Samples of recent, fragmentary vignettes I am writing that reenact psychological experiences of landscape, often in the company of loved ones and companions. All written in 2020.
Vignette No. 1:
I dip my head under the peaty, cold waters; head and face bobbing back and forth by the force of gentle waves. I look across this grey-black disc of the lake that bisects the land, face subsumed halfway by the murky waters.
‘Don’t go beyond the rock, now.’
Whirling my body around in slow motion, miniature vortices are gently cast away from my fingertips like rings launching across a thin membrane. I look up at the mountain which scoops protectively around the lake, like a sleeping river god. Its craggy, wizened and ossified cliff face rests lazily in a Caledonian slumber, chin to the lapping waters. A vast beard of boulders curves seamlessly into the near black waters, disappearing into a liquid underworld. Looking up to the top of its long, flat back—perhaps the spine of a great green Sphinx––silken threads of silver mist drape slowly over the ridge, lithely drifting downwards onto a collection of pale, moving dots.
The goats cling effortlessly to the near vertical slope, noses to the ground, tearing off green tufts the mountain has to offer and munching furiously, perhaps returning our gaze through their other-worldly horizontal pupils.
‘No one can reach them there.’
A mournful bleat carries through the air, bouncing back and forth across the cavernous, empty belly of the glaciated valley. I whirl back around, body slowed by the weight of the black water and wade my way, breast high, toward the rock.
Vignette No. 2:
The Electric Storm
The last day. The first and last time I would sleep alone here, but for the dog. Brown and cylindrical,
… we must go
he lays with his nose pressed to the door awaiting our moment to leave like an arrow pointing nowhere. The liquid navy of night seeps into the room, cloaking everything in its path to form unifying, undulating moraines of darkness.
‘They said the worst storm in years would come tonight.’
I walk my way to the window and lean against the cold glass, a crystalline barrier between us and outside. Four granite mountains sit silently around the valley like frozen sentries keeping watch over the hidden life below. The sky, in contrast, is filled with activity. The hot, blue embers of distant gaseous giants tunnel their way to our eyes through the velvet black emptiness.
I turn away from the zenith and follow an arc downwards to about twenty degrees, measuring the sky with my hands
…the way she showed me.
A cascade of flashing, blue lightning ignites the southern horizon, rolling back and forth in a violent but silent tempest at odds with the clear, scintillating dome overhead.
The scene burns on the back of my retina, scoring itself forever onto my mind.
And I turn back around and lay on the bed to sleep here, for the last time.
Vignette No. 3:
Across the way
‘Ich meine….Ich erwarte nicht oder ich erwarte noch nicht, zuh zuh
Es ist einfach eine andere Zeit.
Ich meine…wenn man es nicht versucht, dann, ja.
Da. Da da da dig gig zuh zuh
A loud telephone voice, accompanied by the recognisable stutter, ripples through the air between this mountain and the next. As I wait for him on a bench by the boarded-up cabin, I press the rubber viewfinder of the camera against my eye, staring through a black rectangle to the mountain opposite.
Click. Click. Click.
I look, with dissatisfaction, at the results on the LCD screen. A pointed, snow-capped form is impressed upon the glass, flattened within the plastic housing of the device I hold in my hands.
Click. Click. Click.
Missing in the frame is the hanging valley that scoops behind to the right of the mountain, holding a retreating glacier in its hollowed-out palm. Missing also is the ring of majestic peaks that surrounds us, whispering to one another above our heads in the gentle stratospheric wind. Missing is the blazing sun that burns through the thinning atmosphere to sear our necks from behind…
Suddenly, the chopped, rapid howl of a distant helicopter bursts through the serenity, confusing sound and sight as the cacophonous noise hurls into every corner of the valley.
‘Where is it? Do you see it?’
‘No. Oh wait. There.’
We just about make out a red, flying object that follows an invisible descending path, switching back and forth as it lowers its way from over the ridge and down the valley. It flies past us–westward–and gradually fades from our perception, like a withering heartbeat.
