By MICHAEL BLACKBURN.
“The sun is God,” the purported last words of William Turner, sprang into my mind as I drove, seemingly, right into the sun. It was eight in the morning and I was travelling east along the road that follows the the Car Dyke, an ancient drainage ditch dug two thousand years ago by the Romans, from Lincoln down to Peterborough. The sun was so bright I had to squint to see the road clearly. Mist lay in low layers in front of me, and above that, a clear sky. It was through these layers the sun glowed. The mist lay in the distance and I never seemed to pass through it.
The road suddenly takes a ninety degree turn to the left to begin its course across the fen. At the corner there’s a house, which until a couple of years ago was a pub, surrounded by an unkempt garden, and still with its old accoutrements — its inn sign, remnants of car parking, and a general aura of pubness, etc. As I turned onto the causeway that leads directly to the village I was heading for, the landscape changed. Before here the land to my right sloped gently downwards. All before me and to either side now was flat. To left and right lay the drained, fertile fields of Lincolnshire, some still black from ploughing, others different shades of green. To my right I saw some sheep close to the road, like soft, white stones on marshy ground, fields now given over to creating a nature reserve where the water is allowed to return.
The sun was on my right now as well, an immense presence that no longer half blinded me. Occasionally the lights of oncoming traffic emerged from the far-off mist. Off to my left I noticed a row of five bare trees close together raised up from the land, detached as if floating in the mist. As I got closer I could see they were part of a rough line of a hedgerow, or what remained of one, running off at right angles to the road. And they were indeed higher than the rest of the land around them, so that they seemed to define the shape of a hill. In this landscape a couple of yards in height assumes great significance. In earlier times it meant the difference between being on dry land or being under water.
AS I GOT CLOSE to the river and the bridge into the village the mist created a strangely modernist vision. There’s a British Sugar factory on the other side where they used to process the beet into sugar. It is still used these days but only to store and transport the final product. The mist erased every detail of its tall silos and other buildings and flattened them so that they appeared as static, two-dimensional, geometric, pale, blue-grey pastel shapes. I wondered how Turner would have painted the scene.
Within a mile and a half I had passed from the ancient to the modern, from the agricultural to the post-industrial, from the agrarian to the post-agrarian, retro-environmentalist. And the sun carried on glowing and rising, changing the vision from one second to the next.
It was all to get my haircut, because I prefer to travel twelve miles through this landscape there and back, however long the wait at the other end, rather than making the less attractive journey into town. This particular morning I’d seen familiar sights briefly transformed in singular ways, ways that created a sense of enchantment. Enchantment may seem an oddly old-fashioned idea but we all crave it in one form or another, and the enchantment of place is one of the most enduring we can experience. By the time I drove back, the mist had gone completely, the details of the sugar factory — windows, doors, lines of piping, etc. — were all clear now; the fields lay open to distant view, the floating trees had returned to earth and the great god of the sun had risen higher, burning on, clear of all vapours. Maybe Turner was right. And even if he didn’t say “The sun is God,” I could for this moment think he should have.
Currente Calamo columnist, poet, writer and lecturer Michael Blackburn lives in Lincolnshire . From 2005–2008 he was the Royal Literary Fund fellow at the University of Lincoln where he now teaches English Literature and Creative Writing. His poetry has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies over the years, including Being Alive (Bloodaxe) and Something Happens, Sometimes Here (Five Leaves Press). His most recent collection is Spyglass Over The Lagoon. A selection of his Fortnightly Currente Calamo columns, Sucks To Your Revolution: Annoying The Politically Correct (US), is available as a Kindle ebook.