Sunday, 22 January 2012
Today we went to Claxton for dinner then for a walk by the river waiting for the great swirling and gathering of rooks.
Television shows us every spectacular act of nature but it is different being there and watching it yourself through a pair of binoculars, a much finer pair of binoculars than we have at home, by the way. I suppose we spent a couple of hours or so walking there and back, waiting for the rooks to rise, and then they did rise, some 30,000 or so according to our friend & host.
The weather was kind, bright at moments, the wind hard on the ears. It tends to drop as it gets dark, said our host, and I suppose it did. As the sky moved through dusk, which doesn't take very long, shapes became silhouettes, and the river glowed all the more brightly under starlight and a largely clear sky. The pub at the bend glittered as if it were still Christmas, and two or three smaller lit houses were pinpoint sharp.
We were working out which painter would have painted the late dusk in this way. If it were a city Atkinson Grimshaw would have done it, near the sea it might have been William Dyce. Norman Ackroyd might have etched it, but the pools of water were steely and electric, or maybe not so much steel as mercury, and though there was hardly any colour left, except in the river that was now reflecting the starlight, you still felt - crazy as it sounds - the pressure of colour, that the medium of the marshes wasn't black and white but deep sombre tones of green. Looking at the illuminated pub further down the path there was even a touch of Magritte about the scene, not so much pastoral as filmic.
I am so unfamiliar with nature - I can recognise a decent number of birds if they come near enough - that meeting it is like being on the other side of a mirror, inhabiting not one's own subjective imagination but the domain of a different subjectivity; being aware of oneself as a minor phenomenon in the eyes of something with views of its own.
Maybe this is the kind of mysticism that settles on urban people when put down by a rural river at night. It is a mysticism about which I feel as sceptical as I do about most other kinds of mysticism, but that doesn't mean I fail to notice it's there in me. And our hosts and friends, who are proper wide-cultured scientists, would probably do well to dismiss such mystical feeling, pointing to deeper and more intricate workings, to the multiple systems and microcosms of a world that, to a visitor, seems to constitute a unity.
In the end we thank our host for taking us to the place and feel privileged to have seen it. On the other side of the river, by the small brightly lit station that is not expecting any trains, small groups of people were standing, observing exactly the same events as we were, both of us possibly influencing the events we were noting by our presence, noting each others presence too, just as the rooks note ours before retiring to their roosts in woods to which they have returned for generations.