Just one of those days

20170710_064337This morning, trundling along the beach (so far, so routine), it felt different. It was just one of those days: magic, despite evidence being to the contrary. Rather grey and utterly still; the sea quiet, and almost indistinguishable from the sky. A tide drawing ever nearer (by the end of the week, we’ll be watching our step), but plenty of sand still stretched ahead of us, and the waters themselves touched the shore tentatively, gently. Looking about, you might expect it to be chilly, were it not 14 degrees and so a good five more than yesterday, when the sun was bright and clear. Obviously, the clouds were on our side. The unexpected nature of perfection can surprise us; it is true that – often – we get what we need.

20170710_064625.jpgIt seems months, and probably is, since we left the dark morning runs and Kemo Sabe’s vital head-torch behind. It will be several months until they resume. Meanwhile we sustain an ever-growing number of holiday-makers for whom a morning such as today’s, and the deterioration in conditions which followed it, is usually a disappointment, deterring all but the weather-hardened from the beach, and crowding the coastal castles, their galleries, gardens, grounds and tea-rooms instead.

20170510_074634On such a morning, there’s a kind of hush, as though a great juggernaut has just past by, as visitors sigh and rest a while longer on their pillows, gathering their thoughts and changing their plans in the face of the weather forecast, while the locals quietly look about them, the veil lifted in the peace.  Above the kitchen window, some resident sparrows  – who’ve already raised one brood (pictured here) in their house-martin box – decide to mate again, committing themselves to each other for more weeks of tireless work, placing their faith in something bigger, and another day. Part of the joy of this area of England is the changeability of the weather, sometimes from hour to hour. Only this Saturday, it was sweltering and the place was full of folk. But this morning was magic and then the rain came, and the birds took to the mere, bringing the bird-watchers joy. ‘The Poet sees!/ He can behold’, as Longfellow writes:

How beautiful is the rain!
After the dust and heat,
In the broad and fiery street,
In the narrow lane,
How beautiful is the rain!
How it clatters along the roofs,
Like the tramp of hoofs
How it gushes and struggles out
From the throat of the overflowing spout!
Across the window-pane
It pours and pours;
And swift and wide,
With a muddy tide,
Like a river down the gutter roars
The rain, the welcome rain!
The sick man from his chamber looks
At the twisted brooks;
He can feel the cool
Breath of each little pool;
His fevered brain
Grows calm again,
And he breathes a blessing on the rain.
From the neighboring school
Come the boys,
With more than their wonted noise
And commotion;
And down the wet streets
Sail their mimic fleets,
Till the treacherous pool
Engulfs them in its whirling
And turbulent ocean.
In the country, on every side,
Where far and wide,
Like a leopard’s tawny and spotted hide,
Stretches the plain,
To the dry grass and the drier grain
How welcome is the rain!
In the furrowed land
The toilsome and patient oxen stand;
Lifting the yoke encumbered head,
With their dilated nostrils spread,
They silently inhale
The clover-scented gale,
And the vapors that arise
From the well-watered and smoking soil.
For this rest in the furrow after toil
Their large and lustrous eyes
Seem to thank the Lord,
More than man’s spoken word.
Near at hand,
From under the sheltering trees,
The farmer sees
His pastures, and his fields of grain,
As they bend their tops
To the numberless beating drops
Of the incessant rain.
He counts it as no sin
That he sees therein
Only his own thrift and gain.
These, and far more than these,
The Poet sees!
He can behold
Aquarius old
Walking the fenceless fields of air;
And from each ample fold
Of the clouds about him rolled
Scattering everywhere
The showery rain,
As the farmer scatters his grain.
He can behold
Things manifold
That have not yet been wholly told,–
Have not been wholly sung nor said.
For his thought, that never stops,
Follows the water-drops
Down to the graves of the dead,
Down through chasms and gulfs profound,
To the dreary fountain-head
Of lakes and rivers under ground;
And sees them, when the rain is done,
On the bridge of colors seven
Climbing up once more to heaven,
Opposite the setting sun.
Thus the Seer,
With vision clear,
Sees forms appear and disappear,
In the perpetual round of strange,
Mysterious change
From birth to death, from death to birth,
From earth to heaven, from heaven to earth;
Till glimpses more sublime
Of things, unseen before,
Unto his wondering eyes reveal
The Universe, as an immeasurable wheel
Turning forevermore
In the rapid and rushing river of Time.

