Yet the Mountain Has Clouds

by Ken Simm


Since I’ve been here I’ve rediscovered my notebooks. As I walk, I find the subjects not only of drawings but the basic lines of stories. Walks become drawings in space. Drawings become tales or frank illustrations for my mind explorations.

There is a crag a mile or less from my house. This stark leavings of the ancient ice is perfect falcon territory. The mountain seems to have been cut away by some preposterous geological knife leaving a face of sharp line edges and inaccessible carved vantages. It loftily glooms over a detailed map of small lochans and crystal running burns. Elegant and sinuous watercourses, that melt, necklace and jewel like into distance along the glen. Catching and holding briefly a low winter sun when seen from the sharp edged summit.  The clear waters hold the ghost swans of legend and rafts of tufted, black and white diving duck. The smaller waterfowl bringing an ample larder almost to the foot of the falcon crag.

Stunted growths patch out disfiguring from the grey green winter face of this small mountain. Stunted bare trees sit precariously amid vivid moss green miniature meadows that, in turn, appear to be bulging over inaccessible spaces. Troubling to the possible climbing thief, human or otherwise, thankfully.

Various colours flick across the light on the cathedral rock face. From cold sapphire to warm ochre and back again in the stormy sailings of a day. The rock paintings of various prehistoric animals and mythological creatures are formed momentarily, in my mind, before slipping back into the beginnings of drawings and future words.

The trick is to draw these apparitions in quick marks on my crowded notebook page. No time for perfection, but perversely also no time for mistakes. A part of me listens to what I used to teach. You cannot make mistakes. It is impossible, I said. Work a drawing to its apparent death and then bring it back to miraculous life. This is why I always work in a black pen that cannot be erased. I find it allows the speed and confidence I need to make my life drawing with brief descriptive symbols, words, tones and lines.

Peregrines live up there, I know, deep in the core of me. I know if I look long and hard enough, at the right time, I will see the tell tale white punctuation of droppings hanging over a nest ledge. I will catch sight of the tiercel and the thirty per cent larger female. Scissor wings folded precisely as they sit and watch, disdainful of height, on their vertiginous perpendiculars.

I will become aware of an imperious visage; the black globe of a ferocious eye surrounded by a negative white drawn line; the gloriously dark villainous moustache and a sun yellow cere, around a wicked picked black beak.  I will see the slate blue back and the distinctive barred underside like a rough jail uniform. The typical arrow sharp point wings of a perfected flying shape.  I will watch a high black dot resolve itself into the fastest natural thing on the planet. I will see the hunting stoop and I will tell of its deadly story in drawings from all angles and words from all places. A death in the sky.
The name Peregrine means wanderer, appropriate to my drawn lined travels along this glen.

There is an ancient dun on the summit of this cut off mountain.  A suitable lofty seat for this raptor court. I imagine the mated pair sitting on its ruined mossy stones watching poor lives arranged, mud like, below. They are imperious, disdainful of the ground hugger. Finding the lower earth living contemptible. But this is anthropomorphic false thinking. They feel no such thing. They are elemental, air borne and I find myself considering heartfelt desires where there are none.

If I could stoop on my thoughts and snag them dead out of the air before mantling them, hiding them from the groundling thief, I would.  Only an individual coming to me and my thoughts would have the right to sight. Some fragile natures would not see what I see. Some others would be lost in ancient and senseless arguments.

I find myself searching the crag face whenever I pass. I waste hours judging what I think will be the perfect nest ledge. I develop a feel for how near the horizontal a fissure in the rock is. How far it stands in proud relief from the vertical.

I watch from as many angles as possible and as many times of the day that I can. The ice sparkling morning or the grey filled fish belly afternoon. The sun raising itself in spring time earlier above the hills and casting its changes tonally across rough moor and water. Then I watch for sudden movement in the sky. For the flash of body white or steel slate blue in the light.

I look to the wildfowl for signs of disturbance. Finding the falcons by default in the crowd actions of others, I look for the hooded crow to see what it is mobbing; a Raven, a Buzzard and once an Eagle.

I start at every sharp cry. There is an absence of falcon sound. A lack of a hunting silence in the far arc of the sky. A want of the sharp black against high cloud. When the wanderer raptor should have returned there is a gap in the many ways of the sky. A silence in the excitement of life.

And still the small mountain has its slow moving clouds.

The dot of a falcon
Pin sharp and moving
Black and high
Stooping into mathematical correct angles
Acute to the moving morning air
Sharp flint wings closed
And arrowed head pointing to infinity
The air into the bowing
Hand held towards her mouth
She watches and sorrow cries at the explosion of feather
And the weep of the lost on a cold wind
The breaking of a long formation
She does not hear the explanations
He gives unnecessarily
Or the speed through pinion roaring
She experiences only the blackness of this hunt hitting
Not the life given for another
At the cold end of a journey from birthing lands
To winter witch marshes
As she rides with the falcon
A broken back to the ground
The prey mantled, held secret
Broken into pieces of hag earth colour and dark water
Softness floating gossamer ways from this necessary death
An animate soul flying across the wind
Sweeping a landscape of muted colour and sound whispering
The sight of a reed shaking fearful
And the far away music
The lost chanting of a righteous death
Of a dark ringing wet place.


Visit Ken’s website: The Artwork of Ken Simm