Monday, 1 October 2007

Chasing wild geese

It's that time of year when geese are in the the skies, and in my thoughts. And not just mine, it seems - geese are suddenly turning up in blogs all over the place!

As I child I lived near a network of gravel quarries which were turned over the years into lakes and are now terrifically popular with anglers and windsurfers. Back then, before they were 'developed', the pits simply filled up with water and attracted all kinds of wildlife, notably large flocks of Canada geese , which used to make the most tremendous noise at dawn and dusk and keep small children (like me) rather miserably awake when we were trying to get to sleep and dream about The Woodentops or Tales of the Riverbank .

However, today's story of coincidental geese-related matters properly begins with My Boy (10), who, having been encouraged by his English teacher (and his mother, it goes without saying) to explore the world of books beyond Biggles and Commando Magazines, cleverly contrived to broaden his literary horizons whilst remaining firmly within the general theme of War. So we had Ian Serraillier's The Silver Sword and Martin Booth's War Dog and then I suggested Paul Gallicoe's The Snow Goose - on the grounds that not only is it set in the Essex marshes [tick] and is full of seabirds [tick] but it involves the British evacuation from Dunkirk [A** tick, tick, tick].

So off he went, enthusiastically, with one of the several editions still lurking in the family bookshelves (my first-ever copy I gave to someone whom I loved and lost) and yesterday he finished it, and was sad that it had come to an end, and wants to read it all over again (except that it's Readathon or Bookathon or somesuch at school, in which the emphasis is on quantity, not quality (or repetition) but since it is generally considered to be A Good Thing, we'll let it off).

I've loved The Snow Goose for many years – since I was not much older than My Boy, and long, long before I migrated to Essex (from London) and made these bleak eastern marshlands my home. I still read it regularly – it perfectly captures the ancient wintry loneliness of this curlew-haunted coastline and it tells of an unlikely and hopeless love and is very, well . . . ‘haunting’ is the only word, really. Especially so if you have ever trudged for many miles along the sea walls hereabouts, with their endless mud and wind-bleached sedges and rushes and sea-lavender and have watched the Brent geese flying in formation against the vast grey skies. I've never seen a snow goose, though.

And so to the blogs and the sudden flurry of goosey activity remarked upon above: On Dougal's Mersea Wildlife blog there's a note that the first of the Brent geese have arrived here on the Muddy Island - all eight of them. Dovegreyreader has recently considered The Snow Goose , and in particular the new edition with lovely illustrations by Angela Barrett.

Over on RandomDistractions, meanwhile, we have a post about geese arriving back in Devon and some interesting thoughts about the lessons that we can learn from the behaviour of these birds: geese as a model for corporate team building (not as bizarre as it might sound). This piece by Maureen inspired me to muse upon the fact that the early Celtic church in Western Scotland chose the goose as a symbol of the holy spirit - wild, free and very noisy - rather than the quiet and gentle dove adopted elsewhere.

On the Isle of Iona, the Iona Community, founded in 1938, explores Celtic spirituality alongside contemporary approaches to social justice, peace, and spirituality and has adopted the Celtic goose as its logo. The history of the Community, Chasing the Wild Goose, is published by its Wild Goose publications. Iona is one of the most special places on earth - certainly in the British Isles. St Columba called the island, ‘Iona of my heart’. George MacLeod, founder of the Community, described it as ‘a thin place’, where earth and heaven are not far apart'.

While searching for an image of the stylised 'Iona Goose' design, I happened upon another blog, Eternal Echoes, and a recent post which delves much more deeply into the fascinating Goose-as-Holy-Spirit connection.

Which brings me not very neatly to my next goosey musing. As a teenager in the 1970s (yep, 'fraid so), I saved up and bought the LP of Camel's 'concept' album The Snow Goose and thought myself no end of a hip, cool chick as I carried it proudly home. While my female classmates were bopping to the glam rock bands of the day, I was lost in a sound-world which didn't really capture what the novel meant to me, but it was nevertheless very interesting and gave me a useful entree into the conversation of the serious, grown-up boys with electric guitars in the sixth form, after whom I lusted (in a purely intellectual way, of course) at the time.
I downloaded a few tracks from iTunes earlier this year, to see how it sounded to my middle-aged ears (my vinyl version has long-since disappeared into a boot-sale somewhere or possibly still lives in the depths of my parents' garage). The answer was . . . 'very dated, but not without its charms'. You can listen to brief clips of all the tracks on Amazon, where you will also see that the digitally re-mastered CD version has amassed quite a healthy collection of five-star reviews from Listeners of a Certain Age.

And finally . . . . A book that has been on my 'to read' pile for literally years - which is disgraceful and I now feel inspired to rectify this as soon as possible - The Snow Geese by William Fiennes.

'With this beautiful, haunting debut Fiennes joins that small, very special band of writer-explorers - Emerson and Thoreau, Annie Dilard and Bruce Chatwin - who give us another pair of eyes: he has renewed the variety and wonder of the world' - Marina Warner. 'Fiennes is a very fine writer and this book is pure delight' - Peter Carey.

I knew it was essential reading when I bought it. I'm resolved to discover that I was right.


Teresa said...

Hello Juliet - I popped on over from Sam's blog and I have to say I am glad I did because your photos are beautiful. I am also a Mersea mud dweller and we share an interest in some of the same blogs. Have you looked at Elaine's blog, Random Jottings of a Book and Opera Lover, she is based in Colchester and I've enjoyed some good reads she has recommended. I would thoroughly recommend Tove Jansson's (of Moomin fame)The Summer Book, which I have just read, as it is about island living. I have really enjoyed reading your blog. Teresa

Juliet said...

Hi Teresa and a warm welcome to Musings! Yes I discovered Elaine and her blog a while ago by some roundabout route, before discovering that she lived just up the road. What a very small world! Thanks for kind words about photos. I fear they are all getting a bit samey - I always seem to go down to the beach just as the sun is setting. Each time looks very different to me but I imagine that the casual observer will be groaning 'oh no, not another one of these pinky purple pics'! Did you see that moon the other evening which Sam captured rising over the beach huts? Gorgeous.

monix said...

Your goose post is wonderful. I can't wait to follow up some of your links. 'The Snow Goose' is an old favourite but I've had 'The Snow Geese' for a long time and never finished reading it. I heard some extracts being read on the radio, when it was first published, and dashed off to buy it. Sadly, I found the rest of the book didn't match up to the extracts, or perhaps I wasn't in the mood. I'll go and have another try as geese are on my mind now but I think I'll enjoy following the Celtic trail more.

60goingon16 said...

What a splendid gaggle of geese or, if they are in fight, it would be a skein of geese I suppose. The thought of them quite lifted my spirits. Not too many near me, although there are two delightful, snowy white geese living in the walled garden at Knightshayes, a National Trust property not far from here at Tiverton. But, as everything in the garden is intended for the restaurant, I do wonder what fate has in store for them, come Christmas. (Quiet sniffle.)