Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Malham Cove - spring.

For miles as we approach, we can see Malham Cove rising out of the green rolling landscape like a stony dam. Its mineral brightness jars with the mellow Dale's landscape and I feel a thrill at being able to see our destination before we arrive, like a first glimpse of the sea when headed for the coast. The weather is kind, as it has been for days - the sun mostly winning through the cloud.

Our picnic is finished swiftly in the boot of the car and we set off slowly, the children dreamy and playful. There are gloomy predictions from the man of the family about ever reaching the top of the cove 'at this rate'. But I know these boys of mine - we are daily adventurers together and I can see that they are just limbering up and getting into their stride. We pass perfectly polite blue-grey Dale's cottages clothed in wisteria and delphiniums, surrounded by genteel green fields and leafy oaks. Like pictures from another time they stir in me a strange familiarity, perhaps in childhood I dreamed of standing at similar doors in similar gardens; belonging in this gently rural place.

The main footpath up to the cove is busy with folk as we join it. Monty skips and jumps, full to the brim with child-simple joy - shouting to all who'll listen, 'I like dogs!'. I'm not sure if he's trying to get people to let him pet their dog or whether he's just enjoying the game - but it's interesting to observe some people smiling with him, whilst others look away. Eli seems out of sorts so I point out to him the wobbly silver lines of dry stone walls snaking across the hills, some now no more than fallen and heaped rubble, bleached by centuries of exposure. He looks and nods but he can't seem to shake his subdued mood until he sees some water. The stream that burbles at the bottom of the flat approach to the cove is shallow and inviting and the boys wade and paddle their way upstream towards the sheer face of the cove, little legs pink with stinging cold. Jackdaws sit in gnarled, still-bare ash trees at the water's edge.

We stop to chat with a couple whose teenage children are chasing their dog through the water; the parents look wistfully at Monty and talk of how quickly time passes. I can see watching him play they miss little voices and limbs; my thoughts fall forward to a time too soon approaching and I can't help but wish that just sometimes we could all slow the bitter-sweetness of growing children.

Walking on, we find that just before the cove the RSPB have set up a viewing station for spotting peregrine falcons high up on a treacherous ledge. The man tells us they are being shy today but when I step to the telescope I see a bright eye, a beak and a turning wing, 'I see him!' I shout, and turn excitedly to see doubtful faces; perhaps they think I am mistaken or lying. They come to look but he is gone - I keep looking for a while longer, fruitlessly hoping to catch another glimpse of the elusive raptor.

We start to ascend the long stone staircase to the top of the cove; the rocks are slippy and worn and I worry for the boys who are racing each other up and up. I worry too for my sprained and swollen ankle, still tender and delicate - making me move slowly, like someone older, forced into frailty. I wonder whether you can measure sprightliness by the staircases you can climb? These giant steps are impressive, made of hefty rocks and slabs. It must have taken so much strength, time and commitment from people who had probably been volunteers - lending their limbs and spirits to lift and perfectly place one stone after another to make the high limestone pavement accessible instead of muddy and dangerous. As I climb higher, able to see further and further, I silently thank these willing strangers.

At the top, we can't see how to proceed. It takes a moment or two to adjust to this strange landscape, I hobble over the treacherous surface, scared again for my ankle and for the little legs clambering beside mine. But children are mostly sure-footed, having not yet learned to mistrust their bodies, their confidence often keeps them safe. I look into the gullies, searching the grikes between the slabs for plant life - remembering in The Wild Places, Robert McFarlane and Roger Deakin on their bellies in Ireland - peering into the fertile life of the gully, finding wild worlds in miniature. I'm not sure it's quite like that here, perhaps the crisp packets and plastic bottles distract me from the plant life, although I do spot some wood sorrel, herb Robert and stunted ash saplings amongst the ferns. It's hard not to compare these rocks with bones - long spines of ridged rock, each knobbly clint a vertebra or a knuckle. Teeth too point up from the surface - a true dinosaur graveyard for little minds ready to make stories and see monsters. There is a kind of magic in the contrast between the green tufts pushing between the bony platelets of the stone, all suspended on this high platform beneath the clouds, above the valley.

Monty treads carefully beside me, holding my hand. A family passes anxiously with a dog, his paws clattering and slipping on the rippling stone. I point them to safer ground and notice the parents looking wistfully at Monty, they gesture towards their own children and joke about big boys and big smelly feet. They miss cute, they say; and I understand...I am to treasure these moments, remember this day.


Jill M Hodgson said...

I never really understood why it's called a cove until I read this and saw your photos, always thought it was a strange term.
Unfortunately I can attest to the stairs comment. I look at people running up and down them and marvel that I used to do that too. It takes you constantly by surprise that your body ages. Not ME surely!
I love the way you are recording and savoring these precious times with your boys. The older years are a lot of fun too. Someone said to me when Chloe was born "It's wonderful up to 5, then it's downhill all the way" A negative pronouncement that proved to be completely untrue..... I enjoyed being a mom more and more and am in faith you will too!

Ian Hill said...

Hi Selina

Ah, this is a lovely reminder of the specialness of summer, the beauty of the dales when the limestone is dry and bleached. It's also a lovely contemplation of the process of growing-up, the way we so often fail to savour these times before they so quickly pass.

Beautiful photos, and beautiful boys, too!


Selina Gough said...

Thanks Jill and Ian, it felt a bit strange at first recording the day in the way I did but it was such a rare perfect day with very few arguments or dramas that it seemed to be a good moment to hold in the memory.

I think Jill that i generally enjoy the boys more as they get older, certainly Eli is a joy to be around these days...and even Monty has his moments!

Thanks Ian - I know I'm their mum but they are beautiful. Not sure where they get that from though!

Sheila Peters said...

Hi Selina,
I have such fun reading your accounts: My two boys are in their thirties now and our landscape is much wilder than this (northern British Columbia bush - a moose walked through our backyard yesterday), but many memories come back.

Luckily our younger son lives nearby and he has a son - 18 months of chattering exploration. As soon as he gets here we go to the pond to look for frogs and last week we managed to catch a small one to keep in a bucket for a few minutes. "Wow," he said as it stretched to its full length, trying to get out. "Happy frog," he crowed as we released it into the pond and it put all its muscle into beautiful frogging strokes down and out of sight. It is a delight. And big, smelly boys are fun too - the new music they bring home, the chores they can help with. Enjoy!

Selina Gough said...

Hi Sheila, how lovely of you to drop in! The landscape where you are sounds utterly captivating - when the boys are bigger I dream of exploring some of the wilder places of the earth with them. Do you have a new book out? Good luck with it, I'll look out for it. Thanks again for your comments.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Selina, you open my heart. You are so utterly real, so simply and honestly present with what is. My spirit relaxes into your prose as my body would relax into soft moss after a long walk on a hot day... though perhaps not as damp...
It has been many years since I climbed the Cove, long before my own daughter was born. She's 14 now, and I appreciate her more each day. Don't wish away the passage of the years - your memories are rich and full, and will last a lifetime and beyond. Your boys will inspire you daily as they grow. I for one have no doubt where they get their beauty - please honour yourself by acknowledging just how much you have given them, in so many ways. They are a true reflection of you.
I've spent a few weeks lost in festival land, hence no recent posts of my own... This, I'm sure, will change.
Blessings and abundance to you on your journey.
With love,
A Bear