Night Walking

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Posted on March 28, 2013

Ash at night/Rob Fraser Ash at night/Rob Fraser

Five stars, irregular points of an imaginary shape, shine on the velvet sky, then fade. A slice of high cloud has snuffed their light, and brushes the crescent moon so that it shifts from bright white to a cool silver haze. And then it passes, revealing the stars once again.

I walk through the night with sure feet on a quiet lane. I can just make out the edges, which are darker than its centre, shadows of hedges and trees huddle in a long winter’s sleep. The sky above has changed in just five minutes from darkest, deepest blue with pin-prick lights to a heavy, musty black, as if the stars have been pinched out by thumb and finger, one by one, and the curtain of sky lowered to the tree tops.

I feel specks of moisture on my cheeks and notice they have been chilled to alabaster by the cold air. Each droplet is a call to wakefulness, a quickening kiss from night’s mist. Before long, I realise the rain has become steadier. I relish this feast of hydration – for more than two weeks I’ve been without the feel of it on my skin, the smell of it off the fields, its splash under foot and wheel. The river in the dale is rushing, sending its tumbling tale in the echoes of its hurried flow.

We are moving on at a brisk pace. A clear road all the way, for two miles. Not a single car to avoid, or headlight to dazzle us, and no other soul to be seen. I know the corners where broken tarmac, potholes and sunken sections of road could twist an ankle, and automatically skirt around these, even though it’s almost too dark to see them. Trees – sycamore, oak, beech and ash – stand with their familiar winter silhouettes against the sky, black on near-black, visible only by a hint of moonlight that has managed to breathe through the cover of cloud.

Walking up a small hill, I heat up, pull my coat zip all the way down, inviting the careless caress of a wet night onto my skin. I only get my torch out once, to reveal the sinister shapes of two crows hung on the fence. A single barb has been passed through each of their beaks. They stare open-mouthed, open-eyed, hanging black and motionless in the night. Their black shadows spread like stamps of thick ink on the grass below them.

When I get home I’m hot. Even thought it must be little more than two degrees above freezing. I move from elemental dark, where ground and sky unite, to the light of home, where the woodburner is still glowing.

Not a bad journey back home from the pub.

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