IT IS easy to miss it all, the outside. If it is too wet, you will miss the sharp March rain on your skin. If it is too blowy, you will miss the March birds riding the thermals. How many springs do you think you have, anyway? They say “Count your blessings”, but count your springtimes.
Yesterday, it was impossible to count the starlings in their winging murmuration as they flew and folded above the kale field. Several thousand would be a good guess. Had I not gone out in the rain to fetch the milk, I would not have seen them. Or watched the wild clouds looking at themselves in the puddles. Or noted that the wild daffodils, the ones that Dorothy Wordsworth saw and her brother described, were in a yellow ring around the pear tree.
Of course, I got wet and muddy, but “better”. Not that I was ill or malcontented or anything like that, but I was “more” than I was before I left the house. After the starlings had gone, a lark sang in their space. The rain filtered through the flints towards the river. Everything was as it usually is in March. Or in Benedicite.
I am writing a book about my early days on the Suffolk coast, and dreaded opening the old letters. I thought they would be unendurably sad, or, at least, embarrassing. But quite otherwise. Strong opinions, best love. They are so interesting that I forget to write, and turn their flimsy pages like some captivating novel. Can the recipient be me? There is much untaken advice, lots of gossip, many haunting addresses, particularly in Cornwall. Here we are on Bodmin Moor. What views! And not all of them geographical. And all of these aches and pains in the post. No emails, naturally. But, then, there are no emails now. Which reminds me that I have young friends who have never written me a letter, just postcards from New York. “What about Posterity?” I tell them. What about it, they reply.
One of my correspondents was the poet James Turner, who has a gothic hand. He went to the eight-o’clock and to another service, especially in Cornwall, where he liked a damp slate floor under his knees. His car sloshed through the stream-beds that were the lanes in March. His wife stayed at home to cook us big breakfasts after this ordeal. I thought of the wavering candles and the painted barrel roofs. And still do. Rain is wetter in Cornwall.
James Turner would have approved of the Edmund Centre for Arts and Theology which we are launching at St Edmundsbury Cathedral this month, although I doubt if he would have joined it. Too many Christians.
One of his novels was about Edmund’s being murdered in Staverton Thicks, that strange forest where ossifying oak and hollies mount each other like decrepit growth in the final spasms of existence — but which never give up. Nothing grows beneath them. But now and then deer run delicately through their exposed roots, never tripping, always beautiful.
St Edmund is the St Sebastian of Suffolk. He would have been about 29 when they slew him against a tree. A thoughtful wolf took charge of his head. James’s dust lies on Bodmin Moor. We put it behind a rock so that it wouldn’t blow about.