The vicissitudes of life

 

20170221_130308A week of ups and downs; of Freddie Frankfurter and ‘Doris’ Day. Kemo Sabe laid low with illness; the weather swinging wildly between winter and summer, throwing everything at the country on one mad day; an enchanting encounter with our newest relative and me, your gentle author, in pain once again. What a week it is proving to be.

20170219_072818At first it was so extraordinarily mild. 16 degrees and still only February, we thought! Daily, the eggy dawn illuminated our morning run reliably once again. Truly, we have turned winter’s worst corner, we thought for, whatever the storms to come – whether rain or snow – might throw at us, we have regained the early morning light and our hearts swell to be united with it once again. Our high-vis vests and Kemo Sabe’s head torch have been stowed away until the depths of next winter. Leaving the house first thing takes a good ten minutes less than it used and, except for the muzzles, we are free to bounce on dunes we can see and clamber over rocks without fear. The wind careered forcefully, but warmly, from the west and we looked around and were pleased. That is, until I injured myself in that mysterious way of mine which nobody has ever witnessed and, hors de combat, I was left alone, at home, while the others got on with things. It is depressing and, indeed, I look very depressed by my incapacity. What is there to enjoy for a spaniel like me If I cannot run free and enjoy trundling again with the boys?

20170221_130429All of this happened after we said goodbye to our tiny nephew, Freddie, with whom I think it’s fair to say that we are all smitten. Maybe I pulled something playing with the fearless little chap on the floor. Nico couldn’t get enough of him,  latching on to his writhing form and arching his back with delight as the childish one gazed in admiration, fascinated at his size and similarity. The siblings and their little nephew have such a lot in common and look like a family. Beloved sister Tiggy watched on in dignified silence – utterly ignored – as did I, at the furious and fearless antics as Freddie and Nico rolled and darted and squirmed and chased about, their eyes only for each other. Come back soon, we say.

img_3tet8wStorm ‘Doris’ threatened us with snow but, in the end merely chucked a day of rain at us and some moderately high winds – miserable certainly but nothing terribly dramatic, unlike other locations, particularly to the west. The next day, by contrast, the sea had settled and the sun was out, crisp and clear the air. Our garden birds, as hungry and ever, waited for refills in the feeders, nyger seed providing the veritable flock of goldfinches we now entertain on a daily basis the sustenance they need to see them through.  Their plumage is wondrously bright, new minted, one could say. How wonderful to look and feel so well.  As for my poorly shoulder, or whatever it is, I will leave it in Kemo Sabe’s prudent hands, as it were. I have enjoyed some lovely meaty meals today, and extra biscuits, too, hand fed by her, as I lay prone and disinclined to put any weight on my left front leg. Perhaps another couple of days’ enforced rest will ease things up; if not, it’s the vet’s again, I suppose, and who knows what after that. How we long for ordinary times again.

 

 

‘No beautiful thing lasts . . .’

20160914_165238Carl Sandburg was right. Just look at it today!  To the left of these trees, Bamburgh Castle lies atop the Whin Sill wreathed in sea mist. Ever since dawn we have struggled to see familiar landmarks and, as the day dragged on, we saw less and less of the world as we know it, taking on trust what we believe to be there but is now utterly cloaked in murk. It feels miserably damp and chilly, despite it not being that cold. But it is one of those days on which all the landmarks shift and nothing is but what is not. The islands beyond the harbour have disappeared, the sun is resting and most of the seagulls are silent and thoughtful. The sparrows and tits got up late and have retreated to their resting places for most of the day, huddling together wistfully. The contrast with yesterday could simply not be more extreme!

20160914_170107Exciting things continue to occur, though. For the next ten days location filming for one of those big blockbuster films – Transformers: the Dark Knight – is taking place on the beach nobody but us wanted this morning. Just past six today, a crew was laying track and digging out the stream to carry cameras and equipment on to the dunes; wherever are we, the expressions on these men’s faces seemed to say. Around them the fog rolled and thickened.

