Thursday, 22 December 2011

Learning to Fly & Needing to Swim

A small procession of hi-visibility jacketed men trudged through the plywood entrance gate to a building site. Despite the threat of redundancies, work still carries on albeit with less enthusiasm and a lot more mutterings and grumbles from staff. Walking into the meeting room I spotted Karl, a likable fellow who shares my enjoyment of dogs. I decided to grab the seat next to him and enjoy a quick chat before we began with the formalities of the meeting.

Karl is the proud owner of a 2 year old Newfoundland dog. For those who are unfamiliar with the breed they are water dogs and can grow to quite some size (around 170lbs). His training and day to day life is usually interesting to say the least. Within a few minutes he had informed me they were not having a christmas tree this year due to the fact the dog had stolen last years. After hearing rustlings in the depths of the night he crept downstairs to find his faithful dog dragging the tree by the stump from the living room into the adjoining room. He also informed my his good lady had agreed to buy another Newfoundland puppy without first confirming the price with the breeder. I nearly fell off the chair when I was told the cost was £1200!

A couple of hours later we found ourselves leaving the site and walking the steep hills of a peak district town back to a clients office. Once again we returned to our canine conversations, the result of which left me leaning on a wall trying to catch breath between guilty laughter bouts. The previous night Karl had taken his Newfoundland for their usual evening walk. The winter rains had left the ground sodden with several large muddy puddles, naturally the dog enjoyed these immensely and steered Karl towards them at every occasion. Realising he could end up spending quite some time cleaning his dog before settling into a comfy chair for the night Karl made the decision to walk along the much drier tow path to the Chesterfield canal. All went well for a short stretch until something caught the dogs attention. In a sudden burst of energy the dog leapt from the tow path and into the canal, sadly for Karl he was clutching the other end of the lead and was caught off guard. It is apparently a strange sensation to find yourself flying towards the black waters of the canal. He was unsure of turning his flight into an elegant dive or curling up to cannonball. Regardless of the method of entry he found himself swimming, much to the delight of the dog who was clearly well pleased to be sharing the environment with his master.

After scrambling out of the canal he was faced with a cold and wet half mile walk home before being greeted by the horrified exclamations of his partner as he slopped in through the door.

Karl should you pass this way please accept my thanks for the tale, I can only imagine what you will happen while walking a second young Newfoundland. I hope any one else who has called by has enjoyed it too.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Braced Against the December Air

A familiar feeling crept into my shoulders and around my eyes. It was the dull ache of stress and clinging tension, slowing my thoughts and ladening my body with a state of unease. The last couple of weeks have been awkward to say the least. Work issues seemed to be constantly cropping up in my mind. It had not been helped by the high winds and driving rain of the last two days. I had to abandon our usual wanders as it was plainly unsafe to be walking within the woodlands or the country roads, but to try and explain this to my dogs is of course impossible. They remained restless by their containment within the hovel.

Tonight the winds had eased slightly and the sky was clear of cloud and full of moonlight. I decided to take to make a short drive to a nearby woodland and allow a few miles of muddy trails and the roar of air through the trees to clear my mind of the tensions within. Releasing the dogs from the back of the car was a noisy affair of barking and excitement as they rushed along the first track and into the undergrowth. I followed as I could holding onto my hood and wrapped up against winters cold blast. Nervously I watched the tall conifers for a while to gauge their movement in the winds. After reassuring myself of the conditions I felt at ease and stepped deeper into the woodland and away into the shifting moonlight shadows.

The wider trails and clearings left me leaning into the wind and bracing myself against the force, but once within the trees the coldness lost its bite and the warmth stripped away from skin covered by 3 layers began to return. I turned to the smallest of paths within the trees, some are barely a foot wide and tangled with roots, tree stumps and fallen branches. Even with the brightness of the moon I had to resort to the lantern to ensure safe footing. Its white light captured the gentlest of movement in the branches and gave the depths of the wood a feeling of moving and breathing with the winds. The trail would have been impossible to follow were it not for my familiarity with it. A bare branch pointed the way as the trail vanished in the root system of an old tree. As I passed by I reached for the branch and patted it with a gloved hand as I have done many times before, in many ways it is like shaking hands with an old friend.
Passing though a shallow ditch and stepping over a fallen tree I could hear the eerie sounds of the steel gates in a near by field rattling as if an old ghost sought to discard its chains. The hedgerows and oaks stood bare against the starlight with every leaf ripped from the skeleton of the canopy. The winds hurtled though the empty branches rattling them in a strange applause as I trudged through the waterlogged and mud bound pathways beneath them. By the time I reached the drier routes in the centre of the wood I was breathing hard and relieved to be on firmer ground. These routes gave an easy walk for a mile of so back to my aging car standing on the edge of the road untroubled by the vehicles who trawl through the darkened car parks used by the visitors in the daylight hours.

