Summer song

100_0751

Walking around the cemetery on New Year’s Eve the sky was still and clear, no silver, almost transparent moon yet, rising above the sea looking like a silver sliver of dried honesty in the pale night sky. Instead there were gulls circling silently and intently overhead, weaving endlessly in and out, never touching or interrupting the arc of another bird.

After a while I chose one single gull, and watched its movements, following its wide circles and trajectories and swoops until finally it headed out to sea in the direction of Little Barrier Island, which hovers, misty indigo, on the horizon.

It felt like a holy silence, the tracery of the gulls’ flight woven like a network of silver filaments overhead, the cemetery a cathedral, silent, sacred and undisturbed. The Universe may have been un-aware that it was New Year’s Eve around Planet Earth, but surely that thought -form which meant we were all conscious of this moment in time, must have created that charged and sacred energy which I was feeling then.

Today it has rained. Things can start growing again, and I can stop watering – for a few days anyway. The countryside has the richness of high summer. The trees are billowing with green foliage, the fields have been cut for hay, and the grass in the meadows is so high that when the calves lie down, their heads just peep out of the tops of grass heads, plantains, buttercups and clover. I thought I saw a flight of big brown butterflies the other day, and it was the tips of their velvet ears reaching out of the pasture. The thrush in the garden sings continuously between pecking at the apple nailed to the top of the fence.

Tonight I was strolling round the cemetery, and the harbour below was the deep dark green of an Arthurian mere. It was as still as a mere too, and the boats at anchor were reflected with perfect clarity. Turning to face out to sea, the ocean was quite colourless with a deep band of blue on the horizon.

I’m constantly re-filling the dogs’ water bowl by the pavement. I hear them slurping away, as people walk past to the beach, thirsty Labradors and dobermans, bitzers and bichon frises, poodles and pointers… even a bulldog.

Earlier today, reading James Lees-Milne’s diaries, listening to the summer rain, I discovered his description of an English summer night in 1946: “the smell of new-mown hay and hedgerows, of eglantine and elder… how I love these long gentle Shakespearean summer evenings…”  Me too. The scent of the queen of the night comes drifting in from the open window at night here. It’s sweet and lovely… but I miss that indefineable atmosphere of those English summer nights.

Those nights throb with nostalgia and a richness. Somehow, it’s as though the layers and layers of lives lived in those parts, the echoes of history stretching back beyond memory and beyond record, the people in the millenniums before Christ, who trod out the ancient paths that still thread across hills and ridges and valleys and fords, can all still be sensed. The voices are silent, but their presence still lingers, as one century after another passes across the meadows and the woods.

The oak and the ash, the hazel and the hawthorn, the holly and the honeysuckle have been growing there since the last ice-age twelve thousand years ago. The smells, the sweet blossom, the new mown hay, the whiff of manure, the fresh rain, the damp leaves, have smelt the same in every age and every summer since. Standing in a quiet English lane on a soft summer night, you can feel those long centuries, and it is very touching.  I haven’t experienced a summer evening for a long time. I’ve always been back in autumn or in winter. But I must savour a June night once more!

Feeling homesick for the English country-side, I got “Far from the Madding Crowd” and “Tess of the D’Urbervilles off the top shelf of the book-case, and had an orgy of Hardy. Tess first, and the sweetness of Talbothays farm, then Bathsheba and her story… I read it differently this time, not so much for the drama of the story, but for the feeling of the country.

So I really took in for the first time, the delicious characters of the farm-folk, and the details of farming life, from the signs of an approaching storm, to the rituals processing through the year of lambing and dipping, and fattening and shearing, to the yearly sheep fair, the shearing supper and the harvest supper.

It was a way of life which had existed for over a thousand years when Laurie Lee in the enchanting ‘Cider with Rosie’, told the story of his childhood, and an archaic way of life  which then vanished forever, with the combine harvester, chemical farming, agri-business and of course the destruction of communities  by the carnage of the First World War.

I’m always struck in Hardy’s books, and in Jane Austen’s letters, by the isolation and “localness” of country life back then. So many people hardly ever left their village, unless they were gentry, and the next village was a foreign country. So when people fell in love in these tiny societies, and lost the object of their affections, through death, departure or rejection, there was often no-one else to love. People literally did grieve and die in different ways, from broken hearts.

