I’ve dabbled. After all, most of us seem to at some point in our lives. It’s as if the answer to why are we here might lie in the minutiae, the small print of what it means to be human. So we go in search of the details, the lepidopterist’s pins that we hope will tack our winged days to eternity.
Of course, we’re not thinking this as we rifle through thrift stores and car boots for our owl trinkets, our vinyl 45s, our gemstones, coins, trading cards and stickers. I started with seashells but my enthusiasm waned when I found myself landlocked most of the year. There was no joy in mail order tiger cowries, white spindles and truncata spiders when I longed to prise aptly named winkles from dawn-slick sands, dig my big toe around the spines of a whelk, or feel the little cockle in my palm warming some forgotten place in my heart. So I moved onto stamps. That was vaguely exciting for half a summer when letters arrived from two or three far-flung penpals, but it never really gained momentum and first day covers had all the appeal of imported pink conchs. A visit to the North Pennines confirmed to me that I was never going to push the envelope of philately. An old man was just about to check out of the youth hostel we were staying in. As he shrugged his sizeable rucksack onto his shoulders, he chatted to the girl on reception about how he had hiked the nigh on 40 kilometres from Tan Hill to Langdon Beck in two days and now he was headed for Dufton and on to Alston. He said after this trip he had his sights set on El Camino de Santiago.
“Oooh!“ said the girl, “I expect you’d like me to stamp your book?”
“I filled three,” he said,” I’ve moved on to this . . .” He took a small album out of his coat pocket and duly produced a postcard.
“Cauldron Snout,” he said, proffering the card.
With a well-placed thwack she did the honours. He snatched up his latest trophy and waved it back and forth until it was dry, before putting his nose to the ink and smiling broadly as if he were inhaling the first wood violet of spring.
that I might die
with a poem in my head . . .
The Pennine Way
Now and then, over a number of years, I had a dalliance with wildflowers. A young child feels no guilt in claiming her prize – at least I didn’t. My mother even bought me one of those new-fangled presses, but I never really took to that, preferring the pages of a well-loved tale and three or four dusty tomes, stacked like house bricks. But as time passed the thrill of the find was overshadowed by the guilt of taking it home. I did preserve a red rose from my wedding bouquet. Sequestered in Gibran’s The Prophet, a little to the left of: “Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.” It had lasted longer than the marriage. And what did I find bookmarking The Song of Songs? After long years, cloistered in darkness, bleeding into the holy words, a single red campion on a frail, bleached stem, each of its five deeply-notched petals now a tissue-paper heart.
A conversation with a shepherd finally laid that particular hobby to rest, when he spoke of the unreserved happiness he felt in the dark of morning when he broke open some fresh hay for his beloved ewes to occasionally find Blue Bonnets or Lady's mantle, buttercup, crane's-bill, betony, or clover tangled in the sweetness of a meadow’s yarn.
baling up summer
for winter fodder . . .
my Book of Days