30 September 2012

Full moon in Northumberland

Moon of Northumberland. If more people could see what I see, there would be even less sanity in the world. It can turn the most reasonable person into a berserker. 

It was a large, round moon hanging alone in the southwest quadrant of the sky’s vault at 1840. When a thin cloud slid across it, knifing it in two halves, the memory of Wozzek was unavoidable. The cloud gone, the moon shone in its primeval wholeness and it was again a casta diva, perfect circle, full of grace - the object of worship in Norma or Turandot. A virginal she - la luna - on the Mediterranean, a sinister he - der Mond - in Austro-Germany, the moon is a neutral, remorseless, glacial androgyne in these parts. A cold fire. A burning ice. Wholly genderless, but charged with sex, madness and unbounded strength. It is a fierce, wild force that’s flooding the field with silver flames out there. 

Oh, and on this clear night I could see the tree the moon must have been hiding behind last night. A thick monster of a tree, getting too tall and too heavy for its own good - an unpoetic reminder of how much there is to do around here. 

27 September 2012

A different night

Does Google’s Current Moon Phase gadget take account of your location? You would expect it to, since it knows who you are, and where you are. And yet, at this time in this place I should be seeing a Waxing Gibbous 95 percent of full, whereas in reality the dog and I, on our nightly outing, were only able to observe a hidden glow, with no discernible moon as such behind the clouds. 

The clouds themselves were a thin yellowish layer, far lighter than the thick walling that separated us from the sky for most of the last three weeks. A mist, one could say. Thin enough to let the glow shine through, as if the moon were a presence concealed behind a tree, or a shed, or a hill. But I looked around and there was none of the aura that would betray a hidden moon. 

Last night was different. It was a Northumbrian incandescence like the fiercest unleashings of lunar ferocity ever seen on these valleys. What a world of difference from one night to the next. Like being on another planet.

02 June 2012


One spring morning the girls, who had been playing outside, rushed into the house in some agitation to announce the presence of an unusual visitor on our drive: a snake. I went to check their claim, and found it to be true. 

The creature had a v-shaped marking on its head and an elegant diamond pattern down its back. It lay so still you might think it was dead, but the occasional slow stir indicated otherwise. 

Back in Bolivia, that kind of patterning and colour would indicate that the snake was venomous. I did not think such a thing was possible in Britain, but K confirmed that it was, and that it was called an adder. I knew, in theory, what an adder was, but had not expected to meet one at close range, let alone right outside my house.
As no doubt every reader of this blog knows - even though I didn’t - adders are common on this island. They come out of hibernation in early spring, which is when most sightings are reported. Our adder visited on 19 April, which counts as early spring if one remembers that the previous winter had been one of the harshest in memory.  The Forestry Commission tells us that adders are common in “rough, open countryside” and are to be found in “woodland edge habitats”, which is, I suppose, a valid description of where I live. 

If there is a snake you are reliably informed is poisonous in the vicinity of where your children are playing, what would you do? Had I been better informed, I may meekly have brought the girls indoors, hoping that this meeting was a one-off. But I was not better informed, and it was a glorious spring morning, and the girls had been having a good time outside until the adder arrived. I had not read the Forestry Commission’s clear description of adders, which mentions in passing that they are a protected species. I did what I thought I had to do. I did it with regret, and have since had much occasion to feel guilty about it.