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. . . . .

A poem by Andrew Spencer,
contemplating the daily changing scene
at High Beach





HIGH BEACH 

I stand at the summit, 
of the steep-sloping sweep of grass
that covers this high ridge of sand.
I look north-westerly over the tops of trees 
to the town of Waltham Abbey
resting in the landscape of the Lea Valley.

I can find inspiration here.
Every day for a week I will come
to High Beach, to write about the colours,
the day-to-day changes, and the others who come here.

Saturday
The morning's showers have now passed over.
In the covering above, gaps appear
and light penetrates the grey clouds,
giving some a silver lining.

Autumn advances among the forest trees.
Most are still green, but patches of beech leaves 
are changing to orange and gold.
The oaks are turning ochre.
The birches have a scattering of brown amongst the green 
that lends them the colour of olive trees.

The grass is fresh, wet, green.
All ages are here to roam upon it in the bracing air.
Dogs chase each other wildly.

Mad dogs, and an Englishwoman
unfolding a canvas chair to sit and read
in the late October wind.


Sunday
The sky could have been arranged by Wedgwood,
faithfully in his most famous colour scheme.
The blue is even, dense, but luminescent,
and floating in it are vaporous puffs of white.
The sunshine at noon is keeping at bay the gathering cold.

On the main leisure day of the week
people have flocked here from the city and miles around
for natural scenery, fresh air and exercise.
Cars have parked in a line overlooking the view,
and people queue for drinks and snacks
at a green tin hut next to the trees.

A band of backpacking hikers
nestle on a knoll
studying their maps.

A congregation of mountain bikers
sit on the benches and grass beside the tea hut.
With backs sprayed by liquid mud
and bare legs and arms bespattered too,
they rest themselves and their bikes
and cajole each other in their macho way.

A child drags a big stick 
behind him through some long grass,
then in the grip of his own action fantasy,
he stands on a mound brandishing it in the air
to ward off all comers.

Three generations walk across the grass together,
the smallest is in a pram pushed by granny,
who does not notice the picturesque view, her vision filled 
entirely by her granddaughter's beaming face.

While robins sing sweetly, magpies
glide down from the trees,
and jackdaws call 'chuck, chuck' overhead,
balls are kicked, hit, thrown and caught.
Children joyfully race each other down the hill,
like my brother and me when we were small, 
calling out, 'Can't stop! Can’t stop!'


Monday
Sky, the most delicate, unbroken blue
of a bird's egg. 
Stillness. Not a breath.
Leafy branches poised in full light
against the deeper woods, glow like stained glass.

The cafe closes on Mondays. 
Hardly anyone is here, just two boys
kicking a ball around over at one side. The magpies
are free to flit and flutter down
to strut the green stage, scavenging for scraps.
A pair of jackdaws raids a litter bin.
One sits on top keeping lookout 
while its mate dives right inside after food. 

A young family have formed a
human chain against the outer world. 
Between mum and dad, sister holds hands with tiny sister. 
In their red coats and yellow wellies 
they step out on the glistening grass into the pristine morning.


Tuesday
Rain falls from a high canopy
that is milky-white like an opal.
The ground holds water, reflecting sky.
It darkens, and the rain increases. 
In the foreground, the colours of leaves 
are rendered dull. Further away all colour fades
until at the horizon, the land becomes the faintest grey
barely distinguishable from the sky.
The needs of a few dogs have 
been put above those of people today.
A young woman walks bareheaded in the rain
leading a puppy she has dressed up in a little grey coat.
 
From the bottom of the hill, come a family of four
with two dogs, one black and one white, both on leads.
The head of a small dog peeps out from inside the man's coat.

Strange, but in this rain 
the reduced visibility allows me
to see something I've never seen before -
a line of pylons passing across the distant town.
From here they are usually camouflaged against
the jumbled shapes and colours of buildings behind.
Beyond them nothing now is visible, so the pylons stand out.


Wednesday
Sunshine warms the hillside.
Above the hilltop is a wide clearing of blue. 
Stacked up on all sides are cumulonimbus that resemble
a huge harvest of cauliflowers, rolled back by 
some giant gardener of the sky. 
The blue field is criss-crossed lightly by aircraft trails, 
and way, way up are wisps of cirrus, 
that look like mare's tails.

As I stroll upon the grassland,
I notice droppings left on mossy tussocks.
I hardly ever see rabbits here, 
but they must come out when everyone’s gone,
to keep the grass nibbled down quite short.

A botanist crouches and studies the ground,
to note the species of plants growing there.
A mother nudges her little boy forward to ask him
a question. The man shows him his notebook.

I wander down into the forest. 
Here and there more trees have been touched by Autumn.
The oaks are catching up with the beeches.
In just four days I have seen a heightening of the hues
in the leaves. The birch trees are turning from olive to bronze.


Thursday
The clouds are grey ships with ragged sails 
blown across a silver sky.

At the foot of the hill
I step out onto the sandy soil 
which is still sticky from the last rain.
Away from the other trees, an oak and a beech
stand side by side, the tips of their twigs touching.
The lemon-yellow and amber colours of the oak leaves
intermix with the gold, the russet and brown of the beech tree.
A wind-woven carpet of colours slowly spreads over the forest floor.

A pale yellow sun moves westward.
While I watch from my car on top of the hill,
three mountain bikers race down at breakneck speed,
letting out loud whoops of exhilaration.
Two cars draw up side by side.
Out step two families of different races
who greet each other with embraces. 

At the summit, a couple hold each other close,
surveying the scene.
He points. They kiss. She runs
to the car, returns with a camera. 
They embrace as if parted for a week.
She rests her head
on his shoulder while he photographs the view.


Friday
I take a last walk 
out in the open air.
The wind whispers through the leaves.
Above the treetops, grey streaks 
stand out in front of a golden sky.
As sunset approaches,
the clouds are fleetingly brushed with a rosy tint.

A party of crows are cawing, and wheeling 
about excitedly in the embers of the western sky.
Far off, tiny points of yellow and orange light 
come on in the streets of the town.
As the light fades from the land, planes 
are noticeable as silhouettes plying their courses 
through the sky to darkened destinations.

From over my shoulder, 
high up in the sky, fly three groups of gulls.
The first group has maybe thirty birds, 
and following at a distance, fly about twenty more,
then come a final ten birds.
I watch them fly out high over the landscape
until they recede from view.

A lone jogger, jogs doggedly by in the semi-darkness.
A bat acrobatically hunts its prey
hither and thither in the darkening sky.
Wrapped around each other, a pair 
of twilight lovers take the stage. They stand together 
for a minute or more, to gaze at the twinkling town below,
then, still wrapped around each other, they turn and leave the scene.


ANDREW SPENCER