Solvitur ambulando – It is solved by walking – December 2021
31st October – grey/luminous/elsewhere. By Maxim Griffin.
The clocks have gone back – first stars by teatime – Venus already settling into the southern horizon. A couple, a man and a woman, a quarter of a mile out and digging – in the west, home – the shore from Anderby Creek down to the outer reaches of the Nene – we’re in low orbit around Lincolnshire, outside, looking in.
There’s a sudden burst of bird action – starlings – a steady pulse a few feet above the ground – tiny heartbeats moving as one – then gone – back down into the dazzle of silt and reflected sky. A gaggle of children in skeleton regalia are marshalled by a pale woman who calls the name of the loudest skeleton over and over – there’s a plastic bucket of Celebrations on the go.
A salt and pepper sky summoning evening colours – weak sun, long clouds, vapours, reflections and shadows – gleaming one second, gun black the next – heavy weather coming up from western Anglia, direct sunshine on the peaks of the original Butlin’s. Look – look harder – the dormant hotels of Roman Bank, falling out of season until the turkey and tinsel wagon’s up.
Must be practice night – bell ringers from somewhere – peals fading in and out from somewhere – difficult to tell from where though – could be Norfolk – the spire at Snettisham sticks out of the east – Vespers from elsewhere. A bloke trudges down the edge of mud and shell, a pair of binoculars, after a bit of quiet time – just popping out for a bit of goose hour, maybe a pint on the way home, maybe two if the goose going is good.
A few dog walkers about too – locals who walk up from the village, big daft yellow dogs that hurry after ancient and rancid tennis balls, some from away who pay over the odds at the car park – you hear the driver cursing as they key the license plate number into the machine. A wisp of cloud changes direction – more starlings – an elderly man makes his way up the shingle, huffing.
A large vessel points to the port of Boston – pull focus through binoculars – a red hull – it’s difficult to read the shape of the ship through the glare and the movement of the shallows, but it’s shore leave in Boston tonight lads – the ship moves steadily on. Look – beyond – something taller across the water – the tower of St Botolph – with a keen eye and a steady gaze you can see light pass through the distant pinnacles and from this vantage around midwinter, the sun will set behind it as though it were the lidless eye of Barad-dûr.
A figure approaches the digs in the mud with an urgent wave – the skeleton children caper along the shingle, scoffing chocolates and selecting flints and shells – there’s evening colour beginning to gather on the inland woods, but that is the wrong direction. Keep looking west, keep looking homeward – there’s rain across Gedney and just the edge of a rainbow, which cannot quite summon itself – in another time, Joseph Turner stands on the same shingle, looking in the same direction – getting it down fast, water, colour, light. The sound of the skeleton children jangles on, the promise of tricks and treats, the promise of chips – the pale woman calls them to a sandy track that leads away.
Geese call – lots of geese – hundreds in flight coming from the marshes – first come two waves – they wheel in the descending sun – above hundreds more, the grand overture of a sky on the blade of winter – big band free jazz that flies – an incredible moment of motion and sound – they pull in formation to the south west – skeins before brightening Venus – the squall toward the Nene moves west revealing the weird spires of the northern fen.
At sea, the stems of the windfarms begin to glow and little beacons pulse at the extremity of the horizon – the tide changing – ochre shallows filling up again – the diggers load up. The oldest maps apply a strange name to the Wash – Æstuarium Metuonis, the reaping estuary – the sea moves fast through the intertidal zone – the diggers haul their buckets and shovels in. A father and daughter appear at the top of the shingle – he’s close to 40, glasses, beard – she must be 4 at the most – imperious and wearing a conical hat of a cartoon witch – she points in outrage at the man with the shovel “No digging here!” – he chuckles, bless her – the genuine upset continues – “No digging here” tears now – screaming now – the wordless howl. The diggers head down the track, looking over their shoulders – the witch’s hat tumbles along the pebbles – there are jackdaws among the starlings and geese and the sun sends long shadows away.
Darkening – orange and silver streaks west to east – Jupiter and Saturn up in the south as Venus heads out of sight – there’s the toothy face of a pumpkin lantern flickering in the window of a parked up camper van – there’s the brown tide coming in, frothy, ominous – it’s no secret that every tributary that flows into the Wash is also carrying the collected sewage of the greater Lincolnshire area – mind where you paddle.
Already the lights of Boston shimmer, reflected in the sky above the Stump – this is how we see the earth curve – lights that shine just over the edge of the horizon, towers that peer from beyond it. It’s getting cold, the degrees of twilight arriving fast – there are geese out there – pull focus again on those binoculars – fireworks – twenty miles west – silently cracking the sky brightly.
Something sploshes through the water – a single grey seal bobs up and down – checking things out, north and south – one clear, hard look to land, to the hatless, teary witch – and the seal cuts the surf back west, perhaps to join comrades at the breeding grounds beyond Skeg at Donna Nook. The witch’s father bends, picks something up, holds it out to the girl – flint with a hole – she reaches for it and vanishes.