This week in the Scottish Borders, we’ve had a heat wave, which as you might imagine is a bit of a rare event here. Now, I don’t know about you, but when the sun is generous enough to make the world outside your window pulse and shimmer with life, then given the choice and the freedom, I just can’t stay indoors for long. I need to be out in nature and because of where I live, this means I need to get up a dusty track and walk the farmer’s fields where the land meets the sky, with musical accompaniment from my MP3. And as far as the eye can see there is no one but me, and I can pretend I’m moving through a great plains prairie. There is one field I make for at the moment, before the farmer makes his changes, which is brimming with lush grass, with the tips rippling just like moving currents in a light breeze, where I feel I am wading through an ocean of green, and some cattle in the adjacent field shift on my approach, galloping hooves thundering away, while I move on.
And this becomes the most important thing. This is were I want to be, where I need to be, right now. But have I left my writing behind me in the house? Do any of us leave our creative work behind when we do something else we are moved to do? Well I don’t think so. I think we take it with us, always. We’re working away on it at the back of our mind and because we are happily diverted by being elsewhere, because we aren’t trying too hard, then creative ideas can pop into our orbit, and creative solutions can work their way from the place where we’ve being incubating the problems, right into our consciousness. And you could say that we are refreshing ourselves in order to sit down to our work with a lighter head and heart. So while we’re feeding our spirit, and while we’re getting some valuable exercise, we’re always somehow working, and it’s immensely reassuring to realise this. And I think this is the main purpose of this post – just to say, for those of you who may be a little too exacting upon themselves, like I am, that it’s fine to go do other things, it’s fine to take a break and bask in whatever floats your boat down your very own stream…
Here is a piece of life writing I did some time ago now describing my field walking compulsion, and reading it through again, it all pretty much still fits:
‘’A shaft of light cuts across the room, illuminating colours, bringing them to life, reaching for me and pulling me to the window. I look out over the gently shimmering, feathered tips of the hawthorn hedge, which hides the house sparrows, to the view beyond. It’s a late afternoon in autumn, the low sun painting vivid hues and dramatic contrasts on the arable landscape, whilst a soft breeze blusters around the cottage eaves. Soot-black cattle with lengthening shadows are moving slowly on an expanse of bright green, against a backdrop of purple blue-grey cloud trimmed with silver.
These pulsing lights and darks compel me. Moved swiftly to action, I’m pulling on my coat and muddy boots, thrusting my player into my pocket, and I’m out, switched on, out for a walk and out to fill my senses with a synchronised blend of rural rhythm. The music is playing and I am in my world. Self-consciousness falls away as I get into a brisk stride, harnessing the music’s energy, feeling the beat and seeking surrender. I’m moving down the lane. The comforting mellow smell of silage reminds me of childhood days visiting my auntie’s farm, of mushroom soup and apple pie, of trifle topped with thick Jersey cream and a bank of primroses by a stream.
The hedgerows push and crowd to be seen. But soon I’m heading up the track, picking my way between the stones, knobbly and bumpy like bones, with practised ease, with melodies playing in my ears, kindling emotions and memories to feel pleasure or pain; life, like music, in constant motion. With the wind in my hair and the sides of my coat flapping like sails to bear me away, I look to the horizon and my hilltop destination. Vast slabs of dark conifer plantings crown the skyline, modernist installations riding the waves of a patchwork panorama – all transformed into moving pictures with my own selected programme music, creating a medley of moods, with me as the central character, putting on my own performance. I’m floating on wavelengths and sentiments, which trigger empathy, thrills and chills, charged by electric currents flooding me. I feel so alive, I’m on a high. I’m enveloped by surround sound, inventing choreographies in my mind.
Suddenly, I’m jolted out of myself. The loud beating and frantic flapping wings of a pheasant assaults my senses, as it takes flight from the field edge with monumental effort in its fear, a few feet in front of me, both of us shocked from our reverie, no longer alone. I follow its trajectory over the stubble field laid out at my feet, to see it disappear. Shielded by my music again, with upbeat tracks and buoyant mood renewed, I have a man-made desert to explore.
The harvest is over, the wheat mown down by monstrous mechanical chimeras, rhythmically crossing and eating the earth, laying it to waste. Blasting it, purging it. An apocalypse. All that remains is a vast carpet of spikes, a bed of nails, repelling life. Between the nails the earth gapes, as lack of rain has dried the surface crust into a crazy paving of canyons, craving water. As I march on, treading down the spikes feeling them crunch and snap to the beat, I could be the sole survivor. But then I see another. A big black rook is strutting its stuff, gleaning the last few grains. With flaps and turns and occasional caws, it’s doing a jaunty jive, dancing in a graveyard.
I’m nearing my destination now, the sepulchre on the hill. I’m breathing hard, feeling the burn, going up a steep grassy slope of pits and hollows, frowned on by a row of whispering conifers. Musical vibrations inject me with a shot and I’m there. The domed mausoleum, sits in overgrown tangled seclusion, visitors rare. My advance flurries the pigeons that roost inside, beneath the dome’s open stars, that filter the warmth of the sun onto the cold sarcophagus – a General’s tomb watched over by angels. I’ve been in before. I’m at the entrance, creeping past the two dozing lions, neglectful of their duty on their giant plinths, brushing past the gorse, which tries to spear me. A black hole in the door invites me to investigate once more. But this is not the day to linger and commune with death, not with music playing in my ears. So I’m off down the hill, moving on, urged to beat the sun’s dying rays. But then I’m heartened by what I see. Captured for a moment in the setting sun, which casts its spell before dusk descends, early signs of life, as the cycle begins again in a deeply ploughed field.”
I hope you have some special places to go to! And feel free to share.