I keep journals for my children; when they were born, I wrote religiously as if the laying down of their little (and big) experiences somehow validated those events (or me as a mother). Keeping a record became key. Sometimes I spent such a great deal of time recording (in pictures, journal entries, poems) that I ceased to be in the experience, with the kids. I was at the edge monitoring, evaluating, proving.
My aim at Llwyn Celyn is to use the residency to thwart that need to shape experience with words. What I have promised myself is to go to the house and (woolly as it sounds) just ‘be’. To become receptive rather than detective. To be so open that a more profound awareness might emerge. And then (the bit that I find hard) trust that something will become known, some story about the house, its grounds, its renovation, the people who lived there, and that I will know how to present that.
When I approached the valley-bowl that the house sits in, mist had settled. For the first time, the top of the Skirrid was invisible:
Nothing to see at a distance. I had to look more closely at my surroundings. I had to look at an angle.
Each time the drills, hammers, dumping of waste went on inside the house, the water in the wheelbarrow shuddered, distorting the reflection of the house, the scaffolding, the sky. All was movement. I decided to sit in the hall for a couple of hours. It was not easy to sit still with craftsmen walking by, medieval dust and debris falling from the roof onto my lap, Kylie on the radio/s. I wanted to reach after something, be in charge. Pin my ears or eyes onto something tangible.
After some time, James, one of the craftsmen showed me an old hob nailed boot that he’d found in the rafters, a common practice to ward off evil spirits. The sight of the boot set me to walking. And listening . . .intently to the robin who joined me on my walk (or had I joined him?). Two sheepdogs barked on Strawberry Hill, the farmer’s bike droned; a landscape making a soundscape. I visited the plum tree I’d helped to plant, and then, behind the house I was able, for the first time, to identify a raven from a crow.
The raven guarking across the valley
–did it know its own voice?
I heard someone shout ‘More sheep’s wool!’ They are using it to insulate the roof, packing it into the roof voids. It allows moisture to find its way out, enables the house to breathe. I need to be more permeable, to be more woollen, to know what to hold onto and when and what to release.
The last image I was given as I wondered on the roof, this:
The stonemason picking his stones carefully by weight and width, shape, intuition. The satisfying shlunk of mortar on trowel; it moved like a living breathing entity, the lime mortar is as liquid, it wants to find the cracks, wants to settle in between spaces. I must remember this for the laying down of words: which word holds its weight and space, how to massage it in place, and what will hold each to the other.
But there I go again with words. Habits are hard to break . . .