Brother and sister: together again

IMG_2694 - CopyAs I write, we are all enjoying the wonderful warmth of the intense sun on our wet fur; it is just like August up here!  We have just returned from our afternoon romp on the beach, an outing blessed in all kinds of ways.  First, the tide was low-ish so there was plenty of room for the holiday-makers as well as our posse; next, Newman’s pool was still just within reach, so we took it in turns to retrieve the ball from deeper water – terrific fun, always guaranteed to get me over-excited and drive everyone mad with my barking. Also this was the day on which young Nico took to the sea, swimming out and back in Barnaby’s wake, fearless and free. He really is a brave boy, just six months old indeed. I took much longer to take the plunge, but then I had not then – nor have I yet – been emboldened by meeting any of the siblings I so loved.

For over the weekend, Nicholas and his only sister, Tiggy, were unexpectedly reunited. Neither he nor she nor anyone else had any reason to think there would be a serendipitous reunion on the occasion of the Scottish Dachshund Club Championship Show, on that day or any other and, moreover, that she would turn out to be living not so far away.

IMG_2113More wonderful still, though, was the reaction when these siblings were re-introduced to each other: the flurry of kisses, rollings, mouthings, squealings, inexpressible joy. In that instant, months and months of separation, new faces and new experiences evaporated like a mist before the sun, and all at once the glorious rays of infant fun and frolic, warmth and cosiness, the togetherness of the whelping box, and memories of a beloved dam, filled their hearts and minds. All those who witnessed the intensity of their pleasure in seeing each other again were moved and silenced; that two such tiny creatures could sustain emotional memories so deep and indissoluble; that they would never forget each other, no matter what. They paused in their mutual delight for the above picture to be taken, a special family portrait to mark a magical moment. That neither Lokmadi Miss Tiggywinkle (to give her her full title) nor her precious brother troubled the judges that day mattered not a jot. For each took home an inestimable prize: touched by the lasting love that will never die and the knowledge that they will see each other again very soon.


View from a bridge

Jack at SnapeIn this photograph, taken many many years ago  from a little boat on to a shoreline path he had often taken on his four paws, there is one thing missing: the lightbulb brightening above Uncle Jonny’s head when he recognizes the much-loved landscape from an entirely new perspective.  Enjoying his boat trip around the tricky waters of the estuary, dear Uncle Jonny ponders, as we dogs constantly do, the circle of life, the deeds of the Dickens Dogs, and the extraordinary fact that, after all, you can get there from here. Last week we trundled along the muddy waterside again. We stopped in the silence of a misty morning and gazed together out over the flats at the few feathery waders who were still about – gazing out into the beloved eyes of Uncle Jonny in his careful little craft, suspended in time and real and true before us.

IMG_1138The afternoon he had looked towards the strip of beach the tide was high; last week the tide was out: Barnaby bounded joyfully to the very spot above which our dear friend had hovered all those years ago, catching him in his mind’s eye. Time stood still and all the years rolled back: the puppies and the learning and the rolling of the eyes! Can so much time have passed?  The east coast of England is a magnificent and evolving wonder, and Suffolk in particular has a haunting and evocative nature. Our keen ears, wet with sea-salt, are attuned to the calls of our ancestors; the cries of those who have seen it all before but still listen out for us, and who watch for us as we cross the mud-flats, waving to their little boats.

Sun and moon and shining stars

another sunrise 6.1.14Today, the 6th of January, is a day of many wonders. As you can see, our rising sun was a glorious moon, cast like a silver coin above the harbour. This is a day of differences, great and small. Today some can at last celebrate as the one on which the animals witnessed a wondrous birth; others mark it as the day on which mysterious travellers pushed the ox and ass aside in order to peer at the wonder for themselves; others interpret epiphany still more symbolically, opening the ice, diving into the Jordan, replaying rebirth and renewal in baptismal ceremonies.  As divers into the waves, that is our choice. Here it is a quiet day in weather terms and quiet here at home, resting by the fire, the place newly straightened, the decor freshened up: only the intense, intoxicating hyacinths throw the ordinariness into relief. Throughout these dramatic and exhausting times, I have played my part with faithful warmth, grasped and grasping, flopping in a furry bundle into Kemo Sabe’s arms, whatever time of day I’m gathered up. As the year turns in this public way, we Dickens Dogs cling to our simple roles. Barnaby jumps up in joy for his daily yoghurt, his tail knocking everything flying. Newman farts quietly but persistently as he sits lovingly alongside. Me? Head out of the catflap come bedtime, I look above in hope but clouds have spoilt my chance of seeing a promised meteor or two. Still, this little magus is holding on for the month’s second supermoon, brought in with the next spring tide. We will have to wait until the end of January for that. Isn’t life full of wondrous things?

