O taste and See by Denise Levertov

The world is
not with us enough,
O taste and see
the subway Bible poster said,
meaning The Lord, meaning
if anything all that lives
to the imagination’s tongue,
grief, mercy, language,
tangerine, weather, to
breathe them, bite, savour, chew, swallow, transform
into our flesh our
deaths, crossing the street, plum, quince,
living in the orchard and being
hungry and plucking
the fruit.

My childhood was rich in smells, noises, warmth and little frissons of terror – mostly of my own making.

I climbed trees with daring, then jumped down from branches a little too high for comfort. One memorable occasion, when I knew I’d sprained my ankle on the previous jump, I remember succumbing to the adrenalin-fuelled urge to jump; and limping home – sore ankled – I basked in the warm glow of having pushed myself just that little bit further.

I lifted stones knowing I’d recoil from the scuttering or slimy things beneath; and I’d find a thrill in the hunt – for the brightest snails, the fattest blackberries, the shiniest conkers, the tastiest bilberries or the largest cowpat to leap over…

There was a pond, on the spoil heap of an abandoned mine, where we’d paddle, or dunk our goose-bumpy bodies and with our eyes level with the surface of the water, we’d watch the water boatmen skating across the glassy water’s surface.

Oh, and a game called ‘wheeeh-PLOP!’ which involved pulling clumps of hard rush from the spoil, then holding it by the strong stems, rotating it in the air, propeller-fashion, and with the waterlogged, claggy roots providing momentum, we’d hurl it into the air yelling out ‘wheeeeeeh’ as loud as we could, and echo the loud PLOP! sound as it landed.

We’d spend hours walking the hills, or finding fossils in the limestone walls, or lying flat on our backs simply staring into trees. At dusk we’d wait silently, and patiently, for the badgers to appear from their set, or the barn owl’s first forage-flight of the evening. We’d spook ourselves by heading to the darkest places, and learn to steel our nerves and calm the jitters until the stars came out.

I had a hugely fortunate childhood. Largely outdoors. Me and a gaggle of mates who knew our small world well. It never crossed our minds that one day we’d become estranged from it (and each other) as we knew the important things of life: where the best wild flowers grew, where the best fern dens could be constructed, where the best dry timber for a bonfire could be found, the best route for placky-bag sledging down dewy fields…

I suspect I’ve spent a lifetime hoping to re-find that childhood. In boats, and now vicariously through my wife and young family, perhaps finally I am…

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