The Wandering Mind
I sat in the garden one autumn afternoon reading an old poet. The sky was unblemished, clear and pure as the face of a child and starlings were deep in conversation close by. I had mown the lawn that morning just before lunch and turned over the plot where the peas had been cleared. After this exertion and a good meal, I felt no pang of conscience as I turned my back upon the many other chores that cried for attention and took my book into the garden and relaxed in the warm soporific scent of honeysuckle and freshly cut grass. After an indeterminable period my thoughts were lifted from the page upon my knee and I drifted across the valley to the hill opposite. There the grade was steep, too steep for tractor or any other mechanical tool. A horse therefore was leaning from a plough, moving slowly, almost imperceptively towards the skyline. The cottage in which I then lived was very old and the hills opposite even older; no doubt at one time they were covered with forest, but many men must have witnessed that same scene before me, many men and many generations. To them it was a common sight, but to me it was a rare and beautiful sight that spanned the centuries. The scene was timeless.
I felt my head nod forward quite suddenly and I came awake. The book fell onto the grass and the starlings flew off more in indignation than fright. In the silence that followed, there filtered through the warmth of the valley the faint jingle of the traces, and as the plough turned upon the headland, a spark of sunlight leapt from the polished harness; it was an impish child of Apollo that danced upon the horse’s back one moment, then without warning, leapt the great expanse of the valley and entered my eye within the same split second. I realised then that here was a beginning; here, before the old year was done, was another just starting. Here the earth was being opened up to let in winter’s icy fingers so that she might the better prepare the seed bed for next year’s crop. Then as the mind’s awareness expanded, I felt that this was not the only beginning taking place, there were many more throughout the changing land.
Visitors were arriving, flowers were blooming, animals were being born. All about me, as I sat half asleep in the quietude, a great movement of life was in progress, and I thought of another great movement of life that had occurred the previous autumn. It was an invasion of our fields by the linyphiids or gossamer spiders. We were drilling wheat at the time and as I crouched low on the footboard of the drill to clear a coulter that had clogged up, I beheld a silken counterpane of gossamer stretched between the faint ridges of the harrowed earth. The effect, if the eye was held low enough, was that of a thin layer of water shimmering in the early morning sun sending off sparks of individual colour selected at random from all parts of the spectrum. So taken was I with this scene that all thoughts of clearing the coulters left me as we rattled and jogged across the field, and when harvesting the same field this year, there, as a reminder of that small moment, was a strip bare of swaying gold a hundred yards long and twenty inches wide.
I retrieved the book and placed it on the seat beside me. The starlings had returned and were even noisier than before and the bees were hurrying to and fro among the nemesia in the hope of collecting and storing that little extra for the months ahead. Soon they will end their toil; soon they would maim and expel the unfortunate drones and retire to the centre of the hive with the queen in their midst. The day was magnificent, more like mid-summer than autumn, small wonder indeed that the careless cricket continued to ‘sing’ unaware of the imminent peril of winter. Many small lives will be lost in the approaching days of darkness yet, through it all, just enough will be saved. Beneath the apparent calm of autumn is a restlessness; and urgency sweeps through the fields and woodlands as the wiser creatures prepare for flight or lay in stores for sustenance through the long twilight of winter yet to come.
Autumn is a season of transition, a season of intense activity; of flowers flowering and flowers dying, of drilling wheat and cutting beans. Autumn is a time of birth and death; a time of awakening and a time of going to sleep. It is a time for the young and a time for the old, a time of both joy and sadness.
This is the time of thistle-down upon the air and goose-grass burrs upon the stockings; when the gorse and broom crackle and pop beneath a March-blue sky and scatter their tiny seeds among the dry stems of the sapless grass. Now the moors are stained a deeper purple, bracken becomes bronzed and the tree tops dipped in old gold. In the derries the young caterpillar of the Purple Emperor wraps itself in dead oak leaves and sleeps until the great awakening. When gossamer fills the air and hazel nuts turn brown the young swallows start on that amazing flight to the shores of Africa, a journey undertaken by their parents a year before who, curiously enough, do not show their offspring the way, but follow on some days later. How many thousand autumns have witnessed this exodus? Yet to what blocks of logic and fact can we in all our wisdom attribute this common thing. The redwing and fieldfare arrive from Norway urging on the lingering house martin. The woodlark sings, the ivy flowers and the honeysuckle blooms again. And as the somnolent hedgehog rolls himself in his blanket of leaves, the last brood of moorhen is hatched. Something sleeps, something awakes; something dies, something is born.
There is no real beginning or end to the year. Even on the first of January the lambs are growing; leaves are forming within the bud and the young wheat carpets the bare fields with emerald. But for those whose minds cannot accept the existence of that which has no beginning and no end, then let the division between the years be drawn through autumn, for the onset of winter is really the beginning of the year, not the end. The young year is born into a cold and sometimes frightening world just as the infant child is released from the warm security of the mother’s womb, and like the child, the infant year begins its life before it is born. It begins in the womb of autumn. It is here then (if anywhere) that one thing ends and another begins. It is here In Sese Vertiture Annus.
read the collected work as it is published: here
1967 & garden & life & mind & thought & uncle wormhole: The Boats of Vallisneria by Michael J. Redford – Introduction
afternoon wormhole: “walking …”
air & sound & time wormhole: constant hummm
autumn & gold & sky & smell & trees & work wormhole: The Boats of Vallisneria by Michael J. Redford – Contents
blue & reading wormhole: between thoughts
child & sleep wormhole: 1968
death & eyes wormhole: too late:
field & skyline wormhole: impressionism
leaves wormhole: work
morning wormhole: the coming of ‘The Boats of Vallisneria’ by Michael J. Redford
mother wormhole: and that’s where I are
oak wormhole: dog bark
poetry wormhole: after all?
purple wormhole: 1967
silence wormhole: the missing chord // the now-silent seagull
sitting wormhole: zero
winter wormhole: 1963