Foraging (for blackberries, the past, and Mistry)

The house loaded with books (golf course on the left).

   Like God is riffling a deck of shuffled cards, the seasons keep changing.  I started in winter, dodged the wet and wind of autumn, and now it’s summer again.  I’m carrying a fat hardback that I’ve picked up en route.
   I checked out the map before I left and decided to head out east, run for a mile and then follow an arc that took me from three to six on the clockface, to make my way back north, and home.
   I start off in a hamlet called Hampton Fields.  I feel tired, but not in a sleepy way; more like the rickettiness associated with being in your mid-forties. and upping your mileage.  As always, the shadows and stiffnesses vanish as soon as I start shuffling to the ryhthm that my feet know so well. I have made the rare decision to underdress for the weather – I always wear too much when there’s a little bite in the air,  but I have come out in only a thin shirt. (and shorts, etc.)
   Autumm is snapping at the heels of summer.  Pheasants cross my path in a lane and defecate with fear as they flutter away into the air.  Then there’s a shower.  As I look across a shorn crop of hay, I can see that the rain’s deep – twinkling in the sun for miles.  I’m already warm, so bring it.
   Up ahead is a place I saw on the map called the Devil’s Graveyard.  I imagine all manner of Romantic iconography: a ruined abbey, rugged landscape; but all I can see is a house with a trim hedge and a dancing golden retriever who wants to get out and say ‘hello’. In the distance a church spire rises from a copse like the mast of a ship amongst the waves.
   I am relying on the sun for my direction, so inevitably I lose my way when I come to an unclear junction and take the most-defined route.  Down a long pathway there are a handful of poppies and elder.  The fields are bleach clean. For the next generation, this will be ‘normal’.  This is what nature will look like.  But ever since intensive agriculture began, the diversity of wildflowers and colour seen in the fields has diminished.  To this. Eight wispy poppies, huddled together, on a square mile of land.  It is a kind of generational amnesia where every thirty years, the baseline for what is called ‘nature’ has to retreat farther and farther.
   After a mile, I arrive at a farm, convinced I have gone wrong.  Two daschunds eye across from across the paddock.  Their tails curl up, their hackles rise and they start sprinting towards me yapping.  Their owner can’t see or hear any of this as she is engrossed with what looks like a giant vacuum cleaner sucking up horseshit.  The sausage dogs’ confindence wains and they slow as they approach me – I’m not wearing socks, so I really don’t fancy a nip on the ankle. The woman finally sees me and runs over to tell me that I have indeed gone wrong, and she sets me back on the path (the way I came, past the poppies).

   The rain stops. I go up and down vale – through gulleys, over hillocks.  When I finally see a village I recognise, without audience, I raise my arms like I’m crossing a finish line (endorphins are a funny thing). Then, as I pass an old red phone box, I see that it has been stripped of its ontological identity (this is ‘philosopher’ for: ‘it has no phone’); it is instead lined with bookshelves.  The group of us that have rented the house in which we are staying have done little else but buy books.  We’ve acquired at least thirty between us since our holiday began.  And now, I see a hardback of Rohinton Mistry’s ‘Family Matters’ – a book I bought in paperback just two days ago, and so I am now returning from a run with another big, fat, weighty, book.
   The finish is a steep climb which I gamely attack.  A man sees me carrying the tome and yells ‘bravo!’ from his garden. I smile, but as soon as I’m out of sight I splutter to a stop – it’s too much of a climb. On one side of me is a golf course – another kind of bleached landscape (see top photo); on the other, there are nettles, celandines, clematis, all kinds of grasses, the blackberries are out, too – so I stop and grab at some, they are round and sweet – except one.  And then I notice that diversity isn’t in the fields anymore; its last line of defence, it seems, is the roadside.

The last place for life to crowd into the frame.

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