Thursday, 19 January 2012

A Space of Time

   Sometimes I miss thunderstorms dearly.  The weather here does not crash and clatter about in the way it did where I grew up.  I miss frozen lakes and snow piled up into dirty grey mountains by the roadside, and sweeping white drifts everywhere else, days trapped in the belly of winter where no one expects anyone will venture out, and so the world becomes a wild, empty place to roam through and shape at will. 

In the winter, ridiculously bundled in warm clothing, we would lose the sense of having bodies at all.  Except, in the bathroom a screaming pain awaited the hands of children who stayed out too long, when frostbitten fingers would be forced under the hottest water that came from the faucet.

And in the summer, the plants grew riotously and it was almost impossible to imagine ever wanting to wear clothes at all.  I thought only of the lake, but was sometimes dragged out of the water to wander through shady forests. We used to run outside to dance and shout at times when the sky turned suddenly green and eerie and the rain made rivers under us.  In spring we slipped out barefoot and collected the biggest pieces of hail and hid them in the freezer.  And autumn was sweetest of all.

  Time works differently in places where the seasons are so varied.  Each season is so intensely present that it blots out the others, making them seem lifetimes away.  Here where things are more constant, the hours are always about me, and a space of four months seems as meaningless as yesterday.  One must cast about a much more subtle eye.

 And so we've decided to try and visit the prehistoric markers that managed to make it past all the time and people that have rushed across this bit of land.  One day's strolling down the street and across the river brought us to a mossy cist near the bottom of a slope that rises above the river Dee.

These days are small windows of blue winter light that seem to have the stained-glass hues of one long sunset.  The sun creaks itself a quarter of the way up the sky and then falls back behind the hills again.  The birds fly backwards in the wind.  And we hurry to reach the hilltops and home before dark. 

Over empty stretches of burnt ground littered with bones, a high heap of stones stands ringed by fresh green moss and scorched gorse bushes.  The stones and boulders that were laid together, built up on top of one another to make this cairn, have probably been here at least four thousand years.  Past the cairn the city stretches out in rows, and oil ships sit on the horizon. It seems odd that the bony, blackened, empty place should stand ringed in by fences and industrial estates, a dump and a water treatment centre, and further on, the monkey bars of an empty playground.  Standing next to the cairn in the shadow of that strangeness, one begins to feel like the wild creature that has crawled out of the woods and sits watching in the shadows at the edge of town.

Further up the hill there are at least three more cairns.  Some of them are even larger than the first one.  Where the exposed rock meets the grass, it becomes clear that just beneath one's feet there are many more rocks heaped together below the soil.  It is impossible to know where the swell of the cairn begins and the rise of the hill ends. 

And the light begins to fail.  We push through gorse thickets in the dark, thorns catching at our legs.  More of this funny timelessness where the sun slides up and down the sky with no consequence.  We walk home in the false dark of street lamps.  In the gardens snowdrops are already flowering.  Though it is January there are sometimes daffodils and the odd tree is blooming. We move away from the expanse of the hilltop where the bones of the earth stand overlooking the city.

   Sometimes I can find patterns, but mostly time expands and contracts in ways that mystify me.  My words turn the same things about, and I have no sense of the direction onward from here.  Back in Paris, around farewell drinks someone said "suppose time is moving slightly faster every day. No one would notice, just each day would be a little bit shorter."


  1. Time travel and present life woven together and punctuated with stunning photographs.

    Thank you, for both.

  2. A very beautiful post, Jodi. I love your description of your years in North America. We are in the midst of a deep freeze, though as of yet, not too much snow, just enough. But after a warm night with rain a day or two ago, I now have a thick ice skating rink in the driveway. I just put as much sand as I have on it. I'm fine with studded snow tires, but will anyone else come visit, ever again I wonder? That surely adds to the sense of being in solitude during these winter days.

    I resonate so much with what you say about the tall plants in summer, its impossible to imagine melting from the summer heat just now! I wonder if growing up here, we both track time with the extremes of seasons, and what time tracking looks like to someone who grew up where you now are, fascinating.

  3. really beautiful post...interesting discovery, the cist (i had never heard of that). your lines about the sun, like
    "More of this funny timelessness where the sun slides up and down the sky with no consequence."

    are such poetry...
    you really should publish memoirs. really, really, really. it would be such a beautiful thing to hold in one's hands :)

  4. Jodi, you WILL write a book, won't you? or you ARE writing one. You must. Too beautiful, so evoking and moving your weaving of words!!! Precious, really.

  5. I love that gorgeous image of children hiding hail within the freezer - you made me smile broadly Jodi : )

    And the first two photos at the beginning of your post held me captive - light and depth tie in wonderfully with your layers of past and present.

  6. Thank you all for your lovely, encouraging comments. I'm very sorry for not having responded to them earlier!

    As for books and things... oh, I don't know... maybe one day... but I do feel very flattered that you would have suggested it! I hope you are all very well, and I will try hard to respond sooner in the future.