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.




Another Angel, Another Scrapyard

In an earlier post I wrote about missing a glorious picture, among other things. Finding myself in Las Vegas, I was determined not to make the same mistake. This blog is about colour and if Las Vegas does anything well, it does colour.

We've met the angel. The scrapyard I visited in Las Vegas was full of neon signs, being lovingly restored by a team of volunteers. I got my pictures, lots of them. Not for sale, but for my own enjoyment. That's where it started. Another theme here is my distinct feeling that America is in a state of decay.

I've also written about finding myself in various forms of Babylon but I was wrong. Those places weren't Babylon. Not even close. Not, as they say in the movies, by a damned sight.


picture by Jan Mehlich (Wikipedia)



Walking down the Las Vegas strip, somewhere between the Bellagio fountains and the older, doomed casinos to the north, among the fat men in t-shirts and women in skirts twenty years too young for them, among the grinning shysters and the tired homebound wage-slaves, I saw an angel. The sheer ramrod force of Vegas can make you tired and emotional, even if you've eaten nothing and drunk only water, avoided the gaming tables altogether and dodged all the touts for all the other attractions. Intensity is key in Vegas and it never lets up, not ever, not for a second and I can entirely believe that I was hallucinating. My angel was following me and I only saw her when I turned to take a picture of the neon behind me. She gave me a playful smile and waggled her wings. I was shocked, which evidently amused her and she winked at me as she walked past, white head-feathers dancing against the rapacious bars of the lights all around us. She was all in white, cape, wings, head-dress, long gloves, leotard, slippers and all. For a moment, I thought about a picture, but it seemed somehow churlish. It seemed that somehow a photograph might prove or disprove the hallucination and so destroy the moment. So instead I did what everyone does in Vegas when their angel walks by, they ignore her completely and head for their glittering, glittering doom.


Whale Watching in the Desert

The casino is an ocean with tables bobbing like buoys on its gentle swell. As each decisive card is dealt, or ball comes to rest, or dice tumble, heads and hands rise or fall in the way that gulls stick out their wing feathers to stabilise themselves as a wave passes by. Slot machines sparkle and jingle like motes of sunlight on the moving water. A craps table makes a breaker of hands waving, people leaping winners and losers alike yawking like gulls scattered from the wave crest. The croupier hides in the rising face of the wave, reaching out to scoop the loosings like a lurking shark. Two men in black breeze through, making ripples, parting the prey. Orcas. Whale killers. Eyes follow them, perhaps from those who cling to the bobbing buoy tables, too terrified and exhausted to swim away. Other eyes like those of great lolling sealions hauled out watch indifferently and throw more free food and drink down their stroked throats.

The whale comes. We cannot see it but heads turn by some instinct and make a path of gazes across the floor. The heads of the queue for some bar imported from New York or Paris swirl as the whale passes them, past the deferential nodding of the security at the head of the line. The gulls twitter and crane, looking to see if the whale has left any tasty detritus behind it. Two pretty girls, all neons and frills, are pulled from the line by the passing wake and gather to the whale's breast like pilot fish.

On the strip, I see whalesign again. In one moment, groups of people burst chatting from a casino, wowing and tutting and laughing. The whale has breached here. A stretch limo glides to a halt outside, waits for a moment. The driver opens the door, waits. His lady attendant waits too, with a tray of champagne harpoons. The man's ear jabbers and they both get back in and row away across the tossing swell of the strip. The whale is not leaving. The casino has speared the beast and is trying to inflate it with hot air and comps. But it's fierce and young and not yet wasted enough to miss the jeopardy that faces it. It breaks free.

I follow the whale for an hour or so, my cash and credit card are my muscles and my body is my boat. Both soon tire of following the whale into deeper and more turbulent waters. I give up the pursuit for today and row back home.

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