I’ve swapped my afternoon ‘nearly finished work’ dog walk for a morning ‘before work’ dog walk. Partly because I always seem to mistime the darker evenings, meaning a rushed dog walk out of necessity, rather than something to enjoy. I am feeling the short days, feeling quite crushed by the lack of daylight and this week, the coldest so far of autumn, with my circulation struggling and the cold in my bones, and work piling up and, of course the anxiety of the pandemic in the background, I started to feel a real struggle to get up and get on in the morning. I imagine everyone, the whole world, is in pain, is struggling. Of all the bleak winters, this is up there. But I’m also aware that on a personal level, for us, this is not, not by a long shot, the bleakest winters we’ve faced, even with Chris’s stroke, and the pressure to make a living as someone self employed in the arts, and the fear of the pandemic, this is not the bleakest winter. The bleakest winter was 2011. I’ve talked about it before, but to sum up Christmas 2011: daughter dead nine months, crashed the car and wrote it off on Christmas eve, found out Christmas day the next IVF had failed, heavy snow, no transport, no money and if I remember rightly, a broken boiler.
This year we have so much to be happy about, so much to be grateful for, and the knowledge of those who are really suffering, have suffered, will suffer during the pandemic brings home that need to be grateful. But still, that darkness knows no rules and I am back to counteracting it with friends willing to listen to me while I whinge on about not feeling like people respect my work, not feeling like a ‘real’ writer, feeling like I’m being laughed at, willed to fail, feeling outside of the groups and gangs and cliques, feeling embarrassed that I ever thought I could do this…I can imagine there are a lot of people who feel the same and it doesn’t take much to have that overcome you, if you’re already a bit low.
So out I go, into the fresh air, into the fields and lanes with my old dog. And it is perfect weather today; mild enough that I’m too hot in hat and gloves, a gentle breeze, the valley strung with bare branched trees.
I look for the signs of life around me: the tunnels made by animals through the hedges, the curlews in the field; their long lonely calls. Greylag geese, Canada geese, blackbirds taking the last berries in the hedgerow, the soft hop and rise of a crow. Half way around our route we come across a murder scene:
In a moment of hemetomancy I see the future: a deer, trees, a sledge, a doorway opening, light. There is a trail of blood, small drops, and then this, then a trail of blood becoming lighter. I deduce that this is a small killer, a stoat, a weasel, and that it has killed a rabbit and here is where it lays it down briefly, because it is small and the rabbit is big, before it picks it up and drags it through a holloway in the bottom of the hedge. Yes, I see the curve of the rabbits back, the way a rabbit scrunches up as it dies, the way a predator carries prey, not unlike the way it might carry its own babies.
We walk on, and I’m surprised by a pile of feathers, two in fact. Are they related? Are they related to the blood, to each other? My first thought is Sparrow hawk, but this is not a sparrow hawk kill. I have seen those plenty of times, they are a bloody, fleshy body with the breast plucked out, not this mystery of feathers. I decide they are not related, that this scene is two different events. Two different kills.
I like to see what the night has left behind, I like to imagine the lives being lived in the dark; the hot hearts and thoughts going on in the world that I am not aware of. I tell myself I do not need to know about everything, I do not need to know the story behind everything. It is enough that I am present within that story and a part of something bigger and wilder and that I want to capture that in writing. I return to my house and my office and the view of beech trees and jackdaws from my office window.