Indian Summer Notebook

 

 

INDIAN SUMMER NOTEBOOK

 

A Writer's Miscellany

 

 

indian summer    
First edition, HWS, 2001  

Editor's note

 

List of Contents

 

Extract

 

Book cover

 

 

Henry Williamson Society, 2001, paperback, vii, 88pp; 379 copies

Edited by John Gregory

 

Limited edition, 1992; quarter-bound in brown morocco with green cloth boards, 21 numbered copies, signed by the artist Mick Loates

 

E-book edition, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

Editor's note

 

This selection of Henry Williamson’s work came from a number of sources. It consists of little-known introductions to books; contributions to anthologies and magazines; a series of articles in the Evening Standard, from which the book takes its title; and an important essay in the edition of Francis Thompson’s The Mistress of Vision issued by Saint Albert’s Press, whose publisher was Fr Brocard Sewell.

 

If the selection has a theme, it is one of people, places and events that had a significant effect on Henry’s life – his schooldays, the Christmas Truce on the Western Front in 1914, the writer Richard Jefferies and the poet Francis Thompson, his Norfolk farm and, of course, North Devon.

 

The Henry Williamson Society dedicated Indian Summer Notebook to the memory of Fr Brocard Sewell, who died on April 2, 2000. Fr Brocard had a very high regard for Henry, both as a friend and as a significant author. In the post-Second World War years he championed Henry’s writing, and in particular the early volumes of A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight, in the literary magazine that he founded and edited, The Aylesford Review, one issue of which was devoted solely to Henry. When the Society was founded in 1980, three years after Henry’s death, he became a Vice-President, and at its first meeting gave a memorable paper on ‘Henry Williamson: Old Soldier’, with readings by the late Frances Horowitz, the poet. In tribute to Fr Brocard, the book included as a preface his article 'Henry Williamson', which was first printed in John O’London’s Weekly in 1961, reproduced with the kind permission of the British Province of the Carmelite Order. (It is not given here, as it is available elsewhere on this website.)

 

John Gregory

 

 

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Contents:

 

Henry Williamson, by Fr Brocard Sewell   (First published in John O'London's Weekly, 21 September 1961)
       
Out of the Prisoning Tower  

(Contribution to John Bull’s Schooldays, edited by Brian Inglis, Hutchinson, 1961; first in The Spectator, 1958)

The Christmas Truce  

(Contribution to History of the First World War, Vol. 2, no. 4, Purnell & Sons, 1970)

When I Was Demobilised  

(Contribution to Strand Magazine, September 1945)

Richard Jefferies  

(Foreword to Richard Jefferies: Selections of his Work, with details of his Life and Circumstance, his Death and Immortality, edited by Henry Williamson, Faber, 1937)

A First Adventure with Francis Thompson  

(Essay in The Mistress of Vision, by Francis Thompson, with a commentary by the Reverend John O’Connor and a preface by Father Vincent McNabb, O.P. Reprinted with an Introduction by Joseph Jerome. Saint Albert’s Press, 1966)

English Farming   

(Introduction to English Farming, by Sir John Russell, 'Britain in Pictures' series, Collins, 1941)

The Winter of 1941   

(Contribution to The Pleasure Ground: A Miscellany of English Writing, edited by Malcom Elwin, Macdonald, 1947)

Indian Summer Notebook

My spider, my bee

Leaves in the grass

Blue halls of the wind

Robbie: an innocent . . .

Now the summer slips away . . .

  (Contributions to the Evening Standard, published between 16–20 November 1964)

 

 

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Extract:

 

Blue halls of the wind

 

 

It was one of those mornings when one feels glad to be alive. I wonder if it is generally known how atmospheric variations affect human life, as well as animal life, which includes fish and insects? Look at those clouds of cirrus cumulus, dissolving as one glances into the blue sky, while feeling the heart lifting, seeing the colours of tree, grass, flower and bird to be visibly increasing.

 

Down in the valley stream I know the waterflies are swimming up as nymphs, to split their pellicles and rise as winged creatures into what must be for them a paradise. Their mouths are sealed, they will need neither food nor drink; their year of underwater life is over, now all is for love, a flight into the azure afternoon, a sunset dropping of eggs on the shining surface of the river.

