Finding ways to create something beautiful in the dark nights of a complex world
Aug. 28, 2022

Beside a young willow (in a thunderstorm)


Although a little delayed, the long-awaited rain and thunder did eventually arrive. Join us tonight as we hunker down beside a young willow and enjoy, with a field full of crows, the wonder of a thunderstorm as it roars overhead and all the richness it brings. 

Journal entry:

19th August, Friday.

“An impulse forage among the brambles on a
 Blustery day of tall clouds and sunshine.
 I pick the high berries, you the lower ones.
 I extricate you when a bramble thorns your sleeve.
 Thirty-seven years fall away  
 And my heart melts once more,
 Like it did
 When we first met.

We have done this hundreds of times before
 And will do again.
 But not like this.
 Never again, will it be exactly like this.
 
 These few spontaneous moments
 Pouring blackberries into our bag
 Will somehow be the most cherished memory
 I take from this holiday.

Both instinctively aware of its special quality
 A golden moment that joins us.
 Those few moments when we
 Completely filled the world with our quiet presence.”

 

Episode Information:

Waiting for the rains to comeWaiting expectantly for the rains to come

In this episode I read two of Wendell Berry’s Sabbath poems:

XIX – ‘Some Sunday afternoon’

XXI – ‘I was awakened from my dream of the ruined world’

You can listen to the MIND Station using the imbedded player at Mind Station

Recording of the rain and thunder recorded on Erica: South Stratford Canal (16.08.2022).

For more information about Nighttime on Still Waters

You can find more information and photographs about the podcasts and life aboard the Erica on our website at noswpod.com. It will also allow you to become more a part of the podcast and you can leave comments, offer suggestions, and reviews. You can even, if you want, leave me a voice mail by clicking on the microphone icon. 

General Details

In the intro and the outro, Saint-Saen's The Swan is performed by Karr and Bernstein (1961) and available on CC at archive.org.

Two-stroke narrowboat engine recorded by 'James2nd' on the River Weaver, Cheshire. Uploaded to Freesound.org on 23rd June 2018. Creative Commons Licence. 

Piano and keyboard interludes composed and performed by Helen Ingram.

All other audio recorded on site. 

Contact
For pictures of Erica and images related to the podcasts or to contact me, follow me on:

I would love to hear from you. You can email me at nighttimeonstillwaters@gmail.com or drop me a line by going to the nowspod website and using either the contact form or, if you prefer, record your message using the voicemail facility by clicking on the microphone icon. 

Transcript

JOURNAL ENTRY

19th August, Friday.

“An impulse forage among the brambles on a
Blustery day of tall clouds and sunshine.
I pick the high berries, you the lower ones.
I extricate you when a bramble thorns your sleeve.
Thirty-seven years fall away  
And my heart melts once more,
Like it did
When we first met.

We have done this hundreds of times before
And will do again.
But not like this.
Never again, will it be exactly like this.

These few spontaneous moments
Pouring blackberries into our bag
Will somehow be the most cherished memory
I take from this holiday.

Both instinctively aware of its special quality
A golden moment that joins us.
Those few moments when we
Completely filled the world with our quiet presence.”

[MUSIC]

WELCOME

This is the narrowboat Erica narrowcasting across the night skies.

A new moon is born tonight, but it won’t be rising until the morning light. Although the reports indicate wind speeds of 5 mph, right here, there is not even a whisper of wind. Tonight, everything is absolutely still. Nothing moves, except the shuffling of a few ducks, a rustle amongst the reeds, an owl a long way off.   

Welcome to NB Erica. I was hoping you’d be here. The kettle is hot, the welcome is warm. Come inside and welcome aboard.

[MUSIC]

NEWS FROM THE MOORINGS  

Isn't it funny how easily one can slide from being on holiday back into the rhythm of things, so that our holiday now seems a long time ago. Why, therefore, do I find it so hard to slip from work mode into holiday mode?!

