Monday, 12 December 2011

Niall Williams' View from Kiltumper

There is something about the stillness of December. There is something that is not quite of this world in the watery light between showers on a December afternoon in Kiltumper. The older I get the more I have felt it. Perhaps it is the dying of the light. Perhaps on days when the wind is not blowing and the rain not actually falling but held somewhere in the air between earth and sky so it seems the black sycamores stand in a grey sea it is easier to feel this sense of things being paused.

And that is something I have come to appreciate more each year, this pause, this moment when there is a sense of no momentum. In my experience it is rare enough. But this afternoon nothing comes or goes on the Kiltumper road. There has not been a single car or tractor or horse for three hours. There is not even the noising of a distant engine in some far field as there once was in the days when cattle were wintered out and silage ferried down the road in black swaying balls on a tractor spike. Now the cattle and the farmers are all in and the grey drowse of the afternoon is punctured only by the small sounds of birds.

I spend the afternoon in that greatest of luxuries, inside a book, and when I look up the window is blurry with rain. But no rain seems to be falling. If it falls at all, if it is not just a quality of the air of West Clare, a general wateriness, as if the sea has, in part reclamation, taken first the air, it falls with such quiet that it does not disturb the world of the book.

This is not always the case. The autumn gave us months of every kind of downpour, every kind of lashing, crashing, pelting, belting shower, (Is it a shower if it lasts all day?) Every kind of straight-down, slanting, sideways, in-your-face, at-your-ears, down-your-collar, into your shoes, rain. Odd-shaped silver ponds rose in the Kiltumper fields. Even the birds were astonished and, it seemed to me, fattened from less flying.

And perhaps that’s why the stillness of this afternoon when there is no wind at all and no rain falling seems so filled with this sense of pause that I close the book I’m reading and just sit with the grey light. The trees are spectral and dark and somehow noble in their standing. There’s a sense of another year’s ending and that they like us have endured what, literally, came at them.

Between the house and trees is the old haybarn. Now it houses only our turf pile, and each year it rusts a little more. I know I need to attend to it; two full panels of galvanised iron blew off it this year and so now in its roof are large rectangles of the western sky. Another panel is only partly hinged and sings a sawing ache when the wind comes from the north. A big storm could take it.  But this afternoon, when no wind blows, the haybarn too stands still and endures in the dying light.  

I watch the nothing happening until the night dark comes at half past four to take the trees and haybarn inside it. And I think again: yes, there is something about the stillness of December.