I am walking along a beach on a cloudy day (it is March), and, at ankle height, grains of sand are racing past me at a rate of ten thousand per second. They sculpt themselves into ribbons and waves, trailing out, billowing, resting, and rushing on again, in a never-ceasing race to escape the sedentary secessionism of those they trample underfoot.
I feel like a giant, towering eighty metres above a desert sandstorm, as it engulfs sheikhs and Bedouins, caravans and tents, oases and all the other stereotypes of a life I do not know. My ankles barely feel the weight of the sand’s incessant hurling, and I’m happy to have my hair whipped around and to admire the pretty spirals.
I am walking along the spine of the Salisbury Crags, where the hunched shoulders of basalt slope down the gentle gradient of long grasses to a loch. The city is left behind, and I find myself in a different September – somewhere back in the 18th century (or 17th, or 16th). The soils are thin, the sky is pale blue, and I’m happy to be here, pinned to the ground by the bluster.
The great wide tidal wave of the slope spreads out before and behind me, furrowed by multiple streams of air parting the grasses as so many manes of horses, galloping up to the brink and over: down, down, to be torn apart on the rocks below.
I am walking through a wood of maples and sycamores. These trees haven’t been here too long – only thirty, forty years, maybe. And in that time they’ve already seen their fair share of leaves. An old stone wall to my left has created something of a natural funnel, and the leaves (it is November) are breathing and sighing; up, down, and across the footpath, rising dangerously close to my pink face as they reach back toward their former homes among the lower branches. And then, with another sigh, they settle for the floor once more.
The leaves are dying. Their life-blood is draining. The green is gone, but in these convulsive death-throws, the withering skeletons of cellulose, chlorophyll and starch suddenly discover a second beauty, albeit a fleeting one.
The year is dying, decomposing, but in these last few days, the fertile soil of future springs will be prepared, as this year’s growth is laid to rest, like so many unfulfilled dreams.