Yesterday, as I was coming back from a nine mile hike, foot sore, weary and head emptied, I almost walked into a sparrow hawk which was perched on a gate I was about to open. I’m not sure who was more surprised. He/she had its back to me and was scanning the field for prey. I was crossing a railway line at the time and wouldn’t have been able to stop, but as I slowed down and quickly fumbled for my camera, which had conveniently gone into sleep mode, I was awed by her (let’s call her a she) simple grace and perfection. I did not get a good photo of her. I’d seen her at the beginning of my walk, when I had again surprised her hunting on the other side of the railway. I managed to get this Nat. Geo. quality photograph that time:
But it didn’t matter. I’d not brought my zoom lens, but that didn’t really matter either. What mattered was the moment I found myself in. I stood for about twenty minutes just leaning on the fence where she’d flown from, camera held aloft, watching her skim around the edges of the field making that familiar high screech call. She’d moved to the other end and was flying in and out of a copse there, while the sheep ate the grass contentedly, some late lambs still bounding about and the dandelion heads blew softly, clumping and dispersing in great rafts of white across the green. The breeze was warm and smelled of the muck spreading and ploughing that was going on around the village. I leaned on the fence and let the breeze blow over me and watched the sparrow hawk zipping and diving, and felt the soreness in my legs radiating up, my thighs aching in such a hard won, pleasant way. There was an occasional crow riding the air currents, and every so often a group of pigeons would fly in, land, and then see the sparrow hawk and beat a hasty retreat. I’d forgotten what this was like; the way the world is moving on, life is moving on whether it is observed by us, by me, or not. It has been a long time since I just stood and let the world happen around me. It had been a long time since I’d walked that route, which had been my grief route when I was walking off Matilda’s death.
The weeks before had been quite busy, to say the least. I had finished the final version of the new book, When I Think of My Body as a Horse which will be published by Valley Press probably early next year, but hadn’t had a chance to deal with the emotional fallout of the book before I was heading to the University of York for a meeting with a potential PhD supervisor. I’m applying for a full scholarship with a bursary there and had been a bit nervous. There is so much competition for scholarships like this, and even though I know my ideas are good I’m worried about being too hopeful, hope is the most painful of all emotions, in my experience. A day or so later I was driving a five hour round trip to Haworth for a fairly make or break, fifteen minute meeting about another big project I’m working on, and in between that, fielding mentoring questions, mentoring, critiquing, running the current course, editing, chasing stuff up and trying to fit in planning for two other big projects. And then all of a sudden I seemed to fall off the edge of a cliff and everything became ridiculously hard work. I got tired tired, so tired I couldn’t think. It was a physical tiredness as well as a feeling of being emotionally drained. But of course, being self employed it’s very hard to just stop work for a few days. In the end I had to slow right down and tell everyone there’d be a delay in getting them what they wanted while I slept, and laid on the sofa having a cry. Then one of the partners on one of the big projects dropped out, partly because I aren’t well known enough to draw the sort of crowds they want, which was like being slapped in the face AND kicked in the crotch at the same time (sorry, we no longer want to work with you, also who are you?) and it knocked my confidence a bit. A lot. And then, yes, spiralling a bit, not wanting to leave the house, not being able to go into shops, crying and feeling low and a bit ‘what’s the point?’ I was drinking more than I had been, I even smoked a couple of cigarettes, the first time in about a year and a half. So I took a bit of time out and reduced my social media time, and stopped drinking for a few days (I’d planned thirty but did have a rather lovely pint with a big pub lunch today) and yesterday, at the end of a week of doing not much, I took myself off for a nine mile walk, on my own. And it was the most marvellous thing. I barely saw another soul. The friendly cows at the top of the page were the only people I spoke to. It’s what I needed.
The research I’m doing for the potential PhD is taking me back to my first loves: Star Carr and Lake Flixton, Lake pickering, the lake people, the lives of what I consider to be my people. The poems I’m writing are about the fields and the animals and, I guess, nature writing might be a definition, but I hesitate to use it as nature writing has such a bad, boring name. I think this would have been the sort of writing I would have been drawn to, if Matilda’s death hadn’t pulled me into writing about her and myself. Who knows? I know that the collection I just finished is a cross over, it has an animalistic core, possibly because pregnancy and I think grief are animalistic, bloody, fleshy experiences. I recently tried to describe the collection to a friend and came up with:
It’s a personal story of body ownership, of regaining control as a woman, it’s about infertility and baby loss, being childless, being wild; done in a kind of anthropomorphic, shape shifting, animal totemic style with poet as witch and shaman and woman and child…. sort of.
I feel like I am carrying that on; poet as shaman, telling the stories of things, people, animals. And it feels like a good fit.
I shall be re-running my ‘Wild Within course in September, which I’ll be launching tomorrow, keep an eye out for it, it’s going to have all new prompts. And a new pricing system. Now I am going to lie on my sofa with my dog and do nothing again.