River of Stones

In January 2012, I joined the River of Stones set up by Writing Our Way Home and wrote a small stone every day for a month. The idea was to notice something properly – really focus on it – and then write about it. It’s something everyone can try, whether you are a writer or not.

The important thing is to notice, focus and write. As an example, here is what I wrote after watching an amazing sky one evening:

Fingers of war-grey cloud slide across the sky, their tips singed with dying sunfire.

Two of my small stones appeared in the anthology A Blackbird Sings – a lovely little book, full of small stones as varied as their authors.

January 2012

  • Sunday 1st Jan: Lights from the Christmas tree shine through the French windows into the darkness beyond. A fairy party at the bottom of the garden.
  • Monday 2nd Jan: I like the 2nd January. It doesn’t arrive with all the fireworks and fanfare of its predecessor, the weight of portents and resolutions suffocating me, but slips in, unnoticed, almost, and allows me to breathe.
  • Tuesday 3rd Jan: The rain strikes the skylight windows. Does it hammer against the glass or dance? I can choose, so dance, raindrops, dance.
  • Wednesday 4th Jan: Oh dear, no small stone. Regrets ripple along the river.
  • Thursday 5th Jan: The dark bruise in your heart healed by the softness of a child’s hand in yours.
  • Friday 6th Jan: The tree stands proud as it has for its twelve days. It doesn’t know that soon its lights will go out, its gaudy baubles will return to their dark box, its star will dim. It doesn’t know and I feel sad for the tree. But I know no more of my future than the tree does of its. Should I feel sad for me?
  • Saturday 7th Jan: Blowsy clouds billow across the sky, their edges blurred and puffy. Vapour trails streak through them in the opposite direction, missiles intent on their prey.  A symbol, I wonder, of humanity’s alienation from the natural world.
  • Sunday 8th Jan:
    It’s seven-thirty:
    a cold January morning.
    Grey shadows hover
    in corners of the garden.
    A sound –
    indistinguishable at first –
    flits across the silence.
    A whistle.
    A blackbird’s
    The sound builds.
    Strong and true
    as a chorister,
    the blackbird
    sings for spring.
  • Monday 9th Jan: I walk past the children’s playground. A mother pushes her child on a swing. The child soars towards the sky and laughs. And I think of the young man who, in the night’s concealing blackness, hanged himself from that same swing. Joy and despair conjoined in a playground.
  • Tuesday 10th Jan: I raise my eyes from my book to find the garden’s shadows have bloomed into a pink glow. Perhaps the same miracle will occur in my heart.
  • Wednesday 11th Jan: Full moon plus one: cobwebs of clouds draped over the moon, concealing and revealing. I long for holes in the cobwebs where light can slip through.
  • Thursday 12th Jan: I glance up at the skylight. Across the expanse of growling clouds, a hint of a rainbow glimmers. Only a quarter of the arc is visible. I stare hard. Indistinct curves of colour tantalise me: yellow, purple, red, and a fourth … no more than a glimpse. I press my face against the glass, willing the rainbow into life.
  • Friday 13th Jan: Blue sky blossoms on stark winter branches.
  • Saturday 14th Jan: A magpie hops onto the path in front of me. Before any superstition can surface – one for sorrow – another lands beside it – two for joy. Sorrow/joy. Joy/sorrow. Opposing forces? Or like the black and white of the magpies themselves, complementary? Yin and yang. Light and darkness. Tears and laughter. Dualities. Two sides of the same coin, necessary to each other – and to me.
  • Sunday 15th Jan: A pattern of vapour trails criss-cross the sky – my pen itches to fill in the 0s and Xs
  • Monday 16th Jan: Holiday caravans stand in uniform rows beside the river. In the cemetery next door, gravestones stand in uniform rows. My gaze flits from caravans to graves, from graves to caravans. Not really so much difference, I decide.
  • Tuesday 17th Jan: A patch of sunlight glows on the top right-hand corner of the pine door. I imagine the glow spreading, growing, flowing. Its promise warms my thoughts.
  • Wednesday 18th Jan: You open your eyes. Red digits stare at you – 03:46. Oh no! The same time as last night and the night before. The digits are impassive, implacable, indifferent. What are you doing? No wonder you can’t sleep. You’re turning them into characters. They’re digits on a clock. They don’t feel anything. You turn away. Look back – 03.48. The 8 is jaunty, irrepressible – STOP!
  • Thursday 19th Jan: Grey-black clouds roll across the sky. Fragments of white, specks of blue peep through – tantalise, like a glimpse of the first snowdrop. My mind searches for its own fragments of white, specks of blue – its own snowdrop.
  • Friday 20th Jan:
    One plump pigeon, puffed and proud,
    Four busy blackbirds, golden beaks on fire,
    Six stocky wrens, cocked tails aloft
    … a nursery rhyme in my garden
  • Saturday 21st Jan: Black polythene, the wind’s booty from its mad escapade, twitches in the bare branches of the silver birch.
  • Sunday 22nd Jan: Pink streaks festoon the evening sky. I imagine the laughter of shepherds as they slap each other on the back and raise their glasses to the morning’s delights.
  • Monday 23rd Jan: Ahead of me, the road narrows. On a distant hill, a line of trees trudges to the summit, bent like bony old men weary of their burden.
  • Tuesday 24th Jan: The sky is grey. GREY – a flat, dispiriting word. The hard ‘g’, the single syllable. GREY – try it. You hardly have to move your lips – more a grunt than a word. Instead I want to say cerulean, so I wish the sky was blue today. CERULEAN – try it. Feel how the four syllables, the soft consonants seduce your tongue. Pure blue, deep blue, bright blue … oh, why can’t the sky be cerulean blue?
  • Wednesday 25th Jan: The stone glints up at me from the river bed. Water streams over it, but its pearly translucence catches the light. I imagine its smooth roundness, the comfort of it nestling in my palm. I want it. I delve into the water. Its icy tendrils trap my hand. Wind round and through my fingers. The stone glints. My fingertips graze its surface. Just. I reach further. Almost. The water rushes onward and it shifts and slips from my tentative grasp. It’s gone.
  • Thursday 26th Jan: The washing line wears its necklace of pearly droplets, in preparation for the garden party.
  • Friday 27th Jan: The bird soars above the rooftops, its wings the perfect V of a child’s painting.
  • Saturday 28th Jan: No stone today. Disappointment sits on me like a fat, black slug.
  • Sunday 29th Jan: Misty rooftops. Shrouded poplars. Masked spires. Witness the world’s eclipse.
  • Monday 30th Jan: Sunshine gleams on the road ahead – a river of tarmac climbing steadily upward.
  • Tuesday 31st Jan: Safe from the night’s frost in their white woolly fleeces, the ghosts of the bay tree and the bottle brush haunt the garden.