To 20160914_165845think that one day soon millions  will watch the fruits of their labours on screens across the world; that we’ll be welcoming Anthony Hopkins and Mark Wahlberg to our familiar trundling-ground; that money will be made from making Oswald’s beach a place of action; that celebrity footprints will displace those who have gone before – the saints included – on this historic shore. And that tide after tide will efface them all as time brings in the darkening year. As for us, the closed beach (a first!) means that running towards the rising sun will take less time and, ironically, bring us into the light more quickly. A metamorphosis indeed.

 

Season of fruitfulness and unexpected plenty

20160907_122146The weather this last few days has been absolutely glorious and today the country is expecting somewhere or other to break the records for September heat: the hottest it has ever been this late in the year. Up here we have the paradox of Summer clasping hands with Autumn. Everywhere you look, there is plenty, bright sun and yet the feeling – despite everything – of emptying out. The arable fields have yielded their crops and along the newly-dug furrows our seagull friends do homage to the newly turned-over earth which has nurtured the cast-aside cereal they can fight over and enjoy. The roads are choked with agricultural vehicles bearing grain to the store beyond Bamburgh where it is weighed and dried. Just outside the kitchen window our vigorous fig tree keeps putting out more and more branches, bearing the tiny fruits which will never be ripe enough to eat; we are grateful for the tree’s optimism and fecundity, results which show that no effort is 20160907_122340ever in vain. Our apple in the front garden – far from ideally situated as it is overshadowed by several other lovely trees – is laden with rosy fruit; despite their size, they’ll be tasty and crisp, like last year’s crop. There are still plenty of colours out there, too. Though the wild roses have now finished flowering for good, their rosy-golden hips remain, both as food for the birds and as ornament to the world. The laden branches bend thoughtfully over the florets on the buddleia bushes, mostly brown now, and regularly dead-headed, but still a draw for the butterflies of all kids which have drunk from them hungrily over recent days. Nearby, other roses remain, cream and darkest pink; they will persevere for some weeks yet but their buds are increasingly unwilling to open, even when brought indoors. Several local families of swallows and housemartins are making the most of this Indian Summer, cascading across the sky and chattering wildly to each other as they gain confidence – and weight – when the majority, including our sandmartins, started their long journey in the mist and mournfulness at the end of last week. Thus, we are saying goodbye and good day simultaneously: things are different, but they are also very much the same. As Carl Sandburg wrote:

I cried over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts.
The field of cornflower yellow is a scarf at the neck of the copper sunburned woman, the mother of the year, the taker of seeds.
The northwest wind comes and the yellow is torn full of holes, new beautiful things come in the first spit of snow on the northwest wind, and the old things go, not one lasts.

 

 

‘Springwatch’? We’ve got everything right here!

20160524_065845We hear that BBC’s Springwatch is going to be filming on the Farne Islands again for the new series of this extraordinary live programme, shortly to be nightly on our screens. Whether it’s the puffins, gannets or guillemots – of whom there are currently thousands stinking out the islands with their guano – the Farnes have no shortage of wonderful bird life during the breeding season with which to delight the audience, and that is without mentioning the seals whose inquisitive antics always draw the cameras.

20160524_065546

 

 

 

But on our own little beach trundle this morning it was all too obvious what wonders this area of Northumberland provides by way of a daily feast, the sea fret yielding gradually to intense sunlight upon the incoming tide which had even cast up a little pink sea monster, beautifully disposed upon the sands.

20160524_065220On a less glamorous, more everyday level, as May deepens into the lushness of June, everything around us on our daily perambulations seems remarkable. The heath behind the dunes and everyone’s gardens never look lovelier than now: birds never more songful; creatures  – great and small – never busier. Skylarks abound, and always do, but summer warbling visitors of all kinds are singing away from every type of bush. We have lost the curlews inland for now but above us the swallows dart and the martins chirrup. The dunes are drilled full of sand martin holes and the terns fight each other, over what we cannot know.

20160524_065933On the stone wall which separates his haunt from the hares running amok in the neighbouring field of winter barley, father pheasant patrols in the early morning mist. Fearlessly, he addresses the crow who comes too close to his family concealed nearby. Every year it is the same.

