Well met by moonlight

1024px-supermoon_jan,_2018
Supermoon January 2019  by Rashik Rashmee (WikiCommons)

Before dawn on Monday, we emerged on to a Bamburgh beach cloaked in darkness. Despite the lengthening days, and an encroaching dawn, it might as well have been midnight that morning; the night had been so overcast. Only a little sliver of the moon was initially visible.  Almost immediately, though, a great glowing red disc burnt through and presented itself. The wondrous blood moon – the supermoon; the harvest moon; the wolf moon – call it what you like. Standing proud at last, in contrast with the cloud cover, the moon intruded and illuminated all at once. Without hesitation, we spoke aloud Nick Bottom’s innocent words, ‘Sweet moon, I thank thee for thy sunny beams. / I thank thee, Moon, for shining now so bright.’ Though we didn’t see the eclipse up our way, we were delighted to witness the enlarged and unexpected presence of our earth’s special friend, the secret life of which does so much to make our trundles possible at all, lighting those darkest moments before the dawn.

The Elizabethans thought of the moon as a planet in its own right and, though they were misled about that, the fact is that our moon has a profound effect on the life of both the earth and us upon it. The moon is the ruling influence and measure of all things in Shakespeare’s magical masterpiece, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and just as the Mechanicals employed it as a torch by which to rehearse in secret, we boys rely upon it to negotiate the icy rocks, check out distant strangers – canine or human, steer clear of pools left by the moon’s own tides and find our way to safety up the dunes when the waves are pressed by tidal surges. Whether blood-red, cold or watery, whether we enjoy revels beneath its gaze, whether moonshine blesses our endeavours or casts us into despair or madness, the moon’s transformative power is always affecting us. We both  listen to it, and thank it for what Bottom calls its ‘gracious, golden, glittering gleams’.

20190121_074419By the time we reached Seahouses, the clouds had cleared completely and the most beautiful dawn had completely chased that sunniest of moons into oblivion. This hand in hand the instruments of illumination work upon us, bringing us hope and life, and making a ‘good grace’ of what might otherwise seem an unknown fear – what the new day might bring.

 

The end of the beginning?

20180508_150721‘Now is the month of May-ing’ . . .

. . . and – at long, long last – as if by magic, the wintry scene has shifted, the sky has cleared, the wind dropped, the sun is out and all natural things are on the move.  All this time, as we mourned the loss of light and life, the divinity which shapes our ends has been quietly at work and with this weekend’s gloriously hot weather, which curiously coincided with a national holiday, the fruits of those labours were gloriously made manifest.

Only last week migrant birds were still a rarity:  since sighting the first few sand martins in mid-April, the rest of the usual crowd were nowhere to be seen as we looked up day by day towards their nest holes in the dunes, entrances now obscured by the winter storms.  Only last Friday, there were but four pairs of house martins at Bamburgh dunes and none had flown over our house. Though the church swallows had safely returned to their roost inside the porch of St Aidan’s in Bamburgh, across the fields generally the usual laughter was missing. Such a long-delayed Spring made everyone sad and sorry. Every day for the last 20180430_070254month we have carefully checked the natterjack toad pool for signs of spawning, and every day we found nothing except a dead adult male a couple of weeks ago; and so we passed on and waited. Instead, the beach was strewn with plastic detritus and dead creatures, like this poor dolphin, washed up having half-delivered its calf – an eloquent image of time out of joint. Thus it was that April passed into May, and nothing much changed, except the daily to and fro of rain and chill and mist and murk.

20180508_064739But, at last, the Spring ‘clad all in gladness’ has indeed burst upon us and ours are the riches. As if by magic, the brackish toad pool was early this morning chock full of tadpoles and by the afternoon the sky above the dunes swirled with an ever-increasing number of martins, feeding furiously and staking their claim on last year’s mud nests under the sewage works eaves. Our faith is awakened: no matter how dreary our routine seemed, Spring has indeed banished Winter’s sadness and, even though we know the clouds will gather and the showers intervene, for all things must pass, there’s no denying this tremendous step-change in the seasons. No matter how transient life’s joys, it is in recognizing them that we are blessedly human, as Touchstone knows and Jacques cannot admit. Indeed, this is a moment for unalloyed celebration, an As You Like It moment, and here expressed so simply and so optimistically, with music by Thomas Morley, in Shakespeare’s song from that glorious pastoral comedy. Sweet indeed are the uses of adversity:

 

 

 

 