Hardy’s description of the hopeless love by the dairy-maids at Talbothays farm for the un-attainable gentleman, Angel Clare, had the unmistakeable ring of truth.  I remembered from closed societies I lived in when I was young, whether in an English village, or a tiny colonial community far away from any other European habitation, how intense relationships were when there were no others. No-one could console themselves before the population explosion, and peripatetic habits of the twentieth century, that there were plenty of other pebbles on the beach. There weren’t.

Yet now, though I live in a tiny village with only four hundred souls, we are no longer prisoners of geography. Not only do people take off to holiday in Alaska and Italy, and their families return from Vancouver and Hanoi, but we all have the world of the internet at our fingertips, to use that well-worn, but accurate cliché in this instance.

It’s eighty- six years since Thomas Hardy died, and in those years our worlds and our lives and maybe our minds have expanded beyond imagining. The world is our village, and the internet is our community. There are pebbles past counting and wherever we direct our vision, we can find the glory of summer somewhere around the globe at the push of our buttons.

 

Food for threadbare gourmets

Apart from being full of healthy fats, potassium and Vitamin E, avocados are delicious.  I sometimes use them as a dressing over a salad. To one avocado you need  ground coriander – I use a quarter of a teasp, but less is more… the juice of a lime or a lemon, quarter of a teasp of ground cumin, a tblsp of apple cider vinegar, salt, and about half a cup of water. Whizz these ingredients until smooth and creamy, and use straight away.

 

Food for thought

To write or even speak English is not a science but an art. Whoever writes English is involved in a struggle that never lets up even for a sentence. He is struggling against vagueness, against obscurity, against the lure of the decorative adjective, against the encroachment of Latin and Greek, and, above all, against the worn-out phrases and dead metaphors with which the language is cluttered up.

George Orwell, English writer 1903 -1950.  Wikipedia records that : ‘His work is marked by lucid prose, awareness of social injustice, opposition to totalitarianism, and commitment to democratic socialism.’ Animal Farm and 1984 have continuing relevance.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

61 Comments

Filed under birds, books, consciousness, cookery/recipes, culture, food, great days, history, jane austen, literature, love, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized, village life

61 responses to “Summer song

  1. Great post, dear Valerie!
    We wish you a very happy new year!
    Lots of love from North Norfolk,
    Dina & Co

    Like

  2. You paint such a beautiful picture with your words. I almost thought it was summertime here and I could go and see these things myself.

    Like

  3. your food for thought gave me food for thought–and I love the idea of avocado dressing|!

    Like

  4. Absolutely beautiful and vivid descriptions of country life. The world is our village, and the internet is our community. So true and your living in a village of 400 is proof of that. No longer isolated. You make me want to go back and read all that rich literature once again.

    Like

    • Hello Lynne,
      So good to hear from you… glad you enjoyed the post…our new world is amazing, isn’t it – to be connected with you and our blogging community brings it all home, doesn’t it !

      Like

  5. What a refreshment your post was to read as I sit in the beauty of silently falling snow, gradually piling up! The world is open to so many now. What a blessing that is! I like the quote. I’ll have to steal it and pop it into my blog one day. 🙂 Thanks. Many happy returns on the day and the upcoming year.

    janet

    Like

    • Dear Janet, thank you so much for commenting… I rather like the idea of the glorious snow storm silently enveloping you in its beauty…. Keep warm !
      Glad you liked the quote, it’s very illuminating, isn’t it, happy new year to you too, Valerie

      Like

  6. You can conjure up images to rival those of Hardy Valerie. I wish you a Wonderful 2014.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    Like

  7. As we await the predicted snowstorm here in the northeastern part of the US I read your beautifully peaceful, tranquil post, thinking how lovely your descriptions are, and how much I would rather be where you are then where I am right now!

    Like

  8. I can appreciate your longing for home and hope you can visit an English summer very soon….
    Happy New Year from Canada!

