A Walk on the Oxfordshire Ridgeway

Today I took a walk up to my favourite spot on the Ridgeway. It’s been a little while since I have been there, and I wanted to see how it had changed, what magic nature had worked, how it would feel like a different place since I last saw it, overcast and grey and covered in the white, milky puddles that ancient chalk footpaths make.

The sky was blue but the air cool when I arrived at the top of Chain Hill. Instantly, the instinctive expansion of lungs and stomach to draw in the light, windswept air, and the dropping of shoulders. I don’t get up here enough. A short walk this morning, a couple of hours wrestled from the week to refuel, slow down, see what I am missing – to really look.

a footpath running along a hillside I should know it already, of course, but in my absence the world has changed immeasurably, in a way that every time, though I should know better, takes me by surprise. There are, I could easily believe, a thousand shades of green. Unreal, neon-lit grasses, deep emerald leaves, the nearly-black of shaded undertrees, the lime newness of unfurling buds, the changing dusty yellow-sage and winter-brown of fields as clouds race over them. Enough variety to make life below this high old pathway retreat and curl up, distant.

Verges which I know busied themselves with snowdrops against a bare, black and white background are now shoulder-high with shoots and violet flowers. The grass that runs down the middle of the track is dotted with white and yellow buds and thistle-shaped heads. The sky above is the kind that seems put together to amaze us, to force us to recognise how large the world is, how ridiculous our arguments, our problems: cobalt blue, with faint lines drawn long before smaller white circles. There’s something about being surrounded by all this colour, above and below, that fills the mind and leaves no room for negative emotions.

I read somewhere, and I wish I could remember where, about the benefits of simply being surrounded by nature and away from the devices that we use to fill our senses at home – that the bright colours and movement and noise of our televisions, computers and mobile phones cannot compete with the way in which all our senses are needed when we’re outside – the noise, the movement, the detail, the scents, the feel of grassheads on your palm. This makes absolute sense to me. I don’t hate modern life – it’s wonderful that we can share information in a way that has never been done before. I just hope that we don’t forget what else there is, outside. That we remember that pictures of nature are inspiring, but they aren’t the same as being there, and breathing it in; the sound of wind whistling through treetops, and the playful changing light.

As I walked from Chain Hill to the iron age fort, the sun grew warmer and the light brighter, so that I feel, now, a couple of hours later, that a light and warmth is still held behind my eyelids. Soon I realised how much I had missed – that sense that you can walk the same path every day, and it will never be quite the same. Different things will happen, different details will appear under different lights, impossible as it is to see without filtering everything through your own mind. Such walks fill me with a sense of peace, but also with an underlying sadness that I can’t be there everyday. I’m missing things. Things so important and unfeasible in their simplicity. That somewhere, while I sit in traffic, kites are circling and flowers are unfurling. There’s something comforting, though, in knowing that whatever else happens, this goes on. The green sap pushing through the world as it turns, producing tidal waves of growth as the seasons wash from one continent to another.

What things did I see, and not miss, this time? Butterflies, tiny and violet blue, like jewels on a Victorian dressing table, looking as if they would taste of dust and sugar; brown, with bright orange circles, sunning themselves on flowers that tilted with the wind; pearl, and quick to flutter away into the white cloud above. Their cousin, a long, furred caterpillar with an armour of small spikes that wriggled across the pebbles and which I paused for, to make sure that it reached the grass on the other side, safe from the tracks of cyclists’ wheels, and which thereby shrank and wonderfully paused my world for a few minutes.

a path through a bluebell woodPassing underneath trees so thick with leaves that delightfully spooky-looking shadows covered the path beneath me, a cloud of buttercups glowed like gold coins. Above the branches, a crow burst across the sky in a shocking black cross, like a warning, like a shout. Back in the sun, a chaffinch warbled proudly from a branch end, showing off his salmon breast. All these seemed suitable, when after an hour I arrived at the iron age hill fort which I had last climbed up on a windswept day, hands tucked in pockets.

