After doing the internet thang yesterday I bussed back to Earls B and walked out to Sywell Country Park. There are a few of them in Northamptonshire and they're really valuable to people like me with a bit of an Ed Abbey/ Gary Snyder hang-up because they're the only places you can go to sit down and read, or meditate, or think, or talk to the animals, without running the risk of getting your arse shot off by an irate farmer. I was going to say nobody owns the country parks, you see; but of course, all of us do technically.
Anyway, I was out there sitting at a fireburned picnic table (now that must have been a hell of a barbie), and I began feeling so peaceful with the sun on my arms and the ducks and swans thrashing about in the water and the smell of woodsmoke filling my nostrils, that I started writing a kind of thank-you poem in my journal to express my appreciation of it all. I had hoped there might be a little shower so I could take a walk in the woods and have the rain filtering down through the heavy tree covering etc etc.--"for the poetry of it," as I said in my journal--but this sun was even better. After all, rarity breeds affection in peculiar souls like me and this was probably only the second or third time I'd been able to sit out in the country in the sun all summer.
I needn't have worried about the rain, though. I was so busy concentrating on my poem, I didn't notice a black cloud the size of Scotland drifting over the park with a menacing glower on its face. I did notice the first clap of thunder it gave out to announce its arrival, however. In seconds my journal was spotted with rain and people were beetling past me on their way downhill to their cars.
"They don't know the country like I do," I thought, as the rain really began to tip."In a few minutes it'll pass over."
My desire, you'll remember, had been to walk in the woods while it rained. But the car park is in the woods--or at least the near-woods--at Sywell and I didn't want to look like another delicate suburban countryphile racing for cover at the first sign of a little weather; so I got up off my fire-damaged bench and started walking in the other direction, away from cover towards the other end of the park.(There is another wooded area on this route, but from where I was it's fifteen minutes walk at least to get there.)The ducks I passed on the concrete bank by the water (it's an old reservoir) looked at me like I was mad. Most of them had hunkered down and stuck their beaks inside their tail feathers dejectedly waiting for the storm to pass. A woman sheltering under a tree with her dog called out something to me but the rain was already so heavy I couldn't hear her. I made a noise of amused assent, presuming that would be appropriate, and walked on.
Dumb. Dumb dumb plain stupid dumb. In five minutes my eyes were stinging so much from the rain I couldn't see where the hell I was going. And the rain didn't appear to be stopping, as I'd calculated it would using my ineffable country wisdom. I saw a bunch of trees I might shelter under but someone else was using them. I couldn't see who and unless it was a really gorgeous middle-aged single woman looking for love with a Buddhist poet I didn't want to hazard it; so I walked on. Eventually I came to a line of high bushes and low trees by a fenced-off area and tramped in to shelter there.
I passed the time taking photographs of raindrops on brambles, trying to replicate the look of a Japanese brush painting. But I couldn't see what I was doing and my phone was covered in rain: when I got home and reviewed the pictures later they were shit. Eventually, though, with the rain becoming even fiercer with no sign at all of let-up, and the footpaths turning--literally--into rivers of brown, fast-running water, I thought I'd better admit defeat. "Okay, okay, you win," I shouted into the howling wind (and if you doubt that really happened, you should've been there). I didn't know who I was talking to, but I felt certain there must have been some crazy god with a perverse sense of humour doing all this. And that's when I came out from my almost-useless shelter and walked back through the brown river into the slicing, freezing-cold rain as quickly as I could, heading for the woods I should have been in all along. I don't have a car, of course, but there is a good concrete benjo there that would serve for shelter until the rain had passed. If, of course, it didn't just keep on raining forever.
By the time I got there my clothes were hanging down from my body heavier than chain mail with all the rain they'd absorbed. My eyes were raw from my misguided efforts to rub away the stinging and I'd picked up a deep scratch behind my right knee from somewhere or other (did I mention I had shorts on?) But I don't want this to come across as one more in my long list of grumbles about my holiday, because--and perhaps you'll recommend I should be locked up for this--I enjoyed every minute of the experience. Perverse? It was like being inside a T'ang Dynasty Chinese poem about mad monks out in the wilds looking for enlightenment. The mad monk being yours truly. I may not be able to write poems like Li Po, but I'm damn good at getting cold and wet.
I didn't find enlightenment, of course. That'll take a little more than a wet walk in the woods. But I did note, for future reference, that when I'm predicting how long a rainstorm will last I should probably check the direction that the wind is blowing in.(I can imagine Ed Abbey's ghost turning away in exasperation.) When I think back on the afternoon I could have figured that simple one out just by looking at the angle of the rain.