While staying with some friends at their South Downs home one autumn, I espied their six year old son Simon making off across the meadow at the foot of the hill. Having been asked to keep an eye on their offspring while they went into town, I took up my walking stick and opened the back door. As I stepped into the sun, I recalled those beautiful hours many years ago when I first walked the slippery grass of the Downs alone and first became aware of their warmth and their beauty. For this reason I remained at a discreet distance and kept well out of sight, not wishing to intrude upon the boy’s apparent solitude. I relived those distant moments with this young child, wondering if his thoughts were parallel with mine.
It was a mid October morning, one of those rare mornings when each distant leaf and twig is etched with startling clarity against the pure motionless air. A faint haze of cloud occupied the northern sky, yet immediately above, the heavens were of such a blue that, even as he gazed, young Simon’s eyes ached at the brilliance of it.
The hedgerows were beginning to thin a little so that he could just make out the faded stubble beyond. Haw berries were in profusion and were difficult to distinguish from the leaves, many of which had turned a deep russet brown. He climbed to the brow of the hill, crossed to the stile in the far corner of the meadow and paused. This was the furthest he had ever been by himself. He knew this meadow fairly well for he could see it from his bedroom window. This is where the big brown cows file slowly by in the drowsy summer afternoons and where, if you are lucky, you can see the rabbits scurrying about in the hollow down by the thicket.
He turned and peered over the stile into a new land, a land of sharp prickly stubble and straw bales stacked in towers across the field like an army marching down upon the red roofed village below. A cloud of finches rose from the ground, as if the boy’s sweeping gaze was of material substance, touching the birds and startling them from their gleaning. The land sloped gently away to the village and there levelled out to the broad patchwork weald cradled within the gentle curve of the downs upon which he stood.
Never had the young boy seen such a view, its beauty being enriched by his apparent solitude. Here, high upon the downs, he was a giant surveying his kingdom and strode the browning fields to the horizon counting them as he went. He came to love the scene dearly as the years went by, often returning later in life to relax in the spaciousness of it; to release his mind, his very soul, to soar high above, around and within and become part of this spacious beauty.
He clambered over the stile and made his way along the headland. He liked walking upon stubble because it crackled and popped beneath his feet and trapped air burst forth from the hollow stems. The day seemed a little warmer now and somewhere high above, a lark sprinkled the field with song. Then a rustling in the hedgerow close by brought Simon’s gaze to rest upon the tiniest mouse he had ever seen. It was the little creature’s white waistcoat that gave him away, for his yellow-orange jacket blended so with the coloured leaves about him, yet, even as he looked, the twinkling eyes and quivering nose disappeared. He dropped to his knees and squinted between the leaves. One leaf in particular caught his eye. It was noticeable by the fact that one side of the central rib was of a deep chocolate brown colour while the other side remained green, and on the underside of the brown half each tiny artery and vein was etched clearly in red. Plucking the leaf, the boy rolled over onto his back and looked up through the overhang of the hedge and on up through the branches of a great beech tree to the sky beyond.
At the zenith the azure had deepened and was of great and wonderful contrast to the coloured leaves about him. He was conscious of the great depth above him yet lifted his arms to touch it, his fingers tracing the graceful boughs above. And there, framed within his outstretched arms, within that riot of dazzling colour, he became aware of life, all life, from the very earth upon which he lay to the cosmic depths his fingertips caressed. He became aware of its vitality, its beauty and its warmth. And the young boy gazed in awe and wondered.
He loved the countryside and the old cottage where he lived with his kindly parents and he looked forward to the walks and picnics they took together. But here was a new experience. For the first time in his young life, Simon was away from home and alone. The great hill and reared itself between him and the little cottage cutting off all visual contact with things familiar. Suddenly, it was as if the countryside belonged to him, it became as intimate and close as his own loving parents. As he gazed above with half closed eyes, the blue sky poured down its warmth upon him; the mild breeze lifted his fair hair and tickled his forehead and the Red Admiral butterfly danced for him and him alone. This was indeed his land. He rolled over and hugged the earth close to him, clutching handfuls of dried leaves. Tomorrow he would discover a new land beyond the shoulder of the downs and perhaps one day he would even reach that distant ring of trees. But not now, for there was a touch of urgency in the falling leaves and the echo of a gull circling far out above the sea, filtered through the wind to tell him it was time he was on his way. So, with a twig of deep red leaves for his mother’s vase clasped tightly in his small fist, the boy arose and turned once more to the hill.
How sad thought I, is the cry of a gull, or was it merely the mood I was in that made it appear so, for echoes of the past, no matter how happy, are always tinted with sadness. Following the young explorer I thought up these few lines:
Hark to the seagull’s urgent cry
Which faster leaps than body flies,
Leaps from the soul, bounds o’er the tree –
Crowned beasts alone above the sea.
Then down upon the ewe-cropped sward,
Through rabbit’s hollow, shaded run,
Along the white and winding track
And up once more into the sun.
And on the salty wind that sighs,
The fading cry looks o’er the sea
To see its birthplace glistening white
And wheeling, circling, ever free.
read the collected work as it is published: here
air & blue & eyes & green & sky wormhole: weight of high sash windows – poewieview #33
autumn wormhole: Lapping Reflections [Deep Within Waters] by Mark L. Redford – autumn
beauty wormhole: Doctor Strange II – … things are the same again
branches & leaves wormhole: Is There / Life on Mars? – poewieview #32
breeze & clouds & horizon & trees wormhole: carpet worn / to the backing – poewieview #30
brown & space wormhole: Lapping Reflections [Deep Within Waters] by Mark L. Redford – moment
child wormhole: The Boats of Vallesneria by Michael J. Redford – Autumn Thoughts
echo & field & thought wormhole: Lapping Reflections [Deep Within Waters] by Mark L. Redford – from arm to nature, doing nothing
hedge & morning wormhole: The Boats of Vallisneria by Michael J. Redford – Olly
life wormhole: even / a second
orange wormhole: Lapping Reflections [Deep Within Waters] by Mark L. Redford – the soft canticle of the gourds:
red & walking wormhole: my seat // now
sea wormhole: Le Pont des Arts, 1907
seagull wormhole: the missing chord // the now-silent seagull
sun wormhole: trellis / and wisteria – poewieview #29
white wormhole: ‘hope for things to come’
wind wormhole: The Boats of Vallisneria by Michael J. Redford – A Precious Moment
windows wormhole: magnetic field
yellow wormhole: Doctor Strange III – the needs of billions