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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 7, Number 3, September 2013

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Claire Everett
Northallerton, North Yorkshire, UK


Brimham Rocks

Our imagination flies— we are its shadow on the earth.

—Vladimir Nabokov

There cannot be one without the other. It is the dance between flame and shadow. For all our technology, generation to generation, there is still the thrill of the power-outage, when Dad becomes cave-artist, conjuror.

by candlelight
the ears of a memory
pricked
all the wide-eyed moments
you kept up your sleeve

Patterns are our heirlooms: double-helix, wave, wheel and whorl, the thumbprints of the elements; rhomboid and lozenge, there, before our eyes, when the stream is a boa of light, slipping loose from its coils; the ubiquitous star, zigzag, chevron, beloved by the Ancients.

in your hands
pink-footed geese take wing . . .
tomorrow
the candle-ends
in a copper pan

There are places that slip into the cracks between now and then, and who knows when, because time once ran riot with no one to tame it. And so, to Brimham, this bastion on the moors, a ghost town of crags and tors since the last of the glaciers moved on.

with the wind in her heels
every child I might have been
up and down
the crooked streets
crying through the locks

If I scramble onto a rooftop, whether I turn sunwise or widdershins, the stock-still beasts will make their procession as they were wont to do since they were conceived from granite and stripy gneiss and whipped into shape by their masters. Sphinx, Elephant, Tortoise, Frog . . . at full stretch, I can just make out the Hippopotamus’ Head, the Boar’s Snout.

for 18,000 years
an Eagle mantling
over the entrails
of river delta,
mountain stoop

the time it takes
to return to dust . . .
the Dancing Bear,
this sun of stars—
we’re all in our chains

Then come the Strongmen, the Atlases and Jains, who have borne their burdens through brute force and ignorance, or as acts of austerity; on its plinth, each graven progeny, once the gleam in a storm-god’s eye.

sandblasted
in the wind’s own image
The Idol:
a wonder that you stood so long,
that you stood at all

Perhaps we, too, were always part of these wild imaginings, bound to give credence to figments of stone.

that we are here, now . . .
quartz and feldspar glinting
as we reach for jams
in the balancing rock
of time

Cannon, Oyster-shell, Telescope, Boat, Anvil, Mushroom, Flowerpot; not so long ago, like their bestial counterparts, they were thought to be the work of human hands, gargantuan artefacts and curios whose meanings were unfathomable. The Noon Stone, the Kissing Chair, the Old Woman and her Consort: whoever named them were their co-creators. And the storytellers kept the faith.

a handclasp
of millstone grit and ice
aeons
in the wind’s teeth—
the Lovers’ Leap

Many a monocled Victorian gentleman would tap his stick and speculate, speak of temples and oracles and venture that the Logan would rock only for the efforts of an honest man. The Son of the Rocks dwelt here, it was said. Surely he lives here still, that hermit of boulder, hill, or cave? The clatter of a pebble, or the chack of a jackdaw might rouse him. If you greet him, he is always cordial, but for that he is only heard, never seen.

“when I was a boy,”
the old man says to anyone
who’ll listen,
“the stones all knew me by name,
answered me in my own tongue”

Truth be told, as the setting sun kindles the heathered heights, it is easier to forget the true artisan than it is that Druid, a giant among men.

nightly, at his desk
until the wick has tunnelled
down to the stub . . .
he blots the ink
on his magnum opus


Author’s Notes:

The strange rock formations that loom from the ancient moorland between Wensleydale and Nidderdale, North Yorkshire, had their origins in a vast mountain range that extended from northern Scotland to Norway some 320 to 430 million years ago. Over time, a huge river delta formed and grit, sand and rock crystals, washed down from the mountains. Layer by layer, the Brimham rocks took shape. Their bizarre shapes are attributed to erosion during and after the Devensian glaciation. Mushroom-shaped rocks, such as The Idol were sculpted by fierce winds blowing off the ice-cap that covered the northern Pennines 18,000 years ago; the sandblasting of the softer rock mainly occurred at ground level, where the megalithic structure protruded above the ice. Tors such as the Dancing Bear are largely the result of freeze-thaw action on the bedding planes.

As recently as Victorian times, many people believed the rocks were man-made, probably the work of Druids, but there is no evidence there were ever Druids here, although it is highly likely that these miraculous sentinels were considered sacred by our Neolithic and Bronze Age forebears. The breath-taking Druid’s Writing Desk that stands at the edge of the plateau, is a lasting reminder of past beliefs regarding the origins of the rocks. It is known that from the 10th to the 16th centuries, the land was grazed by sheep belonging to the monks of Fountain Abbey.

Over time, these behemoths have been given names that describe their strange shapes and presumed mystical purpose. Brimham was said to be the lair of witches, the Devil’s playground. The Son of the Rocks was believed to be the very spirit of the stones, the Genius Loci, if you will. Myths and legends abound as do balancing rocks and rocking stones, some weighing as much as fifty tons.

Clare Wood’s exhibition at the Hepworth Wakefield, “The Unquiet Head” (22 October 2011 - 29 January 2012), featured mural paintings which explore this rising English artist’s fascination with the primeval power of the landscape and her emotional and creative relationship with it. Drawing much of her inspiration from the rocks of Brimham, Woods’ creations are a testament to the limitless pull of the human imagination.

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