    Like

  9. HI Valerie, a beautiful post – starting with singling out the gull and onto the scents and sounds of high summer. Mind you I can’t agree with you on hardy, he and I never got on (not since I read him for my A levels! But Laurie Lee (another school text) and Austen I’m with you! I understand what you mean about the quietness and loneliness of country life in generations gone by, I often wonder when I’m in the Alps how isolated those small communities must have been in winter.
    Wishing you a very happy new year, Claire x

    Like

    • Claire, lovely to hear from you, really enjoyed your comments – poor old Hardy suffers from being a school text! BUt have you seen the film of Far from the madding crowd with Julie Christie and Alan bates and Peter Finch… just gorgeous…
      Happy New year to you, and happy predator- free- human and otherwise, gardening!!! Valerie XX

      Like

  10. Feeling homesick stinks doesn’t it. I am entranced by the image of you filling up the bowl of water doWn on the beach? track for the walking dogs.. what a truly wonderful thing.. I would be so grateful ,as a walker of dogs, to come across a beautiful big deep cold bucket of water for my pooch.. you are such a darling.. c

    Like

    • Celi, you are the darling… you understand the homesick thing don’t you. and I would love to ease your way when you feel like that…
      Oh yes, I’ve had a water bowl for thirsty creatures outside my gate wherever I am for the last 25 years at least – it never gets stolen, and sometimes people drop silver coins in like a wishing well !! Bigger birds bath in it too, which is why I have to change it so often – who knew birds were so dusty!Lots of tuis and I’ve even had a huge wood pigeon perched on it drinking…and of course, cats as well as dogs – especially in the city… I could write a little book about my dogs drinking bowl !!!
      Including the wretch who came out of the cemetery on a rainy day and washed his muddy shoes in it !

      Like

  11. Beautiful writing, a respite from my hectic morning. Thank you.

    Like

  12. Luanne

    Glorious scenes you’ve painted for me, Valerie. That’s how I feel when I read your posts: that you’ve written them just for me. And closing with that image of the clutter of dead metaphors–ah.
    Your book was shipped to me on December 23, and I await it with impatience!

    Like

  13. Dearest Valerie,

    I know how those dogs feel as I drink the sweet, cool water of your words. I, for one, am glad the Internet showed up when it did, for I am the richer for knowing you and walking in your world.

    Kia Ora,

    Doug

    Like

    • Dear Valerie,

      I hope my friend doesn’t mind if my comment dovetails with his for I don’t feel I can express it much better. This way I can speak to you both for the two of you have taken me to new heights with your beautiful writing. I’m richer for it. Without the internet this would never have been possible.

      Shalom, Aloha and Kia Ora,

      Rochelle

      Like

      • Dear Rochelle,
        Thank you so much for your generous words, which are completely undeserved on my part… but I’m so glad you enjoyed the post… and yes, the internet is a gift we could never have imagined, isn’t it… linking like minds, love Valerie

        Like

    • Dearest Doug,
      I am the lucky one to have a poetic reader like you…thank you for your lovely words, and of course, I feel the same about the internet,
      with love Valerie

      Like

    • Dearest Doug,
      I am the lucky one to have a poetic reader like you…thank you for your lovely words, and of course, I feel the same about the internet,
      with love Valerie

      Like

  14. I spent one and a bit summers in England and they remain unforgettable. Sometimes, I sense something of that summer evening feeling in Christchurch …in an almost, but not quite there way. Our summers can be lovely but, for me, there is a certain rawness in them, as if I and the landscape are not yet entirely at ease with each other. And, yes, please do write a little book about the dogs’ bowl. It would be delightful.

    Like

    • Dear Gallivanta,
      How lovely that you understood what I was trying to describe… and I’m so glad you experienced that indefineable beauty of the English summer… I know what you mean about summer here… it’s as though the layers are missing in a place which hasn’t been continuously worked over, lived in, fought over( maybe yes to that!) and loved over for milleniums…
      Thank you for your enthusiasm for a dogs bowl book !!!!

      Like

  15. I have that sense of time and history in the countryside too. Just one correction: Laurie Lee’s “Cider with Rosie” describes life in the countryside after the First World War. It’s an odd reflection on society that the carnage of the First World War, while it devastated huge numbers of families, had far less impact on the culture and lifestyle of the countryside than the combine harvester, refrigerated food transport or the internal combustion engine.

    Like

    • Thank you so much for commenting Simon… I loved it that you too feel that depths in the beauty of the countryside… re Cider with Rosie… I thought that was what I had said… and in Laurie Lee’s village, the death of the heirs to the squire’s property meant the breaking up and selling up of the estate and breaking up the way of life of the community

      Like

  16. Another wonderful painting with words Valerie – and you’re so right, in this diverse blogging community we can experience the seasons everywhere.

