Sunday, 27 November 2011

One False Step

Strange how things can change in an instant and how the ordinary can become something so very different in the briefest flash of time. I have often been wary of this while wandering alone at night and I take steps to keep risks to a minimum, even on my familiar trails I am well aware that an injury or fall could cause considerable difficulties.

Yesterday brought about a moment of the unexpected. I will only take my oldest dog Fen (she is mentioned in the post The Company of an Old Friend) on longer walks once or perhaps twice a week. My good lady will taker her on gentle strolls near to the hovel and during daylight hours to keep a careful eye on her. In many ways it suits both of them, my partner broke her ankle a little under two years ago and her recovery has been a long one. While I was making a few repairs to the hovel she decided to take Fen for a short walk to stretch her legs. Taking her phone she headed out of the door with Fen excitedly bouncing around beside her.

Almost half an hour passed by before my phone rang and I found myself on the end of a cry for help. It was a brief dash down the country lanes to find them at a bridge crossing one of the larger drainage ditches in the area. Fen had managed to stumble while crossing the narrow foot bridge and had toppled off the timber planks into the ditch some six feet below. She was already shivering from the cold water and caked in the thick slurry at the bottom of the ditch, my partner had not the strength or footing to get her over of the steep sides and Fen had repeatedly fallen back in after making several attempts to get herself out and given her advanced years she had simply run out of strength.

I slid down the side of the ditch and joined my dog in the filth. It took a hefty lift to drag her clear of the mud and after a few careful steps up the ditch bank I was able to lift her back onto the bridge where my partner escorted her onto the country lane. Amazingly Fen was unhurt apart from being very cold. After getting her back home and cleaning her up with warm water she seemed to be non-the-worse for her fall. Another such step at another time could have brought about far more serious consequences.

The ditches in this area seem to catch people out every winter. Usually drivers who hit ice, but last year I was once nearly in the depths of an icy ditch myself until I realised I was about to take a wrong step. Sometimes it takes a close call to bring a moment of clarity, the trick is remembering those moments and recalling them at the right time.

Travel well and travel safely my friends.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

The Stave

It is always a pleasure to visit and talk with a craftsman. Last week I made a brief visit to a local woodworker to look into replacing a broken quarterstaff. During the time spent standing chatting outside his small rural workshop his enthusiasm and knowledge of the staff and the longbow was easy to perceive. Within a few minutes we had discussed the merits of timber and grain and I left having purchased an ash stave.

On my way back to my hovel I realised how my view of purchasing had changed over the years. Ten years ago I would have been making a trip to a specialist martial arts supplier in a big city and probably would have paid too much for a neatly turned (and probably an imported) staff. Its light and elegant form would have spun quickly and easily through the air but in reality it would have been of little use in terms of its strength & durability. In the times I would have needed it for walking support in poor weather it would also have over flexed and possibly been more of a hinderance than a support.

The stave now sitting in my studio is a robust item and is very much in a raw form. I will need to shape & finish it myself to suit my own needs, what it lacks in refinement it certainly makes up for in substance & potential. I have little doubt that as it takes its final form it will be an item which should last many years, take the knocks from sparring with my good friend on our twilight meetings and also travel many miles with me. I also take comfort from making my purchase locally and to a fellow enthusiast. Perhaps if more people bought locally we might find people making a living within their communities, developing skills and getting more enjoyment out of their labours rather than looking for that middle management role within the big company to lift them off the shop floor.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The Young Poacher

With the sun obscured by the clouds & fog I caught fleeting glimpses of the Peak District countryside as I enjoyed a free ride on my way to work. Conversation flowed easily between myself, the driver and a fellow passenger as the miles ticked by, all of us were enjoying the commute and with little traffic on the roads good humour and past tales were shared.

Our driver recounted growing up in the countryside of the area and as a boy had lived with his family close to the land owners estate. Passing by a small river he told us of his desire to fish the rivers on the Dukes land, but as his family were ordinary working folk the fees to buy the "rights" to fish were well out of their means. He also mentioned that for a while he did not have a fishing rod either but undeterred he would sneak onto the private lands and down to the river to tickle trout.

On one occasion he slipped up and was caught by the game keeper. Hauled back to his parents house he was presented back to his father on the doorstep and received a telling off & a clip around the ear in view of the gamekeeper. Once the door was shut his father said "sorry about that lad, did you have any luck with the trout," he replied that he had, and his catch was safely hidden in his inside coat pocket. Much to his fathers approval it had appeared that dinner was as fresh as it came that night.

