Solvitur ambulando – It is solved by walking – February 2022
3rd January 2022 – frost turning clear turning to frost. By Maxim Griffin.
Not even first light – coffee and setting stars – the dogs know the score – wellies mean a big walk with the pack – buckle up and out the door – dogs and boys.
It’s cold – proper cold – ice in feathers up the cars and blooming on the skin of the flooded potholes – first light in the deeper east – magic hour – the market hall clock rings out – 7 – an hour until the sun crosses the horizon – shift change night workers heading home – care uniforms, lads from the plastics factory.
The stars are already switching off – Orion fading westward – a bloke sprays WD-40 on the windscreen while the engine ticks over – the telephone pole at the top of the road slices up the sky with two dozen lines – there’s a blush towards the sea – we head down onto the old railway – head torch on – the dogs pull, huffing and sniffing – the beam from my forehead travels the branches and into the eyes of a cat.
On and out of town – getting the new dog used to the neighbourhood – Meg, she’s from Transylvania and has the quietness of a stone – the track leads down the back of ’70s semis – still a few Christmas trees up – there was marshland out here but it’s all getting built on – the sky is getting brighter, no need for the head torch.
A batch of new builds by the garden centre – usual stuff – enough variation to suggest an organic settlement, bad bricks, roads with twee names – Weaver’s Tryst, Badger’s Drove, Otter’s Pocket.
The diggers are on the other side of the road now – a gigantic nursing home sprouting out of the old strawberry field – if you look through the bramble you’ll find the PYO sign – strawberry fields forever.
The dogs are off – there’s a wasteland at the back of the new builds – last year’s teasels, temporary excavations, spoil heaps – the largest mound is as big as a long barrow and several metres taller – instantly compelling – it’s almost daylight – the mound is slippery, unfinished – paws navigate the thistles – rabbit scat, rubble.
The elevation adds distance to the hurled tennis ball – dogs zoom after.
There’s good stuff on the surface of the mound – chalk and flint – good lumps of flint that would be right for knapping had they met the bulldozer’s blade – there must be a seam underground – no hagstones about – remnants of a silver balloon tangled near the summit – on closer inspection, it’s that snowman from Frozen – one of the boys bags it up.
Scanning the clay – after finding a silver cross a few weeks ago we’re paying more attention to the earth than usual – not for the sake of treasure, but narrative – the mound is a jumble sale of possible stories – one of the boys investigates a shard of Edwardian teacup.
The gulls are coming – the new builds are beginning to wake up – there’s an egret standing in the centre of an icy puddle that is the colour of tomato soup – another dog walker – familiar face, waves – we wave and the dogs wag and sniff.
The sun will arrive soon – Polaris is the final star fading – there’s a turquoise line from north to south and a jetliner high and bright – turbines above a rising murk coming from the sea – call the boys – whistle the dogs – Meg gets it – she lollops up the mound and leans into the old winter coat – Banjo, the old springer, does what springers do, and is assigned the most energetic child – they skid down the slope to smash whatever panes of ice they can find.
There’s a red flare over the east – a cloud the shape of Australia and the colour of butter – there’s ground mist rising off the marshland – a heron menaces the dykes – the youngest boy complains about the cold but is satisfied with the double promise of pizza and cake for tea – the sound of pebbles ricocheting – he launches a nugget of chert across the widest pond – it lands with a crack – we all saw the splinters fly up – the boy fetches a great diamond of rank smelling ice up the top of the mound and holds it before the rising sun – a flock of gulls in direct orange light, our long shadows casting on the kitchens of the new builds – the full disc visible – the boy is trying to focus the heat with the ice diamond – the ice is too muddy to trap the light but the boy keeps trying – the shape of the sun sits inside the ice but can’t get out.
There’s a shout from away – fair enough – we shouldn’t really be up here – there aren’t any signs but, y’know – the shout isn’t warning us off – we look around – down at the farthest new build, there’s an older man in pyjamas at the fence – his wave is cheerful, beckoning – the oldest boy goes with Meg – she’s got wolfish looks – we’re on the mound watching the exchange – the older boy looks back for approval – go on – the pyjama bloke passes a black box over the fence – unexpected – the older boy and Meg scramble back through the frozen ponds and smaller mounds and haul the box up to where we wait – the older boy relays the story – he was going to throw it out, but he saw us and wondered if we were the right people for it.
Open the box, a heavy duty plastic job, the kind you might keep a drill in – we pop the box – smells damp, unopened for a time – it’s fossils – fossils and crystals – fist sized ammonites, fool’s gold, bauxite, amber bullets of belemnite.
The boy with the ice grabs a big crystal – a crisp, clear chunk – he holds it up over the ice – it glitters and dazzles, a beam cutting through cold breath – you can see it reflecting on the new windows, on the frosty roof slates and on the new cars, on the frozen ponds, and in the black eyes of a herring gull – we wave to the pyjama bloke with our crystals and dogs, but he’s gone.