Sunday, 29 January 2017

Week 17: (23rd January to 29th January 2017) or 'A message from another Evans'

"Sit in reverie and watch the changing color of the waves that break upon the idle seashore of the mind" 

(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)


In the colourless and dispiriting hours of a damp and wintry afternoon, when the bulbs of springtime gaiety still lie dormant, the prospect of endless summer days spent lounging outside remains seemingly unreachable. The promise of bees, bluebells, birds and butterflies against a backdrop of rich green wild grass and sun-soaked cloudless skies feels a little far-fetched. "April is the cruellest month", so said T. S. Eliot. But it's only January. It's at times like these that I often reflect back upon summers passed.

On a journey back to Norfolk this week, on one of those dreary afternoons such as I've just described, I began to mentally inventorize a list of the most provocative and overwhelming seats I have had the pleasure to perch on: a Ferris wheel overlooking Niagara Falls, between the humps of a camel in the Sahara; a Gondola in Venice; an outdoor cinema in Athens... and, of course, more recently the boulders and tors peppered upon the crests of the Lancashire moorlands. Occasionally, on the most arduous of ascents up the fells and over the hills, it's the promise of a welcoming bench at the summit that numbs the pain in the thighs and heartens the mind.  

I can conceive of no chair or bench more disheartening than the one I was travelling 300 miles to sit in. I am, of course, referring to the 'Dentist's Chair'; a woeful, forlorn place to sit. The cushions are cold and leathery and they are packaged with a harrowing distress which diffuses straight through the skin and entwines around your nerves. There are, of course, practical adjustments one could make to the chair in order to furnish it with a sense of comfort and warmth. Alas, even if the cushions were upholstered with better fillings - and please do excuse that word play - the dentist's chair will forever be known as the seat no-one likes to think about sitting on.

And thus, as I was sitting on the train to Norwich, I didn't think about it. Like I said, I casted the mind back to perching on the jaws of gorges, and on the branches of trees and considering the seats I had yet to rest on around the world. How ubiquitous the 'chair' is in our lives! How frequent we relieve our feet from the full weight of our torso! Railway travel, though it may be taken very much for granted, is unique in the sense that many passengers often require two seats: a seat upon which one rests, and a seat directly in front which supports a small fold-down table. As I pondered over memories of sitting down in exotic locations, one of these small fold-down tables across the aisle, (which had been folded up and unclaimed throughout the journey) suddenly relinquished under the pull of gravity and collapsed down to reveal a single piece of lined notepad paper. I could see, albeit unclearly, that there were some words scribbled on the back. I knew that were I not to wander over to discover these words, I wouldn't sleep peacefully and so charged with an inherent sense of curiosity, I went over and grabbed it.

The words were simply these:

"Stare. It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here alone."

With a little research, I later learnt that they were the words of an American photographer called Walker Evans (1903-1975). And thus, from one seat to another - from one Evans to another - a message was delivered on Monday night. A message to stare, to educate the eye, to die knowing something. A message I will remember, the next time I'm sitting down on the crests of the moors or against the trunks of a forest.



***
Immediately prior to my departure for Norfolk, I once again engaged in two hours of mentoring undergraduates. As I outlined last week, this role sees me temporarily transform from PhD student to Teaching Assistant, though the skills acquired by the former are, it seems, transferable. In this week's workshop, I dutifully assisted about twenty students who had, during the week, aggregated together to form groups of 4 or 5. In teams, their tasks were to start planning how they would conduct a particular research project and the skills they would require in order to carry it out. I have previously mentioned one of these research projects: an investigation into urban heat islands. Here's another, this time focussed on improving soil quality from landfill waste:


