field, reflected the sun into their faces, so that the trees stepped back to the horizon in an almost infinite regression. All of that, I noticed, was the colour of Old Vegas. Neon. Red-orange lit by a sun appropriately the colour of brilliant helium.




Jetlag and Recession

As I always do on West Coast time, I woke at 3am for the first few days in Vegas so that when the sun finally came up, I was well into my own day. The window of my room faced the low mountains on the right and the freeway on the left. The sun came up through a palm tree on my left, and throughout the dawn I watched the regression in the mountains on my right. On the sunward side, the hills were a flat line, etched with the glow of the sun. On my right, I watched as the sun picked out the faces of the valleys rising as it did sideways on to them across my vision. The secrets of regression were laid bare: the way that the first valley is lit by the sun, and the second is lit a little less, but then is tinted by the reflection of the unseen rear face of the first. The sky is dark behind but also lit by other reflections, so that the regression is not a series of grey tones, but a series of graded tones of all kinds of dawn colours washed to the palest pastels on those ordinary shades of grey. But the finest recession pictures of all are monotones, right? It struck me: that is not quite true. They are not monograde. Each line of regression is a subtle grade of tones so that a regression picture with a classic 14 shades of grey could have even more lines of regression because each one can subtly walk back from the tone at the line of the previous mountain to another half tone, cheating the eye. Colour and photographic theorists will disagree I'm sure.


Steel Wool

Where it touches the water the sleepy steel-wool wind sands the brass-rippled river free of its smooth shimmer. There is lemon-yellow metal lying on the flooded fields between the two rivers. The sun hides in the hedgerow, slyly slinking away, abandoning the day that it has failed to warm to a night of frosty daggers, creeping in with the growing shadows to cut down the last soldiers of summer and autumn. The fallen leaves turn to iced bronze, beaten copper and frozen blood, to be shattered and trampled. Within a few weeks they will have collapsed into a brown blanket. A kestrel stands on a post, calculating that I am too cold to catch it and so it will not expend precious calories by flying away. The little hunter – not so little now – is not treated with the same contempt as he trots into view, soaking wet and not caring one jot about the cold or the perfect mirror of the water that he has just shattered after another joyful plunge. After all, if the near-still wind can break the surface of the water, why shouldn't he. I throw his stick back at the glimmering mirror.


The Earth worn to its bones.

Australia is old. Its interior has been rinsed by long ages of sparse desert rain until the nutrients are ground from the earth. Its river beds are as ancient as the abyss. Even in the fertile East the forests look and feel old and worn. Even the mountains of the East are worn to nubs a few thousand feet high. Barely a bump for what is effectively an entire continent. The trees of those forests are grey scented ghosts brushed with silvers and grubby yellows. Their trunks are bleached white where the bark peels away because in these forests the earth is not renewed year on year by falling leaves, it is maintained on life support by the gradual fall of strips of bark, years upon years. An entire wilderness laid back to the Earth by fire is nothing more than in invigorating body scrub to this land. When the sun grinds through the thin needles of the trees, they grow white. The carpet on the ground is pale too. The creeks, when they hold water at all, are clear and bronze like an old statue of water laid gently on the sleeping ground. That ghostly backdrop makes the gorgeous metallic blue-green of a butterfly a thing not unlike a fever-dream. The glinting call of a bird draws the eye to a bullet of gold or blue or red or lime green. Black trees also stop the eye, some natural, some ripped in half by lightening. Scrape back the vegitation and you are through to the bones of the Earth in an instant. These phantom forests hold a shadow of menace too. This land is so sparse that predators have evolved to waste no time on long chases of plump prey. The predators here are tiny and deathly efficient spiders and snakes.