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The eloquence of chalk I: water-ways

February 1, 2011 Leave a comment

The day had been cold, grey, damp; but some kind of front moved over and left a deluge as it passed; and as swiftly on its tail there was clear sky and suprising warmth: a springmark, that, when clouds go and the air warms up instead of plummeting downwards, coverless.

I cycled into this to find the snaking dry valleys of the chalk filled with cottontails of mist. They flowed down these long wrinkles in the fields, following the way that water would go if there was water there.

At first I thought them the emanations from the great piles of silage I could see, staw-damp to the nose, drifting listlessly along the lowest path of resistance, following the smokefall. They gave the silage a haunting presence, piles of dead matter making steaming life.

But then I saw the same wreaths cling to hilltops like an opaque white cloud; saw their fingers draped over the Down and only just approaching the valley bottoms.

The chalk is full of these forms, carved by ice, by frost, by lost water; and now the vapours follow them. These kinds of h20 are so superficially different, so profoundly the same. One we can stand on, one we can swim in, one we can walk through. Two will shape the landscape; one will let us breathe it.

And all are a reminder of the strange absent water of the chalk, this ocean-made rock into which everything slips; a reminder of its curious billowing and its strange sudden valleys, lost drowned places of the antedeluvian Cretaceous.