Being on the edge

Today I found myself swimming in the sea off Penzance, alone and humbled by it's power. A mix of waves and currents that I had slipped into off The Battery rocks, as the tide was sweeping in from Mounts Bay wraping me in dead mans rope (Chorda Filum seaweed). All these place names and sensations where quite unknown to me seven months ago, before we moved from London to Cornwall.

Retreating from the tides of Capital washing around London and it's rent and housing bubble, we ended up here, seemingly the end of the world, well not far from Lands End. The edge of things has never felt so welcoming. The lack of choice of things to do is the most liberating thing. Every night of the week in London I could have gone to ten PVs exhibitions, parties, talks or gigs. I was finding in the end that the choice was paralysing instead of inspiring. When I did go to some event or other I always felt that I should be somewhere else. There never seemed to be the time to really look and talk and consider things and people. This thing we call the city is great and wonderful, but I wonder if we can cope with what it has become.

I am happy with a swim or a walk, that is choice enough. And of course there is a vibrant art scene here, and when I do go to an exhibition, I have the time and concentration to stop and look and see and appreciate.


Common shrew

Today I walked out again to the valley beneath Boswednan near to Madron in Cornwall. The stream that formed this valley has been variously corralled with granite walls and dammed to make a small pond of clear water, that used to power a water wheel, now absent. Meandering through an area of trees and shrubs, the stream comes and goes as I walk on haunting me with sounds and glimpses. Trees are hung with mosses that would not look out of place in Florida, it is wet and boggy underfoot and branches block the way. I followed a track left by some long gone vehicle. Where the stream has scoured the mud away there are little beaches of granite pebbles irregular and angular. Black fish and dead frogs lurk in the bends of the stream, tadpoles wriggle in the the still waters and dissapear once I move.

I stopped for some time and was rewarded with the sight of a baby common shrew coming out of a hole in the bank, sampling the air with it's slender muzzle. After disappearing back into it's hole it reappeared and dashed over a branch into another hole not 10 inches away. I waited, but it did not make another foray near me. I imagined it using a complex of tunnels to traverse this strange place. in search of worms, spiders and woodlice to eat. The shrew, choughs and unseen animals lurked like spectres in this lonely wooded valley. I felt I had dissapeared too.



I ran out to the harbour arm at Newlyn in Cornwall. It was the first sunny day since we moved to Penzance. I felt the pull of the sun and the still cool breeze off the sea, and could stay in no longer. As I approached the end of the harbour wall passing moored trawlers, green stranded nets and rusting cranes I saw a man looking out to sea. He said

‘Did you see the porpoise?’

We both watched the porpoise make 6 arcs out of the water, revealing a nicked fin. The arcs occurred a few seconds apart and with each we both remarked


As a fishing boat turned into the harbour lop sided with it’s catch the porpoise came out of the water right next to the hull. The man told me that the porpoise had circled around in the water near him and seemed friendly. He urged it to go out to sea.

I left, running back changed by the experience, elated and feeling light on my feet, looking out to sea from the promenade, I whispered



Wasp V Dragonfly

I was walking along a quiet street in a Surrey town. My attention was drawn to the urgent stirring of dried leaves in the gutter. I squatted down and found that the noise was a large wasp and a dragonfly fighting amongst dry leaves. the wasp clung to the back of the dragonfly and they were both being propelled this way and that by the frantic beating of the dragonflies wings as it tried in vain to free itself from the grip of the wasp. the violence of this fight propelled leaves about, like a bar brawl in a Western film.
My reaction was to feel at once fascinated and repulsed. Could I observe without intervening, if I did intervene whose side would I be on?  I crouched and kept still so as to see who might win. I don’t think either insect was aware of me so frantic was their struggle. I realise now that I slipped into a kind of psuedo-scientific 'TV nature programme' mode of neutral observation. I regarded myself as not part of their world , so I could passively observe and have no responsibility. The fight intensified as the wasp clung to the body of the dragonfly working its jaws towards the dragonflies neck. The dragonfly seemed never to have the upper hand despite and was three times the size of the wasp and presumably with stronger wings as well.
Again the dragonfly’s wings thrashed sending them off in a tumble through the dead leaves, I thought of intervening again and just as quickly changed my mind. There was another spasm and the wasp moved its mouth parts to the area behind the dragonfly’s head. When the next period of stillness from the dragonfly came the wasp severed it’s head and with much effort flew off with it. The dragonfly’s body convulsed once more and then lay still.
I walked on, dumbfounded, numb from the spectacle. If I had not turned down that road and heard the commotion in the gutter I would never have witnessed such an astonishing fight. I reflected on the chance element that walking a random 'Follow your nose' allows for.
I was reminded of a line from the Cohen brothers film 'No country for old men' 2007
"Signs and wonders, signs and wonders"


To walk is to be of no interest to crows

When we walk we do something that is intrinsic to being human. By this I mean that walking is not a reward or a benefit, it is an activity that we have evolved to do, or we could say ‘evolved us’.

As modern humans evolved the climate on earth changed dramatically. At some stage, in order to survive, to collect or hunt our food, we had to walk and run on two legs for considerable distances.

The activity of locomotion is simply what we are designed to do. Our minds have developed to take in information at about three miles an hour, at running pace we can navigate succesfully, but we notice less.

We have been walking through forests, plains, mountains, tundra, deserts and on ice for our entire ‘standing up’ evolution. When we do not move we become obese, depressed and our health deteriorates. Walking allows us to explore, discover and encounter things, most importantly, animals.

When I walk on the common near my London home and I come near to crows feeding they hardly move at all. I have experimented by stopping. this invariably spooks them and they hope or fly away. I surmise from this that animals are more at home with humans that move. they associate a stationary human with danger. A running human seems to present even less of a threat. Birds who move constantly whilst awake to obtain their food, I think, invariably regard a moving human as one that is engaged in business elsewhere, and therefore not a threat to them.

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