Clean Air and Primitive Life
The air today is infused with the sea. The wind feels tinged with salt, feels as though it has travelled a long distance over water, over dark swells, over sleeping whales. I imagine it sweeping over the surface of cold unforgiving depths, dancing playfully with the spray that’s made when these swells meet with the rocks and cliffs of the coast before drily rippling through grasses, hedgerows, tangling with the bare branches of the hawthorn and then dissipating as it meets with houses, churches, lampposts, stone.
I think about islands, think about the way the wind meets with the coast, meets with the land and then arrives once more at the coast before heading back out to sea. I think about the migrating birds that pass over Anglesey, over Fair Isle and wonder at how happy they must feel to know that for a brief spell they can rest and feed. It’s no wonder that sometimes they choose to stay. I think about those birds that choose never to come into land but instead sleep bobbing on the surface of the water, choosing a life far out to sea, their feet paddling the icy waters, their little feathered bodies warm against the chill. But this wind carries with it something else too, it feeds the lichens that grow in abundance here, creating brittle little alien forms that cling to the rocks, the fenceposts, patches of ground.
Lichens feel ancient, feel primitive. And they are. on Fair Isle I remember touching the furry stone walls and being told that some of the lichen communities on the island were over a thousand years old. Looking at the rocks in front of me now, at home in North Wales again, I imagine the world such primal communities of life would have been a part of here on the Anglesey coastline. It makes me feel wistful. A life that was simpler maybe, seas that were filled with fish, coastlines freed from power plants, aluminium works, busy ports. I find myself drawn to stare deeply at the strange surface of these lichen covered rocks. As you stare more intently new textures and shapes emerge. The orange lichens are rippled with delicate soft waves of brilliant colour, gentle ridges,and fluting, every now and then peppered with strange little cups. These are the fruit, but to my eyes they feel like embroidery, little french knots, curious little details added on purpose to create texture. They torment me a little. Quite simply, I wish I had made them. It is a thought that has always plagued me. I wish it had been me who had created these beautiful perfect surfaces, these odd little cups and ripples that seem to hint at a simpler, more primitive, more perfect way of being.
Lichens grow so slowly. It takes time, long undisturbed periods of time, for them to grow. If you tried to time lapse them on film, you would spend years just staring at nothing happening. I wonder what that sort of being must feel like, it suggests a sort of permanence, a living rock, a very slowly adjusting stasis. And lichens are primitive, one of the earliest form of plant. Before flowers, before leaves, before trunks and branches and grasses, there were these primitive, basic, organic surfaces. They feel like those strange lumpy fish you sometimes find underneath rocks at the edge of the water, devil fish, lump suckers, successful in their lack of the need to change. As other lumpy fish grew legs and climbed onto land, or became faster and more adept at being fish, these guys just continued their half life at the water's edge, happy in the shallows, happy being damp and cold in the dark, their big protruding Golem eyes gazing wetly at their dank rocky world.
Life seems too fast, too hectic compared to this primitive, constant, slow growing plant. I stuff my hands into my pockets, nestle deeper into my scarf to hide from the wind and hunker down to shelter myself next to the rocks. Their quiet steady being surrounds me now and I can’t hear the wind. For a few moments in a busy world, all is calm and everything slows down. I listen to the silence and imagine those little cups growing noiselessly, secretly, and picture my life as a quick fleeting moment, flashing by unnoticed.