seizure

The northerlies are tenacious this year, persisting not only throughout April but well into May. It’s hard to believe we’re only five weeks off the solstice when I’m still making fires every evening. The flowers seem to be feeling it too: the lesser celandines and violets which I remember starring the woodland floor as I took my daily walks last April have only recently begun to raise their heads. It feels as if the passage of time has stalled, that the seasons are on pause or running in slow motion. I initially assume this sensation is due to the weather but then I start to wonder how much it’s to do with the prevailing social climate too. I read in the papers online about “brain fog” – the mental listlessness and confusion that many are apparently suffering due to the monotony of life under lockdown – and it seems that the suppression of our natural life is taking its toll as well.

Things are “easing” now socially at least but it’s all so different to last spring. I remember driving to Lochinver ahead of the first lockdown thinking how incongruous it was that just as the natural world was coming into bloom – with sunshine and daffodils fairly bounding along the glens – the human world was closing down. This spring it’s the other way round: we humans are tentatively opening up but winter is stubbornly hanging on – cold, fixed, relentless.

dry ochre oak leaf hanging in front of bare grey tree

Rosehall trails, Sutherland, Scotland
13th May 2021

snow envy

a few flakes
         fall
       futilely,
fleetingly
                     and
   unflurriedly
        like
    fickle
            floating
        fluff

10th February 2021
Cwm Garw, South Wales

notes on a head injury (1)

I sit on my sofa-bed trying to read. I’m bathed in radiation, nestled between the soft light of the bulb hanging above me and the warm breath of the fan heater in front, but the comfort doesn’t console me. I’m trying to read the book which is in my hands, trying to catch hold of the words on the pages and find their connected meaning, but it’s difficult. It’s as if I can’t get in. My brain slips on the surfaces, lapsing instead of latching, and I find myself stumbling repeatedly over mysterious unseen obstacles.

“I begin with haard’dloq, extremely thin new ice that cannot be stepped on without danger, and then hikuliaq, new ice which is still slippery and yet can be travelled across.” *

Perhaps the subject matter isn’t helping and I wonder if it’s strange that I’m choosing to read about ice just now. It’s the season for it, I suppose, but it’s been a mild winter here so far. The temperature has rarely dropped towards zero and nothing has frozen yet. There hasn’t even been frost this week, the air being too wet and wild to permit any kind of stasis. I don’t think there’s much in our freezer either: the congealed mass of peas which I held to my head after bouncing it off a rock has long since been cooked and eaten. Nonetheless, I find it hard to get a grip. Words slide from the pages as I read, their crystallisations of meaning melting out of memory almost as soon as they’ve assembled, or sometimes before. It’s not that there are gaps – I’m not aware of any specific absences or elisions – but the greater order of things eludes me. On the rare occasions when I do manage to gather some sentences together, the reason for their proximity remains opaque.

Maybe I’m trying too hard. My consciousness is so clumsy at the moment, skiting across the veneer of the world ungracefully – and ungraciously. Yet, because or in spite of this, other things are drawing my attention. Maybe they’re always there and it’s only now I notice but lately I’ve been encountering all these little consonances; things echoing and repeating in different places. Photographs of snowflakes I see online recrystallise unexpectedly on the pages of a book, floods seep out of pages and into the fields around me, a phrase uttered by a character in an old Northern Exposure DVD is repeated by my boyfriend in the kitchen half an hour later. It’s as if different fields of existence are resonating, as if life itself is rhyming a bit.

I’m not sure what’s going on – if I am picking up on some subtle patterning or am simply confused. I’m certainly disorientated. Indeed, in some ways it seems that the world is inverted; as if I’m trapped on underside of ice and observing life from there. The most familiar things appear strange and at times I barely recognise myself.

It’s not just the brain injury, though that’s a big part of it. It’s also the lockdowns, the endless reiterating train of them: closing down, shutting up, holding in, keeping apart. Their effects are not just superficial. Like everything living, we’re not so much entities as processes – doings, motions, living veins running through the world. And when our activities are frozen and our moving stopped, we ice over, we ossify, we lose hold, not only of our livelihoods and of the human animals that we love but of our very companionship with ourselves.

It’s a discouraging time, all in all, but the consonances give me heart. Each time I meet one it’s like a warm touch, reassuring me that I’m still in favour with the world, still alive among its undercurrents even as I struggle at the surface. Indeed, during these moments I begin to feel a sense of belonging again; a sense that I’m inhabiting a deeper part of my brain and a deeper part of my body – a place beneath the stalled outer layers where my movement is more fluid, my contact more true. It’s a confirmation, a reminder, and a relief: that there’s life beneath; there’s always life beneath.

*Nancy Campbell, The Library of Ice (London: Scribner, 2018, pp. 112-3)

Pontycymer, Glamorgan, South Wales
12th January 2021

freeze

I wake to unusual calmness. The boat is perfectly still. Droplets of condensed water hang in neat lines along the edges of the cabin ceiling. Only my breath moves, creating dense swirling clouds each time I exhale. I open the hatch, stick my head out, and slowly gaze around. The decks and docks are all covered in a thick frost, as if a white fur has grown over everything during the night, and on the sheltered waters between the breakwater and the pier rests a fine layer of ice.

I go below to make a cup of tea then come back to the hatch to take it all in. It’s not often I see the sea freeze. The ice initially appears transparent and blank. However, when I look more closely I can see patches of patterning embedded within it: fine leaves, intricately veined and toothed, jostle with curved fronds and short stalks, spread about unevenly as if haphazardly strewn. I wonder how long they’ll last. The sun is riding higher in the sky, creeping above the wooded hill behind the harbour, its wan warmth slowly strengthening. Meanwhile, the tide is going out, causing the harbour waters to slide down over the rocks and shrink in surface area. Pretty wavy fracture lines are forming as the ice sheet becomes horizontally compressed and, along the breakages, little shards of ice lean up against each other, catching the pale morning sunlight.

I wrap up, and step – gingerly – onto the docks, then carefully make my way ashore and into the woods. The shrubbery in the shadows is heavily frosted and my footsteps crunch satisfyingly upon the frozen grass, but the sunlit glades are green and the tree trunks shine, warm and brown and welcoming. I wind along various narrow paths, vaguely following the sun, until I come out at the back of the pebble beach of White Shore. At its far end, I come upon a small brown burn. I stop and stare. I thought the sea ice was stunning but this peaty water holds an equal beauty. The burn flows out of the woods over tumbled stone into a deep channel in the shingle, levelling out and producing white foam which bends into a series of perfectly curved ripples. The ripples drift along calmly, some in parallel, some gathered together at their bases and fanning out like bouquets of white plumes. The water surface isn’t frozen but moves only slowly over the rotating current beneath, its caught feathers pooling in my gaze as my thoughts burble on. If only the movements of this world were intelligible… But then they are, in a way. In a way, I understand.

curled plumes of flat foam on brown water over pebbles

Lochinver harbour and Culag Wood, Assynt, Sutherland, Scotland
19th January 2019