My own PhD research is currently sitting on a conveyor belt at a supermarket checkout; that is to say it's continually stopping and starting, but always moving forwards. It's significant to carry out intricate planning now to avoid catastrophe further down the line. (You don't want to get to the payment and realize you never picked up that one essential item). Over the last couple of weeks, I have assembled together a project proposal in which details a thorough plan of action. One of the most pivotal aspects currently revolves around where I will be carrying out the fieldwork. Clearly, there are a number of hoops through which to dive before a single tablespoon of soil is sampled and taken back to the laboratory, let alone an entire core from the surface to the bedrock. Gaining permission from land owners is integral, as well as ensuring that the site is not being utilized for another project. Ultimately, I aim to study a total of six sites: three sites on agricultural land and three sites on uncultivated soil, such as that in an ancient woodland. Currently, I have a shortlist of three potential sites for the cultivated soils. They were originally part of a much larger study, executed in 1991 by Professors Tim Quine and Desmond Walling. In their original investigation, only soil erosion was studied, and the brown sands of Shropshire's Dalicott farm were found to be some of the highest eroded soils. My investigation will not only focus on erosion but also other mechanisms by which soil enters and leaves the system, such as soil production from bedrock. I look forward to discussions with Tim Quine in the next few weeks.

 

***
 
 
It is 08:40 GMT in London. The AA6317 flight to Venice is due to ascend over Heathrow in exactly 5 minutes. In York, winter coats and hats are assembling on Platform 11, waiting for a train to Middlesbrough; if it's on time, it will arrive in exactly 3 minutes. In Los Angeles, the day is only 40 minutes old and yet to many amongst the giddy volatility of downtown bars, it still feels like Saturday night. In Turkey, lunchtime is fast approaching and the wafts of ground beef and cauliflower are simmering on a low light. In Sydney, a harbour glistens under the stars as a new week is about to dawn. Around the world, in every community, many men and women wonder what the time is and seldom ask why it happens to be that time. It's 19:40 in Sydney because it's 08:40 in Greenwich. It's 00:40 in Hollywood, because it's 08:40 in Greenwich. It's 11:40 in Turkey because it's 08:40 in Greenwich.
 
Venture into Greenwich - where the silk of time that webs itself around communities far and wide is first spun - and the first feeling you might have is one of pathos. There is, after all, very little to suggest that each and every clock on the planet is keeping up a steady pace to this hub of time-keeping. I arrived in Greenwich early yesterday morning, as thick low-lying cloud spread its wings over London, dissolving skyscrapers as it roamed the skies. I was due to meet with some friends but I had some Greenwich mean time to spare, so I decided to wander up to the observatory. Like the very best seams in fabric, the first and last mile of the world are stitched imperceptibly together. There is very little glorification here and yet I was only a hundred yards away from one of the most famous and significant clocks in the world.
 
It was, I have to admit, my very ignorance in Horology that led me to believe that this - the very first clock to show Greenwich Mean Time- had stopped. I would not like to imagine the implications of such a clock stopping, so I will happily admit that it took me a while to realize that this, the Shepherd Master Clock, is designed to represent all 24 hours of the day. Back in the mid-1800s, a time signal would be shuttled to Harvard University in Massachusetts by the means of one, transatlantic submarine cable. Clocks at Harvard (and indeed in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dublin and Belfast) were physically attached to this single time-piece, and the responsibility for time-keeping I can only imagine was one of the most seminal in the land.
 
 
The minute hand had made several sprints around this race-track of time and in what felt (and so often feels) like an instant, the afternoon had arrived. Having successfully rendezvoused with some friends of mine in Greenwich, I had shuttled my way through the great subterranean intestines of the nation's capital to Barnes Bridge, where there another friend patiently waited to pick me up. Our plan, albeit sketched quickly in the eleventh hour, was to enjoy the final hours of daylight in the Chiltern Hills. The Chilterns rise up from the feet of London's suburbs, and in places, enjoy uninterrupted panoramas of the British heartland. One such position, and in fact the very summit of this AONB site, is the monument at Coombe Hill and just before an hour of walking was complete, we happened upon it. 
 
