Marsh Roads

I.

Walking

down Marsh Way past Marsh Way Pond,

down Marsh Lane I think of other marshless Marsh Roads
in Preston, Thornton-Cleveleys, Bolton, but also

of Marsh Road near Banks and Marshside
where hundreds of widgeon and teal
jester the waters pintail arrow
and lapwings

peal

like spaceships
on computer games.

II.

There are no alders
on Alderfield

where I lived
without trees or water,

on Alder Close, Alder Grove, Alder Lane,
around the pond in Carr Wood where they cut them down.

On Carr Head Lane, Carr Moss Lane, Carr End Lane,

Carr Hill High School where I first sparred
at Taekwondo ignorant of Gwern
and Brân’s alder shield.

III.

There are no reeds
on Reeds Brow, Reedmace Road,
Reedfield Place, Reed Acre Place, Reeds Lane.
On Rushwood Close, Rushwood View, Rushy Hey
there are no rushes.

There are no willows
on Willow Crescent or Willow Coppice
to weave into a willow tunnel to grant safe passage,
but Willow Cottage Bed and Breakfast
was a haven for two friends –
one of them a heron.

V.

There is no sedge in Sedgefield

but the pendulous sedge is rioting here
on the banks of the brook in Greencroft Valley
and the green is soggy and my wellies are getting stuck
and slipping in and out of the land like a jelly.

It’s coming back it’s coming back –
the marshland of the Setantii.

We have been sinking by an inch each year.

There are things that are born to suck up the roads.

The Death of a Dragonfly

Dyed he is with the
Colour of autumnal days,
O red dragonfly.
Hori Bakusui

It was an accident. Still, if I’d accidentally killed a human I’d have been jailed for murder. I’m often killing midges, greenflies, flies, as I cycle down the Guild Wheel along the Ribble to Brockholes Nature Reserve. Not on purpose of course – they just have a terrible habit of getting in my eyes, in my mouth, down my top. It’s said there were more flying insects before cyclists, cars, climate change…

I’m not sure why killing a dragonfly somehow seems worse than killing all those tiny things. I didn’t even see him. I was too busy thinking about the fantasy novel that I was planning to set in a marshland and how the flora and fauna of Brockholes, as a wetland nature reserve, might inspire me.

Thinking not listening. There was just a buzzing at my neck and a kind of crackling against my skin. Without thinking I swatted at it compulsively, then stopped in a panic, fearful of what I’d done. Looking down, for a moment I felt relief, seeing what looked like a twig before I realised it was a ruddy abdomen. Severed from it a furred red-brown thorax, two cobwebby filmy wings, and a head with two huge dark red globular eyes and three small eyes that, between them, didn’t see me coming.

I didn’t know what he was right then, that he was a he, or a common darter. Only that I’d killed a dragonfly. I laid the broken pieces at the side of the cycle way with an apology to dragonfly kind and rode onward more slowly, more aware of other ruddy darters rising from where they were basking on the path. After I’d arrived, locked up my bike, they haunted me for the short period I was there. Flying in front of me, landing on the wooden walkways and handrails.

One, in particular, caught my eye. Beholden by the huge round portals of his eyes I drowned in the utter inadequacy of not knowing what he was thinking. Did he know I was a murderer? Did he know what I was? Could he sense my awkward reaching? My overall impression was one of curiosity. That it seemed likely he was thinking dragonfly thoughts distant from my own – trying to place this gigantic monster with its small eyes within his brief sunlit world of eating and flying and mating.

Dragonflies are old. The oldest fossils date back to the Carboniferous period – 350 million years ago. They spend most of their lives as nymphs, living for up to four years in muddy waters. They then crawl up the stem of a plant and shed their nymph-skin, emerging as dragonflies, leaving behind the exuvia. In the brief six months of their adult life they feed on smaller flying insects and find a mate, in an acrobatic display forming a spectacular mating wheel, then afterwards the female lays her eggs on the leaves of plants or in the water. Death follows shortly and the life cycle begins again.

It’s impossible to know if that dragonfly had fulfilled his life’s purpose before I killed him. And, of course, in that all-too-human way that has reduced the earth and its creatures to resources, I’m searching for a meaning, like nature is here to teach us lessons. I can’t help it. That’s human nature.

