Sale Fell lies at the westerly edge of the English Lake District, looking out towards the Solway coast and the Scottish hills that lie over the water, whilst guarding the fringe of the north west fells that so dramatically margin this rugged landscape. It is a modest beauty combining lovely walks, views, splendid birds (of which pied flycatcher and green woodpecker are good examples) and wonderful opportunities for picnics and breathers.It has an interesting geology with outcrops of pure white rock marking the top like sheep biologically washed in the latest washing powder. It has been the location of films, murders, passionate love embraces and probably much much more. May it long watch over us.
I had a favourite tree to play on as a young boy. In fact I had more than one. They became great friends – faithful and places of refuge . My first packet of cigarettes (5 Park Drive!) was concealed under a bush there in a hole dug out with the precise purpose of being my “fag den”. I couldn’t help wondering why it took so long to light the blasted things, not appreciating that they were damp and sodden of course. I explored these tress like foreign lands – mapping my course round and up them as I ventured forth. Their contours were tactile and living proof of growth and experience. Jumping off the thickest branches onto the heads of imaginary passing badmen in true Robin Hood or Lone Ranger style. Always there, rooted solid and dependable. In later days I loved songs about trees – Mike Heron from the Incredible String Band’s own “The Tree” and Michael Chapman’s elegaic “Among the Trees”. And now – how beautiful they are on their lonely fellside outposts or cosy moorings in household gardens. Just to appreciate them is enough. There is a tree in Setmurphy woods just outside Cockermouth that I call my meditation tree. It has a special vibe – and its where I can go for spiritual nourishment. In many ways they are easy to draw or paint, because they don’t move too quickly, but actually capturing the spirit of tree through art isn’t easy, possibly because they are so aesthetic and solidly real in themselve standing like nature’s own sculptures. Who needs a picture of a tree – when you can go and see the tree itself. Anyway this year there’s an opportunity for me to try and draw/paint more. As Mike Heron says “Oh lord – how happy I am!”
As the crux of winter looms, the fells hang a necklace of snow around their peaks and the lake glistens in the clear light of the falling day. The birds are quiet, gathering their strength to endure the cold hungry days still to come. Looking out across the water the shadows play like ghost ships seeking anchor whilst the phosphoresencent quality of the surface changes as if a fifties black and white television screen. It’s too cold to linger long, though the dogs seem happy to splash at the water’s edge. I’m minded to take a photograph with my restored pre-digital Yashica lens supplied by The Lens Doctor. That sounds like an advert. It’s not – more like an endorsement for a guy that is doing a great job helping to ensure these wonderful old lenses have a sustainable life after the digital revolution. Meanwhile the light has just changed again.
Sometimes life mirrors the weather. Unsettled with a depression coming in, water, water everywhere spilling over into our roads, fields, gardens and homes. Then a day’s respite. a glowing sun set in the chill of a northerly wind. Before the rain comes again, in torrents unseen and unheralded. Breaking our dykes, reminding us that we live in an elemental world, governed by natural forces we may feint to control, but at end of the day, do their own thing. So we watch with as much patience as we can muster, shaking in our vulnerable humanity.
Raising the question – who’s really in charge; us or mother nature?