As the stillness returns, I notice the wiry hair and soft flesh beneath my fingers as I find my hand pressing into his arm. And we look, for a few moments more, at the mountain across the way.
Vignette No. 4:
‘The altitude does funny things to your belly,’ he says,
‘so don’t feel bad.’
He leaps ahead of me down each stone in dramatic arcs, expelling air with amusing regularity every time his foot contacts the ground. He explains that the air in our bodies is under pressure and wants to balance with the thinning atmosphere around us
‘like opening a bottle of coke.’
Following him in novel discomfort, I sneak quick glances at the peaks that crown the horizon as we hop our way awkwardly down the slope. We land on the well-worn muddy path that contours the way through the alpine land, guiding us to our final destination.
Without warning, an immense wall of cold air confronts us as we turn a sharp bend, shocking every cell of our exposed skin before our eyes awaken to the scene. A vast, grey glacier is laid out before us; creaking, snapping and groaning like a living, colossal beast. The barren mountains above watch in silent dignity as they lose from their grip the slipping ice. The glacier pushes and drags its way down the valley, in time imperceptible, melting from existence to leave only a ghostly absence in the forever changed land.
Somehow, my attention is pulled to the right as I find myself staring up the slope from which we came. A heaving mass of gneiss rock seems to curve infinitely into a uniform, white sky; space and scale beginning to detach from the familiar. As I stand there in what seems an eternity, a thin film of water trickles down the rock in a constant flow toward my eyes, as certainty of time and place evaporates. And I realise, as I stand there frozen by the impression, that it speaks.
Vignette No. 5:
Engrossed in conversation, she doesn’t notice as I stand––transfixed––staring at the soft, blonde down that blankets her wrinkled face. As she sits in the chair my face is level with hers. Her coral lipstick cracks as she talks over my head, and for the first time I become aware of beauty…
…and the tall grass parts as we push our way through. I catch glimpses of them ahead, bodies silhouetted by the retreating sun. Dusty clouds of seeds disperse into the glistening light as I cup fluttering moths in the hollows of my clasped palms. I open my hands and release them back into…
…knee-deep in the snow, never having ventured there at night. The snow covered field emits a freezing, radiant blue under the moonless sky. We huddle past the herd as we make our way around the grove, and get back onto the road. We stop to look at a wrought iron lamp…
…it’s 5.00am and dawn has long broken. We stand on the wide boulevard, paved in light grey stone. Everything seems matt under the featureless white sky. Like a living clock-hand, she appears to move around the Spire. A passerby says hello, and we laugh…
…standing by the Pigeon House with our backs to the looming, twin chimneys. Ribbons of sand blow across the beach, skating the surface in a way I’ve never seen. I step outwards….
…body aches in the freezing alpine water. The torrent of water flows downwards, suddenly, from between the braking rocks. He tells me that people have been pulled away by currents…
…looking at the yellow light as we travel up the funicular. I look at the back of his hair as he watches the land disappear
Vignette No. 6:
The Aspen Tree
‘There is a tree that always trembles,’ she tells me,
‘Even when the air is still.’
Huddled together in the dead of night, we make our way down the rocky path that flows like a dusty stream into the base of the sleeping valley. Particles of ancient silica kicked up by our feet hang in the air, illuminated by the stony light of the moon like clouds of cosmic dust. We laugh and talk at the top of our voices until we are bathing in the deep sound of the heavy, black water that gushes under the wooden bridge we cross.
We make our way through the last leg of the journey, the path darkening as the thick firs narrow the way. The pitter-patter of our living feet fades as we leave the pebbled path onto the soft ground of the field, as if lifted out of bodily presence.
The dry stone ruins sit under the brilliant moonlight, clinging to the ground as years of roiling weather gradually razes them from above. She points her finger toward eleven o’clock and the tree stands before us––its quivering, silver leaves
‘carrying the spirits of the dead’
as their grief echoes silently through time. We stare at the stricken tree before turning to leave, as the amber cinders of the August Perseid meteors expire above our heads.