I am the river – Norfolk, England

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First frost over the breckland of north Norfolk, England

Through tussocks, reeds and the occasional yew,

I am the river and you the view;

Through pasture forgotten and by trees of oak,

I will walk the land like liquid smoke;

Quietly.

With the mistletoe

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With the mistletoe

 

A few years back I went on a walk with my father. The Avon was running with its usual mild ferocity, neither fast nor slow, the kind of course that trances you, movements so synonymous to your step that you may just as well be in the flow itself.

‘Mistletoe,’ my father said, pulling me from the river. ‘Do you see? Up there in that poplar.’

I turned my gaze to the bordering forest. ‘I’m not sure what I’m looking at Dad.’

‘Mistletoe, there,’ he pointed once more, beyond the dark trunk of a nearby poplar and its splaying limbs, high into the tree’s canopy. ‘You see those balls of foliage?’

I nodded. ‘That’s mistletoe?’

‘Yes. It’s a parasite, feeds off the nutrients of the host tree.’

I was amazed. What had always been a showpiece, hung from the rafters of a wintering home, was now alive, bathed in the inspiring light of context. I had never known its place in the world, merely assumed. What a marvel it was to see that mistletoe, hanging from nature’s very own rafters. From the ground, in the safe arms of my subconscious, I climbed towards it– climbed upon it, examined its contours, its berries, its leaves, its parasitic tendrils rife upon its host. 

Hornbeam amidst the moor

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Hornbeam amidst the moor, acrylic on card (Daniel Graham)

Amidst the great open moorland there stood a hornbeam, its limbs reaching out for winter. The air was cold, and with this chill I felt my cheeks tighten. I walked towards the tree for some minutes, first entering its breathing ground, and then, a minute beyond that, its lichen-stippled trunk. I sat beneath the hornbeam’s brittle wood and listened on as three crows came to rest above my head, their movements knocking small twigs to the ground around me.

Tawny owls – the epitome of love

Tawny owls - the epitome of love

Tawny owls – the epitome of love

Several weeks ago I moved to the Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales, washing dishes and plating up food for hungry hikers and tired cyclists at the Danywenallt youth hostel. I am, irrefutably, in the sticks: a forest of hazel, rowan and oak overhangs the rear of the staff cottage, whilst a band of hills and low-lying mountains – the park’s central peaks – dominates the front. Sheep graze the nearby slopes, brought down from higher ground by shepherds onto the lush lowlands of the Caerfanell river valley, and, just metres to the south sits Taylbont Reservoir – a placid sheet of freshwater, topped-up by its bordering topography.

Within the first few days of my arrival into the park, I had climbed most of the peaks within view of my bedroom window. Though far from outlandish ascents, the vistas – each standing between four-hundred and six-hundred metres – allowed me to gather my bearings. Over the days that followed, my focus fell upon the valley floor: the sunken tramroads, cobbled and worn; the boulder-filled rivers; the thickets of walnut saplings, blackberry bushes and wild raspberries. Gradually, I began to understand where I was.

‘Tawny owls’, Stephen, a bush craft guide and local to the area, informed.

‘I thought so, but I couldn’t be sure,’ I returned. Singing through dusk, I had gone to bed each night with the call of the bird close to my ears.

‘It’s two, you know.’

‘What is?’

‘The sound you hear, ke-VICK…  hu WHOOooooo! The first call – ke VICK – is the female, and the second – hu WHOOooooo – is the male. They sing as one.’

Later that night, a little before retiring to bed, I opened the front door of the cottage and looked out at the night. There was no moon and, in spite of the faint starlight, darkness filled the valley before me. Fulfilling their nocturnal courtship, the owls began to call, first the female, then the male. Two spirits perceived as one. Now, if that isn’t love…