RETREAT RECORD

OCTOBER 2010, TY'R GAWEN, WALES

 

October – the earth turns towards winter. A new moon is rising in a clear sky the colour of opals. Venus hangs over the hill. No wind.
 
In the garden a few red apples are still glowing in late sunshine; rose buds are opening again and primroses trying to bloom. Indian summer is a pause in the relentless march of the seasons – a time to relax outside for a little longer, while the sun shines and the countryside breathes a sigh of relief now that harvests are in and sheep down from the hills. A time to stand and stare – and write a few haiku.
 
Ten of us have gathered to do just that, for three days. Ten elderly people trying to live in the moment, to forget the past and ignore the future, like children.
 
The first hurdle this year was the decision to share the catering. E mails had begun to accumulate in advance, each one with a different suggestion, until there were so many it seemed simpler to return to the original system.

too many cooks
trying to help one another
control the broth

Old roles die hard, but the magic of birdsong, sunset and starlight soon sooth ruffled feathers. It is good to arrive. We have been here before, most of us, but one honoured editor from across the Atlantic should put us on our metal and a new arrival from Cornwall, with unobtrusive organisational skills, soon has us pulling together again.
 
Or so it seemed, until the last afternoon – one of autumnal perfection,when, after a post prandial nap, every one set out at once to explore a nearby mountain.

in ancient groves
sunlight leaves a menacing shade
at night fall

Poets are rarely good mountaineers. A good writer with bad legs; a soloist who ignores the choir; sensibility without foresight; aesthetic imagination without awareness; an accidental mix of disorganised free spirits - a recipe for disaster.
 
In October the temperature drops suddenly at sunset.
 
By dusk the weakest is missing and the strongest late. The valley is so deep and narrow mobile phone coverage is non-existent. The telephone box is out of order. It takes a while to explain our situation to the police on the telephone at the nearest farm, but soon a helicopter is carrying out a heat search from a mile away because there is no radio link any closer. When the police arrive they loose contact with base. We lend them a big torch. The senior one is unfamiliar with the area and smells strongly of lavender. Two lads from the farm are searching the woods and gullies on quad bikes with bright headlights when the last stragglers return from the mountain. Could he have collapsed somewhere? One car goes home to see if he is there and returns with torches and spare clothing. Another checks the village pub. When the mountain rescue team arrive with their dogs we are told to move our cars and wait at the farm but our intrepid editor insists on joining the rescue team. The fresh faced young local bobby lures him into the police Landrover – and locks him in the wire cage - just in case. As the dogs are about to set off into the dark, we ring home from the farm and discover our missing poet has been drinking tea for over an hour, tired but unharmed, not far from the pub in the village a mile away.
 
Our combined foolishness is forgiven - “He's safe. That's all that matters.” Recriminations are tempered with relief. After supper we write our haiku on the wall. With a few exceptions, we agree they are not very good.

a gap in the map
where wordsmiths have to listen
to a different tune

 

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