The winds swirl around this monument as easily as one stirs milk into tea. I watched as children struggled with kites, and parents stood ready to take charge, concerned perhaps that with one unannounced whisk, their offspring would be cast across the Cotswolds. Even the monument itself, a memorial to the men who fell in the Boer War, has been damaged several times by the fingers of lightning. But brushing aside these minor, yet in some ways unnerving details, the vista one affords is as spectacular as one might expect from such a position. Close by, the Chequers House and Estate - the 16th century country residence of the Prime Minister - sits in a pool of green. The individual branches that make up hedgerows, with distance, seemingly blend together into globules and close to the horizon, the globules flatten and the land appears pressed into a two-dimensional landscape painting. The cottages that make up what I'm sure are some beautiful villages are simply pellets from above, and then mere specks in the distance. And beyond the horizon, the landscape evolves only through the imagination.
 
Again, I remembered the message:
 
"Stare. It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here alone."
 
 


Sunday, 22 January 2017

Week 16: (16th January to 22nd January 2017) or 'My week in 2017 and 1846'


"There is nothing permanent except change"

(Heraclitus, 500BC)


Stillness.

In all of mankind's perennial endeavours, is there a quest more hopelessly unattainable, a challenge more insurmountable, or a vision more distanciated from the realms of possibility, than that of achieving stillness?

In the mere second it takes to transplant the word from brain to screen, what once was has become flooded under a tsunami of change. The planet has shuttled another 18 miles across the cosmos. Billions of watches have ticked. Millions of lifts have opened. Thousands of birds have soared into the air. Even here at my desk, a semblance of serenity is rocked by motion; the computer still whirs, the fridge still gargles and the heart still beats. Outside, the cotton wool surfs the skies.


I write, of course, at the end of a week that has witnessed Herculean change across the pond. The waves of the Atlantic may rouse the rudders and convulse the masts of ships, but sailors harbouring along America's east coast find themselves mooring to a country equally swaying upon the ripples of great political turbulence.

There has been great change, too, here at Lancaster University although admittedly not under the spotlight of the international media. Nevertheless, it has to some degree ruptured the vessels of convenience. I refer, for those reading beyond the campus, to the incessant burden of construction work. One's incessant burden is another's dream project and I should admit that when the final brick is levelled and the last builder's tea is brewed, the campus will be undoubtedly transformed.

It has become known as the 'Design the Spine' project, namely because the vital organs that make up the campus - the departmental buildings, residence blocks and restaurants - are the vertebrae that stem from one kilometre-long walkway. For weeks now, workers have endured the toils of bitter wintery weather to build a vibrant, light, weather-protected new route, which I'm informed will offer a "variety of environments, reinforcing its identity as the main campus thoroughfare". Whilst the dizzy heights of progress are slowly scaled, with all emphasis on 'slowly', those wishing to traverse the campus now find themselves engaged in one mass diversion.


I realized the size of the burden on Monday, this week, when striding towards a pocket of campus I hardly ever visit. Whilst my shoes have rarely tread west of the main square, all that changes this term. (Behold, another change; that said, I have been looking forward to this particular change of routine for some time). After hurriedly pacing the labyrinth of a campus without a spine, re-routing and diverting along the way, I finally arrived. Mopping the brow, I entered the County South Lecture Theatre. I was no longer just another breathless commuter, but a Teaching Assistant.

In many realms of life, the way one experiences the world depends quite simply on which side of the counter one is. For nearly two decades, I have observed the duties of a teaching assistant consistently as a 'customer'. I have watched, listened and learnt from their advice, from a classroom desk. In some respects, I think, there's no better manual for a teaching assistant than those valuable years you spend as a student, yourself. As such, never before has the idiom "putting your feet into someone else's shoes" been more appropriate. To be a great salesman, one needs experience as a customer; to be a great host, one needs experience as a guest; to be a great teacher, one needs experience as a student.

