Sunday, 14 November 2010

Genius Loci: The lower gill

Time is always against me in this place. Down in the dark valley the afternoon light quickly passes and the shadows lengthen. A jay is startled by my presence and flies almost vertically up to the light. Large birch groves, wild and thick, overhang the stream. In a place where there are no paths you are forced to crawl beneath low branches, flat on your belly in the wetness with the smell of mud and leaves filling your senses. I find a cuckoo feather, spotted and neat, lying where it fell on the brown oak leaves.
In the area downstream from the waterfall this place reaches its full splendour. The sides become steeper, in some places precipitous. The sky a thin ribbon of pale grey light glimpsed between branches. Colonies of mosses drip down rock faces. Lichen crust branches, making ancient trees appear green and grey. The bracken has fallen back to a golden brown but down in the gill large ferns, descendents of plants that were ancient when the first animals climbed from the seas, display themselves in vivid clusters of vibrant green. Even in the cold chills of an autumn afternoon their will to live has not been broken and they will not sleep easy like the common bracken.
During the green days of a May spring I had found the gill alive with insects. In one place I had felt a billion billion eyes mark my step. I stood still and heard the tiny roar of an ancient oak wood alive with wood ants, unnumbered legs scratching across the leaf litter, running up and down grass, branch and stem. To stand still too long was to invite their bites, large hinged jaws that close on all flesh regardless of shape or size. Now in the last weeks of the year all silent. No insects, few birds. Sometimes a flock of wood pigeons fly high over head. I do not hear their flight, they come from a long way to the north and cross my narrow field of vision in a blurred instant. They are the only movement I see down in the deep places of the gill. Apart from myself and the water all else is still. I feel like I am walking through a camp of sleeping giants, I tread carefully so as not to betray my presence.

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