I’m picking up the blog again after coming somewhat undone with Clyde to C…
Never mind, all journeys are good and it seems I’ll get a chance to gather my waters after all, setting off with Colin and Ann on their barge Missee tomorrow, Wednesday, headed for Ardrishaig. Meanwhile come for a walk on the beach with me… a letter to my sister Juliette.
(You can also see it on the Clyde to Caledonia blog .)
I learned today of the passing of fellow poet Margaret. What an aching space this will make in our Bank Street Writers group, but I am glad to hear she went peacefully. The poem below is not finished but I wanted to put it up today.
Keep this secret Bowling beach to yourself; it’s an Eldorado for mosaic artists like Jane and Julie and for stained glass masters like Joyce. Just before the Erskine Bridge at bowling the River Clyde narrows significantly, and Julie and I believe that boats of old (and, sadly, of today) ditched their rubbish overboard when entering and leaving the city. Tumbled glass and pottery can be found in abundance, and this is where, after the gales of 2 January, I found 46 complete vintage bottles, perfectly preserved in river mud, in which I am now collecting waters of the west coast. She heard a story once that tea clippers from China would bulk up their ballast with that blue and white china (broken or no?) and then ditch it before they docked to deliver their cargo; can anyone confirm or refute?
Letter to Julie
How generous Bowling beach was today! Clambering down to the beach I could tell there were major changes; two huge trees had been deposited in the middle of your stick drawn sand grid, long gone. Standing next to them I raised my eyes to the tops of the wall staves, way above my head, and sensed the volume of water that must have been swirling about this very space … my head under water…. for these giants to drift over and settle here.
It was a spring tide, low. Extremis. Low low low. I knew it because the timing of the tides has woven into me after weeks and months of watching them and the weather. I still watch the weather… check the winds and their direction. Winds and rain, wonderful rain that flattens waves. So low was the tide that treasures stretched in all directions; I hardly knew where to begin. As I arrived the Waverley was passing, her grand red funnels towering through the trees as she pattered her way to Glasgow along the dribble of river the tide has left.. Richie took fright and bolted away from the beach. I remembered that the last time we were here the Waverley came by when just as fireworks display had gone off at Erskine Hospital across the water… he’d been terrified. Poor chap. Had to keep him on a lead the whole time.
To the high wall I went first, where we found the stag horn driftwood. Among the scabby plastic I found a whole coconut with a missing eye. Peering in I could see the solid white flesh, perfectly in tact, and when I tipped it up the creamy milk poured onto he beach. What a thing! Where could that have travelled from? A distant island or a fairground in Largs or a passing ship… such stories we could tell! I split it on a rock to reveal clean white coconut…what to do with it?? Couldn’t eat it; much as I love this beach its filth is poisonous. Failure to wash hands after foraging will guarantee a dose of the runs. I could take it home for the birds… but in the end I left it there on the beach.
What other treasures were there? One complete wee green medicine bottle, ancient bits of blue & white pottery (can I put them in your box?) and one extraordinary piece of green tile, well worn. Many excellent bottle necks and just one glass stopper. A tiny round compact, so old that all marks were gone. The little catch dutifully opened as I pressed it but alas, the hinges came apart as it opened, and the dark, odourless, sandy kept its history for a secret.
Richie was leaning forever shoreward in his collar, whites of his eyes straining backwards on his face in relentless anticipation of explosions and certain death at the Erskine Hospital for old soldiers.
The sun was getting on down by now and a wistful sunset began to paint itself on the Clyde. I cast a loving glance ever and again towards the Kyles. Such an ache was in my heart for this firth; not sad or regretful but full and hopeful. It is not done yet. To get a boat for THESE waters, now that would be worthwhile.
I sat on the top of my plastic bag of treasures, promised the river I’d stay there till the curlews cried again in the shallows across the way. For an age that soft crrrr crrrr crrrrrr had carried across the water from the mud flats like a river’s caress. They were quiet now. Only oystercatchers and seagulls shouted to echo the noise in my head… stupid thoughts squawking incessantly.
I sat. I waited. But the curlew didn’t cry. The dog strained in his leash and the cold of wet sand began to creep into my buttocks.
What’s the time Mr Wolf?
Two curlews past a heron.
The sun dropped further in the sky, clouding over, chilling.
Come on curlews I whispered, chastising myself for such pathetic commitment to even this, the tiniest of meditations. In the end the dog began such distraught whimpering, casting back and forth, that I abandoned my vigil with a soft apology to the waiting curlews.
What else did I find? Two tennis balls for Richie, a beautifully rusted big spring and the tiniest bright red apple you ever did see. Perfectly formed. Perhaps the greatest treasure was an ivory and tortoiseshell clothes brush… ancient… bristles all gone to reveal a startling pattern of dark, black holes in contrast to the soft brown magic on top. NOW I wanted you there, wanted to shout LOOK at THIS my Julie!!! And looking up I thought how if you were here we’d come picnic here, spend a whole day… or if not a day a good few hours round this lowest tide, scouring the beach and maybe making wobbly sculptures with our finds. I laughed to think how others might turn their noses up at this filthy beach, littered with tampon applicators and old plastic bottles bleached and blind. But for you and me? A treasure trove! And if you’d been here you’d have helped me wrestle free that fine length of coir rope around the trunk of that well travelled tree. We’d coil it up and bag it and march back to the boat for all the world like two hunters with the low slung dripping carcass of a stag, slain to save the starving village.
Back at the boat we’d brave the rolling of disbelieving eyes as we laid out one precious piece after another on blank, damp swathes of kitchen roll. The air would be filled with happy chat of mosaics made and to be made, or candlestick sculptures of white wax dripping over tumbled green bottlenecks.
Eventually the rolling eyes would shout and the table would be conquered in favour of dinner. Precious blue pottery would be packed into cardboard boxes as you flew back to Canada and I returned to a world of nonsense in which coconuts are not shy of their labelled packets, brushes must have bristles, apples must be largely eaten off pieces of pottery that form entire plates. Bottlenecks must needs be attached to their bodies to make soft glugging sounds as we pour their whisky out.
And boats? Boats must be sold to settle mortgages. Not sit expensively round to welcome home marauding beach parties and tease dreamers into planning voyages of folly.
You are the dark green of the moss.
Not even the moss but the shadow beneath it,
moss, so damp, long after the rain has been.
You are the brightness of the sun on stone
long after its story has set.
I find you in this sacred ancient place,
find the prints of horses hooves,
myths in soil turning to gallop past
the bark of a thousand trees into
a sky of a thousand blues.
You are the air between the feathers
of the gryphon swan, the story of
a thousand lives, from knighted lands
long, long ago. A glint
in the storytelling eye.
You are all around.
I was there you said, I was here.
And now I go elsewhere.