Equipped, therefore, with that very experience, I set out on my first duties. The module I am assisting with is an undergraduate Geography class aimed at tutoring students in the art of planning great research. Indeed, research really is an art. It has to be designed in the mind, sketched and scribbled, re-drawn and re-drafted. Creativity is key. When I went round on Monday, asking students what skills they thought were essential, this essence of thinking 'beyond the box' - of thinking laterally and creatively - was highly popular.

In the subsequent weeks, the students will be working on designing a research plan to a project of their choice. As one of the teaching assistants, I was tasked earlier in the month to draw up a series of project proposals, and my duties from now on will be to advise the students who elect one from my list. Here's an example:



I was spared the burden of journeying around cement mixers for the remainder of the week, and spent every subsequent day after my first teaching duties here at my desk, working on my very own research plan. In many ways, the efforts demanded from the undergraduate geographers are not too dissimilar to the enterprise of planning an investigation at PhD level. There (or rather, here) I sat for many days, tapping out a plan of action: the project aims and objectives, the methods I will employ, the timescales I will keep to and, of course, the reasons why it should be executed in that particular way. Alas, as I established at the start of this post, nothing remains still for very long, and I fully expect the plan to be refined and fine-tuned. It will be re-crafted and polished, not solely from my supervisor, but by the twists and turns the wheels of reality like to make from time to time.

***

It was the finest of wintery mornings. At the feet of Lancaster Castle, a city lay snoozing. A giant, low-lying Sun, sitting on the horizon, began to study the metropolis like an artist studies their subject. Rooftops began smoking their pipes, sending a spiralling plume of misty mystery towards the heavens. Crystals of ice convened meetings on slates before going on their way; some abseiling down gutters, some parachuting down to gardens below, some skiing in the crevices around mountainous cobbles.

I boarded a train. For just over half-an-hour, we roamed along the edges of fields where shepherds and flocks were seeking fresh ground. We cruised over the estuary of the River Kent; a giant pancake of silts and clays. Occasionally, little craters appeared, imprisoning pools of stagnant water that shimmered under the morning light. Morecambe was nothing but a silhouette behind a veil of mist. The carriage curtailed to a halt and I alighted. I took my first steps in Grange over Sands.


Seldom, when travelling, have I stepped down from a railway platform and instantly wanted to change my address. And yet, I had been in Grange for a little under ten minutes when an overwhelming sense of emotional attachment began to infuse into me. I began promenading around an arc that sits comfortably between the estuary and a series of garden terraces. Ogling the view out to the bay, a parade of boulders sat wearing wigs of violet heather, which drooped casually down to study the shoes and paws of passing traffic. The ornamental garden that assembled behind them lived up to its name.

I have walked all day in London and not once have I been greeted with "Good Morning" or, under the circumstances where the morning is for some reason not good, simply a "Hello". My amble in a town with 0.04% of London's population was a just under an hour and yet I had received 10, 15 perhaps 20 greetings. I will never forget the young boy, riding a tricycle and wearing a large orange helmet, who rode up beside me and said hello. Behind him, an example of first-class parenting was signalling calls of encouragement. On and on I walked in what progressively seemed a blessed place. Even the dogs paused to rub noses.

The high-street has shielded itself from the claws of globalisation. An establishment such as the 'Sunrise Café' may seem a cliché, but in Grange one is assured that such a café, with its warm and friendly service, lives up to its name. I wandered into a bakery and, to no surprise, it was thriving. Customers and cashiers were engaged in a lively discussion about last night's pub quiz. Here in Grange, customers and cashiers by day come together in the evenings as simply one friendly community. With that quintessential English aroma of pastry finding its way to my nostrils, I could not resist the temptation and parted with a sausage roll. Here in Grange, no sign reading 'Homemade' is required. It's taken as a given.

If there is a sign, though, that encapsulates the true spirit of Grange, then let it be this one.



I enjoyed every flake of my sausage roll under the clock tower, with a vista of the bay. Tidal inlets seemed to stretch into the distance like colonists searching for unsullied land. Still the mist lay outstretched across the horizon. I relished the idea of the world ending here, in Grange; perhaps, the last frontier.

