Coniston Water: On there being no Pure.

Mindsprings blog - Coniston water

I’m back filming for Escape to the Country and away from Daniel and the dog for the first time in months. The first time filming in a year. 

And after a day shooting in the Lake District, I leave the crew and head down on foot to Coniston Water. 

Like a piece of wrap-around sound art that has no holes in it. 

The night is dark and the air is strangely noisy. I know there are thunderstorms across the country. But we’ve had ours. The air is cool and silky. 

But the sound of the river I’m walking by. The numerous holidaymakers heading back into town. The drinkers on the bench. My footsteps. They all fold into themselves like music. Like a piece of wrap-around sound art that has no holes in it. 

Even at the lake edge, at Coniston Pier, it’s busy in the night. Families throwing stones for their frantic dogs into the dusky grey water. A couple of girls having a moment with a bottle of wine on the jetty. Evening smokers. A girl throwing stone and after stone after stone. Ripple after ripple ofter rupture. 

His heart turned to water, his head shattered into ripples

In my mind the water stretches out, mirroring the dark hills. Stretching off into the north – pale grey, pinkish, profound. And there are ghosts. 

The ghost of Wordsworth who in my memory stole a skiff here when a young teenager, on a  night like this one. Sailed off alone, illicit, into the throbbing quiet and the open water. And freaked out in the middle of the lake. Sailed right into the massive stillness and power of the mountains and water and freaked out. His heart turned to water, his head shattered into ripples, empty and terrified. The ghosting vastness of something other, something out there, something in here. Too big, too much, too everywhere. And panting he sails back, ties up the stolen boat and takes his guilty, beating heart back to the soil. 

Here, fifty years old myself. Not a child anymore.

And that memory is encased in memories of Reggie who loved Wordsworth and turned him into something I didn’t recognise. A shaman, a seer, a psychological wizard. 

And JH Prynne, my tutor at Cambridge, who also unexpectedly adored Wordsworth and saw something I didn’t. Something I couldn’t quite reckon with. 

All these older men, fathers perhaps and old and snow-haired Wordsworth too. And yet he was young man much younger than me at that moment. The child being the father of the man. But who am I in this? Here, fifty years old myself. Not a child anymore. Where am I? 

In clearer, tarter terms: external world, inner soma and language.

And I suddenly – as I walk home, – have a glimpse of a truth that has been growing in me like a sticky ball of allusive light. The truth I alluded to when speaking to Jane on the Zoom call this week: the truth of where we are right now. Whether we got there through distraction, drifting along on the shoals of thinking. Or we placed ourselves there with chiselled effort. The salient point is that we are here. We don’t excise ourselves from the picture like the (pseudo) Buddhist advise. But stay sailing on, recognising more and more of the things at play. 

There is language and memory and thinking. 

I am here on this road and William and Reggie and Jeremy are also comically there as well. There is no pure Coniston Water moment. No re-run of Wordsworth’s terror. There is this ball of outer and inner and in-between. Or in clearer, tarter terms: external world, inner soma and language. There are the rising ripples of energy in my body, I have been noticing more and more. And the movement of food in my bowels and the need to shit. There is the fizz of anxiety when walking past those drinkers again. The shadow of Prynne, and Ray, and Wordsworth and why there are so few women in this picture. There is the big shadowy, mountainous hills behind the town. The feelings of my body, the smell of a hot English evening after rain. There is language and memory and thinking. 

And this is it. There is coming home and there is writing this. And this is now this. All there ever is, is this.

I’d love to know your thoughts about Conistan Water. Drop me a message with any thoughts, comments, questions, queries or insights that pop up while reading the blog. I’d love to hear from you!

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  • Dear Alistair, in your 50th year, you have; spent 6months creating and sustaining a wonderful community of Corona comfortees, with your lovely husband,Daniel ; launched an amazing new website enabling us to continue our practice with you ; resumed filming ‘Escape’ and ,still, you find time to write these thought provoking blogs! If you ever find a spare moment, when your busyness allows, (which won’t be for a while, just yet, I’m thinking,) you must use that time to write a book of poetry. Your writings always exude a poetic quality.
    See you on the cushion on Monday.
    Sending love Patti X 🙏

  • Jane Davis says:

    For some reason, this post reminded me (among other things) of “The Earth” by my old Stanford prof, American Indian writer N. Scott Momaday:

    “Once in his life a man ought to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth, I believe.
    He ought to give himself up to a particular landscape in his experience, to look at it from as many angles as he can, to wonder about it, to dwell upon it.
    He ought to imagine that he touches it with his hands at every season and listens to the sounds that are made upon it. He ought to imagine the creatures there and all the faintest motions of the wind. He ought to recollect the glare of noon and
    all the colors of the dawn and dusk.

    For we are held by more than the force of gravity to the earth.
    It is the entity from which we are sprung, and that into which we are dissolved in time. The blood of the whole human race is invested in it. We are moored there, rooted as surely, as deeply as are the ancient redwoods and bristlecones”

  • Jane Davis says:

    Here’s one this post REALLY brought to mind: Mary Oliver’s
    “Don’t Hesitate”:
    “If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,

    don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty

    of lives and whole towns destroyed or about

    to be. We are not wise, and not very often

    kind. And much can never be redeemed.

    Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this

    is its way of fighting back, that sometimes

    something happens better than all the riches

    or power in the world. It could be anything,

    but very likely you notice it in the instant

    when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the

    case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid

    of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.“

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