So now for a few days each year it snows. We are challenged to go outside. To be nostalgic for the old days of frostnip and unsteady balance.
Our cri de coeur – ‘ Winter – Buy NOW While Stock Lasts’
I walk cross country twixt shopping mall , industrial estate and dubious pony enterprise. A cloud – slate grey , but like, those blue -grey slates I’ve only seen in the Welsh Highlands – looms. Down the road from me a white line emerges and crosses the gap between us. It runs up the rod until me the field, ponies et al are submerged in hail.
Some kind of specialised hail that the Inuits or the Icelanders have a word for, but sadly not I.
Day Two –
Dumyat is the highest hill protruding from below the cloud. It still receives the weather, for which there are many words in Inuit or Sami, and is a reasonable grandstand.
I am asked , ‘What do I believe in, but don’t question?’, which of course, I can only answer obliquely , staring down at the slate (yes, that slate) grey meanders of the Forth.
It is good to be having this conversation here, with the attendant mild peril, and the possibility of tripping over into exposure. To remind us that there might be an external reality after all.
But it is possible to look out at the vista, the gaps opening and closing, as if from the stage where the drama of my life is playing. And the different, but complimentary, stage also happening where I get cold, and the edges begin to feel less concrete – lets call it numb.
My answer concerns gestalts, the things we pick out of the background.The pattern of lights we detect. The constellations in the stars, the data in the noise, the gusts in the wind, the eddy in the storm. And you can only stay there for a while.
Day Three –
I am following a badger path through the woods. It has, I feel, the feel of a purposeful trail, made by a creature, of unknown purpose, but a confident one. It contours around objects in clinch space , yet aims directly towards something – scent or sound, I assume , apparent during the long dark night. Badger time.
I have wondered about coming out here then. I own a good headtorch, which would aid my progress, and alarm the badgers. To switch it off would reverse the tables. To blunder in the dark down the runs of a powerfully awed predator in its home patch, feels slightly disrespectful.
The path ley-lines its way back to the sett , a hardhat area of ongoing (de) construction where the signage cordon hasn’t been applied. Badger bypasses and clover leaves link recreational and industrial zones, while a (fallen) trunk road heads out over the stream to the fields. The mouths of the setts hang open , expressing blank bank vigilance.
Its Dog Walk Wood, but the hounds are restive and puzzled, on their circuits. Lurking amongst the trees, with a badger aspect, I watch them twitch and skulk off. ‘Good musk that – should have a go at bottling it..’
It s the sort of place a Gruffalo might live, with its terrible teeth and hideous claws. Axel Scheffler’s illustrations of the Deep Dark Wood work well as schematic memories of the gloom of boreal forests, and I suspect for younger listeners may have become as much of an ur-expectation of correct arboreal form as the Hundred Acre Wood was for me.
It feels right that ,in this shade of broken branchlets and vertical trunks, is some hidden fierce animal. And while the clamour to restore some of these to our shores claims some spurious eco-authority , methinks the real reasons are in the stuff of fairytales.
These however also had God and the Devil. Now we have The Gruffalo. An impulsive menace to the woodland folk , yet readily controlled and neutralised by the legend of the Big Bad Mouse.
I like The Gruffalo’s Child even better, which may also reflect the reality of my own reading couplet(and also restores the original gender balance to the fable). The Child challenges the recieved wisdom of the Mouse legend, and with it the nature of being a Gruffalo ( she being young and bright , contrasting with her forgetful, timorous, snoring – middle aged! – father). Of course , the trickster mouse does for her too, but by this point the Child has relocated itself from the Gruffalo avatar to the lap of its attendant parent. And remains knowing ( although hopefully also closer to sleep).
‘But what happens to the Gruffalo? (es/ii?)’ , I hope you are all shouting..
We leave them snoring in their hole , wrapped together for warmth , their tracks in the snow our only evidence of their rather unremarkable, yet improbable, existence. Something like the badgers below my feet, on the woodland bank, I hope.
Of course gruffaloes look more like bears( or big foot), but we don’t have any of those left.
Old Brock, has anthropomorphically looked a bit middle aged, myopic and ingallant, podgy and careless about his diet, and in the absence of light could seem a bit like a gruffalo.
Contact with the sharp instinctual needs of actual non-gender specific badgers (Melis melis) risks dissolving this narrative illusion with some speed.
Best let sleeping beasts lie..