The bankside vegetation is beginning to die back. The greens of spring and summer are giving way to earthy browns. Brittle thistle stems, still cupping their flowerheads – some still holding a hint of colour, spikes of wiry, russet sorrels. The delicate willowherb, lower leaves rustling, limp and brown on the breeze. The magenta heads turning to smoke and being carried away on the wind. Brown teasels reach up to tease the finches and tickle the sky.

Since the storm, we have had a little rain, but not much. Certainly not enough. Showers and downpours tend to be highly localised. The other day, I climbed the hill above us and watched curtains of rain sweep either side of us. The air is fresher and there has been plenty of sunny spells and deceptively warm weather. Often, when you look out the window, it just doesn’t look hot, until you open the hatch.

It's coming to the tail-end of the school summer holidays and the towpaths are busy. The canal itself has been surprisingly quiet. I was expecting it to be much busier.

The cygnets are continuing to grow. They’re becoming ever more independent and can quite often be found together away from their parents – although always accompanied by the little cheep-cheep call. I am not sure whether it is a demand to be fed or whether it is a contact call to let their parents know where they are. It almost has that mechanical, subconscious, feel to it. A bit like the reversing alarm on a lorry or a strobe light on a deployed life-raft. Dad, the cob, is also spending more time away from them. They all arrive and leave together, and sometimes do their patrols of hospitable boats together. But a few times now I have caught him being quite content to find a patch of grass on his own and settle down.

We are now pretty certain that we did meet up with Cyril. Their cygnet from last year who left the family earlier in the year. He seems to be quite content in solitary splendour. Where he is there’s a couple of duck pairs and a scattering of moorhens, which he from time-to-time shepherds around with his beak if they encroach too near. It is actually part of the original territory and so I am a little surprised that his parents have allowed him to stay. In fact, on one of the days, having begged for some food, we watched him slowly glide off around the corner. A few minutes later he reappeared. Initially we thought he was coming back for another try. He’s in moult, bless him, and looking very scraggily. Some of his large primary feathers were sticking out at right angles and he, at times, had that forlorn look we noticed when the hens were moulting.

However, we then saw coming round the corner behind him, his parents with the two cygnets. The female, in semi-busk. Not full-on aggression, but wings arched to indicate warning and to keep away. Dad followed behind the cygnets, also clearly on the alert, although his wings not so noticeably arched. Cyril, if it was him (and if he is a he – still can’t really tell yet) didn’t seem alarmed. His paddle was the leisurely one-foot stroke paddle. He also stopped from time to time to forage at some bankside vegetation. Nevertheless, I noticed he did always carefully maintain the same amount of distance between him and them. For their part, the family seemed content not to progress much further passed the bend. The mother, circled. Swam across the canal from side to side as if marking a line in the water. Gradually her wings relaxed, they turned and pushed back down the canal. It seems as if this little family has found a workable solution to the problem of their growing family and junior has been given the space he needs.            

[MUSIC]

CABIN CHAT

[MUSIC]

BESIDE A YOUNG WILLOW (IN A THUNDERSTORM)

Wendell Berry Sabbath Poems XIX

[READING] 

The long-anticipated rains eventually came to break the heat and wash the air (and cabin windows!) clean of the film of heatwave dust. We had found a good spot to tie up. Enough west-ward shade to screen the final wolf-howl of clammy grey heat, but no overhanging trees. We’d stopped here before. A week earlier, as the heat was beginning to rise. We knew to nuzzle the bow into the bank immediately after the flame of rosebay willowherb; the fiery bush that is slowly consumed into seed-smoke of grey wool. Beside us stood a young withy-whipping willow. A good companion to have in a storm, should it ever come.

The Monday rains failed to come. Sulky skies, heavy and truculent pressed flying insects closer to the ground. Swallows swam through the humid air. Elegant, blue, white, and red dolphins. Later, bats took their place.

I saw Steve and Yvonne on the Narrowboat Precious Jet through the lock and watched them go off, down the cut, into the distance. I like Steve. He’s one of the good ‘uns. He looks beyond the surface of things and his laugh should be on prescription.  

