Saturday, 26 January 2013

Nature's Mercy - Andrew Strong

I live in mid Wales, on an isolated hillside, miles from shops, roundabouts and mobile phone reception. When the snow comes, and it fell heavily last week, the sense of being shut off from the world increases.  So far the electricity has stayed on, the boiler has kept working and no pipes have frozen up.  When something does go wrong, no one can get to the house to help.  Alone out here on the side of a high hill, this house can be at nature’s mercy.

The wind and rain batter one side of the house, drilling into the pointing, clawing it away.  Long ago the first occupant, a vicar, planted a row of pines, possibly to act as a windbreak but more likely to stop him having a direct sight of the chapel.  The pines are now forty foot tall, and when, last summer, one collapsed, the damage was extensive.

A huge oak stands near the main entrance to the garden.  A bough crashed down a few years ago making the house inaccessible.  No one could get in or out.  I own a chainsaw but it wouldn’t cut through such an enormous girth of wood.  I had to wait three days until the tree surgeons arrived, who fought with the bough for a few hours before they could claim victory.

The house belongs to jackdaws, at least I’m sure that’s what they think, believing it their duty to protect it from the pigeons and starlings. A few years ago a jackdaw slipped down the chimney and was trapped in the, thankfully unlit, wood burner.  It was like a one channel TV.  This afternoon, on Channel Crow, a jackdaw stares out at you.  I tried to free him, but he escaped into the front room, flapping sooty wings.

Rabbits and hares circle the garden, making plans for when it becomes theirs.  Moles tunnel under the hedgerow and give the lawn acne. Squirrels, polecats, stoats and weasels, they keep at a safe distance, but are no doubt endlessly plotting.  The badgers, nocturnal gangsters, rarely make an appearance, although driving along the lane at night I've caught sight of an albino badger: I told my children it was a dwarf polar bear.

Mice live in the kitchen drawers and cupboards.  They survive on a diet of chocolate and dishwasher tablets.  A colony of bats inhabit the attic and do their best to stay there but occasionally straying, like submariners, into the human world below.  A bat will circle the living room, a black comet, or creep across the carpet like a horizontal mountaineer. 

And then there’s the human world.  I watch them from my window.  The humans leaping off mountainsides on paragliders. Humans hiking, or cross-country running.  The humans working the land, hedging, draining, digging, endlessly digging. 

The farmer who owns most of the land around the house has more diggers than I have socks.  His constant urge to harness and control nature appals and amuses me at the same time.  He is as much part of nature as the trees and the birds.  He is restless in his desire as they are.  He never stops.  This house is in the middle of his field, and I’m sure he keeps his eye on it, hoping to move in when he thinks the place has been left empty for too long.

At night, when the sky is clear I see the wide sweep of the Milky Way.  I know where to find the constellations, the brightest and biggest stars, and where to pick out the planets.  Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn slide across the heavens, following each other in their orbits.  They move along a steep curve, reflecting the angle of the tilt of the Earth.  Sometimes it makes me feel giddy, as if I am about to slide off the world and into space.

A trillion suns, and many, we are discovering, with their own Earth sized planets, the so called ‘Kepler planets’, at last count over two thousand of them.

There must be other civilizations in our galaxy.  One day, when we discover them, the idea of nature will suddenly be transformed.  Nature will not just mean this world, nor even the visible universe.  It will mean the billions of other lives out there, life forms with their own histories, technologies, their own stories. 

And at least one of them must be watching us.  Waiting for their opportunity.  We are at nature’s mercy.  Perhaps, one day, they will come.  They might slip down the chimney and end up trapped in the wood burner.  Or they’ll sneak in at night and feast on dishwasher tablets.  


Stroppy Author said...

Lovely! Your house sounds fantastic. I have recreant trees, bats, foxes, snakes, deer, hedgehogs, herons, mice, rats, owls - but no dwarf polar bears! And I don't get cut off. But to live is such close proximity - no, integration - with nature is wonderful. A Wordsworthian idyll for your children, with or without aliens.

Sue Purkiss said...

Here, it rained last night and they say it will rain tomorrow, but today is sunny and beautiful, with shoots pushing up through the earth and birds breathing a sigh of relief. I hope you have a day like this too, so that nature seems a little more kindly!

Lynne Garner said...

A great first chapter for a book ... this is a house I want to discover more about as I turn the page.

Joan Lennon said...

Thank you, Andrew.

Maxine. said...

Sounds wonderful. I've just been counting birds for the RSPB garden bird watch - lovely to see the greater spotted woodpecker, it looks like it comes from another world, another time.

Savita Kalhan said...

I lived in a house like that once - outside Aberystwyth, in a little place called Lledrod. It was a 16th century cottage with big skies above, and only cosy when the open fire was lit, and kept alight! But yours sounds like the real thing!

Sarah Taylor-Fergusson said...

Your house. Makes me feel safe.