I slumped into the drivers seat and enjoyed a moments rest before heading off. My mind was clear and my body was comfortably tired from the enjoyment of walking and breathing fresh air. I still have many tasks ahead of me for the week, but the feelings and fatigue clouding my mind & judgement have lifted, and all for the sake of a hour or so within the realm of nature and the elements.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

The Crucible of Moonlight

One beautiful aspect of walking at night is the relationship of the scenery to the moonlight and the phases of the moon. Familiar sights can be transformed from the depths of shadow to a resplendent scene in an instant making even a regular journey a different experience every time.

One such place for me is a glade to the western fringe of a Nottinghamshire wood. The closeness to the fields and the greater spacing of the trees seems to act in a way to collect the moonlight and sets itself aglow with the silver light. A fine sight with the woodland undergrowth shifting shadows onto the earth and spectacular living columns of the trees standing proud against the darkness of the deeper wood. Sitting within the centre of the glade are the roots and lower trunk of a fallen tree. Its curious fracture line forms a rustic chair with a seat and a rising shard of its old sapwood to create a back rest.

I often stop for a moment to appreciate the sight before me, but strangely I have never felt the urge to sit within the rustic chair, perhaps something within me tells me the experience would not be as comfortable as I would hope, but also to step into the scene seems an inappropriate imposition. In a moment the scene can fade to grey as the cloud covers the moon but retains its form in the veiled and reflected light. Passing by the glade within the hours of daylight I find it blends with the surrounding wood and is impossible to see the qualities it shows in the night. This is supported by the walkers I have observed marching by without even giving a glance in its direction. It is indeed a pity to see people missing such splendour. There are lessons I carry from this place to help me understand the perspectives of light, scene, passing time, seasons and the elements. I hope you will one day find such a place, a place that is both ordinary and completely spectacular.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

The Rend Limb

The world is awash with languages, from the tones of humanity to the communications of the natural world. The more time I spend in nature with my own mouth closed and my perceptions open, the more I begin to understand of the signals given off by creatures around me. With soft steps on a woodland trail I listened to the sharp calls of the little owl deep within the darkness and the familiar calls of the tawny finding their like high in the canopy above.

My gaze returned to the shadows of the woodland floor as I looked for my dogs. With a whistle akin to the call of the little owl I summoned them from their adventures. Clattering through the undergrowth they appeared on the trail beside me and in their own canine language began to speak volumes without words. My lead dog trotted around me with her head held high and her tail slowly wagging from side to side, closely following was my collie his pace matching the steps of my lead dog as she paraded. Their strutting caught my attention and I wondered why their manner had changed from a few minutes ago. Clutched in the mouth of my lead dog was a stick and for a moment I was reassured of their language and of a game they were playing to establish positions within the pack. I set off on the the trail with the two dogs circling me.

Moments passed before I again became suspicious of their behaviour, normally the stick would have been quickly broken in powerful jaws and the game would be over but the parading and strutting continued. Both dogs stopped abruptly as I demanded their attention and called them close. This provoked a stubborn reluctance from bearer of the stick as she tried to lure me into the same game being played with my collie. I refused to play and refused to lead the pack further on the trail until she came to me. Pace by pace she slowly approached until I could grasp the stick.

Beneath my glove I could feel of fluids of saliva and soft tissue on what was actually a bone of a considerable size. It took some effort to take it from her, but after a struggle I found myself holding part of a leg. Turning on the lantern revealed it was not the butchered discard of a picnic or barbeque from the daylight visitors to the woodland. This had been torn from a carcass and still bore skin and matted fur. It also held a coldness to tell me the poor creature must have died some time ago.

The lantern light reflected in the bright eyes of my dogs waiting excitedly for me to cast it aside, I decided they would not have the pleasure and looked about me for somewhere to dispose of it where it would be out of their reach. I placed the limb within a near by tree much to their annoyance, I suspect anyone walking the trail in the dawn would be given a gruesome surprise should a creature not discover it before they do.

For a moment I considered the fate of the poor fallen beast and a reminder to me of nature in the raw.