It was a good place to hunker down to await the storm, here, tucked between the tall rushes and the blaze of willowherb. The gentle rolling folds of the Warwickshire hills, pastureland that dipped and swelled, ochre and sandy, the colour of old bleached bones, rose up to a skyline of woodland copses, rich in their deep green and olive. The weather system came in from the south west, bringing boisterous, bullying gusts of warm wind. The joyful, roustabout, outliers of storms. Feel the wind that comes just before the rain – it is delicious! It kicked up the dried leaves and broken grass stems, sending them scarting down the towpath. The fronds of the willow alongside us lifted and danced in the wind. You could almost believe that the long fish-shaped leaves were quivering in expectation.

Weather like that – charged with expectancy and the beguiling exhilaration that oncoming storms bring – are perfect crow days. They are all out, jackdaws, magpies, rooks, crows. I didn’t spot any jays or ravens for the full house, but I am sure they were around – they are fairly common to this area. The range of crow families are remarkably ecumenical, sharing earth and air spaces with, pretty much, good humoured equanimity. Ravens tend to keep themselves a little apart, but I am not sure whether that is an inherent aloofness, the product of their much larger size, or that they are still relative newcomers to the area. The generations of the rook, crow, magpie, jackdaw colonies here can be traced back for centuries.

But these are the skyscapes that are a corvid (the name for all the different crow family) playground. Strangely in northern myths, the Valkyries are often depicted as swans. When I think about it, I can see why, but, for me, the crow in flight on the storm chased wind are the perfect image. Throwing heraldic silhouettes, ragged and undaunted across a glowering rush of cloudscapes. Gothic black and filled with such exuberance. They whirl and soar – surfing the Atlantic-charged wind as it breaks and rip-curls over the trees and hedgerows. Their joyful calls are torn on the blustering gusts, as they hang for a moment, stationary, poised on the edge of a current, before dipping a wing and plunging earthwards. For a while, the sky is filled with the chaos of movement – the dart of magpies, trailing their tails, cackling and laughing like the old football rattles, Jackdaws and rooks and crows, all together, tumbling in an ecumenical, ecstatic twirling tumult, flinging themselves against the breaking roar of the storm surge.

The lugubrious heron flaps skyward with a clumsy elegance, with wings sparking electric and a kingfisher crackles home-grown blue lightning. Dragon flies flashed vivid. The storms were still some way off. There was no evidence of anvil-headed thunder-clouds in the brooding skies, but it felt as if, somehow, the word had got out. The crows are the outriders. Charging the skyline with their energy. Surfing the rolling breaking storms, even before they come.        

This electric feeling of exhilaration is contagious. Humans feel it too. You just need to look at the numbers of people who flock to the coast, clambering on to rock headlands, or leaning onto promenade railing. Or who climb hills to feel the full brunt of the elements – untamed, unmitigated. That thirst for the wild – for things as they really are, reminding us that above all and under all, we are still human flung upon this earth and, when all is said and done, that is the main point of it all.       

For my part. I was filled with a mixture of lethargy and restlessness. We stayed put where we’d tied up the day before. Read, drank tea, watched clouds build and skies dance with movement.

It wasn’t until late in the afternoon of Tuesday, when the first large drops of rain began to fall. Big enough, not just to make rings in the water, but to lift crystal plumes of water from its impact. Initially, it was sporadic. Tentative. But wetting nonetheless. The type of rain that sort of sticks to you. You feel it hit and then the tickling, cold, trickle meandering down your body. Sticky rain. It always reminds me of the spit-soaked blotting-paper pellets that Gazza and Thommo used to shoot from the end of the rulers across classroom. Not just a ping, but a thwack that stayed with you. It was generally followed by a percussion of rulers being strummed on the edge of the desk – a drrrrrrrrr sound. It’s still a mystery why I failed my Maths CSE.

The rain preceded the thunder – at least, although I was keeping an ear open for the sound of distant thunder on the skyline, I hadn’t heard it. 

Gradually the rain began to fall in earnest and the thunder rolled. And it LASHED down. Thrashing the waters into blinding spume, so that the whole surface of the canal, turned white and seemed to seethe and boil in a hissing, raging, cauldron of writhing water. The air turned to water.

