After the storm

Words by:
Maxim Griffin
Featured in:
February 2024

By Maxim Griffin.

The river’s up – new year leaking from Christmas – grey on grey – time of no shadows – weird days – the feeling that this will be a year to lean into – head down, collar up – across the fields a mess of gulls and jackdaws, a constellation of noise and wings – this January is flat brown and mild, the background of some 16th-century Netherlandish painting, the last roast dinner you remember your mother cooking – the dog’s ahead, keeps looping back, checking – shaggy black and wet – she struggles with a stile because they don’t have them where she’s from – you get a lick as you lift her up and over – she gets it.

Storms thinned out the canopy – dead fall, dead wood – the tumorous bones of an ash held up with ivy and luck – clip the dog on the lead – sheep fields ahead, though none are to be seen – there’s a relic from foot-and-mouth still stapled to a fence post – 23 years ago, blimey – there’s no sheep about but the dog stays on the lead – fresh droppings send her into overdrive – new smells, new smells – she was a working dog in the mountains of Carpathia – her reactions suggest she may have experience with sheep – an internal switch flipped on, old learning hardwired.

Barbed wire with wool – wet and shivering – the wind’s still up, blowing out to sea, rattling the fences, making the sky quick – collar up, lean into it, the dog shakes out the damp and flies along with the look of a pirate flag – the sun is a five penny ghost, cloud-locked, weak – coming close to houses, a track that skirts round then away – two big fields earmarked for development, so try not to get attached – the dog, off through a year-old scrub to see an old pal – the owner’s on the other side, waving – good crimbo?

Worked most of it – the usual chaos, yeah, it was a good day actually – the dogs bound around each other for a few moments then off and away in their chosen directions – see you soon pal, yeah, see you soon mate.

Bolt of sunlight
You get hungry for the sun after a while – vitamin D tablets provide the required chemicals, but it’s not the same as the dazzle and the squint – winter, though mild, has passed largely nocturnally – short, shadowless days followed by nights that dig in – any perceptible movement in the sky is welcome – any shade of pale blue – dog returns with her ball and it gets another launch, mimicking the solar arc, low and hill bound – dog tears after it and into the tangles – the black mass returns with the yellow circle in her fangs – good girl, good girl.

For a second ahead, there was a bolt of sunlight – three miles east and turning fast – that’s the direction then – three miles east – a locked groove of fields and backs of houses, care homes – no one else about – somewhere between celebrations and back to school – the windows are steamed up and the bins are out – black or grey – two miles on – shortcuts and splatter – nearing the river – you hear it first – a picturesque length of chalk stream turned into a pumping artery of soup – the ducks are on land, incredulous at this nonsense, quacking in alarm and outrage – it is, in fairness, a gusher – the earth has been rinsed – Eliot’s river god – strong, brown and intractable, pouring off the chalk and the flint, spilling out across the marshes to bleed into the jaws of the Humber.

There’s no sign of that sunbeam, no glimmer of the solar disc – calm though, despite the waters – a distant flock of geese do their goose thing – big angles over the east – what light there is, is old, worn out – halfway between here and elsewhere – still, another year birthed, the weirdness and viscera of the last few months occupies the flood plains of future days – best then that we set our targets on brighter goals – something shiny and hopeful, something flexible and bold – a torch of rushes and fat sparked to light in the black labyrinths of a prehistoric cave.

Leaning into the year
Schemes are laid out – trips away – camping in the old style – a mission with archaeologists – an arrangement to bivouac in a church – a haunted house – a return to Doggerland – the next six months will be busy and spring will arrive, triumphant, soon enough – this winter can do one – dog turns at the stile for help – mud and hair and a little lick – day’s on the turn – we’ll be home in an hour – next left – let the dog choose – this is always a good tactic – lead goes slack at the junction – her cogs whirring – a bunch of geese pass low, south to north – grey on grey, pink-footed and loud.

The dog wants to keep on, so we shall – there’s a white horse by a blue shed and the white horse is wearing a green coat – the fence is electric and it crackles when you pass – the dog hasn’t yet come to terms with horses – she skips and jumps in a circle – half-excitement, half-fear – the horse in the green coat takes two steps towards the blue shed, creating enough distance to ease the dog’s tensions – come on – the turbines are getting close – grey light casting grey spells – trudge on half a mile or so then perform a gentle retreat – paths are limited, so take the lanes – quiet, dim marsh lanes are perhaps not the safest place to stroll as the day turns in winter – a head torch provides some kind of illumination – fella in a white van slows as he passes, ‘Stop the Cavalry’ by Jona Lewie blasting out – it’s the parcel bloke – got one for you lot – the wife’s in, alright mate, happy new year, cheers pal, cheers mate – we’re not quite at Twelfth Night, but still, his dedication to Christmas hits is admirable – the van trundles on, brass band pumping, leaning into the year, head down, collar up.

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