That was the storm that was

IMG_1075After the terrible storm last Thursday – which brought to the country the worst tidal surge since 1953 – we have enjoyed quiet and increasingly warm weather. Up here in the extreme north east we’ve been lucky. Warnings in place, we boys still went out for a run on the beach as the winds gathered their forces around mid-morning; it was bright and clear, the tide was still out and the sand swept low as we charged headlong into it, delighted to be out at all as an outing certainly wasn’t expected, the forecast being so dramatic.  As if on cue, once we were back, everything deteriorated quickly and, by tea-time, when these pictures were taken, the sea was out to get at us and all down the eastern side of the country coastal folk were hanging on for grim death waiting for the high tide to power their way.

IMG_1066As we looked out over the harbour, by the lifeboat station where our heroic crew were keeping watch, the North Sea was crashing over a non-existent harbour wall. We watched in horror as one by one the boatmen’s huts – such folly to have left them unstored against the winter – broke free of their footings, electrical cables springing dangerously free from the wall and into the watery air. Like cardboard boxes they swayed hither and yon at the whim of the waves. A steady stream of witnesses, cameras in hand, gingerly ventured down the steep harbour approach, safe in the knowledge there was no possibility of Neptune capturing them there.

IMG_1070From the Farnes, from where the Longstone light shone bright, the National Trust wardens had already tweeted that all the baby seals had been swept into the sea from the smaller islands usually safe from rising tides. Looking towards Bamburgh, all we could see were massive rollers pressed right up against the dunes: all land, all sand lost to the tempest. But there was no rain, no rain at all.

As quickly as the storm had risen, it was gone. The following morning, cleaving to normality, we innocently made our way through the dunes towards our little path to the beach. It was gone! All that lay before us was a twenty-foot drop, which I would have embraced athletically had not Kemo Sabe anticipated the possibility of a problem and held me fast on the lead. And that was just the beginning of it:  twenty foot of beach had been lost, marin grass was strewn like hay, feet deep all along, and access was completely denied. People in the village had not seen a storm like it. ‘Twas a rough day. But no one was flooded, the lifeboat crew did not have to set out, the harbour walls withstood the force of the sea and, for some strange reason, in the pictures that we took, the sun appeared to shine, even though it was dark and growing ever darker.

O brave new world

IMG_0959This morning things  – fixtures, landmarks even – were missing from the beach. What a change in the seashore! The sea has ways of working utter marvels, effecting changes of which we wouldn’t have dreamt, revealing wrecks no one knew about and outcrops long lost to view. We found the sand itself utterly smooth and clear of debris, exfoliated thoroughly. Another enormously high tide had eroded the dunes a little more in places – nothing too unusual there –  but less expected was the utter disappearance of the dead seal which had proved a monument on the same pitch for going on two months, no matter how gigantic the rollers Neptune threw at it. A sad and mournful presence, degenerating slowly but surely as the holes appeared in its thick sides, its sickly pong was a beacon for beasts of all kinds, including Barnaby, who came home reeking of decay the other morning. Now the corvids and foxes will have to find another source of fodder.  Also gone was the affectionately-named urine-soaked rope (a vast, immensely heavy knitted mass of cable, impossible to shift but deeply attractive to all the dogs on the beach, hence its soubriquet), grabbed back by a sea god with lobster pots to secure.  Knotted tree trunks, heavy as concrete slabs, their roots plaited with chunks of rock you couldn’t lift, had been flung far back into the sea from which they had mysteriously sprung. All gone. Even more inexplicably, the horrid pool has disgorged both its water and its sand; it lies empty of all but a residue, a jagged pavement sharp with fossils in place of its soft sides: one kind of repellence substituted for another. In fact it is not really a pool at all anymore, horrid or otherwise. Further along, on the other side of Greenhill rocks, there is now a dangerous drop from the dunes on to the now-exposed volcanic rock a good eight feet beneath to which we unsuspecting dogs (or indeed some carefree holidaymaker) might very easily fall prey. Such thoughts send shivers down our spines; we check that the phone is in the backpack, just in case. This afternoon the tide should be equally high; we shall see what the waters can do.

