Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Malham Cove - spring.

For miles as we approach, we can see Malham Cove rising out of the green rolling landscape like a stony dam. Its mineral brightness jars with the mellow Dale's landscape and I feel a thrill at being able to see our destination before we arrive, like a first glimpse of the sea when headed for the coast. The weather is kind, as it has been for days - the sun mostly winning through the cloud.

Our picnic is finished swiftly in the boot of the car and we set off slowly, the children dreamy and playful. There are gloomy predictions from the man of the family about ever reaching the top of the cove 'at this rate'. But I know these boys of mine - we are daily adventurers together and I can see that they are just limbering up and getting into their stride. We pass perfectly polite blue-grey Dale's cottages clothed in wisteria and delphiniums, surrounded by genteel green fields and leafy oaks. Like pictures from another time they stir in me a strange familiarity, perhaps in childhood I dreamed of standing at similar doors in similar gardens; belonging in this gently rural place.

The main footpath up to the cove is busy with folk as we join it. Monty skips and jumps, full to the brim with child-simple joy - shouting to all who'll listen, 'I like dogs!'. I'm not sure if he's trying to get people to let him pet their dog or whether he's just enjoying the game - but it's interesting to observe some people smiling with him, whilst others look away. Eli seems out of sorts so I point out to him the wobbly silver lines of dry stone walls snaking across the hills, some now no more than fallen and heaped rubble, bleached by centuries of exposure. He looks and nods but he can't seem to shake his subdued mood until he sees some water. The stream that burbles at the bottom of the flat approach to the cove is shallow and inviting and the boys wade and paddle their way upstream towards the sheer face of the cove, little legs pink with stinging cold. Jackdaws sit in gnarled, still-bare ash trees at the water's edge.

We stop to chat with a couple whose teenage children are chasing their dog through the water; the parents look wistfully at Monty and talk of how quickly time passes. I can see watching him play they miss little voices and limbs; my thoughts fall forward to a time too soon approaching and I can't help but wish that just sometimes we could all slow the bitter-sweetness of growing children.

Walking on, we find that just before the cove the RSPB have set up a viewing station for spotting peregrine falcons high up on a treacherous ledge. The man tells us they are being shy today but when I step to the telescope I see a bright eye, a beak and a turning wing, 'I see him!' I shout, and turn excitedly to see doubtful faces; perhaps they think I am mistaken or lying. They come to look but he is gone - I keep looking for a while longer, fruitlessly hoping to catch another glimpse of the elusive raptor.

We start to ascend the long stone staircase to the top of the cove; the rocks are slippy and worn and I worry for the boys who are racing each other up and up. I worry too for my sprained and swollen ankle, still tender and delicate - making me move slowly, like someone older, forced into frailty. I wonder whether you can measure sprightliness by the staircases you can climb? These giant steps are impressive, made of hefty rocks and slabs. It must have taken so much strength, time and commitment from people who had probably been volunteers - lending their limbs and spirits to lift and perfectly place one stone after another to make the high limestone pavement accessible instead of muddy and dangerous. As I climb higher, able to see further and further, I silently thank these willing strangers.

At the top, we can't see how to proceed. It takes a moment or two to adjust to this strange landscape, I hobble over the treacherous surface, scared again for my ankle and for the little legs clambering beside mine. But children are mostly sure-footed, having not yet learned to mistrust their bodies, their confidence often keeps them safe. I look into the gullies, searching the grikes between the slabs for plant life - remembering in The Wild Places, Robert McFarlane and Roger Deakin on their bellies in Ireland - peering into the fertile life of the gully, finding wild worlds in miniature. I'm not sure it's quite like that here, perhaps the crisp packets and plastic bottles distract me from the plant life, although I do spot some wood sorrel, herb Robert and stunted ash saplings amongst the ferns. It's hard not to compare these rocks with bones - long spines of ridged rock, each knobbly clint a vertebra or a knuckle. Teeth too point up from the surface - a true dinosaur graveyard for little minds ready to make stories and see monsters. There is a kind of magic in the contrast between the green tufts pushing between the bony platelets of the stone, all suspended on this high platform beneath the clouds, above the valley.

Monty treads carefully beside me, holding my hand. A family passes anxiously with a dog, his paws clattering and slipping on the rippling stone. I point them to safer ground and notice the parents looking wistfully at Monty, they gesture towards their own children and joke about big boys and big smelly feet. They miss cute, they say; and I understand...I am to treasure these moments, remember this day.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

A quick explanation

It's been a while since I last blogged - something to do with real life being full to bursting and doing some things a little differently.

My little slices of time squeezed in around home educating and all the other stuff have changed a little of late. Whereas I would pull myself up at some time dictated by the lark and spend it tapping away at this blog; I now peer bleary eyed at real paper and scribble with a real pen - writing just for me. It's been good - possibly essential - and I need to continue to do it, but I also miss the company of a blog; the visitors, the critics, the wider community of millions and I miss a place to put my photographs. So I'll try and be here more regularly again, for a while.

I will attempt to go back to the beginning and re-find the stories of our spring into summer. The weather has been mostly kind, the days long and fun-filled; it has been a season of goodness and growing - both boys and green things and it delights me to say that there is yet more to come for all of us.

In the Autumn I will be starting a new module of study with the OU - a creative writing module. It will take nine months to complete and if I do well enough, it will hopefully see me finish a degree I started sixteen years ago. When that course starts, I fear I might disappear again for a while, but we'll see. In the meantime I'll try and pop in even if it's just for a quickie because habit is good - it can get things done.