Broken Crockery

Another flush of snow and deep cold at the weekend left me staring at the sleepy orchard. The pruning is done. The tidying is done. The birds are already in the trees, shivering even as they claim their territories for the coming spring. The grass is late in its spring flush. I was left with no excuse. I had to clean the study.

 ...seasilver succubus, bitter and bold ...

The study, or the Slough of Snoutingdingle as it has become known, is beset by fragments of mosaic and other projects. The tight "V" of shelves which once made it a cosy, impregnable refuge now make it seem somewhat closed and dark. I took two black bin bags and an armful of boxes and made an expedition into the dark interior.

...the gods lie graved here, our sawmarks on their bones...

I variously threw away, recycled, re-organised and 'lofted' material for a whole day, then moved furniture, hoovered and then dysoned, polished, opened and liberated until Lady Snoutingdingle pronounced that 'it looks like a bedroom again'.

...they say that in the softest breast, the darkest magic works the best...

At this point I knew that I'd gone too far. No matter. In the process I'd emptied two whole drawers in the desk, freed the work table, re-sorted all the mosaic tiles and filled one entire drawer with pens and another with impulse-purchased empty little notebooks. In the process of all that, I got to the bottom of each and every drawer. In the lowest strata, almost fossilised, I found all kinds of strange junk. There were old passes which I'd kept as if to prove to myself that I hadn't imagined visiting these rare and curious places.

...the city eats the worker and pumps him underground...

There were wrist bands from old festivals. There were bits of plastic in interesting shapes kept because I always have kept oddly shaped things, even when I was an infant. There were old coins. There were mundane things of my Father's too precious to throw away. There were bits of broken things, adapters for devices long discarded, spilled vials of glitter, broken watches, bits of electronics, sea-glass, pebbles, stones, fossils. Real fossils that don't appear to have actually formed in the compressed bottoms of these drawers. There were letters and cards from long ago, stamps, photos of people long dead, photos of children long grown, old pets. Photos, that is, not the pets themselves. The Hunter's puppy teeth. My puppy teeth. There were polished stones and the seeds of trees. There was a box full of once-scented balsam pine cones and herbs from a remote island in Newfoundland which I'd collected and sent as a present to an aunt going blind. Now dried and scentless they returned to me the last time I saw her alive. 

... I'll make good the aching before I grow old ...

In amongst all that detritus there was a tub of old data cards. Among those, a backup of old fragments of poems written log ago and stored in almost forgotten formats. These lines of unfinished poems are just like the other gems in the drawers. They were written for projects I can no longer remember, using thought processes that are no longer mine. They are like pieces of broken crockery, or fragments of masonry found at the bottom of a plant pot. Their form hints at what they once were, like holograms which contain a a hint of the whole in one shattered fragment. But now I can't imagine what they were destined for, or how I planned to finish each poem. My mind no longer follows those old furrows. The sparks of desire fly in different paths now and these old ones are burned out. They are curiosities. They can never be finished. 

...and among the tumult, high as oaks...

So I shall put them here, at the bottom of this post which shall be their plant pot, their home for a while until something else grows out of them. They are too old and inert even to be the seeds of something new, but they will let something new grow over them. In the way that old posts here grow through and over each other, they will provide good drainage. That one about dark magic, for example, was the opening of a book about elves. It's already pushing its transformed little head out of the compost, a dark, brooding little seedling of an idea.

...where lie my father's bones...

I'll make good the aching before I grow old.


Patterns in the Deep Cold

A couple of years ago, I seemed to spend a lot of nights in London on different trips, as though some strange harmonic had imposed itself temporarily on my life. Indeed, I haven't spent a night there since. A few weeks ago I left the Night Planted Orchard in the grips of February warm spell and headed for Minnesota. Minnesota was deeply cold. Cold and dry to the point that the night air scratches at your scalp and stings your lungs. There was deep snow on the ground and the temperature never rose above minus five centigrade. Long icicles formed all over the car, a thing I don't recall ever seeing in the fens.

I came home expecting to find spring. Instead I found it equally cold. Unnaturally cold for England. We had the same snow on the ground. The air scratched at me and burned me when I took a breath. Icicles grew on the car. It was as though I had physically moved from one place to another, but someone had forgotten to change the weather. 

A most strange symmetry.


The Hunter

The hunter is not so small now. The white hairs under his chin have spread around the bottom of his muzzle. He still loves to play, but sometimes avoids heavy rain and wind. When he rises, he's a little slower than he was. He won't lie in his bed if he's still damp from the river and frets a little if he's cold and damp. He has escaped from the garden a couple of times in the last few months, taking himself for a walk, meeting and greeting in his own unquiet way. 

When I try to fathom that he is in all probability past the mid-point of his life, my mind will not confront that idea.



It is the last day of August. There is dew on the ground, the morning air is cold and mist clings to the fens. May was intensely hot and the summer was wet between long bursts of sunshine. The fruit which survived the blast of late frost is early this year. The orchard is a teeming factory of small creatures. The new mulberry is all new shoots and leaves, having been left for dead by the frost. There was a single mulberry on it earlier, but some creature stole it. Beyond that the medlar which seemed to have ignored the frost, lost all its fruit later. There is a gala apple tree which I have saved from a cancrous stump, now beautifully shaped. Its fruit are bigger and cleaner than before. Beyond that the Old Laughing Lady is fat with plums. We can't reach it's upper branches even with our tallest ladder, so it mocks us. Dragonflies rattle about its branches and there is the first hint of how this place works. The Night Planted Orchard is thick with dragonflies. Great fat beasts who patrol the branches like little foremen, taking out the small insects that we can hardly see. They are the first hint of the source of the rude health of the orchard. Tucked inside a hedge is another, a box for a fat snuffling hedgehog. The hedges are trim and let in light and wind. We have dug a ditch to take away some of the water. A new pond is coming when I have the time and energy. I have reached the clay, the rest of the digging will be hard. There is a tribe of robins here, including one who has followed us day after day from the time it was fledged. It had no fear of us before it even grew its red feathers. 


The Corpse-like Copse

There is something about a grove of quaking aspens that makes you look twice. Perhaps it's the striking pale bark against the dark interior of the forest, or the uniform ranks of trunks like a small, tall army. They seem somehow apart from other trees. They meet in huddles, like gangmembers, huddled together but each individual stiff and erect. Close up they have a corpse like sheen, white touched with yellow-green, slashed with black scars. In bright sunshine their bark has a touch of white gold, or perhaps another, rarer metal. Their broken-off lower branches are framed in smooth ridges which make them look like eyes. The growth ridges on the trunks look almost like the tree is wrapped in bandages, like a mummy in a black and white movie. Saplings push up from the mountain earth, rising from a single root system. A thousand trunks, one tree, making this the largest organism on Earth and one of the oldest too. Groves last tens of thousands of years.

A quaking aspen is rightly a white poplar. Near to the Night Planted Orchard there is a grove of native black poplar, vanishingly rare now.