Deep and crisp and evening

EquafleeceNature has unfolded its wonders over the last day or so, in an essentially everyday way . Yesterday afternoon brought the highest tide we have ever seen – terribly exciting! Though the boats could easily manage the swell as they pursued their course for the islands, there being comparatively little wind, the waves powered up the beach, pushing up their sleeves as they sought us out and forcing us up on to the dunes to find some space for our walk. What fun to ramble through the fields for a change! I used all my spaniel skills to the full as I wove in and out of the grass and scrub, catching on burrs and carrying them off on my tail; whirring past me as I wheeled along, I could detect the bated breath of the creatures crouching low in the undergrowth, sniffing and studying the possibilities. Newman was beside himself, gathering speed once released from the temptation of seaweed and careering around in ever-decreasing circles – always the sign of joy having become unconfined – chasing Barnaby and me hither and yon. My nose was full of the scent of fur and feather: it was what I was born to and for a moment I longed to follow the gun and leave everything else behind.

Image from WikiCommons
Image from WikiCommons

When the day was over and before I lay down for a good rest on Boggis, I gazed up into a dark blue sky glittering with a million million diamonds, some of them shooting past. Outside the ice was already forming, the lid lifted from the earth in anticipation of the wintry windscreen – as brittle as a toffee apple – we would discover first thing the following morning. Visions in the welkin are a common enough sight round here but always miraculous, for all that. The odd aeroplane merely skims majestically across the surface of this deep and dark blue ocean, unable to transcend the glory of the night. Inside the kitchen, I lay at long last in peaceful contemplation on my dearest of beds, my back legs stretched out endearingly straight behind me, my nose attuned to the rich fruit cake gently baking in the slow oven overnight. What a wonderful world it can be when we take it on its own terms.

Save our sardines

IMG00279-20131011-0752By this morning the wind had at last lost some of its power, after about thirty-six hours of terrible intensity. From listening to the weather forecasters on the radio, who view the country from upside down and who just referred to it casually, you wouldn’t understand what we in the north east have been going through. At least it didn’t rain that much.  As it was the sparrows had to huddle in secret on boughs bent to breaking for hours upon hours, all possibility of reaching the fat balls, nyjer seeds or nuts being out of the question as their tiny frames on their even tinier legs stiffened in the blast. We only ventured out once to see what the gods of the wind had been doing, when the sun came out and a Jonny rainbow arching in completeness over the islands drew us like a magnet as we doubled over against the force from the north west.  By chance we hit upon low tide – great joy – and a harvest of jolly whelk shells, all unlooked for. Then the sky blackened, rain began, and all joy was swept away, like the dead seal rolled up to the dunes.

(Evelyn Simak: WikiCommons)
(Evelyn Simak: WikiCommons)

First thing today the tide was frightening high and still encroaching but we carefully made our way along what remained of the narrow strip of beach, towards and over the rocks, dodging the water as it drew up to our ankles, foaming like beer drawn freshly to the lips. The sea foam gathered in enormous billowing puddles on and around the horrid pool, wobbling like living flesh.  A tiny fish flapped fearfully on the shore, abandoned by a careless wave.  It swung energetically back and forth, almost knocking itself out in its fervour. We picked it up and threw it back, hoping he would find enough depth and strength to swim to safety. Gentle little soul, so innocent, so fragile! One from so many such, selected for particularity. The least of these and one to care about. We think about the seals out there and how things are: whether they can rest yet, or at all, knowing as they now know, what the sea can do. A desperate cry from near the look-out post convinces us that someone is warning us to go no further. Turning round we see overhead a mighty skua in the midst of others, fighting with his fellows for a fish.  We stare and wonder.