‘Out of this wood do not desire to go . . . ‘

20170618_174941.jpgTiny achievements and homely happiness have done their best to counterbalance the awful uncertainty from which this country as a whole has suffered over the past several weeks.  When we learnt that young Frederick had won his class at the Border Union Championship Dog Show (beating his own breeder’s splendid young dachshund to boot); that the very next hannah rccday at the same show our dear Dalmatian friend, Hannah (Buffrey Hanky Panky by Dalleaf) had won her class, having only recently won the reserve Dalmatian Bitch CC and Best Puppy at the Scottish Kennel Club Championship Show; that our blue tits have, as we suspected from the silence surrounding their now-abandoned box, successfully fledged – a deep feathery mattress being all they’ve left behind; that Kemo Sabe has decorated the 20170401_105338circumference of our pond with fossil-encrusted swirls, and paved under the garden bench and made the composter more approachable as a result; that we are, as of now, all well and free from medication (a daily benison – good health – and we thank God for it); when we catch sight of the soaring martins chasing dreams across the whitewashed walls, gobbits of mud in their beaks, charged by the sun’s intense rays to build something and build it now, now that their tummies are full and the time is ripe; when we welcome friends and laugh with them, and choose 20170618_174857.jpgnew tiling and consider floors; close the new shutters against the beating afternoon sunshine, and cut the fragrant roses, pale and creamy, for beside the bed; feed Hammy spindly pea shoots and fresh basil, which he dips into day long. All these things and many, many more. Well then the strife, the discord, the amazement of recent events begin to diminish in intensity, becoming merely part of what there is, the ‘remote continents of pain’, as someone famous once said. So, you that way, we this way. Remember: I’ll give thee fairies to attend on thee.

 

Much of the hearing of it but little of the marking of it

20161118_071043In yesterday’s eerie pre-dawn light, with a ribbon of cloud running right along the horizon behind it, Inner Farne was transformed: our perspective on it altered, as though we saw it from above, surrounded by the sea, instead of set upon it, against the horizon – the way it actually looks, because that is the way things actually are. It took a goodly while to work out what was awry; why its dimensions and position were so changed. Bishop Berkeley would have been amused; or so Kemo Sabe said. While she pondered, we set about our routine exploration of the scents at the top of the beach, both shrouded and heightened by the extreme darkness the last vestiges of the night permits us before we set off towards Seahouses, and the strengthening rays of the sun. Truly it is indeed easy to imagine a bush a bear by night!

We anticipate the arrival in a month of the shortest day – our favourite day of the year –  while currently things are darker than ever and we leave for our trundle under a starry sky and crescent moon. No wonder we can’t see clearly. Yet, we muse, how many moguls of one kind or another have mistaken and misprized things this year, seemingly despite all the reflection in the world, the considered outpourings of the ablest minds, or most experienced analysts. So much noise, so little sense – or so it seems. All of which media-noise is so unlike dear Uncle NuNu, apparently deaf to Kemo Sabe’s repeated calls each morning; the same calls we all understand and respond to, and always have; he knows exactly what those noises mean; he hears them but does not mark them, as it were. We forgive him on account of the fairies, with whom he is away.

20161123_073348This sorry sight eloquently expresses the arrival of winter on the north east coast, first with Storm Angus and now with persistent zero temperatures. The sands are crisp with frost, the outdoor dog bowl is solidly iced over and Kemo Sabe simply cannot keep up with refilling the bird feeders.  Cold, enduring and profound, has tiptoed in the footsteps of the gale force winds which banked the sand in new dunes and forced a roiling sea to disgorge this mother and child high on the beach, having rung the life-force from them both. When first spotted, the mother seal was still watching her baby wearily through exhausted eyes, but she too gave up the fight lying beside her dead little one. This was our first sad sight of the winter months.

20161118_072949But life has to go on and, while the winds roar round, putting us all on edge, and the sparrows had to brave the terrifying gusts in order to build themselves up for another night huddled together in the hedges, and the cat flap closed against the north wind meant neither I nor Jeoffry could have our freedom, Newman had to make his important visit to the vet: after a whole day without food, and nearly twelve hours without a pill, he underwent his annual blood test to check how he and his liver are coping with the Epiphen he takes for his funny turns. The answer is: very well, as it happens. All except for his disinclination to pay any attention at all to commands the rest of us jump to obey. Like the media, he is in his own little world, where delightful lift-music prevails and ifs and ans are pots and pans.