And it’s pretty obvious, slow down, listen, maybe just maybe I’m heading off on the wrong path trying to write a fantasy novel about an imaginary marshland when our existing wetlands need our voices. Making up new creatures when it may be more valuable to introduce people to Sympetrum striolatum ‘common darter’, Sympetrum sanguineum ‘ruddy darter’, Anax imperator ‘emperor dragonfly’.

This is leading me to think that, rather than writing second world fantasy, I might be best off writing a novelset in this landscape, but further back in time. Not only before the wetlands, the marshes, the peat bogs, the lakes, were drained off, but before the people lost their spiritual relationship with the land.

I’ve long been drawn to the archaeological evidence for the ancient marsh-dwellers in my local area. During the Romano-British period they were known as the Setantii ‘The Dwellers in the Water Country’ but had lived here far longer. Here, on Penwortham Marsh (now drained) and not far from the river Ribble (now moved) they had a Bronze Age Lake Village evidenced by the remains of a wooden platform, dug-out canoes, a bronze spearhead, 30 human skulls, and skulls of aurochs and deer. There were numerous other settlements such as those beside the great lakes Marton Mere and Martin Mere (now drained), wooden trackways such as Kate’s Pad, and the (now lost) Port of the Setantii.

If I was to write about that time, rather than making up critters and magic and gods and monsters, I would be able to draw upon the real magic of an animistic and shamanistic culture rooted in a lived relationship with the ‘water country’ – its reeds and rushes, its wetland birds, its dragonflies and damselflies. With the spirits of the ancestors, gods we know throughthe Romans, such as Belisama and Nodens, and those who are unknown such as the goddess I know as Anrhuna, Mother of the Marsh.

That dragonfly was one of her children perhaps. She who has been here as the marshland since, at least, the thaw of the Ice Age and thousands of years of water country, these last four centuries of its draining off, and is still here in the last remnants preserved by wetland nature reserves such as Brockholes.

Would it be too very human to read, in an unlucky accident, a message from a goddess?

O red dragonfly,
Colour of autumnal days,
Dyed he is with the

Mother of the Marsh
Returned to mud and water
Rest well O red one.

***

Those who follow this blog will note this event has led me to returning to its old name ‘From Peneverdant’. This was the name of my hometown of Penwortham in the Doomsday Book and signals a homecoming from an exodus through Welsh mythology and Annwn. It makes sense in relation to my lifelong dedication to Gwyn, here, in January.

 

Fragments of Annwn – Depths

No-One Knows

the extent of the marshland of Annwn. Some cross it in a day. For others it goes on forever like the mist that obscures the musical birds, the shriekers of the mournful shrieks, the droners of the ancient drone, the players of the carnyxes that gurgle beneath the waters. You never know what is splashing behind on countless feet until it is too late. Sometimes you get lost following the will-o-wisps like lost hopes to where all hope fails. Sometimes you make sacrifices or become the sacrifice see your bog body your ghost flying free like a lonely bird. You become an inspirer or a guide only to bring doom to the unwary. When you think you know the way you slip. When you think you have found the awen you find it escapes words, that the sigh of its name is already escaping your lungs, that breath is not yours to keep forever and must return to the gods.

Awenydd of the Marsh

“You have not yet crossed the marsh.”

No, I’ve got lost again, led round on splashing circle feet to the village where there is a wooden pole and on it a woman seated cross-legged on the head of a bull a crane with wings spread above her.

When she’s not on the pole she’s in the central hut a cord of light down the centre of her spine surrounded by worlds that flicker in and out of existence whether at her will or not I am uncertain.

I’ve never heard her speak, seen her eyes blink, perhaps she dare not for fear of unseeing the realities she holds within her gaze. She doesn’t even breathe. Without her things would fall apart.

My eyes are tired, I’m out of breath, my worlds are out of reach, and I’m missing something.

An Abandoned Sea-Dragon

A blue watery dragon is snared by a weak rusty-looking metal chain around one leg, like a ship at anchor, like an abandoned boat, where the tides come up and wash over her body then back down again. She is ridden with fleas. She is one of the dragons that have been forgotten. I know I could easily break the chain but am told that it is not the chain that binds the dragon there. She has forgotten how to leave. The knight who chained her has fled from his fear of her death. The people do not feed her. She just lingers. It’s an awful story. A terrible mess. There’s no resolution. It’s embarrassing.

elizabeth-explores-unsplash

With thanks to Elizabeth Explores on Unsplash for the image.