Grass which had seemed sparse and bare underfoot now swept past my knees, leaving small circles of dew damp. From the top of the fort’s ridge, I saw that what had been bare grass, impressive in its stillness and plainness, was now a waving field of yellow and white, tiny flowers and paper-like grassheads. Truly, I had missed the arrival of a new world. I could be in another country. I kneeled in the damp grass to see things from its level, as the sky grew immense overhead and insects fizzed around my head. No wonder the birds and bright colours had been trying to prepare me for this.

There is something immensely comfortable in the thought that you can stand on ground that was moulded by human hands hundreds of thousands of years ago, and yet be amazed to see it change from season to season. Its permanence, and flexibility. Its continuity, despite all odds, and the way it can burst forth with life from days of ice chill and bare soil. In changing times, I feel invigorated by the reminder that such earth does not care for current political changes, for what I have to achieve this week, for tarmac roads and busy offices. It will be there, even while I am away, preparing another surprise, a new show, a shift of details that will prove so rewarding when found. It is possible, there, to feel both tiny and young, and older than the years, part of the sky and soil that surrounds you. It doesn’t matter what you believe in. It’s just free, and alive.

As I turned to head back to the rest of my day, I saw from the corner of my eye a dark shape drifting through a field of emerald green crops to my right. A deer, solitary, and moving slower and more gently than I have seen before, as if swimming through the plants, enjoying the view, as if floating. Hands raised over my eyes, I stopped to watch – she was so close, but unaware of my existence. Time paused. Then, she lifted her head and looked directly at me. I froze, unwilling to break the moment that had snared us both in it, a tightrope drawn between us. A shallow breath later, she gently swung her head round, and carried on her slow, sedate way, parting the green waves. Knowing that neither of us mattered, really, just the parts we were playing in this life, this time, this round, as the sun travelled overhead.


Photos by Adam Edwards

Moki Creek, Utah

Rills at the stream’s edge repeat thought.
I think of the many animal tracks covering
the continent, can’t step anywhere without
hoof, paw, claw or flipper, hair-thin touch
of a water-strider or a spider landing
there before my booted, five-toed foot.

If I put out feelers, I can sense, not a foot
away from any skin cell on my body, the thought
(or actual presence?) of the past that covers
or hovers around me. I breathe without
hesitation, each breath inhales a touch
of past exhalations, floating, landing.

Things live beyond themselves, the very land
is made of rocks that have risen, a foot-
long branch scatters needles like thoughts
from a purposeless daydream where I discover,
again, how mercilessly quickly time goes, without
a by-your-leave, without a parting touch

so I could feel I’ve been present, have touched
at least the stream’s rills or smelled the land’s
damp scent. I want the imprint of my foot
to be more conscious, want my thoughts
to last, as memories I’ll later discover,
palpable parts of day I needn’t do without.

Sit down here with the invisible, without
conscience’s scolding chatter, free to touch
almost unbearably cold water. Over land
infected with risen rocks, places where foot
after foot has passed and tracks, like thought,
wash down over the course the stream covers.

Look across where trees’ reflection covers
water, one existence layering another without
the need to ask permission or excuse the touch
it lays imperceptibly, surely, as it lands
on water’s surface and changes the passing, foot
by foot, down this slope into my thoughts.

Not to take without giving, not to measure, foot
upon foot, each thought by its ‘profound discovery.’
To land in the midst of myself, to be touched.

By Grace Marie Grafton

hiker under giant stone arch in desert


Grace Marie Grafton is the author of six collections of poetry, which can be reviewed on Amazon’s site. Grafton_Whimsey_CoverShe lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, with a redwood tree outside her kitchen door and a native live oak next to her deck. Nearby are red squirrels, raccoons, salamanders, and (never seen) mountain lions. Other of her nature poems can be found in Canary (online), Peacock Journal (online), Third Wednesday, Poecology and The Common Ground Review. Her book, Whimsy, Reticence and Laud: unruly sonnets, is rooted in her love of nature. She has taught for decades with CA Poets in the Schools, frequently taking her grade school students outdoors for their poetry lessons.

Photo of A hiker at Jacob Hamblin Arch in Coyote Gulch, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah, United States by Koji Hirano.

