A Long Visit From the Fire-Spirit

I'm not sure whether I have fallen in love with the desert, or if the desert has fallen in love with me. Perhaps the latter, because its spirit has followed me home. The earth in the Night Planted Orchard has cracked open and the cracks are so deep that I cannot find a stick long enough to touch the clay below. The apples are small but their sweetness sings in the branches. The new mulberry has decorated itself in crumbled leaves and has surely died. The three trees that we planted in the cold, wet, late spring - because they were bargains and we would surely have a poor summer of course - are on life support. The heat is so exhausting that my clauses fall into each other's paths like wilted leaves on a wilted vine. The pond is a dusty wallow beloved of the blackbirds. I spent weeks digging a new drain for the orchard because in the winter it becomes a quagmire at its lower end. It gapes at me like a dessicated beggar and laughs like a loon at my folly. Foxes, badgers and muntjac share the water that we have put in the tree under some eternal truce. Butterflies fill every bush. Columns of whites dance like flames. Tortoiseshells hide where peacocks parade themselves. Commas confused by the early blackberries bask like little burning embers. The blues are in short supply. The gatekeepers are more richly coloured than I have ever seen. The dragonflies are as fat as sparrows and we spotted a rare male metallic green banded demoiselle at the riverside, bigger, fatter and braver than its plain blue brothers. The lawn is as thirsty as I am, running out of moisture as I run out of commas and dashes and colons: the grass has surely died.



English Summer Traditions

The spring has been labile with wet, wind and weak sun. Now we have a spell of fine weather and that has brought a flush of temporary traffic lights – three sets this morning – and eighty four rose bushes in full bloom on a fifteen mile journey.



Whistling the Wind

It is late and I whistle for the Hunter to come back in for bed. He ignores me the first time I call, snuffling after some scent. But the wind answered. A zephyr moved up from the fence where the Hunter was still conducting his investigations. The wind came around the shrubbery, crossed in front of me then came up the trees on the right. It ruffled my hair and fell still. I shivered, deep and strong, touched by something elemental. The breeze died at my feet, but I had no treat to give it.

I wonder what it wanted?


The Hunter and the Cone of Shame

The Hunter has an insect bite on his posterior. Whatever the provenance he's been chewing at it and it's driving him - and us - to distraction. He's a vain sort of dog at times and I'm quite convinced that the sight of a splendid lump on his bum has made him self-conscious. So we resorted to a conical collar to stop him getting at it. This, clearly, was the ultimate indignity and he stared at me accusingly for a long time.

He refused to go out until it was dark. Then, to his immense satisfaction, he made a discovery. His collar is a megaphone, and his bark - already much bigger than his bite - is amplified. He ran to the fence, faced the long garden, and set forth a series of deep, intensely loud, intensely macho barks which terrified me if no one else. Birds fled the trees. Cats backed carefully into the bushes and slipped away into the night. Every fox for a mile ran away in a low scurry. Even the wind grew silent. 

The hunter wagged his tail, which reminded him of his indignity, so he trotted back the house and past me, huffing.


Desert Colours

I took another trip to the deep desert, right on the edge of the Rub' al Khali, the Empty Quarter. My own quarters were in the gypsum plains but I travelled out to the edge of the dunes, not the Empty Quarter itself, but one of the places where the heat and the wind practice at building dunes before the main event. It was ravenously hot, well into the forties. It was sunset and the wind was rising, not a refreshing breeze, but a heated sand-blast. The sun was too low to create a mirage of water, but I imagined that I saw a man in the distance, stumbling across the top of a dune.

I remembered that Wilfred Thesiger had passed this way and his Arabian Sands was on my bucket list. I bought it in good old-fashioned book form. A paperback, though, sorry Wilf. I don't entirely trust his hatred of the very progress which delivered him all of his privilege, or his desire to hide in the desert instead of taking the fight against progress to where it might have mattered. It seems to me that he was one of those men who represented the tip of the imperial spear: detached from his origins, funded by privilege and wealth but expressing disdain from it. One of those Englishmen who infiltrated the old cultures of the world and then betrayed them. No, not a spear. The tip of the stiletto claiming disdain for all stilettos as it slid regretfully between the ribs of the Bedu and their way of life. That said, he knew how to write. One section in particular addresses the colours of desert sand and rang clear and true as I watched the wind blowing off the dunes.

Sand blew like dust in little scurries across the road, lines dancing back and forth like great hot snakes. It blew off the tips of the dunes like smoke. But the sand that moves is the lighter sand, which is a different colour to the heavier sand which stays behind. This divides the scene into two tones. The dunes were the colour of chocolate powder; of dark honey, warm and glutinous like oil; dark skinned and sinuous, lying in sweet curves the colour of cinnamon powdered dry and hot in the mouth. The blowing sand was the colour of warm toast,  The low sun played with the heat and made fires of these gritty banners. A whirlwind crossed from right to left. Stopped. Caught my gaze. Promised to return and vanished.