The ground is not just muddy. It’s saturated. It’s waterlogged. It’s much too much to ask. It’s way beyond a joke now. People are no longer able to ground themselves on this shit! So who the hell are they kidding, to still call it that? The path, the fields, the trenches, under the wire, over the wire, on the road – no pavement on one side, across stiles, zigzagging across the chalky, potholed face of this obese landscape; all about one hundred and ten percent too fucking wet! It’s all swelling, sagging, sliding with the weight. The water is working against you. It wants your shoes. And God forbid you should take your eye off them for two seconds because it does not want to give them back.
A proper walk in the country is like trying to eat a liquorice shoelace the length of the large hadron collider. Everyone likes liquorice. Maybe not plain, but there are loads of flavours nowadays. But who the hell wants to eat a piece of liquorice as long as the large fucking hadron collider?!
People who take long walks in the country have no friends. This is known. This is true. And when you see more than one person on such a walk together, don’t be fooled. They hate each other more deeply than you can possibly imagine. ‘Why go then?’ one might ask. Well, the answer to this enigma is an elusive and dangerous one; but one that will be made clear, by the following koan story.
A man and a woman are walking together along a wide gravel path, smeared with about two inches of mud and towered over on both sides by steep banks, separated by shallow dykes sprouting vicious thickets of hairy green nettles and brittle thorns. Spring is approaching but nothing seems to be in season. The heads of the bluebells droop as if to say “What’s the bloody point?” Brick bridges pass the couple in complete silence, looming unnoticed like the shadow of a cloud. Neither the man nor the woman knows exactly where they are going, but that doesn’t matter.
They reach a filthy steel gate, moated by a deep cattle grid. Without a word passing between them they simultaneously skim up and over it, and their feet are carrying them forwards again before the hair on their heads has settled.
Their options, at this point, are many. The banks sink and fade to reveal a colossal green mound stretching away at a relaxed camber all the way to the horizon. The main belly of it is criss-crossed with chalky white paths all leading, eventually, and by various degrees of efficiency, to the top.
But for these people it is imperative, and natural to them, that they choose correctly from these paths. Still without exchanging so much as a syllable or a cough, the pair set off following the unlikeliest, most circumspect path it would be possible to go for at this juncture. To their left, a buckled and splitting barbed wire fence pretends to be encircling a sheep field. The sheep politely play along as though they really would leave in a flash if it weren’t for that unscalable fence, flat to the ground in some places.
To their right is a bobbing and swaying fleet of buoys, standing out against an ocean of green, getting bullied by the wind. Unfortunately, they are the shelter. The tiny flints spill and splash around their heavy, matching leather boots. The red ones contain iron deposits, though some are just muddy. Occasionally a vein of white or mossy green quartz might be found inside but not today; it’s all black and brown and grey… and wet.
Without really making any headway up the hill, the pair traverse about a third of its circumference. Suddenly the woman stops and turns. Now their backs are to the summit, they are looking at a million miles of lifelessly static woodland. “There”. They both point at a singularly jaundiced silver birch about forty metres away in the middle distance, and begin to walk hastily towards it. Soon reaching it, they scan the area for any other presence – no one but the sheep.
As they draw back their sleeves to reveal long, wide, thick, identical metal circlets with no visible clasp, the tree starts imperceptibly to hum. Gradually there begins a sludgy, enveloping warble, confidently growing deeper, louder, modulating into waves, until it massages the air, back and forth, like an immense subwoofer. The man and the woman look at each other for the first time in years. “Finally”, says one.
“Do you remember what it was like there?”
“I don’t care what it’s like. They’re finally gonna let us die.”
The noise of the tree drowns out whatever else is said. They must have heard it all around. All across the universe in fact, at the right frequencies, relays are engaging, lighting up and whirring in resonance. They form a chain stretching eight hundred million light-years, well known about amongst the chattier races, all the way back to the source, and the couple’s destination. The hum fades momentarily into sub-sonic silence before releasing itself as a single, heavy, cracking WOOP! accompanied by a searing hot blue-green flash.
And nothing remained beside the tree but a few fluttering ashes, and the dancing green radioactive dragonflies that clump together in places, but soon separate, and dissipate into nothing more than a cadence you weren’t entirely sure was there.
Written – early 2014
Published – August 2017
Photo by Clément M. on Unsplash