“Red sky at night, shepherds delight,
red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.”
It was the first time I’d heard the old rhyme combine shepherds and sailors. It is more usual to use one or the other, presumably depending upon where you live. In this part of the world, this old wives’ tale is true, and there is a scientific explanation for it, that I can never remember well enough to tell
true. It has something to do with prevailing wind directions, and what that means for the direction of the dust in the atmosphere.
Trying to reverse-engineer the proverb, I think it’s because a wind from the west will push airborne particles to the east where they will catch the rising sun, turning the morning sky red. And our wet wetter generally comes in on a westerly wind. Likewise, gusts from the east will push the dust westwards, where it will catch the setting sun – and those same winds bring us warmer, settled weather from the continent.
The point about evening and morning is simply that the sun needs to be low enough to light the particles from underneath, to reflect off them in our direction.
Maybe. Something like that. So I’m told.
I wonder how much of that shepherds and sailors worked out. More likely they simply saw it and recorded it and knew it to be true.
It was a beautiful sky, that morning. Waves of salmon pink and dove grey, deepening as I headed towards the station until there was a blood orange sky, blistering behind the trees and overhead
wires. There was a weather forecast to match.
I hadn’t intended to go to Cley this week. It was a freebie ‘taster’ session. These are their own kind of delight, but they are short sessions and there is a balance to be struck between travel time and on-site time, a balance that is easier in other seasons when more clement weather might tempt me to stay on afterwards. Nevertheless there I was waiting for a train, watching that orange sky and feeling the cold.
It was a platform-stomping morning: the kind when the traffic is light and you are at the station too early, and it is too cold to sit…so you walk up and down the platform, circling the signs or lamp-posts at either end. You might be meditating, counting steps, following your breath. Most likely you’re doing your best to allow the mind to move the chi towards your extremities. Walking to stay warm, basically.
I want to disbelieve the sky, and the met office. I want this day, when we will have five newcomers, to be a pleasant, enticing, day. But for once the met office were on point. At the reserve, it definitely, 100%, rained. Nothing half-hearted about it. Full-on, you-asked-for-it, rain. And we were there to write. Creatively. Outside.
So we did.
And it worked.
Jonathan decided that the upside to such a day for the taster session was that anyone who turned up, would be the kind of people who would fit right in. They would be ‘up’ for whatever the day threw at us. And so it turned out. There was some doubt in the room, some nervous laughter at the idea that oh yes, we will go out…and take our pens and notebooks with us…and write in the rain.
A shorter excursion than might have been the case in drier weather – I deliberately do not say ‘better’ weather, because I am conscious of how recently we were begging for rain – but out we
went, with a prompted writing task, soggy paper and diluted ink all part of the joy of it.
Strangely, that was the point. It was joyful. Make no mistake about it, there is something ever so slightly silly about standing on a partly-flooded footpath, by a marsh, in the pouring rain, under a Tupperware sky, with not a bird in sight nor sound, trying to get ink to stay where you put it on the
But it's the kind of silly that does not strike you as such, while you are actually doing it. In abstract, thinking about it beforehand or afterward, you have to smile. In the moment…in the moment, that is where you are: in the moment, by the marsh, in the rain, breathing in cold winter air and trying to catch that moment, to weave around it your ensnaring net of words, that swim across the page and drip off the edges of the notebook, hoping that maybe you will make something else of the moment, if only a memory worth holding onto.
Rainwater and ink: therein lie the beginnings of a spell.
Of course there were smiles and laughter. People out in the extremes of weather have common cause. We meet each other in our own kind of sanity, of needing to feel the reality of the world, to watch it, witness it, try to understand it, or to hold it, or be held by it, refreshed, or reminded by it
that this too will pass, this too is worth experiencing simply because it will pass.
Perhaps also, it was easy because we knew that we would not be there for long. We had warm places to return to. We would soon be inside and drying out. We wrote about the rain, and the edge of the marsh…and I, for one, did not think much about the edges of society. I shivered in sympathy with the reeds, but did not (in that moment) think about the wind-blown people, the rain-soaked and sleepless ones. I did not spare half of a moment, to imagine being tossed upon this shore with no-where to go and no-one to go with and knowing only that such a bone deep rain would keep me cold long after it stopped falling.
I feel myself diminished by that realisation.