New moon

Low tide 4.10.13What joy when under an impregnably grey sky we came upon a very low tide this morning!  This gave us an opportunity for extra whelking with nobody about. The routine was changed today – breakfast, rest and only then to the beach, and to a different stretch, too – because the night had been bad: too hot by the fire after a brisk scouring wind; too full of memories, and disconnected dreams; too many interruptions of one kind and another.   A ponderous overload. So we missed our daybreak slot, always a sadness. But what could have been disappointing turned out well. By the time we got to St Aidan’s, the wind had dropped and a long way off, crashing relentlessly towards us at a very safe distance, there was the sea, bringing the whelks in as the tide turned.  You are forgiven for thinking every picture I post looks the same.  But this is a big sky state, our own Montana, where what is seemingly so constant is really full of mutability. We creatures of habit thrive in the giant framework that sky, sea and sand give to our lives, while our noses – especially mine – focus on the tiny variations in shape, smell and seaweed, which change as the moon’s phases evolve, turning our life forces within each one of us. Though I am youngest, my responsibility is rewarded with freedom denied nearly always to Mr Seaweed (who cannot restrain his obsession) and frequently to Mr Sensible (who forgets he must go easy on his knee). Loner that I am, and spaniel that I feel, I dive and jest, snort and shout, raising the scent with my outstanding ears – ever attentive because of them to the whistle or the call of my name. Within what is indeed a sunless but also in effect a cloud-less landscape, where sea and sky elide, unblinking we embrace our thoughts and breath the warm air in. So much to think about today: the death of one moon, the birth of another; the death of one season and the arrival of the next; the end of one life and the beginning of another, whenever that day comes.

New dawn, new day

IMG00085-20110523-1705While embracing life and all it offers means the world to me, every evening I reach a point where I simply long to be allowed to rest. My urgent demand is for the big bed to be put down in the kitchen so that, even if Newman is too asleep to move next door and unready to turn in, I can contemplate the day’s doings as I drift into sleep.  Perhaps it is the time of year, but I feel more than usually touched by things just now. Is it any wonder when you think about the week of contrasts I have shared: the gentle tearfulness of Durufle’s Requiem; memories of a Black Country town which, forty years ago, changed a perspective on life forever; Britten’s 2nd String Quartet, which leaves one with so many unanswered questions; the inexpressible excitement of a Michigan home match; the incomprehensibility of yet another little soul abandoned to his fate in an act of cruelty which doesn’t make any sense to someone who has known nothing but love; a cherry cake, wonderfully fragrant, newly taken from the range; the kitchen floor washed carefully, as I moved helpfully about; the warmth exuded by the sun-drenched score of Lawrence of Arabia – I have watched, listened and learned but, most usefully, I have clung close while others sustained these impressions. For this is what I do.  I have felt the emotions nestling in my fur.  I am very full of words this week.  Yet it is pictures that haunt us. There was a scowling man, swathed in ammunition – what could possibly be in his heart?  A white lion clutching a meal of chicken-filled pumpkin; the disgraced Rasputin, a tiger who attacked and killed his keeper; the magnificent stallion, cursed by gypsies, a white giant throwing an industrial backdrop into relief, shot by his terrifying master.  Yet this morning the sun was warm on our backs, the sea calm and the tide low and so it is natural to revive one’s spirits, find the strength to endure and soon give thanks for the lore we live by.

To everything, a season

High tides have shaped our walks recently, pinning us to the dunes and the smelly seaweed line.  Choppy grey seas will bring the whelk shells in over the rocks, though, and we will harvest them in the fullness of time.  PIp 099There has been a great change – the wind, the downpours, the cold, the lighting of the fire. In a week exactly I shall begin the third year of my gorgeous life. The beginning of a new era, my new year.  The end of the summer brings the new year, and we had a lovely honey cake to mark it. So much better than starting again in the depths of winter, where what you see and smell is actually only the appearance of death. That September day six almost identical spaniels were born; when I concentrate hard I smell them still on Little Brown Dog.  A dim memory, replaced by my boys, big Newman and Barnaby, and the world of the ever-heartening  stove, (so warm against my back when the wind blows the cat-flap through the night), and the magic jellies and the daily doings which delight me so.  Reaching out to remember, my eyes begin to cross and I can only settle gratefully into my present happiness, wherever it comes from and wherever it goes.