Blessed with great weather, I took up a walk in the afternoon, parting ways temporarily with the idyllic Grange and up along the limestone pavements to Hampsfell. A familiar quilt of shallow soils, tufted grass and drystone walls blanketed the undulating landscape. Some fields were crowned with tall, steep-sided cairns which casted long, afternoon shadows across the moor. Tall, wind-swept skeletons of trees punched through the horizon.


I had perhaps walked an hour when I happened upon what at first looked like a castle. It turned out to be a hospice. With a steep set of steps along one of the flanks, I ascended to the top and found myself in the middle of a war; a battle between vistas. Each claimed to be the most supreme. To the North rose the Lakeland Fells; to the East, the Yorkshire Dales; to the South, Blackpool Tower. Though the hostel provides this panorama, it was originally commissioned not as a viewpoint, but as a shelter and it was its capacity to nurture the weathered traveller that I would investigate next.

You enter by way of a rusty, iron gate. History shrieks from the hinges when you open it. From inside, the wind that blows over the moors is simply a groan, as if it's slightly annoyed that you've escaped it. At times, it's a whistle; a high-pitch call, a well-hatched plot to make you return outside. 

The hostel, which is no larger in floor area than that of six red telephone boxes, was commissioned by the pastor of Cartmel in 1846. As you sit down on a slab of stone that grows from the wall, it still is 1846. In the corner are the charred remains of a fire. You liked to imagine the hands that it's warmed; perhaps, the glow of the embers that have shone hope to those hopelessly lost in the wilderness. On the walls are the words of Cartmel, himself.

This hospice has an open door,
A like to welcome rich and poor;
A roomy seat for young and old,
Where they may screen them from the cold.

Three windows that command a view,
To North, To West, and Southward Too;
A flight of steps requireth care,
The roof will show a prospect rare:

Mountain and vale you thence survey,
The winding streams and noble bay:
The Sun at noon the shadows hides,
Along the east and western sides.

And so there I sat, in Cartmel's hospice. In 1846.

If stillness is a prize still yet to be claimed, if there is a place that thwarts the howling winds of change, could this be the very place? And could there be a better neighbour, equally stalwart in the face of global dynamism, than Grange?


Sunday, 15 January 2017

Week 15: (9th January to 15th January 2017) - So many possibilities...


"White. A blank page or canvas. 
The challenge: bring order to the whole. 
Through design.
 Composition. 
Tension. 
Balance. 
Light. 
And harmony."

Stephen Sondheim

If there is a single thread of commonality that hems together this world of diversity, may it be our communal mission to bring colour to the world. Our lives, at birth, are blank pages and day by day, we dab our brushes of experience into palletes of opportunity. We design our lives, composing schemes from dreams; brushing away darkness and tension with light and harmony. As our paint dries, so our experiences become memories; colours which, over time, simply fade away from sight and from mind.

To revisit a memory is to recover those faded colours, and this week, I was granted the opportunity to revisit one of the most cherished memories I have ever had the pleasure to paint.


As the beacon of light in the sky burns out over the horizon, a veil of twilit wonder spreads over the city. The fabric and colour of the buildings slowly dissolve to a monotonous black; the flair of the architect is unexpressed at this hour. The metropolis is liberated from design; it's now a sanctuary for the creative mind. About a year ago, a young Geographer sat in a Nottingham hotel room, overlooking such a vista. He had just arrived, having completed an interview for a PhD in Lancaster. Glowing clouds of orange were diffusing from offices across the city. Street lights twinkled like stars in the distance. Troubled over the outcome of the interview, he retired to bed early. Unable to sleep, he gazed out across the city once more, counting the lights like sheep. His head rested upon the pillow; his mind was elsewhere.

The next morning, sipping a tea and watching a city awake from slumber, he received an email of congratulations. Like the clarity and precision which reappeared over the skyline of Nottingham, his future seemed bright once again. The journey from this point was composed.