 

When the atmosphere lightens, what we call a rising glass, the nymphs hatch on the surface of the stream; trout rise, too, from their heaviness, for fish with their swim-bladders are most sensitive to air pressures.

 

In close thundery air, which affects you and me, trout lie torpid, as though suffering, on the bed of a river. When the air clears, up rise the nymphs of Olive Dun or Pale Watery, and whether you are a fisherman or not, you will be sharing the general lifting of the spirit, for the pressures upon the body always affect the mind.

 

And larks arise, the chaffinch sings in the hawthorn, turtle doves send their throbbing notes of love across the valley, the heart lifts with the clouds, and soon the vapours, metaphorical and physical, are gone. And the blue-stained air is without flaw.

 

Such was the morning when, without premeditation, I left my desk and walked outside and threw off my jacket and sat upon the grass. My shirt joined the jacket, and my vest by the gate through which I passed without any idea of where I was going or care for what I had been writing.

 

Over the hills and faraway, the sea, cerulean, fused with the sky. And gulls flying high, as though without aim, restless, turning about, stalling, flapping this way and that, as they criss-crossed the sky.

 

For this was the morning of the ants. For miles around, from every nest, the winged females were rising on the warm air. Trillions of ants. What made them all rise up and shine together, on those new wings? Scientists call it super-sensory perception: they receive the impulse, they fly up for love, borne into the blue on rising air. And those returning shed their wings, and start another colony underground.

 

And the green woodpecker will come to my field for them, uttering his yallery-greenery cry, yaffle-yaffle-yaffle, to announce his arrival. And drop his extraordinary little all-white cylinders, each one perfectly shaped, to dry in the sun. If you break one of the little cartridges with your fingers you will see that they are composed entirely of ant-skeletons bound by pure lime.

 

Now it is the turn of the rooks. They seem to have gone mad. They are twirling and cawing in the dome of the sky, rising on thermals and then hurtling down with wings closed and cawing and croaking for the joy of being alive.

 

I must explain that every rising column, or bubble of air as gliders call it, that bursts upwards causes a down-draught. In a black thunder-head charged with static electricity this can be very frightening if you are up in a glider.

 

I have a son, John, who, seeing a black bombard of a cloud approaching one summer day, got into the air and soon was being carried up in tight circles amidst the flash and crack of lightening until he was above the 27,000-foot contour, his wings icing up and he wearing only a tweed jacket and flannel trousers, and when he came down he had broken the British height record and all he could say to me was: ‘I think I could have gone higher if the controls had not been frozen.’

 

Later he told me that the noise was terrifying, the up-draught was probably 100 m.p.h. and his fear was that if caught between the up and down air-rushes his wings might have been torn off. A boy of understatement from his earliest years.

 

Jackdaws were now joining the rooks in the upper air. They too were croaking deeply, they weren’t after ants like the pale gulls, they were simply sporting. The sky had let down its hair, and its winged children were for the time being freed from economic necessity, and all its fears and anxieties. And my spirit went up with them.

 

The buzzards from Spreacombe Woods in the valley were now aloft. Five were sailing on broad cleaver-shaped wings serenely above the tumult. Nothing disturbed them. In ordinary workaday times rooks and crows would harry them, for the buzzard is slower in his sailing, circling flight than the dashing, cursing crows that snarl after the mewing hawk, with his nearly five-feet wingspread.

 

Afternoon came. I lay in the grass, free and uncaring. The moon rose up, I wandered home to my hut. And towards midnight I heard such a muttering and chortling that I went outside in pyjamas and walked through the dew to watch a prolonged ragged flight of rooks and jackdaws passing low over the beech spinney, flying from the east.

 

These birds had gone over Exmoor, simply for the hell of it, a great concourse of the Corvidae, and were now returning to their roosts – the rooks in Pickwell Wood just inland from the sea, and the daws to their holes and ledges down the cliffs of Baggy North Side.

 

And as I walked about the field, the moon cast my shadow before me, and I saw again that phenomenon, a sort of ring of light about the shadow of my head, which Richard Jefferies had mentioned in one of his books . . . Jefferies who also wrote, ‘The hours when the soul is absorbed by beauty are the only hours when we truly live.’

 

 

Evening Standard, 18 November 1964

 

 

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Book cover:

 

The cover illustration is by Mick Loates; the front of the e-book edition is the same as that for the book:

 

 

indian summer large

 

 

 

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