Spurn Point (2015)
A white guard marks the first crook of the shifting finger cradling the North Sea. It stands sentinel over the curve of grass and that curve’s turning to a plane of shifting light. I remember the blanket fog of a many years ago Mohar hiding lands like this. Hiding too my queasy fear of the sudden sharp switch between comfort-blanket land and slipping silken sea.
That was before today. Before I knew the feeling of a bullet’s crack across your windscreen. That seismic jolt, throwing life onto a same but dislocated path.
At the curve’s edge, land becomes not-land in a quick trick of right angles. Not smooth. A quantum world of this and not-this. Lurch; quick gut wrench; sheer dark drop of rock. The square angles are a row of unfriendly elbows along a strange bar in a hostile town.
At the edge, I eye the brightly crumpled foil below. I contemplate the deliberate step, the boldly made move to unknown while staring brightly at the light. These angles may be unfriendly but their set is not unfamiliar. The undeliberate drops of life have been few, but wrenching.
At the edge, there is no fog today. The air is silvery bright and its wind whinneys and whistles through the tousled waves of grass.
The acerbic light is clean on the bleached land. The month before I walked valleys that partly wrought the dream-loam which grew the me of now. More famous children meandered there before me but my own dreams were – are – still all my inside worlds. Both this, again, and not-this; I still compare all outside lands to these. The hidden swirl of waters in silent gloomy combes. Steep, rock-pocked grasslands crow-watched from branches of scattered ash. Cotswold grits like teeth and bits of bone between wet and tangy beech leaves.
The tendril of this walk today may spring from seeds planted in the soil of last summer, as I paced fretting for peace among Alderley’s blind and boggy wooded valleys. Or maybe they were planted thirty years before – I’d only picked that spot by name to maybe find the fantastic dwellers of the Edge I read of as a child. I haunted my own child with the well worn barely known dark of those Stone Books. And then I visited the other Alderley’s Edge and eyeing its distant leylined sibling of the Peaks, I webbed the feeling thoughts of three generations to just one sharp point in Summer’s time.
For it is always Summer, it seems, that balances thought and feeling, beauty and ruin, previous and next. Gone and yet to come.
Light, wind, path – all this.
Then lurch and drop into not-this.
Another parallel yet irrevocably different plane.
The child that is outside me, my own child, would fear these sudden square turns, I think. He still toys and tinkers with gentle differences. He loves the beach, and in my memory he ever dawdles in its foamy margins. I could measure his change in snapshots of times by the water – now he flings himself from dunes and rolls out angels in their sand, or drives himself mad with hours of wild wave-noise. A fighter plane tore the sky while we last played in surf, and we shared the sun’s visible setting trickle into the sea.
I’m told that there was once a time when he didn’t know a not-this that wasn’t the this of him. To him, we were one. In this time I found him hard to know – I barely even knew how to hold him. Now the holding is different – I have to fan his flight away from me and into the not-this and hold him there. Strangely, I know him better now we move apart. Even after my one week of this journey back to the this of myself, he will come back taller and slightly strange. But maybe it’s me that changes, growing back enough of the skin between us that I can see him better for seeing me again.
I can’t shield him from those unexpected drops. I try to teach him how to land gracefully. I want to teach him that you can leap to something new sometimes, even if you’re scared. For further down the coast our lands are being scoured. Insistent heavy sea pushes at the shore and drags it away. This is the place where roads end suddenly – our godlike concrete crumbles and fails. There’s a flood defence of giant rocks – stand behind these futile boulders and you will hear an indomitable rumble. Nature’s rule is harsh and neatly measured – a man’s length of this coast vanishes each year and that man has ceded his tenuous reign. Sinkholes swallow our follies whole but slowly and in sight of the sea the lesser buildings aren’t mended any more. We’ve gone from colony to apathy.
Instead of resignation and quiet despair, I want to teach my child that failing old ways can make something new. This land stripped away rebuilds itself further down the coast – a causeway out into waters.
The reconstructed strip is liminal landscape. Two edges. Two waters. Two views. A knifish spit between them that is itself split by the tide. This shingle finger curls as if beckoning. It clenches its knuckle against the sea and points its tip inland towards the hulking Humber. Black saltmarsh mud treacherously blotted with the green of grass. The brooding oily river and on the far bank, the ground down distant stumps of industry. Storm clouds gather here today,trailing an arrow inland. When Lowry turned his back on this, he looked out towards the other water and painted vacant silver squares.
There are spiked windmills there now, out at sea – another fling by man against our own faltering tides.
Ships drift down and out around the point, between these worlds. One day we’ll fail here. The silt will drift across and fuse the finger closed, clenched tight around our failed treasures. Without the familiar things we know, the windmills will seize and become strange sea trees for gulls to nest on. I can’t force my heart to act the pointing finger to my child that will aim him into dark swamps inland. Nor can I raise his knuckles to the sea in Cnut like folly, railing against the tide.
I can bring him back here though, one day soon, and hold his hand as we walk along the path of liminal land. I can show him the brutish silvery sea and the sucking brackish swamps. I can show him their secret beauties too, of salt and birdsong and moving light. I can make all the old that I have seen become rebuilt in his own new wild path. And I can hope to help him choose to make that sudden step before the rest is swept away.
I pray that we can all be that brave.