 

More precious for their rarity

Pip 6.5.16Today we celebrate the tiny yellow flowers which have sprung up here and there upon the heathland where we walk come afternoon.  To some, ordinary and unremarkable because so commonplace in our literature; to others, precious because so rarely seen.  John Clare, that poet of nature, referred to them in this sonnet:
The dancing Cowslips come in pleasant hours;
Though seldom sung, they’re everybody’s flowers:
They hurry from the world, and leave the cold;
And all the meadows turn from green to gold:
The shepherd finds them where he went to play,
And wears a nosegay in his mouth all day:
The maiden finds them in the pleasant grove,
And puts them in her bosom with her love;
She loves the ladysmocks: and just beyond
The water blobs close to the meadow-pond.
I’ve often gone — about where blackthorns stood —
And got the Bedlam-Cowslips in the wood;
Then found the blackbird’s nest, and noisy jay
And up and threw the Cowslips all away!

How few today can take these gorgeous blooms for granted, treating them so wantonly. The faery has more respect, knowing the worth of every living thing. We of the upper world – humans and dogs alike – gamble and gawp, tumbling over tussocks as our concentration falters (yes, Puck is still out there, playing tricks!). We look for pearls in everything we see but, as yet, have found none in those little florets. Here are one Fairy’s words, taken from that most jewel-like of plays:

cowslips 6.5.16Over hill, over dale,
    Thorough bush, thorough briar,
 Over park, over pale,
 Thorough flood, thorough fire.
 I do wander everywhere
 Swifter than the moon’s sphere.
 And I serve the fairy queen
 To dew her orbs upon the green.
 The cowslips tall her pensioners be.
 In their gold coats spots you see.
 Those be rubies, fairy favors.
 In those freckles live their savors.
 I must go seek some dewdrops here
 And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.

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.

 

 

Witnessing fancy’s images

IMG_1197Freshly coiffed, here I lie beside the saltire of my father’s country and ponder the fact that, by first thing this beautiful morning, all evidence of the film-makers had gone from the beach, save the scaffold – now charred and worn from the work to which it had been pressed. A lonely relic among the dunes, we hope it will be left until reclaimed by wind and weather over the years to come. An empty stage is always evocative and – no matter how briefly peopled – ghosts persist, as we boys know better than most. Reading the signs of other realms of existence – an excellent tracker – head down, I charge along employing my spaniel-isms; the poetry, the images of time and place, footprint and breath; what once was there and now is there no more.   Shakespeare, who seems to have understood everything, through the character of Macbeth, his own creation, shows us that he understood the difference between dog and dog:  the swift, the slow, the subtle,/The housekeeper, the hunter.  Interesting isn’t it, that at the point of choosing a suitably ruthless murderer to take on the assault on Banquo, his own best friend, Macbeth reaches for his knowledge of mankind’s truest companion? Yes, we have our uses, and our talents; ‘bounteous nature’ throbs in our veins. You may have left us, Michael Fassbender, but I – a small spaniel – can detect you still! Other recent posts have reflected on the sudden transformation wrought here by the arrrival of the Macbeth shoot.  In the village car park, now bereft of all the trainers, vans, equipment, coaches and trucks, only the marquee survives. No doubt by the end of the week, that will have vanished, too. The other sort of magic has all gone. But only in a sense.

If you would like to see some other pictures of the filming, you will find them here:

http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/lifestyle/showbiz/hollywood-a-lister-michael-fassbender-filming-6748107

Giants’ robes and a dwarfish spaniel

Macbeth
photo courtesy of Bamburgh Castle

These beetling black figures, viewed from the castle crow’s nest, are not about to besiege or attack Bamburgh but are in fact, even as I write this, busy about their harmless work, peopling the dunes with suitably clad extras for the new film of Macbeth.  Long inky capes are the order of the day, and there are masses of them: a high five to the firm that landed that order, methinks!  Outside the pavilion on the village side of the castle, these dubious figures are gathering in inky swathes, delivered by incongrous mini-vans from the shoot head headquarters in the car park across the road.

Theatrical transformation is so thrilling; the everyday is briefly touched by a dash of stardust and little creatures like us are caught in its sparkle: a  wondrous world wherein, as in a dream, a bush atop a sand dune is easily supposed a bear. We cannot help but wonder what these busy and numerous newcomers, professionals and amateurs alike – with their boredom-redeeming Sudokus, thermal coffee-mugs and knitting – are making of this place, but we hope they like it here.  Knowing that, by the time we trundle along the sands on our familiar way tomorrow, the Thane of Cawdor has cantered on before us, will lend a special magic to our steps. But the reality of routine is what a dog loves best:  a whiff of crushed crab on a slab of volcanic rock I’ve bounced across a hundred times is the true magic; it wrinkles my nose and sends me onward, ever onward – to seek more joy beneath the castle walls.