“Under Stanage, a Sunday in late September, 1985. The air is kaleidoscopic with flies, sifted from the long, rain-bent grass, by sudden sunlight and a combing wind. Through the car window the ash trees are flocks of hummingbird-green leaves: leaving. A white butterfly totters past, Icarus for a day” (Between the Lines).
He was a bit of a (anti) heroic figure to me. He wrote his way into, out of, and all around the climbing experience and the life that goes along with it like no-one else has ever done. I could go and on and on about just how good those stories and poems are. I’ve been sat reading them again for the million-umpteenth time this evening at home.
Between the Lines, Frankenstein and Linda, A Grace Period, Child Woman Man, The Incubus Hills… and then the poems:
The Black Lake
(LLyn Du’r Arddu)
From the cliff
the lake waits in the cwm
for the crumbs of scree.
Holding back the monarchy of rock,
she gathers the caddis
in her lap, hikers on the skyline,
purple ravens’ wine.
She does the washing when it rains.
Hanging up the clouds for days,
swilling piss-yellow out of the peat,
pelting the sheep,
rinsing the mountains dusty feet.
Our local black hole, a bowl of plums
when the night wind comes
A choppy day: snappy
as a collie, running all over the place
splattering foam. My teeth chatter.
Skin and bone and stone and stars.
she bites. The man in the moon
shivers all night.
The buttery look of the sun.
Lukecool by summer, there are Septembers
water won’t melt in her mouth.
– organpiping icicles –
she runs aground,
a thick, blue porthole
the rain rivets and the wind pounds…
The sun rusts
away. Days like icebergs
Whistling gleaming creaking
cracks, grass bending
– a deep, blue roar –
reopening the colliery of the sky,
making the mountains soar
and tremble… Where I look down,
her wavy, young hair, blown
across his cold, bare stone.
(1975 – 1986)
And then there’s the all the groundbreaking first ascents and reckless expeditions up on high.
Wuthering, The Asp, Flute of Hope, Archangel, Banana Finger, Linden (controversially). A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Great Arete. The Long Hope Route. The Arch Wall. NA Wall (solo). T-Rex, The Strand, The Moon, and of course, a Dream of White Horses.
A Dream of White Horses
Palomino in the morning,
as the sun rose higher
they dashed, their manes on fire,
pounding their hooves on the rocks,
And smashed – we were climbing –
sank, broken, foaming…
The wind lashed them back,
combing their matted hair,
swollen green sea mares twenty hands high,
surrounded by herds
of nervous blue stallions,
snorting and champing and trampling
us under, given half the chance.
We stood by – a pitch apart –
watching the rein of our rope,
that led between the last grey overhang,
redden like a vein in the sinking sun,
And breathed again.
Their fire gone,
the black horses were drinking,
and we were thinking of a name…
Nothing had been forced – Then the tide
turned, they surged, rearing
– manes smoking white –
in the night towards us.