Madeleine Last is a Wild Writing student at the University of Essex, mother, nature lover, chocolate enthusiast, curious observer of all things great and small.
In the winter months, one learns to appreciate the night sky. But spring is here – April comes with stretched days and glistening, new verdure. My eye is drawn from the depths of crisp winter night skies to the soils of spring and its delicacies.
I’m in Colchester Castle Park and I am one of many. Mothers with buggies chat on benches and children kick a ball around on the greenery below. The sky is full of its usual trickery – larimar blue with hypnotising swirls. The outline of sky wanderers visible in the near-bare branches above. Vocal in their resting places. The perpetual drill of a Great Tit – my springtime morning alarm – drowns out all other efforts of song. Trees are gradually filling with unfurling vigour. I find myself kneeling upon the dirt, fondling tiny, soft leaves just out of the ground. Spring is so elegant – my clumsy frame an insult to this place. I fumble about on my knees and elbows, trying not to destroy anything. I think for a moment of J A Baker’s The Peregrine, and my ‘aimless stumbling ways, the tombstone whiteness of my face’[i] in the vibrancy of season. I smile.
The dainty petals of False Forget-Me-Not and miniscule bells of Grape Hyacinth spray this spot with pleasing purples. I touch a delicate stem. So thin and fragile yet in absolute defiance of gravity. It is steady en route to the sun. I think about the forces at play. Gravitropism causes roots to grow towards gravity and stem to grow against it. Something to do with cellular elongation, but it baffles me still. All of those hours spent contemplating the winter night sky – the gravitational pull of celestial bodies; orbital cycles and the very stuff of life so dependent on that continuity of equilibrium of force – thrown to the wind with this little spring flower and its brilliant brain of cellular instruction. So strong in its fragility. I find my feet; gravity is not my friend.
I move down the winding path parallel to Ryegate Road and turn right towards an empty bench. I become so aware of the weight of my step; of the everyday interactions with force, of weight and lightness. A cabbage butterfly flits by, jovial as always. A poem springs to mind: The Centrifuge: Weight and Lightness by Andrew Wynn Owen. I don’t remember it all but parts of it float about my mind.
‘Lightness is the mode of butterflies –
A mood to live in, hone, and improvise’
Weeks from now, the spread of leaf and petal will fill the empty space with glory. Light against the breeze, strong in defiance of gravity, and never weak until ready to fall. As I reach the bench, a couple sit, unaware of my presence. She laughs wide against the sky and he fondles the fabric of his jacket sleeve. Her hair is down and somewhat wild and moves rather like the butterfly at times. I pass. There is no shortage of places to sit here.
‘I side with lightness. Lightness always wins.
The eye is drawn to lightness first and last.
Weight’s interruptive brunt vibrates and spins
But lightness can deflect its strongest blast.
Lightness is the sail that pulls the mast!’[ii]
I find my bench and look down to children playing upon the green, framed by remnants of Roman wall and complemented with two grand maple trees. It’s hard not to look at people in love; a privilege to play witness to. The forces of the human heart dumbfound me. It beats before the development of anything. It is fierce, persistent, prevalent. There are times when you think it could stop, but it doesn’t. There are times when it feels heavy, and times it feels so light.
I read somewhere that the electromagnetic field of the heart is greater in amplitude than that of the brain. It extends several meters outside of the body. I do not know if this is correct, but I think about the way in which this force connects people; how we respond unknowingly to the heartbeat of another. It’s a frightening prospect; to be so vulnerable to force. I think about the frail spring flower, its stem rising in negative gravitropism, providing place for petal to bathe against the sky and call for pollination. It has to grow through that moment of fragility, vulnerable to the gauche movement of humankind; ‘the insanity of our flailing gestures and erratic scissoring gait.’[iii] We fear – in our destructive ways – an openness of the heart, yet it is perhaps in accepting this vulnerability that we are at our strongest, for butterflies are the mode of love.
[i] J. A. Baker, The Peregrine, (William Collins eds, 2015), P.92
[ii] Andrew Wynn Owen, The Multiverse, (Carcanet Press, Manchester, 2015), P.102[iii] J. A. Baker, The Peregrine, (William Collins eds, 2015), P.92
[iii] J. A. Baker, The Peregrine, (William Collins eds, 2015), P.92