“[O]n that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened.” It was almost as if the great unravelling of creation in Noah’s time was happening again here, on a thin ribbon of canal in central England. I don’t know what happened to all the crow folk. Where they went, what they were doing, what they were experiencing and understanding of this cataract that fell. Or even the heron. I would have given a lot to have been there with them. I do know, the ducks were tucked away under the sheltering cover of bankside foliage and the moorhens too.

It fell so hard, the beat on the cabin roof was almost deafening. The I went up to check how the stern canopy was coping. There was so much water, that the runnels each side of the slightly curved cabin roof was completely swamped. Water was pouring, as if from a spout, onto the stern deck. The boat is designed to cope with it, but I had just dried out the engine bay and wanted to keep it that way. I tried to catch the water in some old 2ltr ice-cream tubs dad had saved for us. In less than a minute I filled it twice!

However, that soon passed and the deluge settled down to steadier, though still quite heavy, pace. The dark clouds flaring and fluorescing with sharp rips of lightning. The thunder lasted a good hour or two, before, rolling off into the gathering dusk. The rain continued. Washing up the canal (we were facing south), over the hare-run fields, making the withies beside us shimmer and weep, bowing. Even the smoking willowherbs bowed their heads towards the ground.                 

Rain has such regenerative, healing effect (psychologically as much as ecologically). Rain is somehow much more than water falling from the sky (as marvellous as that thought might be). There is something about it that reaches down deep. Seeping within our psyches or our spirits (whatever you want to call the real us, trapped in the shells of our personas – varnished rigid in the hard carapace of our public and digital personae) in the same way that it seeps, hopefully deep within the soil upon which it lands. I think that is somewhat captured in that poem by Wendell Berry that I started this piece with.

In the modern world, we have done ourselves a disservice to disconnect ourselves from it so fully.

I think I have already mentioned this in an earlier episode, but growing up into my teens and I had this morbid fear of being thrown into prison. At some points, I was certain of it. It is not that I harboured any secret guilt of criminal activity. It is just that I was convinced that one day, I would be charged with a crime that I hadn’t committed, put on trial where the evidence would be so damning, that I would be sent to prison. It was all very Kafkaesque. Not that, at that point, I had read any Kafka. I think I once saw on Chick’s big old black and white Rediffusion television one Saturday afternoon when we were visiting a play or an episode from a series in which the hero was framed. It all seemed very convincing to me.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, in moments of daydreaming or lying in bed at night, I would think, what would I miss most when (note not ‘if’) I was jailed? The answer was always the same – the feeling of rain in my hair and on my face. I didn’t think I could bare a life in which rain no longer ran down my cheeks, dripping from my fringe and my nose. The feel of wind tussled rain combing my hair. Consequently, I resolved never, ever to wear a hat (or use the hood of a coat) in the rain again. I would stand in the rain and try to embrace every sensation like a sponge so that, at least, the memory of that feeling would be vivid and real. I know it drove Mum a bit mad, this refusal to wear a hat or a hood in rain. Coming home from school, dripping pools onto the kitchen floor. Added to which, I also had a dislike of wearing macs too, but that is another story for another time!

Later, by chance, I once was wearing a hat and it rained and I was so entranced by the sound it made, I gave up my earlier solemn vow to myself. I tend to chop and change now as the mood takes me – but there is still something about that feel of rain in my hair and on my face.

For me, it revitalises, invigorates, strengthens, that connection with the world in which I live, re-establishing my individual place within my home. There is nothing like standing in the rain after a day or two or synthetic anthropocentric culture to wash away its meagre, clenching dust and remind us that we are creatures of this world and that we are home. Nostos.

And, for a while, after such a long dry time, the rains came, revitalising, renewing, refreshing, healing both ecologically and psychologically.  It was a physical enactment of another of Wendell Berry’s Sabbath Poems:

Wendell Berry Sabbath Poems XXI

[READING]     

SIGNING OFF

This is the narrowboat Erica signing off for the night and wishing you a very peaceful, restful, night. Good night.

WEATHER LOG