His brief tale brought a smile to my face and also triggered many fond memories of enjoying the outdoors as a child. I couldn't resist telling it here. As more of the countryside comes under threat from urban sprawl, development, increasing population and sell offs, I wonder if a few stolen moments on privately owned countryside will be the way it is enjoyed by those without the funds to pay for the privilege.

(Should you ever pass this way, thank you for the tale and for the lift John)

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Within the Gloom

The familiar sight of mist and rain greeted me again as I stepped into the woodlands. With the solar year heading towards the winter solstice it is to be expected and one again I took enjoyment of my solitude in the gloom with the chance to order my thoughts and take stock at the end of a difficult week.

With the student protests and the occupy movement taking centre stage on the social sites I prefer to use instead of the media it becomes easy to see how many of the ordinary people of the country are feeling. With so many people being brought into a system where money is the measure of your worth and the main resource for gaining the essentials of warmth, shelter & food, it becomes understandable that such resentment shows itself when the promises of the past begin to fail.

This week I listened to two men I am working with revealing the facts of enforced pay cuts & reduced pensions, together with their thoughts on what they could possibly do without and how to make funds stretch a little further. Last month I listened to a good friend telling me of changes to his place of work and of redundancies being enforced, not because the company was running at a loss, but because targets were not being met.

Such times strengthen my resolve to break away from the systems as they are. I still work, but I have made the choice to invest any money that can be spared into my own endeavours. As I make these improvements I should have less need of money and hopefully I should gain greater freedom and quality time. I live in a place rich with natural & sustainable resources, I hope to spend my time with these. I can have warmth, shelter, food, good company & inspiration all for a fraction of what I am paying at the moment. But I need to make adjustments to my life and home to allow the effects of these. There are also things I will need to do without, luxuries that many a suburban dweller would consider too great a loss, but from my view I will consider my life to be richer without such things.

Within the gloom I found my eyes had adjusted, paths lay before me. I have a feeling my journey is only just beginning.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Mists, The Wolf & The Phoenix

What a difference twenty four hours can make. Last night I took to my wanders among the mists and rain. In the light of the full moon the mists carried a white glow between the dark forms of the trees and gentle rain relentlessly fell upon us in the darkness. I have noticed many people dislike such evenings, but for me they are magical and beautifully quiet. I long since gave up listening to the dull tones of the weather report and the patronising sympathy of the announcer to declare that bad weather is on the way, but never mind. Weather is simply weather and I prefer Billy Connolly's thought of "put on a sexy mac and go for a walk".

Tonight was different and beautiful to the eyes, the full moon lit up the trails and trees, casting long moonlit shadows into the depths of the wood. I glanced upwards to the moon between the trees, the light clouds had formed a wolf like shape in the dark blue of the night sky with the full moon sitting as an eye within the form. Small fallen leaves sat on the trails reflecting the silver light and laying a glorious path before me.

I wandered the paths and gazed up through the darkest of evergreen canopies catching fleeting glimpses of the moon & stars as I sped along the softening ways between the trees. Once in a woodland clearing I gazed upwards again to see the clouds had taken a phoenix like form, again the full moon formed the eye. Looking about me I could see I was the only person for miles, no lanterns, no lights and no human sounds reached my senses deep within the wood.

Given the nature of human beings to dominate everything they can I find such evenings are a true blessing. Good company is a fine thing, but it is well to look upon the distant splendour and stand uninterrupted in awe for a moment. Light, darkness, life and the elements conspire to create a special moment, and I was glad to stand and watch it.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Secret of Learning

I have had many teachers in my life, some paid to do so and others unwittingly giving me far more than they realise. Learning (along with thinking) is something I see as a skill in itself, it needs to be practised and honed. 

Sitting at a desk in a lesson while information is presented to you is only the smallest aspect of learning. Sitting at a desk and drawing in all the information before you is far more significant.

Every part of what sits before the learner tells its tale, from the clothes and appearance of the teacher, the delivery, the marks on the desk left by previous students right through to the building fabric itself. All portray the real message behind the situation, the incidental information begins to speak far louder than the technical lesson. Once I made the switch to this way of thinking and learning, vails began to fall. The systems, thoughts and the wills of others became clear.

Such learning and thinking needs to be calibrated, for this I return to nature. I found when I looked upon nature in the same way, I became part of a world which does not seek to categorise me as humans do. It is life, essence and it is existence in its purest form (with of course vast lessons without the coded language of people). This is something which I find useful when assessing the approaches of others. Their own agendas and the agendas of their upbringing and past teachers become much clearer. I can then learn deeply from them and be well aware of the hidden.

Enjoy teaching what you know,
Enjoy learning what you do not,
Enjoy time spent in good company
And look for the lesson beyond.