Today we walked to the top of Rivington Pike: my son, my daughter and me. It was strangely warm, overcast but muggy and the climb was hard not least because we were all tired and suffering from some sort of malaise which has made us all feel absent, like we are looking on our lives from the outside. I have never encountered a disease that makes this happen, but there must be something to it as we have all expressed the same thing independently. It is not, I think, linked to the horrors you read about in the news, the terrible things happening every day. Tomorrow I will be in London. Another place cordoned off because men’s anger is uncontainable.
Along the way we encountered a creaking tree, a greenfly which would not leave my daughter’s finger, a fat egg-sacked spider, butterflies, bees. Sheep in the distant fields. A family, each member of which appeared to have its own dog. A brief shower of rain, like pins and needles on the arm. But the heat, the heat made it all exhausting. As we climbed down through the pinetum my vision turned vivid and everything sparkled unnaturally and I knew I should go and lie down, but we continued. It is good to push the body past its limits, even if its limits are not very extensive. I pushed it not too far, just enough to make myself feel I wasn’t so old or so tired or so physically inept that I could count myself obsolete yet. Not just yet, though obsolescence, I think, is not far away.
In the back garden a large magpie was stalking across the grass. I say stalking, because that’s what I think it was doing, but it kind of hopped and danced its way around, picking away with its large beak in the grass. It was a beautiful bird, all gorgeously coloured. We think of magpies as black and white but this one had glossy bluish feathers just under its wings, kind of like the colour of oil on water, and hints of pink, and the white of its feathers was vivid in a way that seemed unbelievable. The bird tapped something out of the ground and then flew up to the fence, dropping whatever it had found on the fence-top and then picking away at it with sharp, delicate nips of its beak, almost like a child picking its way through a handful of sweets. There was such intelligence in its eyes that I felt as though I could go out there and have a conversation with it, just as I once conversed with neighbours across the boundary fence, though the fences are too high these days for such neighbourly sociability, and in that moment I envy the bird. I envy its freedom and its ability to scale the barriers that we humans place so thoughtlessly between ourselves. I envy the bird’s way of just being a bird, not absorbed by the glossiness of its feathers or whether or not it has the biggest bower or the brightest eyes. It hops for a moment along the fence then flies off, and my garden is left quiet and strangely lifeless.
It has been a strange day; I find myself absorbed in self-critical reflection. I look out over the fields. Something is growing, something intended, corn or some other crop and it is miraculously uniform and yet infinitely varied. The plants glisten with sunlight. Around the edge of the field, a stream flows. It, too, is uniform and yet ever-changing. As am I. I wonder, sometimes, if consciousness grants us the mere illusion of continuity, if it tricks us into believing we are one when really we are infinite. How could we know? Locked inside our thoughts we can only surmise at what we are and those outside us only see the surface image of what we are, they cannot delve beneath the surface and reveal a truth we cannot see for ourselves. How could they? They too believe that they are one, that they are a single, uniform and continuous being. I am not sure which thought is more comforting: the one, or the infinite. I find this lack of definition interesting, the absence of certainty. It is, perhaps, a more absorbing thought than the self-critical voices which lead me only towards misery. I wonder if this is a trick too, a way of living with myself that is easier than the reality – that I am a messy, inconsequential and inadequate thing just dumbly stumbling along imagining any of it matters.