Songs from a village-morning
“It is occasionally possible, just for brief moments, to find the words that will unlock the doors of all those many mansions in the head and express something – perhaps not much, just something – of the crush of information that presses in on us from the way a crow flies over and the way a man walks and the look of a street and from what we did one day a dozen years ago. Words that will express something of the deep complexity that makes us precisely the way we are .”
-Ted Hughes (Poetry in the Making, Faber & Faber, 1967)
It is 5:50 a.m.
Torn from the dark well at the bottom of which I have been dwelling, I am ejected upwards and outwards, and spilled, stumbling and off-balance, into the daylight. Still not really present, my eyes half-glued together by darkness and the oblivion of sleep, I shamble out onto the balcony and stare, still stupefied, around myself.
The weather patterns have been migrating, are on the move.
Herds of cloud cattle have been roving restlessly eastwards, driven by the relentless north-west winds pushing them in from the Tasman Sea, finally shuffling to a halt, and pausing to graze in the skies above the Valley. Throughout the night the wind chimes on our balconies have been singing, sometimes in unison, sometimes not, announcing their arrival. They are humming the tunes and lullabies chanted by the retreating wind to calm the bovine minds of the cloud cows.
But it is morning, and I have stepped outside to see what the day has to offer. Perched up here on the hill, the whole glorious vastness of the skymeadow is there to be absorbed. Our section may be small, but the view is panoramic and forever. And free.
I can smell the sharp scent of the forest as it breathes out, drifting softly down off Conical Hill, sometimes cool, sometimes warm, but a reminder that the forest is. It just is. Out to the right, beyond the houses cuddled in under the lee of the forest, a line of pine trees stands out against the landscape, masking my view towards the Lewis Pass. The trees shuffle rebelliously in the morning breeze, turning their backs to it and pulling up their collars to stubbornly thwart it from blowing down their necks. They have been playing this game successfully for decades,compliant resistance which has held the north-west winds at bay.
The birds have made it to the edge of day/the edge of night well before me, folding up the blanket of darkness and packing it away until evening, when they will take it out again and spread it across the land.
There is a hierarchy to their ritual, and an order to it. Firstly the komako, the bellbird. In the darkness, usually before I rise, it clears its throat. First one, then two, then a tumbling torrent of bell-shaped notes fall out upon the silence. For a moment the stillness persists, but the spell is broken, and, somewhat embarrassed at having been beaten out off the start line, the other birds hurriedly get their act together. They scurry to tune their instruments, finding their seats on the stage in haste. First the blackbirds, then the finches, then the thrushes and starlings, building layer upon layer of sounds, until the orchestra is in full swing, performing the Symphony of the Day .
Down the hill, below us to the South, the village is beginning to stir, throwing off the forgetting quilt of night, tossing back the covers of darkness and placing tentative feet upon the chilly floor of the day. The New Year has just passed, and everyone here in the village has pushed over the finish line of the year,on holiday and coasting, running downhill for a time before we begin the frantic climb to next Christmas.
The locals, all 900 of us, are seriously outnumbered. The 600 holiday homes, which lie empty and cold, curtains pulled across their eyes, for most of the year, have been blinking owlishly, stunned by their sudden exposure to the light. They have thrown off their cardigans of solitude, and, as I pass, the evidence of sudden habitation is there, station wagons and SUV’s scattered erratically across their front yards. Thousands of people have flooded into town, filling up the nooks and crannies, shaking the detritus of the year from the carpets and furnishings, throwing open windows and doors, and allowing the wind to enter, to shoo out the stale, trapped air of the last twelve months.
It is time for my daily ritual, and I wander down the hill to the local bakery for a flat white, where the brown Yang of the coffee mingles with the white Yin of the frothed milk. The Tao in a coffee cup.
Zen and the Art of drinking coffee.
For a time I have the village to myself, then, gradually, one by one, they begin to emerge: clearly-labelled mountain bikers in form-fitting lycra, seeking a caffeine hit before their Big Adventure; bright-eyed dogs taking their still-slumbering owners for a walk, and a few tourists, attempting to orient themselves to the compass and to the opportunities they perceive.
I return to the newspaper which the bakery supplies gratis, and dance lightly across the articles common at this time of year; the high (and low) points of the year just gone, the inevitable photographs of families on holiday, and the columnists’ predictions for the year ahead. A formula chiselled in paper in 10 point Times Roman.
Then it is time to return. It has taken me a year to begin to put down roots in this village, to feel as if I really belong, to accept the gift of being here. Only now has the surface newness worn off to the point where I am beginning to sense the rhythms, to see below the surface.
As I make my way back up the hill, the rubbish bags are piling up gregariously along the sides of the street. A young couple are packing up to go back to the city; he is putting out the bulky brown rubbish bags on the berm while she packs the boot.
The Christmas wave has passed; soon the holiday homes will be silent, shuttered and still once more.