Of bluebells and buttercups
Sea laps to the right.
Of bluebells and buttercups
Sea laps to the right.
So I stumbled across a blog dedicated to a year-long Haiku challenge. I can talk non-stop, so it’s fair to say that this challenging form intrigued me and I had to give it a try.
Sunlight fades away
twilight merging into dark
there you are, waiting.
As featured in the online INK Journal- Plymouth University 2016.
Silently, I sit in the warmth of the car. Protected from the weather, I gaze across the vast moorland. Cars float by in a steady stream, winding along the road back towards their busy lives. But I sit. I enjoy the peace. Wind and rain batters away the pale evening light that was offering a rare, warm embrace to the ancient, tired land. Cows and Dartmoor ponies, introduced thousands of years ago in the Iron Age, graze contently on the grassy hills despite the wild and unruly weather. Their heads are bowed in quiet submission to the elements. Hills of murky green grass and gorse roll off into the foggy distance. The sky is heavy with rain clouds. There is something homely and nurturing in the emptiness of it all. The fields have become a rough patchwork quilt of deep browns, golden yellows and sporadic greens, reminiscent of centuries of hard farming. Ahead of me, they stretch into massive pine forests; they are working barricades against the lively towns below. Protected in my secluded vantage point everything is still and peaceful, only the occasional hum of an engine or bleat of a sheep interrupts the quiet.
Haytor juts from the hill to left. Well-trodden paths of vivid fresh grass cut through the hillside, opening up the dense gorse. I watch as climbers are lured to its overshadowing base. Grey and looming, the tor becomes a place of play and wonder for so many. Locals and tourists from far and wide come to scramble up its daunting rock face, as they have done for centuries before us. A scattering of fallen boulders, bell heather and bracken furnish the walk up to the foot of the towering giant as well as delicate autumn ferns that crumble as you brush pass them in an attempt to dodge the cow-pat stepping stones. Up close, the old rock looks like tough elephant skin, iron-grey and wrinkled.
Amid the ever-growing lichen, deep grooves across the rock face reveal thousands of years of endurance; incessant weather has led to mass erosion scoring the surface, scaring the coarse granite. Still, amongst the scars, the shine of Megacrysts illuminates Haytors beauty when the occasional soft ray of sunshine hits it. At its summit, the gusts almost knock climbers down, adrenaline pumping through their bodies. From every angle the view is captivating and I cannot help but pause for a while and soak it all in.
But if you want to see it differently, change perspective. Looking at it from side on the rock face transforms to human form; protruding edges create a giant yet gentle and familiar face. Almost Native American in appearance, the larger rock creates a headdress on which slim defined features lie. A pointy nose thrusts from the middle of the tor and large hooded inquisitive eyes sit above it. At the bottom lies the straight mouth. The figure is almost pensive. The rock softens.
Houndtor lies to my right. A lesser-known tor but loved all the same. I recently took a friend here for a walk – she is not the outdoorsiest of people – I will always laugh when I picture her slipping slowly down the bank, her face, full of distress and embarrassment. She cried for at least ten minutes because she got ever so slightly muddy. Despite my comical memories, it is easy to see where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got his inspiration for The Hound of the Baskervilles. On a moody wintery day, the moorland becomes eerily creepy with low hanging fog, dark skies and circling ravens above creating the perfect setting for a murder.
Yet the hound was there long before Sherlock Holmes. Centuries of haunting black dog reports have led to a well-engrained myth in local minds. Houndtor’s magical legend rings in the ears of local children. They chase the legendary hound over the low rocks and clamber after it to the tops of the highest peaks. Behind the tor, ruins of a long forgotten nucleated Saxon village waits patiently for new explorers. Another rocky playground is created in their slowly decaying walls as adults and children alike reimagine the history of this wonderful, yet vast and daunting landscape. Worn into the hillside, the footpaths carved over the millenniums lead down the steep heathland allowing an insight into the past.
People have lived on the moor as early as 5,000 BC and remains of their lives are fascinating and crucial to understanding our past. Defined by large huddles of connected houses the nucleated village is not hard to distinguish from the scattered rocks surrounding it. Walking around the mossy remains of the Saxon longhouse, I imagine the chaos within, the mother toiling over the large cauldron at the end – where the hearthstone still remains – while her husband tends to the noisy, pungent animals at the other. A number of smaller rooms gather around the outside. The mixture of Dartmoor’s ongoing emptiness and its rich history is what creates its perfection. I can feel so alone but always I will feel the companionship of its lingering souls.
Time flies by as I scour every inch of the moorland with my eyes, the once-pale light now replaced by a shroud of darkness. This is when the magic of the moors is fully revealed. Wind rattles across the barren hills, whispering the secrets of their past. Haunting shrieks come from animals protecting their young, sending chills down your spine. As the beauty of this broad landscape washes over me in absolute darkness, my hairs are on end. My attention returns to the view from the windscreen and across the dark fields that slope gently down to the twinkling towns. Home lies directly ahead. The largest orange glow is the heart of Teignbridge. Instinctively I am drawn to it; my eyes narrow in on the rough area of my house. Subconscious feelings of warmth, love and familiarity flow up. My chest tightens. I miss home; my new bustling city is not the same. Dartmoor has that effect. Everything is put back into perspective hundreds of metres above sea level. Past home is the river, glowing under the moonlight, a ribbon of silver that divides the landscape ahead. Towns become villages and villages become sparse, dark spaces with the occasional orange glow. Finally, the river flows into the complete blackness of the sea. A veil of stars hangs above the never-ending shadowy void. Spectacular light shows are created by the tiny gems of light, bouncing off the waves.
