“The way up and the way down are one and the same.” Heraclitus
If the path is steep and stony on the way up the mountain and if, perhaps, it crosses several streams or rivulets (depending on the weather these streams may become great, rushing waters) and, if there are fields of sharp stones to cross, and an old sheep byre, a stand of ancient pines (wind-blown, leaning like old women) and a square of summer pasture – if these things are passed on the way up they will, if you take the same path down, be passed as you leave. However, the path down is not, and can never be, the same as the way up. By now you are tired and in need of a sandwich or a chunk of Kendal mint-cake and your view is different because you are not looking up at the crag anymore and the scudding, reckless clouds which resemble the gathered sheep on the ridge – now the mountain is behind you are you are seeing a tarn edged with reeds which for some reason you did not notice on the way up and you also see the skull of sheep, bleached white by the weather. In addition the clouds have flocked together like the sheep and there is less sunlight although from time to time shafts of yellow illuminate the wintry grass and turn it almost white against the darkness and this is something that spellbinds you in a way you were not spellbound on the way up because you were perspiring heavily in spite of the cold wind and your straining heart thudded loud in your chest while now, on the way down, you only have the twinge in your knee to worry about. On the way down you do not stop at the same spots as on the way up and in any case even if you did, these same spots cannot be the same spots because, as you know, the earth spins around the sun and therefore, because time has elapsed, these points cannot be the same points as they were. You must conclude that the path up is never the same as the path down, no matter how careful you are to tread in the same footsteps and it cannot escape your notice that your footsteps on the way down are now upside down or perhaps they are now the right way up – this you cannot be sure of. All you can be sure of is the mountain itself and even this is an illusion.
Love in a Lifetime
What can one love in a lifetime?
Husbands, wives, mothers, brothers, lovers. Indeed. Those. But what of the tiny black cat mangled on Church Hill in 1965, or the three rats your son bought and you later looked after, who died one by one even though you cared for them like you cared for nothing else? What of the ash tree outside your window, tall as the sky, felled one day while you were out learning at school? How you wept for that tree; how you sometimes still weep for it all these years later.
What too of the silver and turquoise bracelet your mother bought on a trip to America in ’66, the one she gave you later but that you lost walking along a muddy path the year before she died? What of the pale climbing rose you left behind when you moved house, the lavenders and the stones you collected from the cove in South Wales? What of your father’s laugh that you still hear deep in the night and the twist in the stairs in the house where you were born? What of the zig-zag dress you wore for your first real kiss, the running of your dog through heather, the feel of sand between your toes.
You will love these things and more. There will always be things to love.
Old stones, holed stones, quartz stones, veined stones, green, grey and red stones, small stones, pebble stones, shingle stones, big stones, boulders, mountains and glacial erratics. Stones on the beach and the path, under my toes, dropped from the sky. Smooth stones, rough stones, wondrous stones, igneous stones, metamorphic stones. Stones from the Cambrian, the Ordovician, stones I found last week. Stones in my pocket, on the sill, stones by the door. Stones from Greece, the Hajars, from Harlech, and who knows where. Stones in the walls, the church, the mosque, the synagogue, the temple. A life, a civilisation of stones.
A straight road
Gravelly underfoot and scattered with puddles that reflect the sky, the straight road cuts through the hills. No one knows how old this road is. Perhaps the Romans built it, or peoples before them, or aliens in space-ships. All I know is that the road goes on for miles before turning a corner and snaking down the hillside and then it is not straight at all.
A field of sheep
A field of sheep from a distance looks like a small green square scattered with white stones. As I draw near, I realise the stones are moving and have four legs and two mild eyes and what I am looking at is a field of sheep. A field of sheep is a fine thing whether one likes mutton or warm woolly jumpers. Sheep may look docile and stupid but this is far from the truth. Indeed a field of sheep can reveal itself to be the answer to many of life’s important questions.
Stone walls can surround sheep, vegetables or grass. Here, in Wales, stone walls are grey from a distance. Close-up they are mottled with lichens in a variety of hues ranging from burnt umber, acid yellow to the palest of dove-wings. Stone walls are also home to many different mosses which can resemble green starry skies, carpets or the furs of animals. Sometimes trees grow in stone walls. Usually these are rowans but sometimes hollies, oaks, ashes and firs. Many creatures live in the cracks of the walls but most of these are hard to spot. There are mice too.
The sunflower fades. Yolk yellow petals rusted, heart black as coal. Seagulls strut shadows, a crow stalks the gutter, the blackbird alarms. Equinox is a shimmery spider’s web, the house silent, weeds still growing between the paving stones. Rustling oh-hear me plants, pine cones dropping, a bee on a dead lavender head, the crinkle of dry sycamore leaves…and oh, how the nights draw in and the swallows gather.
The world turns.