The farmer across the road begins to shift a mob of sheep over the hills at 5:45am. Perhaps he’s taking advantage of the dawn’s cooler temperature to get the day’s hottest work done, but I can hear the commotion and my own dogs are restless. They wake me with their wining and pacing and I lie still, eyes closed, and picture the scene: the hills, still green, are steeply pitched and rugged, tattooed with narrow veins of scree. The heading dogs appear in front of the mob, long and low — silent and predatory — pinning the flock with their keen eyes. The big huntaways, the noisy rabble, are joyfully bounding left and right at the rear, moving the sheep forward towards a gate, flushing out strays and barking, barking. I can’t hear a quad bike, so I know the farmer is on his horse. I etch their silhouette, man and horse breaching the top of the bare hill, into the back of my eyelids, sigh and roll out of bed to let the dogs out. 6:10 on the kitchen clock.
It’s a rare “day off” for me and I’d been planning to sleep in until 7. No matter. The day unspools with chores and a run to the beach with the dogs in the hottest hours of the afternoon.
I’ve been thinking about knowledge, and about what we shed and what we take with us as we pass through life.
I don’t hold any special wisdom. I know a little about a lot of things, and a lot about a couple of obscure subjects. I know the layout of a typecase and how to lock up a chase, readying it for print. I once thought I would have a small outbuilding on my farm, housing an antique cast-iron letterpress. Trays of lead type with charming and mysterious names: Baskerville, Goudy, Gill Sans. Expended Egyptian. I would make beautiful hand-stitched books and broadsheets for my writer friends. I can feel the weight of the hand lever in my hands. My shoulders remember the torque, the quiet feel of the press meeting the type, imprinting a fine layer of ink onto linen paper. I carry the aromas of ink and solvent and the strong orange soap necessary for cleaning stray residue from my patient hands. Like the rider atop the hill, these images are etched on the inside of my eyelids as I lay in the cool light of morning, but they also reside in my muscle memory, in my heart and in my mind.
If we’re lucky, we find people in our lives who “get” us. Who don’t just know us well, but who perceive the things we hide and don’t often share, who recognise something closer to the truth about ourselves than we dare utter. Between us, there are fine threads of connection; we tug on the threads and urge each other on. Last week, I lost someone who “got” me.
I used to think that when someone I loved died, some colour would bleed out of the world and leave me paler, poorer. This isn’t how it works. When someone I love dies, the world grows larger, more vivid. In my grief, colour shocks me until I begin to see my friend in everything. I see my friend in the William Morris fabric of my bedroom curtains, in the spiced apple cake the neighbour brings me. In the eyes of my beloved horses.
We hadn’t known each other long, and we’d never met in person. There was no time to fill in all the stories that make us who we are. Elaine would’ve understood my love of letterpress printing, like I admired her devotion to vintage fabrics and ephemera. When Elaine told me she loved my writing, I believed her because I knew she didn’t have time for nonsense and niceties. I love her writing, too. And I have a river of her words that I will carry with me now that she is gone.