in perfect time
a wild goose dips
Apart—together, that’s the way it is, the way that has evolved between us. We walk upon a mountain, The Black Mountain, Mynydd Du. Some thirty metres apart, he strides forth, confident, follow my leader. Without conversation, there is time to grow in the quiet rhythm of the walk, a sense of openness, receiving, making connections, sifting moments, the ‘inside out’ and the ‘outside in’.
Apart is the way it began, at his birth, so vulnerable in my arms. Then, those special years together, the magical fantasy world of childhood, supporting, extending through the teens, till after University he stands, head and shoulders above me, his own person.
We strike out on a well worn track, “The Coffin Route”, snaking above the Afon Sawdde Valley, leaving a patchwork of tiny fields and homesteads that lighten and darken in the scudding clouds.
a pair of collies
work the flock
to a patch of sun
Generations before, these small communities gave up their men folk to labour, sweat and toil in the mines and quarries of South Wales. Many gave their lives.
Mist seethes, shredded on stunted thorn, sheep dogs, muffled bitter fruit, lollop in the gusting wind below the summit of Fan Brycheiniog, coffin bearers from a craggy cowl sheltering the trundled gambo cart, all hands to the iron rim that slips, sparks and chatters in the shale, lashed broken bundle laid square, brothers, workmates, pony sweat the ‘Staircase’ to bring him home one last time, his Mother waits, the women wait, on a bleak mountain track to Llanddeusant they rest . . . their blue flecked pallor of the early bath, released from endless night to walk, the long walk . . . the silent walk . . . and later talk, the long talk unwrapping memories, telling and retelling tales punctuated by the cough, till tribal masks are riven by deep harmonies that drift upon the wind . . . Cwm Rhondda, from the bowels of the earth . . . together, one body, mind and spirit, ‘they pilgrim through this barren land.’
ragged grey clouds
feathering the scarp
the buzzards hang
Hooded now, leaning into the wind, we walk the edge of a vast abyss, the precipitous old red sandstone escarpment of Bannaue Sir Gaer. Mist boils over the rim from the cauldron far below, the glacial lake of Llyn y Fan Fach. Relentless, the wind skins raw the barren, savage flanks, purple and pink, drained from the summit now wreathed in grey mist. The weather is closing in—the distance between us shortens. Did I quicken my pace? Did my son shorten his stride? Without words, we fall in step together, it is time to tread these tracks with care. We make for the windbreak, a dry-walled enclosure that affords some protection. A desolate place to lodge when there is only the smell of sheep for company. ‘Time for a cuppa.
Unplugging the special plastic mouthpiece, he sips still water from his sports bottle and unfolds the map. Tracing alternative tracks, his wheeled scale measure appears delirious, wandering the wasteland, the barren rolling moors of Garreg Las—not the place to be when the weather is bad.
Unwrapping my stoneware beaker, I fill it with hot water from the flask. Turning the form, now warm in my hands, I trace the links between East and West. The grey-green woodash glaze, made from English oak, contrasting with the illustrious, thick, black Tenmoku, breaking to rich orange rust over the engraved motif of a willow tree. There is a ‘oneness’ in the fusion of Japanese folk craft of Shoji Hamada and the English monastic form of Bernard Leach. My thumb explores, with rhythmic caress, the fishtail handle, wiping in the manner of the potter. I make tea—today it is Lapsang Souchon.
Suddenly, there is a panting, rushing clatter, out there in the fog, then stumbling between us, two men, camouflaged blackened faces, retching for breath. ‘Christ,’ one blasts; wide-eyed we stare at each other, speechless. ‘Sorry about this,’ he says apologetically, desperately trying to control his breathing; then, thrusting out his hand, ‘Hefin Jones. And this is my mate Chadri.’ Chadri beams a broad, white, Nepalese smile. ‘Chadri saka, very pleased to meet you, sir;’ he says, bowing respectfully. I introduce myself’... and my son Matthew.’ ‘Father and son, eh?’ Hefin exclaims in that wonderful broad, musical tongue of the Welsh. ‘Ruddy marvelous that is, on top of a mountain, in thick fog, taking tea—fair do’s, that’s ruddy marvelous—do you mind if I smoke?’ Hefin unwraps a waterproof packet from his breast pocket, flips open a metal container and, cupping his hands, lights up. He draws hard on the two hand-rolled cigarettes, then passing one to Chadri exhorts, ‘needed that, ruddy marvelous that is.’ They draw deeply in unison and exhale powerfully through flared nostrils, like giant engines getting up steam. The match, still held between Hefin’s thumb and finger, a votive talisman, burns down. At the very last moment he gently blows out the flame. The spent match cools, then slowly forms a curve. At peace now, Hefin cradles his AK47, like a mother and child, ‘Time to go,’ Hefin says calmly. Cigarettes are nipped, both butts and the charred match are placed carefully in the container, wrapped once more and returned to his breast pocket. Hefin slips out of the harness of the 140-litre Bergen that had seemed part of his form and Chadri quickly adjusts the straps to fit his own slight frame. They both check the Bergen, as if preparing for a drop or running up a mountain and across the wasteland of Garreg Las. ‘Great meeting you both—don’t stay too long now and get cold, this smog from the valley is setting in for the day,’ says Hefin. We are joined for a moment in warm, firm handshakes, then, ‘Right,’ barks Hefin. ‘Right,’ replies Chadri. And they are gone.
‘I think Hefin is probably right, Father.’ ‘May I suggest we make our return journey by way of the Fan Hir track, the up-draught from the valley often thins the mist along the cliff edge.’ Writing three short lines on a flat stone fragment, I place it a couple of layers down in the cairn. The mountain mist swirls around us as we leave . . . together.
the croaks of ravens
become the mountain