Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Moments of grace

The day feels like a reprieve. After a month's rainfall in less than a week, we finally experience some sun. The days have a lingering darkness that seems almost November, the sky heavy with leaden clouds, but today the sky has rolled back into a huge vault of improbable blue, and everything seems touched by light.

I walk up the lane to the brow of the hill; the old hollow way is pooled in sunlight, like honey seeping between the branches of the overhanging trees. As I clear the stile and step into the open field at the top of the hill, sunlight spills across the long, lank grass, wayward and fragile, the last of the day's warmth on my face. Two magpies shudder into flight, drifting downwind towards the hawthorn hedge. One for sorrow, two for mirth. I count magpies subconsciously, storing their portents in the back of my mind like a talisman against the uncertainty of the day. Three for a marriage, four for a birth.
This walk has become my barometer for the shifting weather and the moods of the changing days. Walking across the open field of limp, sodden grass, the wind in the trees sounds like the roaring of the sea heard beyond a line of dunes; an insistent hush, a feeling of sound rather than the sound itself; a echo of the passing wind. Swallows flog heavily into the gusts, like a rower pulling against a flooding tide.

I have come to recognise each lichened rock, each gnarled tree stump as I pass. The cattle trough at the corner of the field is steeped in thick peaty water. The field ashes catch the last of the afternoon's sun; as the shadows rise higher and higher in their boughs, only the tip of the tree is illuminated, like a halo of gold. At the far edge of the field, crouched amongst hawthorns, an old pollarded ash flickers in the wind, its leaves rippling like shoals of fish
Somewhere above me, in the tropopause, over layers of air thick with moisture and the tiny ice crystals of cirrus clouds, the polar jetstream is weaving its erratic, unpredictable course across the top of our weather patterns. Low pressure systems are tossed from side to side, like pebbles in the bed of a meandering river. I learned today that these air currents are around ten kilometres above us – that's as far away from me as the nearby coast, visible from the brow of the hill where I have walked today; a distance I can ride on my bike in half an hour. We like to believe that they obey the rules of physics, these shifting atmospheric patterns, but after this year of wet and wind, they seem more alive, more unbidden, more fluid. Like the patterns of flow in a river, they are too complex for us to understand; there are too many variables, too many unknowns. Today, the jetstream has shifted to the south, a whip-like flick of the thundering air, and we are bathed in autumn sun. I turn my face to the warmth, bask in its transience.