Monday, 9 January 2017

Swift as a shadow, short as any dream…

It was the moment first-light shape-shifted – imperceptibly transmuting from astronomical to nautical dawn – and, although my vision had long adapted to the gelid gloom, all I could discern ahead (as if insinuating myself deep into one of Dürer’s Meisterstiche…) were motionless, almost monochroic strata of indecipherable spectral shades: pitch against jet against coal, against ebony, soot and sable. And yet I sensed them, stock- and stand-still. As, assuredly, they sensed me.

Even when I tentatively stalked one step closer, my hesitant boots assaying the crisp, iron earth for constancy, no being was roused; no fear rendered flesh. Only when our distance was so fused that I could gauge each individual by age and antler; only when their aspect resolved from patient intrigue – gaze meeting mine with resolute but relaxed unconcern – only when I took that scant fatal step too far (not known until made known: the unspoken pledge synchronously sealed and severed), bewraying their sanctity; only then, as my glare intensified, did they gently, studiously, look, and then steal, away: an evanescent exequy; the substantial rendered incorporeal by developing detachment – even in dwindling darkness – melting as memories may, ensconced in a blanket of mute frost, and bound by filaments of wreathing fog. Their innate fugaciousness; or my coveted fugue?

I thus circled the second such grouping with fresh erudition: leucistic and melanistic coats now readily discerned; common and menil camouflage yet persistent; as civil dawn unmasked a greater gamut of greys, below, the embellished palette of light bruising the blue‑black, above – the firmament finally divesting its garments of deep cyclical mourning.

That each of the bescattered herd – frequently in small detachments; infrequently alone – felt invulnerable at this hour was not exceptional. This is their demesne, in space, time, and multitude; their twilight vision – far superior to ours – giving them all the more advantage. Plus, of course, the presence of curious, meddlesome lumps, beloved cameras snuggled in their begloved paws, is fairly habitual – the fawns, especially after recurring musters from the master bucks, smartly grasping which tracts of parkland have been demarcated unassailable sanctuary.

Needless to say, daybreak – however categorized – is the tocsin for many beasts: some in retreat (recent evidence of rabbit, fox and badger easily gleaned – even from the bounds of the public footpath); some in advance. The most obvious, this morning, being a parliament of rooks – uncommonly sociable at this time of year; not yet squabbling and swindling over nesting sites and materials. Their coordination – as they skimmed across the Avon, before neatly rising as one above an inexplicable unanimously-elected tree, then dropping serenely and evenly into its brumal branches (a unicoloured corvine party popper in reverse) – was astounding: a complete absence of acrobatics; and only the occasional “kaah” of agreement (or, perhaps, disgruntlement, at being relegated to a lower station).

I turned, almost silently; only the treacherous crepitation of scattered, crinkle-cut leaves, glazed with crystals of sharp ice, marking my progress, betraying my position. Unseen fallow deer – mostly older males: their palmate antlers no longer weapons for the rut, simply signifiers of seniority – emerged, trudging wearily across my path; heading to their daytime haunts beneath and beyond West Park’s avenue of stately monuments: lime trees that will outlive us all; that have watched our ancestors come and go with steadfast grace.

I would have tarried, transfixed by such stillness: the uniform white-painted wash endowed by a night’s full frost utterly beguiling; redefining the landscape; refreshing my perspective (and my ruddy cheeks…). But time weighed heavily in my agued joints; my walking stick stiffening my fingers’ sinews. My body ached for movement; for the pulse of warming blood heartened by perambulation. Perhaps – had I outstayed my welcome, and the winter weather – I too would have joined those arboreal statues forever on guard…?

So I retraced my steps, twenty minutes into this hibernal morning’s golden hour – although, here, the supposed aureity was suffused, dulled and dampened by a lingering layer of pallid haze – and chanced upon yet another cortège of young deer: heads bowed, silent, almost monastical. Were these the same I had dislodged during my (and the sun’s) timid first steps? Had the creatures simply regathered, returned to their arboreal refuge, once I had passed by; and only now – driven by whatever instinct temperature and light co-kindled within them – been moved to return to the larger host of familial comfort and assemblage? Or was I the one who somniated – ‘dawn-dreamed’ – while they simply slumbered, unaroused and unawares? Were they somnambulists yet…?

But others, now, were stirring. The herd of pregnant Jacob ewes, eager for their breakfast – as was I… – all but one (obviously too fixated on feeding her mineral addiction) lured easily by the ranger proffering armfuls of hay: her breath almost solidifying in the polar air. It was time for home….
Our revels now are ended. These our actors
(As I foretold you) were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air,
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And like this insubstantial pageant faded
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

– Shakespeare: The Tempest (IV.i.48–58)

1 comment:


Absolutely wonderful words. Another one for the keeper file.