Rain poured down. Oh god, I could’ve at least picked a beach that had a pier, or some form of shelter. “It said sun when I checked yesterday.” Matt laughed awkwardly, we both knew it didn’t, in fact I didn’t even check, I was just excited to see him again. My stomach quivered looking over to him but his wonky smile betrayed the excitement that was hidden in his cool eyes.
The stormy day blew clouds across the town, they hung low, the sherbet painted seaside houses were forced into involuntary concealment, their bright colours muted with the gradual eclipse of the sun. Outside people struggled against the elements, rain pelted down and the wind ripped through as umbrellas were over-turned. Victims of the attack ran for cover.
As we approached the sea, vibrations rolled across the car as lightning sparked across the sky leaving trails of iridescent forks and thunder rattled over the waves. Shit. I clasped my hands to my seat. If mum was here she’d worry with me, mainly because she’s a chronic worrier, but also, she would have no idea who this guy is and, unlike him, she knows I’m petrified of thunder and lightning. Reluctant adrenaline surged through me as the hum of the engine ebbed away. The car stopped. I stalled time but Matt couldn’t wait, with coats on and hoods up tight around our faces we left the haven of the car.
The green slope flowed away into the slivers of remaining daylight as he pulled me towards the foaming blue expanse. Gorse bushes, thick with spines and scattered with delicate yellow flowers blended into green fog as the crashing waves rang ever louder in my ears. Our footfalls pounded in reply to the thunder. I stumbled as my foot caught on a rock. Brilliant, now I’m the girl who can’t walk, or check the weather. I slapped on a smile and chased after him. I followed the well-trodden path that had become scattered with a glittering of fine golden sand whipped up in the wind and smashed shells taken and dropped, forgotten in someone’s sodden sprint back to their car.
A small stream that dashed alongside became ever wider as the rain lashed down, fresh water gushed over dishevelled rocks, dragging green ribbons of river weed towards the mouth. Cutting through the sand, the river bed scarred the beach. Fresh water leaked from the wound until it dispersed into its salt water resting place. Changing tides had tangled river weed among seaweed until it was unclear of the origin of either party, they lay in piles, abandoned. Graveyards of sandcastles dismantled by the gale were lying in wait on either side of the river. Discarded buckets and spades littered the beach, tombstones of the memories made here on less sombre days. The castles rested in soft dry sand, away from the waves, but the force of the white horses was ever approaching and soon the graveyards would be flooded. Barriers of obliterated pebbles and shells marked their progression, it wouldn’t be long.
Matt waited impatiently then we raced on towards the seashore. Morose clouds brooded over the tide, churning up an evil frenzy. Radiant sunbeams desperately fought their way through the clouds, like war-time searchlights tackling the dense night sky. Matt splashed in the froth, dousing me with cold water. Does he know how cold it is right now? Is he trying to give me hyperthermia? Quick, laugh along. I was laughing as a blurred black smudge bobbing on the horizon caught me. I narrowed my eyes, the wind forced my hood down, I tugged it back up pulling it tighter. It was a surfer, challenging the waves with an unfailing confidence. He falls. Are we alone? I am not swimming out to get him if he doesn’t come back up. I pointed him out to Matt. I wonder if Matt knows CPR. Perhaps the desperately watchful sunbeams were for him.
We walked along the seafront, pushing our bodies against the strengthening gusts. Our feet were pulled down by the saturated sand but we squelched on, picking up shells as we went. By the end my pockets were full. The beach was long, each segment guarded by a looming archway of mottled brown jagged rocks. We proceeded through the first, the tide was against us and the waves lapped at our feet as we made our way into the mazes that riddled the rocks. Confronted by a sticky mugginess Matt covered his nose. I ran my hands along either side of the wet tunnels, the rock was rippled as the ages gone by told their story in each layer of compacted brown mud and the remnants of past water hung from the roof of the cave in icicle-like stalactites. I didn’t want to leave, it was warm and almost cosy inside, we sat for a while.
Driven by an urge of discovery, we decided to press on. We were darkly rewarded. Waiting in the sand was a dilapidated dolphin, cast from the ocean by a previous storm. We stood looking in silence for a while. I took a photo. He’s staring at me, isn’t he? I looked up. He was scrutinising me, all excitement drained from him, inside my head my mum shouted “why would you do that?” I flashed him a coy smile. From behind, its dorsal fin hung limp and curled in the sand and most of its strong tail had rotted away, any remaining flesh clung valiantly to the bone. A web of fishing wire hovered over the carcass. With his back now turned, I snuck another photo. As the ever-swelling wind battered against it, the translucent wire was whipped sporadically forming a transcendent glow over the once majestic beast. We walked around to the other side. I looked at him, trying to guess what he was thinking. Repulsion was obvious on his face but he kept looking, like me Matt was transfixed. Only the bones remained, sea birds had ripped the meat from the ribs and the rats had licked them clean, hordes maggots were squirming in the dark red mouth, feasting on the clotted blood of the unfortunate creature. Suddenly, a waft decay washed over me and I backed away.
Months later he finally faced family introductions at my twenty-first birthday meal, naturally he revealed this story to my family. Again, the dolphin followed us as he embellished on my morbid photography, my mum, after one too many rosé and lemonades, looked at me and said “for fucks sake, really?”