September 16th, 2020
Wind Over the CliffsGust, breeze, still. Then another gust, softening to a breeze, and still. For the few shrubs that coin to the cliff's edge the air is filled with spray as the waves below bump against the base of the rocks, throwing drops of glittering salt high up over their backs, before settling gently to rest, then swell again. The cliff top is covered in a dense layer of verdant grass, stretching out in shimmering waves for a mile back into the headland, where the open plane meets the base of a small hill-rise with a thickening forest of Oak, Pine, Beech and Maple. There, the canopy shields the earthy floor, and the world is quiet, a haven from the turbulence of the great ocean beyond. The dawn chorus begins with a single chirping note, ringing out through the leaves that shuffle and rearrange in a perpetual flickering dance. The sunrise is hidden behind the hills that slope into the reddening sky, warmth blooming in the undersides of clouds that drift in from the water. As the great dome of the heavens begins to brighten the lone singer is joined by another, then two more, the birds of the wood waking and shuffling their feathers, untucking their beaks and ruffling their small crests, loosening and stretching their wings to the sound of the choir. They chatter and hum, the first rays of sun creeping over the hilltops and striking smartly on the wave tips, then the headland's edge, before sweeping down the stretch of green towards the forest, finally finding the treetops and glowing in the nests pocketed among the branches. With the canopy in song the other creatures of the woods begin to move quickly from trunk to trunk, feverish in their scampering hunts and burrows. Flashes of peppery grey and all manner of disheveled chocolates and chestnuts dart across the dappled dust-bed, eyes blinking and gleaming in the morning sun. While morning is a song, the middle of the day brings heat and a heady, humid tranquility. The smaller creatures find their cool homes and dens, while the larger lounge in the patches of sun and shadow, taking their time to walk to the edge of a stream that passes through the hills and down underground to the sea. On these hazy summer days the predators threats are lost to basking under the hot rays that warm the earth until the trees themselves begin sway with the heat. Wondering down from the hills comes a trail, trodden into the grass by routine but infrequent steps that travel from the world beyond, down into the trees, round dense thickets, and through open glens, under nest and over burrow, winding between the trees that become sparse and airy as they drift out into the grass plain beyond. There the path turns and, gradually drifting away from the woods, makes its way across the bumps and mounds, treading down the thick grass into a hard dirt track that finds the edge of the cliffs at a deep, sweeping dip, a vast sheltered recess that backs into the wind gusting in across the sea. Within the grassy bay the path spirals downwards to a point where a gap in the dense green opens up and the track burrows into the earth. Cool air drips from the glossy stone walls of the tunnel that winds through the rock, light reflecting on droplets that have soaked through from the world above, or collected in mists and fog that warms and rises through the caves in he morning sun. The sound of the sea below is muffled by twists and drops that run like ore seams through the cliff's side, hollowed out by the tapping trickle of the stream that builds from the well and soaks into the earth, burrowing for the sea. Before it reaches the face of the cliff the tunnel widens and gapes to a huge cavernous mouth, twenty feet high and more than sixty wide. Still high enough above the sea that the spray only just flecks in at the edges, with a slight overhang that protects the body of the cave from the rain, the space is home to a man who sits with at a wicker chair and every morning paints the sea. From far over the hills he comes, his faithful friend trotting by his side, sniffing amongst the bracken and bounding after squirrels. The two make there way down, one easily, the other holding well-worn grips in the tunnels walls, until they emerge into the light, dawn's rays slanting over the cliff above, reflecting over the sea with a clear slice between brilliance and shadow. From the back of the cave, where a recess is carved, he brings forward the chair, then striking a match to a small camping stove that connects to a cylinder he rolled from home when he had the strength and foresight to do so. A gutter collects the rain from above and carries it down to a butt which the man opens at the tap to fill a rusted iron kettle that he sets with a gentle clink over the flames. They sit, and they wait, the man with his dog, as the sun runs towards them over the sea. He drinks long and slow on his fresh hot black tea and crunches a biscuit from a stash in the wall. The shelves that he built when he was a young man still stand, and hold his supplies. Canvases wrapped in oil cloth, paints in soft metal tubes. brushes protected from he damp with rags, an easel for sitting, and another for standing, when the blood begins to slow in his legs. He looks out at the ocean that stretches on forever and smiles to himself in his cave, his secret lair where no other man treads, where he and his friend sit and watch the waves, knowing that one day the earth will swallow him again, and the trees in the woods will sing a sadder song.
©2007-2021 Benedict Esdale