I sometimes feel that my writing has far too much of an agenda, as if it’s always trying to expose something. Sometimes it gets too journalistic. So I wanted to try to just describe something without making a song and dance about it. This morning I went on a ten mile walk over the downs in Wiltshire in the fog. I had to use a compass and everything, it was great. And this is what I saw.
Fog #1 Walking south from Avebury, 15th March 2012.
The close-cropped pasture slipped away around me. The grass was silver with dew, and my shoes wet through. A stock fence ran parallel to my path, mechanically tensioned wire taught between the dead-straight line of posts. It stretched away endlessly, to a vanishing point hidden behind the mist. I could only see perhaps fifty metres. The white blank was an empty sheet of paper, mocking my attempts at description and metaphor with its bright opacity.
I looked west. Was the sky bluer that way? And to the South, surely the mist had thickened from white to the grey of melting snow where Silbury Hill ought to have stood? Or had my retinas been burnt by the relentless whiteness, and were all the colours I was seeing the random replenishment of iodopsin?
The birds did not seem to mind the mist. Skylarks gurgled, invisible. Crows caw for the morning and pheasants call for death. The A4 didn’t mind the mist either, and I followed the noise of cars, lorries, and motorbikes as if they were aeroplanes in the clouds. The sound of the road was another mist, a dull grey nimbostratus of white noise, sometimes punctuated by a rolling bank of sound as a lorry drove by, sometimes as quiet as the pale yellow sphere of the sun glimpsed through the thinner mist, but never silent.
And then trees began to condense at the bottom of the hill, half seen, half imagined, grey on grey, an idea forming in my mind, a half-remembered name on the tip of my tongue, growing in form and density, suddenly lost, the melody in the skylark’s endless song.
#2 More mist
In the mist, everything could be endless. The bridle path followed the sagging, rusted line of a barbed wire fence beside a field of rotting cabbages for eternity. Behind, there was no beginning, and ahead, there was no end. The flints in the chalky mud paved a path to nowhere, only onwards, into the mist. Skylarks haunted the air, their songs interchangeable, impersonal as a rolling cloud. Weeds grew by the wayside, the yellow flowers of the camomile nothing more than a shade of green. Around the fence the dead stems of last year’s fireweed and nettles shivered in the wind that failed to blow the mist away. Sometimes wisps and tendrils of mist were blown across the path, sometimes the way ahead cleared for an instant, and the shape of a stunted hawthorn appeared, unannounced and unexpected, only to slip away again. And the mist rolled on.