20160524_071804On the beach, near the horrid pool, the lumbering and much-loved toads have reappeared, mated and now – encouraged by the sun – their tiny offspring have wriggled into life, thousands of them 20160507_072124dancing for joy in their brackish backwater, straining for growth even as the water  – such as there is – recedes. How remarkable that year after year the parents return to find this little pool – a stone’s throw from the sea – retaining enough rain water (the only pool for more than a mile) to give their progeny a chance.

All that without even mentioning our nesting gulls! Finding the spikes a very acceptable sprung interior for the wads of dried vegetation they’ve pushed between them, affording the couple what looks like a very comfortable bed, they are once again ensconced on the chimney stack, awaiting the birth of this year’s brood.  Up there they now contend daily with our jackdaw family, whose nest is in the rear chimney, laying down the law to them regarding when to approach. Come one, come all, I say.

 

Come unto these yellow sands

20160506_070626Yesterday was, for us up here in the extreme north east of England, the first really lovely day of early summer. After a few weeks in which winter’s temperatures returned with a vengeance and, whatever else was happening with that light in the sky, it remained cold and windy, yesterday we all felt we had at last crossed the boundary between one climate and another. Today the sun’s warmth fulfilled its promise, rising cheerfully and posing charmingly above the islands and the sea. What wind there had been had dropped overnight, maybe to a 2 or 3 on the Beaufort Scale (there was no shipping forecast on the radio this morning, so Kemo Sabe says we can’t be sure); the beach was deserted, the tide a way off, the rocks revealed and the sands as comforting as the beams which warmed them.

On such a morning, as we all gaze in wonder out towards Holy Island and Cuthbert’s hermitage on Inner Farne, blessed beneath such an expressive sky and such promising light, sparkling with possibility, it’s not hard to see why this place has a magnetic quality and transformative power, too. One’s imagination fills with words from that poignant creature, Ariel, about how the sea brings home its riches, some of greater worth than others, to such a shore as this. The famous words are sung here as they were at Stratford for the RSC in 1978 by the much-missed actor Ian Charleson, with music composed by Guy Woolfenden, who died only recently and whom we will always remember for bringing the songs of our favourite famous poet and dramatist to life in memorable and unique ways.

 

 

Welcome hither as is the spring to the earth

20160425_073658It is with something like delirious joy that we can report the return of the sand martins to our dunes.  Forerunners – we hope – to the house martins we’re just longing to welcome back to our part of the world, the first sand martins suddenly turned up last Thursday, resuming their domestic duties in their perfectly preserved and previously abandoned little nest holes which pock-mark the dunes above our sandy morning trail. Increasing in number every day since then, the sand martins’ aerial dances are becoming more hysterical and expressive as families are reunited and old friendships renewed: how relieved they must be to have completed such a marathon safely, having made it back to the land of Oswald and Aidan once again, all the way from the other end of Africa. Unfortunately, the wind turned northerly today, so sand martins still on the wing – and there must be thousands of them – will find it tough to push north, if our little kingdom is their desired destination.

At the end of our run along the beach, the sky blackened with impending rain and, by mid-morning there was a tiny blizzard, which we thought was cherry blossom blown upon the wind. How fond we are! Despite the gales, the sun has supervened and it’s been a cheery day. Christopher Wren checked out his nest box and was dismayed to find the blue tits well ensconced therein; he helped himself to a consolation prize of dried meal worms  and then disappeared into the hedge, probably to check out another favourite site. Above us, on our chimney stack, the jackdaws are content and busy, much more relaxed since last year’s gulls have found another nest site and stopped staring down into the jackdaws’ nest. You can see how intimidating these intelligent creatures find the herring gulls, staring with their beady eyes and daring them to move towards the entrance.

It is remarkable how much pleasure the birds give to us all. We watch the bulky wood pigeons, so patient and so ungainly, yet so capable of stillness, and chase them into flight when we get the chance. We wish that the starlings, so numerous, so noisy, wouldn’t eat all the fat balls, put out for the sparrows, our loyal little friends. We long, one day, to see a raven for real – the magic corvid who found St Oswald’s severed arm. Every day we notice more and more of the wonderful in the entirely ordinary. Every morning, winter and summer, the sands below the massive fortress of Bamburgh are our palette, on which the imagination works its colours and, on the anniversary of his birth and death, the words of the most famous of all famous poets come, once again, to mind:
The blessed gods,
Purge all infection from our air whilst you
Do climate here!