That overwhelming sense of achievement - of harmony - greeted me as I returned this week to that very hotel. Recollecting the memory of that evening one year ago, I stood for a while with the lights off, gazing back on that twinkling twilit skyline. For so many hundreds of travellers, a hotel room is often a comma in a holiday; a hyphen between two days; a bracket around dead-time. For me, this room marks the very start of a wonderful journey, and although the rest of the journey is yet to be written, it pays to pause writing, travel back to the start and reflect on the narrative thus far.

***

"White. A blank page or canvas. 
The challenge: bring order to the whole"

I had travelled to Nottingham for much more than this period of reminiscing. As delightful as revisiting Nottingham for humble reflection may be, in truth I had arrived to take part in the first official STARS training workshop. And thus, I return to the 'blank page or canvas' and 'the challenge'. Like a musician's blank manuscript, or a cartographer's blank map, the PhD student often sets out with a blank page and a set of challenging research questions. In aspiring to attend to those questions - to rise to the challenge - he or she must begin with a well-drafted plan of action. How will I achieve my aim? What needs to be done? When do I need to do it? Why should I do it like that? This first training event would enable us to consider the very best techniques in which to construct a detailed research plan.


I would be doing disservice to the truth brigade if I said the event was held in Nottingham. In reality, the workshop was located on the Sutton Bonington Campus; a subsidiary of the principal Nottingham campus and such is the nature of the transport network that I was routed through three counties before arriving on Monday morning. To account for those travelling to Nottingham, the schedule for that afternoon was slightly slim. Our main task was to present the 'bigger picture' of our research; how and why it responds to some of the much larger questions and issues facing modern society.

I began by outlining four separate topics within Soil Science - soil production, soil erosion, the Carbon cycle and the effects of land use - and expressed them as four unfinished jigsaw puzzles. In the dutiful pursuit of knowledge and understanding, and the slightly self-possessed desire to become a 'world' leader of a specialized niche, these four jigsaws are often tackled separately. My PhD, however, attempts to find the pieces that unite all four together into one, much larger and comprehensive picture - the bigger picture. The Soil Productive Lifespan (the length of time a soil has to deliver vital functions) is, after all, a time period dependent on all four factors.


The workshop was strongly peppered with advice. Experienced practitioners within the academic sphere guided us through the art of writing quality research proposals, the techniques of penning a detailed literature review and the challenges of publishing work. I particularly enjoyed the activity of writing a lay summary; in other words, a paragraph of text that tries to convey my research to a non-professional. Churning the great cauldron of scientific knowledge and producing something palatable for the general public is, at times, tricky. The skills one requires as a scientist transcend beyond solving equations and mixing chemicals. Here's my first attempt at a lay summary:

"Earth is the only planet not named after a God or Goddess. Instead, it's named after one of the most essential components of life. Indeed, our lives depend on the earth - the soil - beneath our feet. From the food we eat and the water we drink to the gardens we create and the bricks that we use to build our houses, soil is critical for our jobs, our homes and our livelihoods. And yet, despite this, our soils are degrading. Across the world, we are losing productive soils faster than they are created. In my research, I am asking: how long can we rely on our soils to support both us and the rest of life on Earth? Think about the engine in your car. For that engine to function, it needs fuel: the right amount and the right type. The ground beneath our feet is an engine too, performing important functions and it too relies on there being healthy soil and enough of it. To understand the lifespan of a soil, my research therefore asks: what is the soil quantity (and how quickly does it reduce) and how healthy is the soil (and how quickly does it decay)? If we understand more about soil life expectancy, we can better plan what we do to protect them, saving both time and money. After all, lengthening the time our soils carry out the essential functions, lengthens the time we, as a species, have to enjoy long and productive lives."


