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.


Ash Trees on Sodium

Tonight, about 10pm, with the sky almost dark, I saw the Ash trees against the lights of the distant roads. Although they are many miles away, in certain conditions the lights make a band against the sky. The ash trees are not yet fully in leaf, so they stand over us like transparent lungs in the dark. Yellow behind, black in front. Clear black sky overhead. Cancerous, vaguely.


Wetland Jinn

Often when spring arrives hard on the heels of cold and wet, the fens fill with insects. So it was tonight. As I drove home, I saw great wraiths of insects, curling menacingly over the trees beside the road, long curling black columns, thicker than smoke, forming ghostly shapes over the road, like wetland jinn.


Red Bay

Rifling through old peices for another post, I came across some fragments that I'd written about Red Bay in Labrador. 

We spent a few days on an island at the northern tip of Newfoundland at a lighthouse. En route, we visited Rocky Harbour where we'd stayed many years before. I remember looking at the town and thinking about how long it had been, but even that memory is twelve years old now. We visited Anse Aux Meadows and saw the ruins of the Viking settlement there. A race memory, this time. On Quirpon island we watched humpback whales from the tops of the cliffs and then, on a long walk, one of the great beasts came a little way out of the water on a steep shingle beach and looked right at us.

On the way home, we decided to cross the water to the nethermost part of Quebec and from there drive into Labrador. Some way up the coast there is a small town called Red Bay. It's an old whaling town in a tiny part given over to the kind of touristy things that work when you get one or two tourists a week. Across from the town there is a beach and some old industrial ruins.

On the beach there are bones. Lots of bones. More whale-bones than a human being can safely look at and not feel ashamed. I'm ashamed to say that I couldn't even bear to look. 

I hadn't forgotten that short side trip, because it burned me, but I had forgotten the details until I looked back at what I'd written after that visit. Like a scar that is always there, part of your identity, with the details of how it got there faded into the background.