Sunday, 23 April 2017

Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay

Up at the reservoir on a warm morning it's easy to move from rural Suffolk a hundred years ago to the Brooklyn Public Library last week where a philosopher chews over some big questions with a group of third-graders.

This is reading as flexing, during which certain things fall away and others stand in soft relief, like an old tree stump in the water, down to its lineaments. Reading as part of the landscape.

George Ewart Evans published Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay in 1956. He's a plain reporting shy kind of writer, not at ease but keen to convey. There are chapters on bread, sheep, cheese, pigs and stonepicking, the dialect, the tales, the names of fields, the social structure: how far you had to go 'to go away foreign' (not very far).
...people rarely went out to buy things in the town, the village was almost entirely self supporting, most families living on what they grew or reared on their yards or allotments
Meanwhile, in Brooklyn Public Library, the big questions involve foxes, mushrooms, chewing gum and the soul and where it is. Third-graders have a great sense of reality.
What if we're not really here? What if we're in someone else's dream?
What if it's an object, and it's gum—but it's not, because those are just words we use for things?
The coconut scent of gorse runs through an inadvertent garden by the reservoir, sheltered from the light northerly air: ladies smock, foxglove, ragweed, hypericum, dandelion, willow herb, self-heal, eyebright.

I walked back along the lake very slowly, looking at air bubbles on underwater stones, negotiating gorse bushes—the water is high in the reservoir—noting plants and rescuing insects from shallow water.

One tree stump from 1951 when the reservoir was created, stood at the water's edge. I sat on it, but  I didn't sit on it, it's an object but it's not, because those are just words we use for things.

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