Solvitur ambulando – It is solved by walking – July 2022
5th June – rain and heat, close. By Maxim Griffin.
Already the debris of the Jubilee floats downstream – the bunting hangs heavy – Sunday teatime – a man who has had enough is guided home – the air smells of cow parsley, elderflower and supermarket barbecues.
We’ve had news – a den in the woods we have tended for several years has been trashed – nothing else for it – pull it down and rebuild stronger – my young assistants head into the depths of YouTube for ideas. A-frame? Lean to? Ray Mears? Carlisle 195? We pile out with enthusiasm and schemes.
The boys head on, with packs and sticks – we have jute string and a folding saw, skewers, meats and unleavened breads – we mean business.
The beer garden of the most westerly pub is full of pink faces and small dogs.
The swifts are with us – wellington boots through long grass under the screaming sky – thin rain returns, maybe the chance of thunder later – good.
Uphill and out of the boundaries of town – the road is quiet and wet – shining with the briefest show of sun, a little steam rising – through thorns and brambles to the crown of trees. Pile into the woods and find our place – the den stands, for the most part – a little natural collapse, a lot of litter – kids’ stuff – pop bottles and cake wrappers – these we will carry out and dispose of.
Not the total trashing that was expected but we are here with a task and set to it – pulling long branches out and down – the best and strongest kept separate and lashed together at one end, Lakota style. The structure is sound and suddenly impressive – it stands tall – the lads begin piling short sticks all around and within half an hour we have a new den well under way.
Rain bleeds through the canopy – good rain – lemonade is shared around, long fizzy draughts followed by who can do the biggest burp.
The rain drifts east into the big fields – the boys are sent for more wood – nothing living, nothing green – deadfall please – two lads return with logs big enough to turn into benches – diverted, another lad is in the tree line fighting the Battle of Endor by himself, laser beams and light sabres pinging from the stick he wields. John, the youngest, stands godlike over a legion of ants – they too are in enterprise, drones with eggs and soldiers on patrol – John’s stick is a magical totem and he talks softly over the scurrying hoards in a voice more suited to communicating with kittens.
The build is good – a wooden witch’s hat – roomy, dry – third son builds a hearth of pinecones – more decoration than anything else – very wholesome. I keep a small tin for twig fires and stand it off the ground on a tripod of chalks – we have a big lens, hand ground by a late granddad during his telescope phase – it turns direct sunlight into a horrifically hot beam in a heartbeat. With this magic we soon have fire – a few charcoals brought from home added and soon the fire tin is a crude approximation of one of those little grills they use in Japan for yakitori – soon there are five skewers of spiced lamb dripping fat into the ashes – a ticking meat clock – good.
A trace of smoke passes towards the path – pigeon ambient, green – we’re a scene from every point in history – the five of us squatting around the coals with meat on sticks – we’re the apes at the dawn of man, we’re hunters and gathers, we’re Romans in retreat from Germania. Two minutes on the ashes and the pittas billow – I offer salad leaves around and we stuff the breads – hot sauce? I’ve got hot sauce in my bag – fat of the lamb and bitter herbs – no son, we didn’t bring ketchup.
Showers come and go with periods of sunlight – the short nights are here – it’ll be light until beyond 10 – we make the most of it when we can – rig up a rope from a strong looking branch – if it holds me it’ll hold you – cautious and inelegant swinging, but the device is capable – hurried turns are taken, more draughts of lemonade are poured out.
A howl – the youngest in the nettles, fists bright red with stings, he wipes away rare tears. Of course, the oldest cure in the world is your own urine – however, today we will use the combination of spit and dock leaves – good enough.
Tidy up – bag up some cans and cake wrappers, pop bottles – ashes and coals sent to the bottom of the largest puddle we find – the aim, of course, is to leave no trace – in this instance we leave a new den, which in the fullness of time will rot away – but if we keep adding and rebuilding…
The den is a legacy of sorts.
cyclist cycles up the path next to the wood, very bright yellow hat, sweating and puffing – big raindrops approach.
Is that thunder or a wagon on the bypass? You can see a blackening over the west and a slate grey movement on the eastern horizon – let’s get going – be bedtime when we get back, John. A
On tracks backlined with poppies – big, wet petals, seed heads, red – boots through puddles, deliberate puddle jumps – slaps and splashes – we’re filthy from wood and smoke and muck – we’ve got to get a move on, the weather is coming – big black behind us fast – promises made carrots on sticks: sure, we’ll stop for ice creams from the Spar shop; sure, you can play Minecraft when we get in.
The deluge lands hard – we duck doorway to doorway – there’s a massive gazebo in the beer garden and men are huddled under it with the bunting and empties – we stop to let a frog pass and John talks to the frog as though the frog were a kitten.