    Like

  17. I am yearning for summer. Your writing is beautiful as always.

    Like

  18. Ahh, the ancient ones…I can see them also. Although, I have never been to England, nor experienced a Summer night. Sometimes in my dreams I ride with Boudica, or lift my arms to a star light sky where the groves of Old Oaks once stood. Sometimes my wild and unruly Irish ancestors speak to me of chases across the green land as the wild hare hides quivering under the hedge row.

    The beauty of the peopled times speak volumes to us today, but few can hear…truly few can hear.

    Linda
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com

    Like

  19. Received my site stats from WordPress– and you’re my #5 commenter! Wow–what a great support you are–thank you!! Best in 2014!!!

    Like

  20. How you bless your readers with your vision and your far sight. I always am able to slip away on your words, it is a peaceful journey and welcome.

    I hope your New Year is sprinkled with many joyful moments one after the other.

    Like

  21. Dear, dear Val,
    So good to hear from you, and I wish you joyful moments, and the sun shining through those clouds.
    Thank you for your constant support and encouragement, I really value it,
    Love valerie

    Like

  22. Dear Valerie, you, like Hardy, are a fabulous writer of place; when I read Hardy, I am struck by how omnipresent a role the natural environment plays in the lives of his characters – so many of us have lost touch with that environment. But not you 🙂

    Like

    • Dear Michele,
      I’m so glad you appreciate Hardy too, he was wonderful with his sense of place and atmosphere and history, wasn’t he…from the harshness of Egdon Heath to the gentleness of Talbothays water meadows… he never falters… how generous of you to compare me with such a giant! Thank you so much for your lovely comment…

      Like

  23. Dear Valerie, This is an absolutely beautiful and artistically crafted post that transported me into reflections on beauty and the the transcience yet continuity of time, I enjoy your writing very much. All best wishes for 2014! Dee

    Like

  24. A marvelous post, perfect for the beginning of a New Year. Last night I was thinking of England, when I toasted J.R.R. Tolkien at 9 pm local time to celebrate his birthday. And then today, when I met with my sister and mother for coffee, we sat next to a table of the most amazing women – at least 30 of them crowded in the corner. The owner of the coffee shop said it was the “widows club” that met ever week to exchange laughter and ideas. We all thought that this would make an excellent movie with Judy Dench and Maggie Smith in lead roles. The point being, that it is a wonderful thing to remember, to cherish, and to love what has come before – not it a way that prevents us from moving forward; rather, that gives us courage, hope and steadfastness to continue. My word for the year is “courage” – it is something that I am keeping in my mind as I go forward. Tomorrow, I am heading out to Calgary, solo! I confess I do not like flying – so I will meditate on courage on the take off.

    I love walking with you…

    “For still there are so many things
    that I have never seen:
    in every wood in every spring
    there is a different green.”
    ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

    Like

    • Oh Gosh, Rebecca, so many things to say in reply… thank you as ever for your lovely enthusiasm… I loved the snapshot you gave me of your life, and the fun of the coffee shop !. Now I’ve read your post on Tolkien, your remarks are even more relevant, and oh what lovely lines from him – thank you good friend, looking forward to tripping down the primrose path with you this year !
      I hope you enjoy your trip to Calgary and come through your ordeal of flying triumphantly..XXX

      Like

  25. Dee, thank you so much for your generous comment, – appreciation from another writer is always precious … best wishes to you, and lots more poems please !

    Like

  26. Happy New Year!! I so loved “Tess” but always find her story so so sad, but you are right, the description of the countryside is so so lovely. Worth a revisit! Best to you, xxoo

    Like

  27. “It felt like a holy silence, the tracery of the gulls’ flight woven like a network of silver filaments overhead, the cemetery a cathedral, silent, sacred and undisturbed.” I love this sentence so much. I read it a few times, savoring it.

    I hope the first week of the new year was wonderful.

    Like

  28. Thank you Valerie, for this colourful, gentle walk in the surrounding of your current home and further through time and space. I have been cherishing every word of it!

    (By the way, great quote from Mr. Orwell and I agree with him – from my lay, non-native speaking perspective… – Oh, and I love Avocados!)

    Much love,
    Steffi

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s