On Tuesday evening, having dined in the grand ambience of one of the university's finest hotels, we retreated as a cohort back to Sutton Bonington campus. Paying full regard to the fact that the 'night was still young' (and perhaps very little regard to the early start required on Wednesday) we decided to congregate in one of the campus flat kitchens. A cordial dialogue was soon whipped up around the coffee table; harmless jesting and joyful quips soon turned a room of scientists into a room of friends. It should be noted that this would be one of the first times that we, as a cohort, would spend together in a room without an agenda. Games were played. Drinks were decanted. The glass seemed always half-full. And then, at a sobering period of an early morning, when the bottoms of glasses take their first breaths in hours, we recharged our minds with the more poignant issues facing the world. Such a discussion would have occurred differently after sleep. When the mind is fresh, words are more carefully restrained by the tight reigns of consciousness. After a long day, these reigns are withdrawn and the mind is free to canter along the tracks of honesty and unspoken truths. Thus, we trotted through the spiralling complexity of life and, as so often when dealing with such matters, we found ourselves trapped in a cul-de-sac of unanswerable questions. It was time for bed.

***


It was indeed refreshing, amidst a much more troubling national forecast, to see that the weather arriving in Lancashire on Saturday morning, was bright. Some of the 'treats' I unwrapped on Christmas Day were to be finally realized. One such gift was a bicycle computer, which calculates a range of interesting (and at various times along a journey) uplifting statistics about your ride. There's nothing like seeing an odometer steadily climb up the number scale as you, yourself, steadily climb a hill!

I parted the pavement and mounted my saddle at a little after 9am, and 15 miles elapsed until I alighted once more. I cycled through a defrosting landscape. Many of the fields glistened as the low, winter rays of the Sun collided with little globes of dew. Highland cattle, under their heavy coats of hair, seemed disaffected by the raw breeze which swept around the fells. Gliders surfed on this breeze above me and had I not planned to climb one of the highest fells in the Forest of Bowland, I might have even been slightly envious of their vista. Such was my plan though that this envy never transpired.


Dismounting in Chipping, a beautiful village I had the pleasure to pass through in the first month of my studentship, I made my way north-westerly across the fields towards Fair Snape Fell. The route at times engaged with some very deep pools of mud; for my new boots, this was their very first dialogue with nature and happily I can report a sterling job on their part. Soon the track began ascending. The ground underfoot transformed into a firm, reassuring carpet of moss and hardy grass. At times, the route was littered with black, angular boulders. At others, it was brightened by a gentle dusting of snow like flour dusts a loaf. A sweeping panorama emerged in the west; a green mosaic splintered by a corridor of hedge or a meandering country lane. A pristine tranquillity in the valley below had somewhere along this ascent battled and succumb to an overall more volatile, mountainous reality; a piercing breeze that shuttles around the lobes of your ears and injects a chill through the fibres of your cheeks.


I would now like to write another paragraph of text from Mr Morton, who often accompanies me in bounded form, on journeys like this. Here he is writing about the eternity of youth:

"Everyone can, I hope, remember a time in childhood when...the mind, untarnished by sin and undaunted by Eternity, lived as the butterfly lives, searching for, and finding, only sweetness everywhere. In those days the earth and the flowers smelt more richly and the sun seemed brighter than it is to-day; the rain, the snow and the mist were enchantments. Life is to most of us a gradual growing-away from this enchantment. But amid the million trials and difficulties of life that can harden and embitter, it is possible now and again to re-capture fractional seconds of this earlier world."


At the summit of Fair Snape Fell, I indeed recaptured one such youthful enchantment. I made a snowman. For just over an hour, I was deeply engaged with this simple, yet pleasurable activity. Just as my fingers became slowly numb to the frost, so my mind became numb to the burdens of life. An unshackled creativity was set free to roam around the vestibules of the imagination, and all from a blanket of snow. All from

"White. A blank page or canvas. So many possibilities".








Saturday, 7 January 2017

Out and About with Dan in 2017 (January to May)

Zoom and click on the pink buttons to see where Dan will be in the first half of 2017!