walking on the beach new year's day 2012 © David Litteljohn
I came back from my adventure in Iran becalmed; no wind in my sails. It was foolish to expect to find those things I sought there; as if travelling were like going to a supermarket. Iran was a profound experience that I am still processing…
Soon after I returned, my dog, Ninja, died; at 15, a frail old lady by the end. Her kidneys failed. I cradled her in my arms as the vet injected her with an overdose.
Christmas came. I grumble every year and tell anyone who wants to listen (or who doesn’t) that I hate it. I abhor the way capitalism goes rampant. But this is only a layer thrown over the faded one the Christians, in turn, used to cover up the pagan celebration of the winter solstice. Beneath all the layers, there lies the hope and expectation, in the depth of winter, of the sun’s rebirth; the hope there is in the year beginning to swing back towards the light, towards the resurgence of Nature. This is a deep yearning, particularly in the North of the world. At this time I am forced out of my hermitic existence into the company of people, into the embrace and drama of family. Perhaps there too I (we) seek a rebirth.
A rat dug its way into my house and took up residence in its walls and ceiling. The beast never actually got into my house proper – into those parts I live in. Well, my sister claims she saw it towards the end of its ‘visit’ scurrying across the floor, but I wonder if that might not have been a mouse. We often have mice, but a rat seems altogether more threatening. Is it the folk memory of the Black Death that makes us so afraid of them? Apparently they carry disease, though I wonder if this is true of a country rat. Out here what is it that makes a rat, among so many other wild creatures, particularly odious? Even in the city, I would think that any disease a rat brings into our houses comes from the filth that we spread around us; perhaps we hate rats because they remind us too much of ourselves.
In spite of my, no doubt, sentimental love of the country and its beasts, I tried to kill him. But he outwitted me. Several times I found the trap snapped closed, with the tahini bait (I had run out of peanut butter) stolen. A couple of times I found a poor field mouse mangled in the jaws of the trap. When I tried to block his entry tunnel with rocks, he dug under them and, as if to mock me, took to racing about in my ceiling. Eventually I closed his tunnel with chicken wire. I think he’s gone now. By the end of his visit, I had become quite used to him. In spite of my ancestral fears, I wonder why I should resent some creature seeking shelter within the no-man’s land of the hollows in my house?
A gale blew a tree down over the power cable to my house. For three days we had no electricity. The thin skin of the human virtuality tore. The cold of winter seeped into my home. We scurried about trying to get things done before the sun went down – for, afterwards, though we had candles, trying to find anything, or do anything, was far more difficult. There was also silence. A profound and absolute silence. The rarest, strangest phenomenon: the one thing that cannot exist in the human virtuality is silence.
In the end, desperate to reconnect to that virtuality, I dug out the generator the previous owner had left, and that I had not laid eyes on in the four years I have lived here. Miraculously (seemingly so, for one used to electricity appearing ‘magically’ from the sockets in my walls), pouring gasoline into it, we could run the central heating, have showers, even power the TV for an evening. Very strange this business of converting gasoline directly into TV programmes. Also strange was discovering how much energy each system consumes: boiling a kettle caused the roar of the 4.8KW generator to rise to a screech.
So, with the skin of ‘civilisation’ torn back to reveal the cold, unforgiving and relentless reality beneath, I was left casting nervous glances towards the finite amount of gasoline I had disappearing, anxious it might run out before I had finished watching my programme.
So many of us now live entirely cocooned in the human virtuality, that it is almost impossible to see the underlying reality upon which we build our lives. Living in a house in the middle of nowhere, I would seem in a better position than many to glimpse that reality, yet it takes a storm for me to ‘really’ experience it – and what was my reaction? – a determined bid to reconnect, to force my way back into the cocoon…