Wednesday, 10 September 2008

walk 4 : hemyock, up and down the valley

for a while, i've wanted to walk the 'bowl' around Hemyock. Sally (artist co-ordinator) and Megan (placement artist) set out from Hemyock with me on a circular route. i'd provisionally mapped a walk traveling through or passing by four commons: Clements, Black Down, Hillmoor and Owleycombe, partly to continue the thread from mine and Megan's last trip to Staple Common, and also to witness the variations in the sense of the land as the Commons appear out of the field systems.
as we set out from Hemyock, this old milkstand, travelling further and further towards invisibility.

m & s free range eggs

up in the forest, yellow staghorn fungus matching megan's pen,

out onto Blackdown Common which you can see from the M5, a high flat moor with bracken, roaming ponies and these beautiful wide green lanes - does something mow them? i wanted to lie down and sleep within the sound of the galloping horses hooves - that peat moor resonance would be something to hear travel past.

so much of the time, nature seemed to appear as something framed, composed - the orange staghorn in the spikey moss as a miniaturised surreal forest, the vivid grass in the black peat water as a zen garden. all kind of overwhelming in their sense of completeness - 'gardens in a tea-tray' Megan said.
and, all down to our perception too - how our minds and senses frame this landscape, how my viewfinder makes a square.

here, some kind of penis, or tentacle or delicate new fungus in the 'tea tray'. apologies for out-of-focus, it's magnified hugely, as i only noticed it while looking at the photo zoomed up. but there it was, right at the centre of the frame, discreet yet all powerful.

"I don't know what it is about fecundity that so appalls. I suppose it is the teeming evidence that birth and growth, which we value, are ubiquitous and blind, that life itself is so astonishingly cheap, that nature is as careless as it is bountiful, and that with extravagance goes a crushing waste that will one day include our own cheap lives.... Every glistening egg is a memento mori." Annie Dillard - "Pilgrim at Tinkers Creek"

descending over Culmstock Beacon, we tracked along the plimsoll line, springs emerging all along the side of the hill - so much water - and settle on a hillside with a strong atmosphere. we can't quite make out why it's so perfect a place to stop; the perspective, the quality of grass, the degree of slope, the sudden change from where we had come from - who can tell.

i photographed the back of our heads.

on down past Pitt farm, i was running 'common' around my head, thinking about what we have 'in common', common (shared?) language and land, and the notion of commonality.

a passing conversation with a farmer running his own archaeological dig on some of his land: it had potential to be an interesting conversation, but especially as three women, we tended to suffer his 'common' male banter: he referred to our overheard conversation at a distance as "the sound of mad cows" and
his parting shot was "like moses said, keep taking the tablets". it's the kind of exchange that makes me want to headbutt a gatepost, and never do anything with rural england ever again.
still, the historical knowledge he had built up of his farm was extraordinary, and it's all in his head right now. he should write it all over the wall of one room in his house. that way it would be out in the world. people could come and read his house.

down to Culmstock, through amazing farmyards. some more exchange as we crossed a new bridge over the River Culm - two men just finishing the build, and unable to accept our genuine remarks on their work, bantered us off with directions to the nearest pub.

Sally leaves us and we cut along the road, and then up the drove.
on the corner, i hear 'Sweet Caroline' coming from behind a hedge. it sounds beautiful in the now soft afternoon warmth of the day. as i come to the garden gate, i realise that radio 2 is being played to a garage full of Indian Runner ducks.

three white geese appear from the front door.

and a beautiful and highly affecting conversation begins with a woman who tells us some of her life story in just a few minutes: about how keeping animals has healed her bad times, how they've helped her in her life. we talk about 'how good a goose is at being a goose'. she tells us about her sheep further up the road, how she sits in the field and listens to them eating; just the sound of them grazing calms her nerves, makes life ok.

as Megan and I move away, we are both unbelievably filled up with her story, a kind of
swoon. it is the most dynamic yet stillest moment of the walk, our whole trajectory has gone towards - and away from - this point, here at this corner, with 'sweet caroline', a woman, three geese and the warmth of the afternoon sun.

Owleycombe Common: that same atmospheric as the other commons, that quality of grass again, unturned earth - is that it? - spaced trees, full of rowan and their red berries that the blackbirds love.
a view back to where we had come from - Culmstock Beacon.

i'm up here still dreaming of that temporary community back in the valley, about what we held in common there.
then a long descent through horse fields, black cattle and white sheep grazing and a hazy beginning of rain, and back to Hemyock
, and a different kind of horizon.

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