‘This is the way the world ends’

Lance CorporalWe do not know where our great uncle Edward – our grandmother’s only brother –¬† is buried. So many thousand others like him are commemorated in anonymous graves like this one: serene, rather chilling, but dignified and beautifully looked after, nonetheless. This weekend, a hundred years ago, the guns finally fell silent and, out of a green and pleasant land from whence our ancestors¬† emerged centuries before, a wasteland was revealed – a place of bones and emptiness, made all the more disturbing by the intermittent chirruping of sparrows and the bloody poppies which found their time to have come. As someone famous once said:

This is the dead land

This is cactus land

Here the stone images

Are raised, here they receive

The supplication of a dead man’s hand

Under the twinkle of a fading star.

 

Is it like this

In death’s other kingdom

Waking alone

At the hour when we are

Trembling with tenderness

Lips that would kiss

Form prayers to broken stone.

 

IV

The eyes are not here

There are no eyes here

In this valley of dying stars

In this hollow valley

This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

 

In this last of meeting places

We grope together

And avoid speech

Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

 

Sightless, unless

The eyes reappear

As the perpetual star

Multifoliate rose

Of death’s twilight kingdom

The hope only

Of empty men.

Extracted from ‘The Hollow Men’ by T S Eliot

 

Waiting for the whales

Three_Beached_Whales,_1577Today we came across yet another young grey seal corpse, rolling in the surf of high tide. This one was upside down (and, it turned out, headless), so clearly dead already, which is a kind of relief in a way; sometimes getting them back in the water can be such a chore and potentially very distressing to them, and indeed dangerous for us. We are always excited when we come across them, in their various stages of disarray and indeed decay; occasionally we get a chance to cover ourselves in their wonderful scent, bringing ourselves closer to something authentic about animal life – and, it has to be admitted, death. Why is that, I wonder?

Never a month goes by without at least one or two stranded seals, the worst being the fully grown ones, which find it almost impossible to return to the sea from our beaches¬† without quite a bit of tricky human intervention because the beach slopes so gradually here that it’s really hard for them swim away naturally – even at the highest tide – once they’ve been deposited onshore. When the tide is particularly low, which of course corresponds to the very highest tides – the world being what it is – the body count begins to multiply. It is little comfort to recall that we have nearly two thousand seals on the Farnes this year; that another little death will make no difference. We sorrow terribly over the distress, perhaps even more than the loss of life, and summon the British Divers Marine Life Rescue to help us out.

20160121_082355Over the last few days several sperm whales have been found beached on the east coast of this country. One by one, despite lots of kind folk trying to shoo them back into the North Sea, they have all died, and we are all saddened to see them lying helpless and gasping, uselessly out of their element. Sperm whales are our favourite cetacean and, though it would be terrible and sad, we would be thrilled and honoured to gaze up close at Moby Dick and think about his wondrous life, diving deeper than any other creature, grasping with his neat rows of peg-like teeth the giant squid we know that we will never ever see, travelling miles and miles from one end of an ocean to another. What strange journey brings them literally to our shores, beside this, the shallowest of Britain’s seas? It is as if they seek encounters out, sacrificing everything for the meeting of minds.

Though we saw the sunrise we found no whales, just an empty beautiful beach which every day brings something from its nothingness. You never know; once Uncle Johnny found a little dolphin, so we shall keep our eyes open. As someone famous once said:

Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. 

You can see and read more about the Lincolnshire whales at these websites:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/sperm-whales-skegness-beach-norfolk-a6830881.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lincolnshire-35400884