Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Pluvialis and I got back from the coast earlier this week. We drove through entire weather patterns, bordered double-take abruptly with new palettes like level-up in a videogame. When we arrived the sky was wind-scorched and pewtery and I felt oddly unwelcome and upset. It was blustery and the air was wet and I folded up between the shoulder blades until we were near enough to the sea to put our hands to it. We watched sanderlings on the way to Africa cast up and down the beach on legs that carried them like wheels, tracking the lap on the sand like leggy, birdy flotsam.

On the second day we went to Minsmere, the RSPB's oldest reserve. Avocets, dunlins, terns, salty, pebbly, reedy. Three incongruent black swans. Chaffinches bouncing tamely under the wet picnic tables outside the tearoom, where we ate delicious mushroom soup and I pressed my nose up against glass showcases wherein sat state-of-the-art optics lazing under halogen, amiably indifferent to the world of desire.

In the distance is the nuclear power station, with its chalky dome like a cathedral to the technological, or a pebble. The blocks are WWII anti-tank defences, to prevent beach-landing German tanks from getting inland. They are cracked and skewed and festooned with lichens. They were the first artifacts of the real threat of invasion that I ever saw. Australia's military identity is painted in the shades of mateship and the ideal of the ally, and England's history as agonist, written into fields and coast and up mountains, never ceases to strike me with the force of new realisation.

A couple of years ago I walked another line of stones -- West Kennet Avenue in Avebury. I walked from Silbury Hill to the Red Lion one day while Pluvialis was off doing something wearing her falconry hat. That was a very different summer day. Poppies, mobile on their spindly fuzzed stems as a bobble-head on the dashboard, waved at the field boundaries. Views for miles shimmering in sunshine steeped like tea. The strangely sea-like sound of wind in ripe wheat. Burnt-out candles and forlorn messages to loved ones in Druidical stands of trees, or trees that looked Druidical to someone. Butterflies and white briony in the hawthorn and the sudden green aquarial gloom of rights-of-way swallowed by arching hedges and pupils pinpricked back out into the golden fields over a stile lizard-warm on one side and damp and mossy on the other. There was a peacock in someone's garden.

Those stones are not like these ones, except when they are. The two walks spliced together. Reeds and wheat, power stations and stone circles, tall, tall oaks and terns, windy, cold hunger for mushroom soup and old curled sketches of Silbury Hill that smell of a hot day. I sat cross-legged on an anti-tank cube and looked out to sea. Pluvialis took my camera. "Think Ballardian thoughts," she said.

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