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Featured in the October 2019 issue

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5th September 2019 – a great swirl of mackerel sky, blustery, by Maxim Griffin

Back to school. The summer has been a hectic one. The responsibilities of home life and work life – the six weeks of holidays enforce something of a hiatus on my actions. So it goes. Today my young assistants go back and thus I get back to the matters of looking and walking and drawing.

I’ve no plan but a day to work with – so I proceed. Quickly.

A swift browse through the shelves of a local charity bookshop – the usual suspects. Last years bestsellers and Christmas cast-offs. A Deakin or two, another unread Macfarlane. I’m holding out for Rings of Saturn by WG Sebald but it never turns up – keep looking. A few years ago Werner Herzog put out a fierce reading list that I occasionally refer to. Ah, brilliant – The Poetic Edda for a quid. As close a thing as the Norse myths has to a Bible. I slap my money down and head on.

It’s Wednesday. Market day. That means the other charity bookshop up the hill will be open. Good. Another browse. Slower this time as the shop in question often reveals treasures.

The fellow running the place today is a former teacher of my brothers and an acclaimed poet. He shows me a book from behind the counter. I know the name but nothing else. The book is rare and much sought after – A Merlin for Me by John Loft, a local gentleman. Green cover with a sun faded spine. An account of a life spent with birds of prey – some drawings, poetry – the first page I look at is a journal entry for the 5th of September – today, another year ago. The book is well beyond my price range – I make a note to look it up (later, my brother tells me he was taught by Loft, who is still active and is highly regarded in his field, translating 16th-century manuals in falconry – Loft gets an acknowledgement in the back of H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, as does my friend and comrade Tim Dee – I like it when connections reveal themselves…).

On the way out I spot a book of paintings by William Nicholson, an Edwardian landscape artist – I flick through but the one of his I really like is absent – no matter – I should be walking.

Pounding through town westward, up the track to the bypass and over – juggernauts thunder to a crest along the A16 and above the familiar roar of jet fighters heading towards the coast. I check in on familiar haunts. Down into the valley of mammoths, through Welton Le Wold, up and over, down and up and over – the fields have yet to be fully cut – a few baled up – ochre egg shadows in formation – there are scant footpaths that lead away – I head towards Tathwell and pick up the old straight track that runs south west towards Maidenwell.

Listen. Somewhere, getting closer. That thick droning hum.

A Supermarine Spitfire from Coningsby, going through the paces. We grew up on that sound – Airfix kits, playground games, war movies – we’d rush out when we heard them coming – I can’t see it, but it’s close – going back the way I came – the Merlin engine pulling east. A Merlin for me then – connections you see.

The sound fades into the ambient hum of tarmac and traffic. Other haunts to check in on. Through Raithby and skirting Hallington along the paths known locally as the Twisties. The stream from Maltby stream widens to a small lake and winds through a thick tangle of woodland to the edge of the A16 and a recent development in flood prevention works. Debris at the head of the path – road clutter and cartons from fast food outlets. A crow eats crisps that ripen in the sun.

I check in at the den my sons and I built on the back of Fisher’s Hill. We’ve not been up here all summer. I expected it to have been damaged by the elements or wayward youths or both but the structure is strong. Added to even. Good. I ditch my rucksack and heave fresh dead fall up the hill. Bundles of staffs and a few greater limbs. Stack, add, entangle. Stand back – inspect – the idea of the den, such as it is, is for it to be something people add to – pass the den, add a stick – go up to Fisher’s Hill, you’ll find it. Add a stick.

Closer inspection. Two pebbles from the river written on with marker pen.

With Love to Grandad xxxxx

The shape of a heart drawn – Steve X

It seems also that the den becomes something else – a shrine of sorts.

Something within reflects light through leaves and branches – what’s this?

A clear plastic bag, a book and a form. The form acts as a kind of passport – details of the journey it has taken since early August – first found at Whisby Nature Park near Lincoln, then to Thornton Abbey near the Humber then here, to the den, where it has been found and left a few times.

This is good. The den becomes something else again. A library.

The book left here is a picture book based on The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. The original editions were illustrated by William Nicholson – connections present themselves.

A library should have more than one book – so I reach into my rucksack and pull out the copy of The Poetic Edda I picked up earlier and add it to the clear plastic bag.

In recent years so many libraries across Lincolnshire have closed due to council cutbacks. One manifesting in the corner of some woods to the west of Louth seems like a quiet act of rebellion.

If you are passing, bring a book, add a book – then add a few sticks to the den.

I have plans for this – autumn is here, the den is dry but not watertight. There is the matter of shelves perhaps. I will consult my young assistants on this matter.

Onward

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