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Here, not there: coaxing my mind out of the mountains

Spring meadow hertfordshire chris

I should be in the mountains. Right now, as I write this, I should be in a Spanish spring meadow, looking up to great peaks and down a sweeping green valley. But instead, there’s the metal gates to a locked up college out one window, an empty train station out the other, a grey concrete driveway out a third. I know how lucky I am. All the people I care about are safe and gratitude has never come more easily. But as any traveller will know, it’s hard to stop my mind wandering out the door and into those mountains whenever it gets a quiet moment.

But it’s not all bad. Just beyond the college is a meadow of our own. It doesn’t come with a valley, but it is getting overgrown with spring flowers because the cows aren’t there to eat all the grass this year. Beyond that is a nature reserve, a little haven of wild nature, behind a gate that’s rarely opened. The Picos aren’t going anywhere, I’ll go when I can. In the meantime, I can put on my boots and go for a walk. I can bring my mind down off that mountain and into the present, into Hertfordshire, into April 2020. Then write daft poems that try to make sense of this madness. I hope this one comes close.

It’s about wanting to go “over there, way up there” to some exotic new place, but being instead forced (reluctantly) to explore what’s under your nose. Maybe it's only when we haven’t paid big money for it or invested great hopes and expectations in it that we can really appreciate nature's worth. When it's not there to pose for photos. I don’t know what mental image it brings to mind, maybe something akin to James and The Snowman soaring over some magical snowless landscape where the city collides with lagoons and rainforest (Rio de Janeiro, perhaps?). Perhaps with a big wise owl instead of The Snowman and without that haunting Aled Jones song that I detest. I don’t know. Maybe the mental image is someone going a bit mad in lockdown.

Here, not there

Drop me there, over there! Where the waterfall roars It’s loud and it’s tall and I want to explore Well I can’t you see, that’s not government policy But here’s a babbling brook That I think is worth a look Why don’t you go and explore?

Drop me there, way up there! Where that great condor flies It’s high and it’s free and I want to look into its eyes I can’t I’m afraid, many new rules have been made So instead here’s a kite That’s quite majestic in flight Why don’t you go and explore?

Drop me there, way down there! In those rainforest trees It looks dark and green and I want to go see I can’t as you’ll know, the government said so But here’s a woodland instead Through which a walking trail threads So why not go and explore?

Take me there, over there! Where the drumming band sings It is loud and it’s colourful and I want to join in You can’t join in, that’s not social distancing But come listen to this woodpecker It’ll make you feel much better Oh why don’t you want to explore?

Over there, over there! Show me that mountain lagoon It glistens and it shimmers and I want to go soon I can’t, don’t you know, the border’s still closed But over here is a stream That is not all that it seems Oh why don’t you go and explore?

Let’s go there, over there! Where the skyscrapers rise I want to get close and appreciate their size Not a chance, don’t you see the streets are empty? But these trees are the same Skyscrapers in all but name So why not go down and explore?

Not here, not there We can’t go anywhere I don’t like it and it doesn’t seem fair Not here, not there You needn’t go anywhere All the things that you see Look so different to me That’s why you can go and explore

If not a waterfall If not a drumming band What is it you see that I can’t? It’s not drummers I see But a woodpecker, in a tree It’s he who makes that great chant And that great waterfall That you say is so tall Is just a few inches to me

So the mountain lagoon Is just a glistening steam? The condor was just part of a dream? And your rainforest floor Is a woodland and no more But you can still go out and explore

So do waterfalls Still exist at all? Are forests still dark and green? And what of the open plains And the ancient remains Are they real if they cannot be seen? Waterfalls still flow and tumble my friend Forests are still dark and green The plains still roll out And the ruins remain Even if they cannot be seen

Will they still be there When we can go out again? Will they still be there When this policy ends? They’ll be here, they’ll be there I’ll show you one day But until then there’s no need to despair Everything that you seek Is right here at your feet It’s all just a matter of where

In the woodlands, right? Where the woodpecker takes flight And the streams glisten in the hot sun? Where the trees show their might And in the sky soars a kite Where imagination and nature are one

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