Tuesday, June 21, 2011

22 The Snake’s embrace Parliament Hill
Tuesday June 21, 2011:
“Framed by oak and willow trees,
The City sits beneath the mist.
To the east, rain dark clouds
Veil the morning sun.”
“I love how we’re greeted at each street corner by a cheerfully singing blackbird!” I enthuse to my companion as her rather elderly car growls its noisy way through the quiet North London Streets. The air is thinning, indicating that it is growing lighter. Her windscreen wipers smack the wind born raindrops on the shield.
“Ah birdies!” I say infatilely as I emerge from the car. The sky is full of singing, yet the sun is still below the horizon. My companion mentions the hanging fat moon in the sky, emerging and disappearing behind clouds.
The Heath is empty! We walk along the path and then cut across the wet grass, gradually and then steeply ascending towards Parliament Hill. As I step, small insects rise from the wet greenness.
It’s nearly sunrise time and there’s a precipitous incline to get up. The way beneath our feet is rough and steep. We cross a slimy wooden bridge over a muddy ditch and toil on through the willows and oaks. Above us, birds call to each other and compete among themselves to be the noisiest. I climb onto a seat and flop down.
Parliament Hill offers spectacular views across London. The vista includes many archetypal and iconic London buildings. My companion has seen The Shard, and now that the light is growing, she spies the round dome of St Paul’s. The sun is nowhere to be seen however.
Fortunately, there is an abundance of benches; each has their occupants autonomously engaged in varying ways in marking the solstice. There’s a family having early cold breakfast, two couples stand or sit close and talk quietly to each other, a group of young people who apparently look as though they’ve been up all night, are lying rather foolhardily on the wet grass. I settle back to contemplate the turning of the year as it moves from waxing to waning, from increasing to diminishing.
“Ooh, there’s a kestrel of some kind circling above us” says my companion. Something soft lands on my head and scuttles away. This is a daddy long legged kind of creature. I sit still and it crawls off. Insects buffet against my bare hands but nothing bites; they seem intent on just being here right now. Behind me, unintelligible voices talk about who knows what ... its half past four in the morning for Goddess sake!
The undergrowth crackles and shrugs as though something really quite large is pushing its way through. I am aware of a presence – horned ... androgynous large but somehow insubstantially present. My mind focuses, hoping to connect; and as it does so, I become aware that the crushing undergrowth noises have become significantly louder. A large sandy coloured object, which turns out to be a snake, slithers through the undergrowth. It is heading towards me!
Momentarily, I freeze, become still and wait. Heaviness on my feet brings me to awareness that the snake is crawling over them and making its way purposefully up my legs. Its touch is cool and slightly rough as it slithers across my shoulders, its head coming to rest nearer my ear – it’s really quite a big snake!
I hold my breath. It imperceptibly tightens itself around me. The sensation is like a heavy arm, not unpleasant, the quality of a disinterested presence.
Its head close to mine, I notice the smell of freshly crushed grass and something slightly floral. I allow myself to breathe slowly and deeply to calm my agitation and hopefully, the snake too, although actually it seems perfectly calm and contented where it is right now.
I listen to the birds and the other sounds. I feel the weight of the snake curled around me, I’m getting used to it so much so that, when it begins to slither off me, I feel a sense of regret.
”Watt was that about?” I say to myself. A crow stands before me cawing vigorously. I wonder if he is trying to tell me something and sit still, listening and marvelling at the rasping roughness of the crow’s song. I caw back, nodding my head gravely.
“Ah, I wondered why there were so many people on the heath” gasps a woman coming briskly through the trees towards us, “It’s the solstice isn’t it?” I wish her a happy solstice and she thanks me smilingly and strides away.
I’m feeling a bit cold. My bum is slightly wet. Perhaps the waterproof picnic blanket I am sitting on isn’t as waterresistantas I thought. It’s now fully light and the everyday sounds of the heath are beginning to make themselves heard.
We get up and take the easy route back. The path curves and moves between trees. I greet a large oak in the time honoured way, (circle clockwise and, hand on heart, bow respectfully). I’m beginning to get a bit peckish and the day, though young, is going to be filled full of busy things to do, so I’d better go home and do them.

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