The low setting sun shreds the canopy. Looking through it is like the stained-glass experience in a cathedral. This is, in so many ways, his cathedral. A place of quietness and contemplation. A wander up a soft old Irish lane with high tangle hedges covering ancient loose stone walls. A moist cool tunnel. The chestnuts are dropping their brown jewels at his feet. He never can resist the silky mirror complexity of intense brownness so delicious in the hand when freed from their prickly husks.
The sense memories flood him and he is four years old, sick in bed with tonsillitis fever, and fretting boredom. Daddy comes home and sets a brown paper bag on the bed. The boy empties it and the gleaming brown-gold nuggets tumble out to become simple toys of touch, sight and smell. The boredom is banished and chestnuts, cheesers, conkers, become unpassable fall delights ever after.
Now fifty years later he stoops and carefully peels and holds one up to see the mirror dark gleam. Feeling the flawless smoothness that’s so transitory. A week from now and the bowl on the dining table will need replenished as the treasures wrinkle and loose their new lustre. Pockets are filled and bulge with fresh supplies and he feels a twinge of silliness as the woman power-walking past, sees him, boyish in his delight.
He walks here everyday, just a few miles up and down. Familiar now, comfortably known. But still exciting for the curious observant eyes that scan the detail. Looking at the little worlds, the ecosystems where boundaries are measured in feet not miles. There is so much life to be seen at this scale but he must pause, kneel, and peer into the dark secret places of the scuttling wee things.
Quick movement and angry buzzing draws his eyes. At his feet the drama of life and death is played out. A wasp has seized a fly. They tumble on the road. Wasp grasping, and stinging. Fly, powerful wings buzzing but growing weaker. He watches them until he hears a car approach. Traffic is rare on this backwater lane. The struggle will surely be snuffed beneath the wheels. He must step off the road on this single car width boreen to let the vehicle pass. He steps back only a little. The car must slow and stay left. The drama at his feet will play on. Passing wheels whirlwind the pair several feet up the road, still locked. The wasp will not relent, so determined to have his kill. Approaching winter bringing desperation perhaps.
He kneels and looks as the fly’s struggle ends and the wasp begins his meal. Chewing behind the head, the fly is decapitated and then the car returns. He steps back quickly but this time, too, far. Whoosh, a tiny splat and the stuff of the wasp and fly are blended. A mashed meal for some other winter hungry creature. Perhaps that Magpie overhead watching the activity.
Home now with bulging pockets and an imagination bulging with tales of life and death struggle and huge unseen forces that snuff out the little but vital fights.