Lessons in the Wind

windy day sky and bunchgrass scrubOut the window, a bright-burning circle of sun cut into a cobalt sky. The dogs seem to notice, too. They smash their noses against the sliding-glass door eager for their daily romp. The day is cool with a slight breeze, so off we go into the fields. We walk too far, stay too long and the harsh evening winds descend. Dust devils swirl and tumble weeds bounce across the earth. The leaves of the silver sage shake and the air fills with its sharp scent. A gust blows. My ears turn cold and crimson. My hair ― a wild lion’s mane.

The dogs run through bunchgrass that stands taller than their shoulders. I call to them, but the wind hushes my voice. As the sun and the temperature lowers, I turn back towards home. The wind pushes against me. My pace is slow. Grueling. I can’t see the dogs, but somehow they meet me at the gate, panting ― their long, pink tongues hanging out of their mouths. I’m wind-weary and disheveled, but full of endorphin-flowing exhilaration.

A tree falls on Tyler’s house. My student’s and I can hear the wind rage outside the classroom. A freight-train wind, we call it. Gusts up to 60-80 mph are not unusual here in the high desert. We are writing stories, when someone says, “Tyler, a tree just fell on your house.” We look out the window, and there it is, the tree thrust inside the shattered roof. Tyler walks out of the classroom. We watch him from the window. He crosses the street. Stares at his ruined home. That night, his family moves out of the house until the tree is removed and the roof is repaired.

That same day, I find our camper in the middle of the long, gravel driveway that leads to our home. The wind had grabbed the camper, tossed it like a tumble weed. It landed on its back, its feet sticking up. I stop my truck, get out and walk over to check the damages. I peer through the window. Everything is upside down. The clothes that hung from a rod in the closet spread across the ceiling, which is now the floor and littered with broken dishes, pots and pans. Later, the ruined camper will be hauled off, and a new one will replace it.

As the sun sets and the night grows black, I listen to the winds howl, rattle the old stove pipe like brittle bones. The stove-vents clap and the windows shake, keeping me from sleep. Living in this land of wind, I see its power. The wind brings change; it tears down the old, and from the wreckage, new directions flow.


Kandi MaxwellKandi Maxwell lives and writes in the Sierra foothills of Northern California. She walks through forests, soaks and splashes in rivers, lakes and hot springs, and bends frequently in downward dog. She is a retired high school English teacher. Her work has been published in Fair Haven Literary Review, KYSO Flash, The Raven’s Perch, One in Four, Foliate Oak, and others. Her work has been nominated for The Best American Essay series.

Photo by the author

Marina Dunes Preserve

Morning surf levitates, pleats upon itself,
collapses to crash ashore,
scatter dismembered kelp clues
against freshened etch-a-sketch sands.

Ground squirrels stretch,
bask atop fallen cypress.
Gliding hawks survey chaparral.
Shredded fog drifts overhead.

Cottontails shelter beneath white sage
as field mice forage among golden dunes.
I meditate, scribble poetic musings,
as blue jays frisk brittle grass.

By Jennifer Lagier

Marina Dunes Preserve


The author, Jennifer LagierJennifer Lagier has published ten books and in literary magazines. She taught with California Poets in the Schools, co-edits the Homestead Review, helps coordinate monthly Monterey Bay Poetry Consortium Second Sunday readings. Forthcoming books: Harbingers (Blue Light Press), Scene of the Crime (Evening Street Press), Camille Abroad (FutureCycle), Forthcoming: Like a B Movie (FutureCycle Press, 2018).Click here to visit her website. Photo by the author.

Walks

Our walks began at the old house
later burned by my uncles, and location
of the rust-reddened refrigerator that trapped
my oldest brother, nearly killing him.
Then our feet would continue past the tin sheet
that covered the old dog’s unseen grave
then to the place with swinging grapevines.
In my early years I walked behind my father –
as my legs grew stronger, we reversed.
After the vines, we headed into thicker woods
where once sturdy houses became rubble,
just a pile of stones and family names.
Around we would go, knowing the trails,
occasionally seeing snake or mutt
or being stung by rogue bee swarms,
legs moving in instinctual succession
forming the bones of stories in my mind.

By JD DeHart

 father and young son walking together in forest


JD DeHart is a writer and teacher. His poems have appeared in Gargouille and The Other Herald, among other publications. DeHart blogs at JD DeHart – Feature Poems.

Photo by Jozef Polc