Woolgathering in lockdown

It seems completely ridiculous to me in these monumentally significant and historical times that I’ve been unable to write down a single word. There are all sorts of things to say and think about but I’ve remained weirdly paralysed. I don’t mean as some agent of the preservation of history, as if someone would ever hang on my every word, I just mean write because I like doing so. That’s not to say I can’t see the possible benefits of taking a notebook and just writing down stuff, everyday stuff, with the vaguest of ideas that a future historian might go, “oh hey, nice!” because the ‘people being people doing people things’ has always been the aspect of studying history that I actually like. Causes and repercussions of international tensions in the period 1871 to 1914 is all good and fine, but give me conversations about fast food in Pompeii anyday. I was always far more interested in the Roman politicians we got actual personal opinions about, so while I am sure there will be no end of dry accounts about our current politicians, particularly Trump, it seems somehow wrong that people might be spared the full detail of just how soap opera-ishly awful he truly is.

I pretty sure I’ve already mentioned I have a very small area of effect in life. I was never really one with grand ambitions to change the world. Extremely occasionally I wonder if I’m broken in some ways, since I see so many people fixated with the notion that everything needs to be fixed, radically improved. Progress must progress, and quickly! Everything needs to be dragged, kicking and screaming into the century of the… I want to say Fruitbat, which just shows exactly how not with it I am. All this, of course, speaks massively about my fortunate position in life; while there have been some Interesting Times I don’t currently need to strive and struggle to stay afloat. Of course this makes me sound like a luddite now, which is absolutely not the case either. I love new ideas and racing with things that ignite my interest and curiosity. I suppose it’s the constantly driven for external gain bit that I’m lacking. I love inspiration and all the energy and focus that that provides, be that in work or life interests. I am aware of the desperation of needing to be anywhere but your current situation, be it mental or physical, and the twin pressures of wanting it to just end, to stop feeling dragged down by your every thought, while also wanting to DO SOMETHING to power through it. In the in between I am utterly content to just be, to be a small thing amoung small things and live my small life with its big emotions, to have firecracker thoughts spark from everything I read and hear and sense, to love my family and friends in outwardly a calm and unfussed, quiet but internally bright and fervent kind of way.

So yeah, the history that I like to read is the history of people who poked at things and figured out how to be comfortable in their living spaces, to adapt to using things around them in clever, sometimes small but significant ways. That’s probably why I’m fascinated with things like making pigments, metal working, glass work, forestry and wood working and so on. As I went on my within-2km-allowed walk today I was delightedly enjoying the rich yellow of the dandelions and reflecting on how reviled they tend to be, probably, in part at least, because of their sheer abundance. They are gloriously bright after winter and I was thinking about how yellow is not really a colour people tend to go for and why that might be. Yellow medieval style garb in SCA circles really stands out, it sort of adopts it’s own authenticity just by being so bright and looking straight from illumination. I’ve learned that nature provides an abundance of ways to colour cloth yellow, easy and cheap ways, all around us. So what makes yellow unpopular? Why has yellow been associated with negative emotions and traits? Yellow flowers and plants in nature must seem like minor miracles to hungry pollinating insects in early spring. We are affectionate towards daffodils but we don’t treasure them the way we do other flowers. Once my eye was drawn to it it seemed as if yellow was dabbed in fiercely bright accents onto today’s more muted Spring colours, all the greensilver, cottonblue, mudroot and leaf ghost.

Today’s walk was a walk I don’t take very often, since I usually have access to bigger woods. I’m not complaining for a second, since I am utterly lucky to have access to any at all, and I have several spots along the path that are the equal of any good experience under sky I have ever had. I went with the promise of a kind of nest of birch and gorse on the edge of the bog in which there were butterflies in great numbers last Autumn. I was a little anxious when I got there first, there is a lot of evidence of some large machine having spent time ripping out a lot of scrub, gorse and birch wood, and of landwork on the bog. I really hate the shattered injuries of trees that have had one of those mechanical flails used to face them, gold inards sharded against the sky and limbs trailing back into the ditch. The exposed look is being softened by the budding branches left behind, but I still dislike the practice. There are the tracks of machines all over but once I started to poke around I found plenty to be pleased by though fewer butterflies than I was expecting. I think the work may be beneficial in the longer term, some drains seem to have been reworked and felled trees and branches seem likely to provide good and interesting habitats to any creature living in the little wood to the side.

In The Songs of Trees (which I adore) at one point David Haskell notes that certain spaces are not as accessible to all in a way that is not immediately obvious to, for example, a reasonably well off white guy going about his daily life. I only bring this up because I thought long and hard about persuading my eldest son to go walking today with me, having had a bit of an attack of “you can’t go walking in an isolated area by yourself, especially now”. There are a huge variety of reasons for this thought pattern, including quite possibly an occasional overdose of American crime shows like Criminal Minds at an impressionable time, and I’m not going to start into any serious discussion about it right now. Today there were two reasons why I was glad I went anyway. Thing the first is the astonishing, multilayered physical sea of insect noise I waded through. He detests buzzes and whines, not having yet learned to distinguish various insect noises from that of wasps of which he is phobic. I remember working on the bog and being constantly anxious listening for the particular whine of horseflies, the bites of which I tend to react to in particularly extravagant fashion. I can’t say I was always especially comfortable today, insect whine still irritates me, but I found myself strangely pleased by the amount of it, having read so much in later years about Insectageddon. I understand that the reduction in traffic noise generally has meant that birdsong and presumably insect buzz is far more noticeable, but even so, it was like being in my teens again. I sat on my fallen birch trunk and soaked in sun watching more bee varieties than I ever knew existed get up to all manner of high jinks in their lives while the birds sang their hearts out doing whatever manner of swearing at each other, charming each other or being as downright suggestive as their little hearts felt like and it sounded just glorious. And so there was the second reason – I felt better than I have in ages, all on my own watching sunlight glint off water pools and little bursts of fresh green wave about on the budding trees while slowly Spring seeped into my bones once and for all and feels like a real thing this year at last.

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