Joik

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He sings for the land.
Not his by title deed
But by ancient rights
Long denied, hard-won.
And he loves it
With a depth and strength
Only centuries
Of labour, lives and deaths can breed.
The song rises in him
Like sap in springtime;
And he feels every word
Like his own heartbeat.
The land, the man and his strange words
Become one,
Like the grey fjord and the ocean
The forest and the mountain
The reindeer and the snow.
And as he sings
There is no ownership
Only belonging.

 

During our trip to Norway, we visited a Sami reindeer herder, Johan Isak Oskal, who is one of the most genuine, inspiring and quietly determined people I have ever met. As well as introducing us to his beautiful animals, he told us about the Sami way of life, showed us artefacts, and treated us to a joik – the traditional Sami song whose sounds and origins have much in common with the Native American chants. I can’t share it with you since he (quite rightly) asked us not to record it, explaining that the song belongs to the land; but it was extraordinarily moving and powerfuly atavistic. Do have a look at his website Tromso Arctic Reindeer – the videos have joiks as their soundtracks. N.

Global warning

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Bare ground frowns
A warning; reproach seethes
In the grumbling river that, in its anger,
Has hurled aside cracked slabs of dirty ice
And made its sodden banks
A desecrated graveyard.
Every unburdened birch
Points accusing fingers as we pass;
Reindeer stand like cattle,
Hemmed in by fence and flood;
While the empty roads
Hiss sinister threats
In the grey spray thrown by passing trucks.

And away in the north
The long night’s slow retreat
Brings no hopeful dawn
But a new and different darkness
We may never drive away.

 

Just returned from our second trip to northern Norway, which has experienced its mildest winter in (depending on who you talk to) 60, 70, perhaps even 100 years. The difference in the landscape compared to this time last year was stark and startling: I have looked climate change straight in the eye, and it is real and scary. N.

Java & Jazz

Kinda early in the day
For noodling sax
And rippling piano;
Scattered motes of hazy night
Drifting into sharp, bright morning
Like smoke under the door;
The lingering tang of scotch on the tongue.

But right on time
For the double shot
Lined up to hit me
Right between the eyes;
A jolt to the brain, still half in bed,
To shock myself
Into my best pretence of life.

And when it comes
The first clear through is not
Of what I’m here to do,
But of you, and later,
When we’re together
Long miles down the road
And all of this might finally make sense.

 
 

Pre-meeting ruminations in the eponymous cafe. N.

Weekend warriors

No day of rest
For me and the tribe:
Pinched faces streaked with filth
Like miners coming off shift;
Shining machines crusted with clay
Like implements back from the fields;
Sharp air and long labour emptying lungs,
Stealing extremities,
Flash-flooding muscles with fire.

But ask us
If we’re happy in our work
We’ll look at you blankly
Amazed that the question
Ever even entered your head.

 
 

The Sunday-morning ride is a ritual observed by cyclists the world over. With the worst of the winter (we hope) behind us, and the racing/sportive season on the horizon, the roads are starting to get a little busier than they’ve been for a while. Last week, I met a couple of dozen hardy souls, from other soloists to club-run bunches – and wherever I encountered them, they were always heading in the opposite direction to me; I didn’t overtake (or get overtaken by) a single rider in almost two hours. Strange how things work out sometimes. Maybe they knew something I didn’t…whatever you’ve got planned, have a great weekend. N.

Spoke too soon

 

Blast-frozen like a cut-price chicken,
Face flayed red and fingers numb;
Feet reduced to frosted nuggets
One mile down. And more to come.
 
No heater, windows, roof or doors
To shield me from this easterly
Whetted to a razor’s edge
And driving in relentlessly.

But let it do its worst. I’m rolling,
Motor running smooth and fast.
Engineered for harsh conditions;
Forged and tempered. Built to last.

Unseasonal

A sudden, fragile truce.
For an hour
Winter withdraws
And yields the field.

A shell-shocked sun
Emerges, cautious,
Blinking in bewilderment
In the spin of silver spokes;
As I ride out to greet and grasp it
With my bare hands.

Later, locked in the deep dark
With Spring’s brief kiss
Still warm upon on my skin.
A parting and a promise
That I will hold her to.

 

Frozen with fear

That moment.
Round the corner
And it
all
just
goes.

From calm, unthinking black
To glassy, deathly white
In one sharp breath
And a shocking spike
Driven through my chest:

All connection
With the solid, blessed earth
Snatched away;

Cut loose
From the soothing clasp
Of friendly, faithful friction.

Nerves yanked tight,
Muscles seizing:
Every wolf and lion our fathers ever saw
Springing out of time
And suddenly recalled;

The helpless dread of drowning
On dry land.

Aeon seconds
And then the sagging joy
Of grip and sanity regained.

But more awaits:

I feel it in my bones.

 

After more than 20 years and many thousands of miles in all conditions, I readily confess that I’m still petrified, almost literally, by icy roads. There’s not much ice about at the moment – indeed, there’s hardly been any all winter – but yesterday I rounded a corner and found myself on a veritable skating-rink, the surface smooth and glassy from verge to verge. I got through OK, and in my whole cycling career, I’ve had only a couple of minor ‘offs’ on black ice, never a serious fall, so I should really get over it. Just can’t, somehow. N.