Walking Brown

Mud underfoot. Old mud on my boots. New mud on the old mud. My hair beneath my hat, the long rope of my plait. My jacket, faded in patches. Under the collar the deep fertile corduroy of a furrowed field, the bleached shoulders compacted loam.

Bare trees. Bark and branch. Damp stumps. Dead leaves hanging; dead leaves fallen. Dead leaves crunching beneath my tread; dead leaves catching in the breeze. Dead leaves soaking in the day old rain, dissolving like wet paper to a humic pulp.

Fence and fencepost. Gate and stile. Lichen. Lych gate. Grave stone under tree. Green shoots through roots and leaf drifts. The first crocus spears pale colour up. A patch of white like old snowfall remaining in a colder corner where the sun can’t reach. But it’s not been cold enough for the little snow we had to stick around. It is the opposite of stuck-winter: sprouting spring nodding its slender snowdrop heads.

Hedge-birds brown. Quick flitters of sparrows like handfuls of crumbs thrown to the wind. Small browns unidentifiable in their rustling and hiding. Brown sounds from their hedge-blent feathers. Robins bolder on the fence line: back and wings like old wood, their breasts like late and faded berries that, now it’s February, are starting to shrivel where they remain, few and far between in the wayside bushes.

Blackbirds shovelling the leaf litter. Not black but darkest brown. The females like they’ve been moulded from the fallen foliage and brought to life. Or like a songthrush dipped in mud, the way their dull brown breasts are freckled close to. Wren. Smallest brown. And gone. They never hang around, and so stick-brown are they that they’re hard to see in the twig tangles of the shrubs they flit to, bobbing their cocked tails and ticking.

The brown fluting sound of a curlew call from the creek. A moving sound. A sound on the move. I followed it with my hearing until my sight caught up with the brown body flying from the river towards the field. Long bill. White underside. I’d never noticed a curlew’s white underside before. And another, overhead and down to the muddy paddock where, rabbit-brown and camouflaged, a whole flock of curlew were gathered amidst the mud-spattered ponies.

River smells mingling with the mud-scent and the winter-brown outdoorsy air. Salt, mud and seaweed. Foot stuck as I paused too long in the different browns on the foreshore of the low tide river creek: wet mud, dry mud, and wrack line. A dead glove in the slew of algae. Sun warm on the skin, in my mind it’s the cool gold of the reed banks that were really just another brown. Three or four old cygnets near the slipway, like someone had ordered brown-graded swans to fit in with the rest of the colour scheme.

Brown is underrated. Base mud and excrement. Dried blood and an old bruise. Debased when it is both cold and warm, bright and dull. Rich and poor. Comfortable and challenging.

Pasty in a paper bag. Tea without milk. Dirt under my fingernails. The edges of the apple flesh by the time I get to the core. The apple seeds. Chocolate. Mud spatters up the backs of my trousers.

This walk was the brown of a good loaf, rustic, wholesome, wholemeal, full of flavour and basic goodness, with a thick crust that’s something like hard work to chew through but you always feel better for getting through it.

Two buzzards swoop and call above skeletal trees on the headland.

Latch rusted on a gate. Short rest on a low wall. Long walk home with my hands in my pockets.


More on this?

‘The Walking Song’ by J R R Tolkien is probably most to blame for my setting out before I had time to think better of it with a map in my pocket and a longer route in my head than I could possibly have managed on a short February afternoon. You can read it online here

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Inland Estuary The woods are alive. The river is alive. It all feels very inland, there’s nothing coastal about this Fal, all green and brown and mud-bottomed, ten foot wide and potentially wadeable. This is such a different river from the salty expanse of the Carrick Roads, here at the point the tide stops rising and falling and the river really is just river.


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