Burt Bacharach and Hal David were right. LA is a great big freeway.
But as such it isn’t crash hot for cycling (more hot crash) so we hire a Chevy Tahoe for the 40 mile journey from LAX to the start line at Costa Mesa. The vehicle is a supersize SUV (think Sherman tank then order the go large option) and swallows our two Evoc bike cases and four kit bags with trunk to spare. With eight lanes of traffic in each direction the Interstate 405 seems almost as wide as British motorways are long. America is a big country. In more ways than one.
Too tired to assemble our bikes immediately after check in and too scared to venture out even on side roads that have four lanes each way we don’t need much persuasion to embark instead on some essential carb loading. Without being too unkind to our hosts carb loading is something the Americans do very well if the bodies on display at nearby Newport Beach are anything to go by. Which reminds me: did I pack the spare tyres (or tires as they say over here)? It’s the carb burning they don’t do so well. But with 3,000 miles of pedalling ahead of us Rose and I reckon a burger, fries and cola won’t hurt. And it doesn’t. We wash it all down with milkshakes. And for pudding pop a couple of the cookies thoughtfully provided by the hotel kitchen for guests with the early evening post-lunch/pre-dinner munchies. I weighed 71.4 kg before I left the UK. Watch this space for my weight in four weeks time. I could well be taking back some unexpected excess baggage.
While you were sleeping
The Plough cut a furrow across the field of night.
Owls hooted and screeched in it’s wake
Feasting on the shiny seeds of light that Orion cast from the pouch hitched to his rhinestone belt.
The owls were sated. Full of moles
and torn up scraps of suede-skinned voles.
Plucked from the ground in the dead of night
by the white-winged warrior with the gift of flight.
They didn’t hear the approach of death
for the owl can murder with barely a breath.
That they died in pain is dead cert sure
judging from the splash of crimson gore.
Evidence was plain for all too see:
a furry pellet at the foot of the tree.
If the police were called to solve this crime
they’d have it cracked in double quick time
‘cos all wrapped up in the ball of fluff
inedible bone and incriminating stuff.
The hooded crow would be judge and jury
and vent his spleen with his usual fury.
The surviving mole would give his version
with unassailable assertion.
The verdict was not when it came a surprise
because owl is a creature that others despise.
“I find you guilty and you must hang,”
said crow without an avian pang.
The case made the front of the woodland clarion.
Headline: owl makes tasty carrion.
So remove the pellet from the base of the tree
then the owlets will live to themselves fly free.
The snow was mostly gone. But it lingered in the tramlines where tractors had trodden two months earlier. Then the ground was sticky and the tyres left what, from this distance, looked like the parallel prints of a finger painting.
We followed one of the grooves towards a drift of sheep. For the first half-mile they appeared as white woolen flakes sticking together for warmth and huddled against the hedge line for protection from the easterly wind.
But close up they resolved to a slushy grey. Winter coats tie-dyed with a combination of red clay streaks and blue woad farmers’ marks. Worsted darned with threads of bramble from close encounters with the field boundary. A woven landscape of which we were a part. Warp and weft.
Across the valley, behind a curl of woodsmoke, in a patch of the cloth with the sun still on it, the sheep were scattered. Pearls from a broken necklace rolled across a green carpet.
And in the field at our feet a stooped apple was festooned with mistletoe and garlanded with wool. Nature’s Christmas tree for anyone bothering to wait a while. There, under a priceless chandelier of white berries, we kissed.
Hands held. Eyes locked. And in that one moment physical and emotional landscapes entwined.
Molecule by molecule the mountain is dismantled by the soft but irresistible rain. The beech tree has snagged a scrap of night in its boughs and is holding it hostage to the day. Black wool on a wire fence stirred by the wind but unable to escape.
The rain cloud necklace will not pull him down. Nor the winds that whip and slap his granite face. But this is demolition on a geological span and the fan of broken rock at the mountain’s foot shows elemental forces cannot be resisted.
A lupin flames and flares among the scree, a terrestrial reminder of the fire below. White splash on silver. A heron patrols the loch. His lonely watch a blink in time. The keys to the glen passed from generation to generation.
The cloud is lifting. Now only cobwebs cling to the valley sides. Rejoice! The mountain top survives.
The tree tops are immersed in molten copper. Cast with the the horizontal rays of a dying sun. But the death of day breathes life into the night. And the blue black shadows, born short and shy in the seconds after midday, rush ever faster towards maturity. Across field and valley, through farmyard and village to a vanishing point where, after the pale hours of a summer night, tomorrow will send them into a reverse journey from the infinity of dawn to the oblivion of noon. And where just a second later the cycle will begin again.
But for now the sun has gone and the shadows have melted away like my fair weather cumulous friends and I am left alone in my Garden of Eden.
Scary creatures stalk wood, field and heath.
Fox and badger with fearsome teeth.
Death and destruction wherever they pry.
Henhouse, sheepfold, pond and sty.
All is happening while the farmer’s asleep.
Rounding up flocks of imaginary sheep.
And by the time he awakens when the cockerel crows
And the sheepdog is nibbling his corny old toes.
The entrails and bloodshed have been cleaned by the crows.
And a chorus of birdsong replaces the screams.
And the terror of night is consigned to our dreams.
But next time you ponder the moon or a star.
The darkness they lighten is not very far.
So when blackbird sings sweetly from his eventide perch.
And the eastern sky purples with a sun setting lurch.
The song is a warning of dangers to come.
The notes may be gentle but the message is RUN
The lovers laid on the drier ground in the middle of the copse. Face to face. Hand in hand. Two thin lines drawn so close together that from any distance they’d have appeared as one brush stroke on the canvas of their special field. There was only leaf litter for a mattress. And the scree slope spoil of a badger sett for a pillow. But they really couldn’t have been more comfortable.
Mostly their eyes were locked together. Invisible bar magnets; his north to her south. But when they did look up it was to a Sistine Chapel ceiling held aloft on the fluted columns of tree trunks. Buttress roots. Rafter branches.
Her eyes mirrored the sky painting. Or perhaps, he fancied, it was the other way round, such was the power she exerted over him. An earth goddess with irises as blue as a cloudless day and pupils as dark as a moonless night.
Little was said. But there was no silence to break. For they both heard the music that others did not. The bark of a dog fox. The throat clearing crow. The monotone morse of the woodpigeon. The wind playing notes in the tops of the trees. Creaking baritone oaks at one end of the scale. Tinkling cymbals of copper beech leaves at the other.
There are no trees in Orchard Ride
Nor apples ripe at autumn tide
Save for those in cellophane
From Tesco, Waitrose or some such name.
No roots, no trunks nor grass between
No insects, bugs or things unseen
Just bricks and blocks and glass and cars
And halogen lamps that switch off stars.
The church clock strikes midnight. Each chime counting out the old year and ringing in the new. But it’s the sounds in between the bell that are our celebration.
One…The hoot of an owl borne aloft on white wings.
Two…The unoiled gate that squeaks as it swings.
Three….The bark of a collie disturbed from his rest.
Four…The plumping of plumage in the cold blackbird’s nest.
Five…The alarm of a fox-bothered moorhen or coot
Six..Ratty incisors gnawing wind-fallen fruit.
Seven…An insomniac crow awake in the ash.
Eight…A snow-laden fir branch that snaps with a crash.
Nine…The willow tree weeping, low boughs locked in ice.
Ten…The pattering feet of a dozen chuch mice.
Eleven…The whoosh of a rocket as nine becomes ten.
Twelve…My heart beating faster as I kiss you again.