Monthly Archives: April 2015


When I crept out into the darkness of pre-dawn the other morning it was so chilly I had to rub my front paws together. Indeed, there was a whiff of Antarctica on my snout. Puffs of condensation clouded the air in front of me each time I exhaled. I was reminded of an oil painting of cows I once saw in a Swiss art gallery, and each one had a delicately brushed puff coming out of its nostrils. In German this breath is called ‘Hauch’, the last ‘ch’ is just the sound of the air as it passes through the back of the palate, and so the word ends just before the Hauch becomes visible to the eye. It was astonishing to me that some two hundred years after their demise, I could still see the Hauch of these cows, still see the evidence of their breathing selves.

I was still musing this eternal breath when I reached the end of Poet’s Road. The last street lamps before the forest path are in a slight dip and I saw under their light that the windscreens of the cars were patterned with frost. I can’t tell you how tempted I was to scratch Good Morning across each one. Not a little Good Morning but a bold lovely, looped script capital G to start it all off, and an equally lovely looped small g to finish, reaching from one side right to the other. My whole body quivered with excitement. Was it to do with size? To write so enormously would require great sweeps of the shoulder, stretches from my hind legs to high above my shoulder. My paws so twitched with desire, it was only that killjoy Consequences who stopped me. He hectored in his hissy voice about the mayhem that would ensue when I triggered all the new-fangled alarms. I let out a long disappointed puff of Hauch.

But then the deliciousness of the Hauch grabbed me again. I blew it out in short bursts, and long ones and then a veritable morse code of Hauchs, and I was suddenly transported to Great Uncle Mole’s hearthside and our regular sit-downs to listen to the thrilling adventures of Paul Temple, the wireless detective. In Paul Temple and the Alex Affair, the serial begins with a body in a railway carriage – and the word ‘Alex’ is discovered scrawled into the condensation on the window. It all felt doubly wicked because as small moles we were told scrawling in condensation on windows whether on trains or elsewhere was absolutely not allowed because it made extra work for the window cleaners.

But oh how I wanted to – and sometimes did, when no one was looking, and haven’t for years and years. And when was the last time my paws twitched to write something as much they did the other morning in the frost, when stopping myself from writing was almost too much for my body to bear?

And I’m NOT going to stop myself next time, am I?


Something deeply satisfying stirred my moleheart a fortnight ago when I went through the ritual of winding the clocks back an hour. I would have long cosy evenings again. And instead of having to cajole myself into waling in the pitch dark, for a little while at least I would be leaping out of bed for the sheer joy of experiencing that wonderful transition from night to day.

Alas, that evening I may have gone to bed a mole but the next morning I woke up a sloth.

At first I rather enjoyed my slothfulness. Lying snuggled in my nest, dozing on and off, dreams ebbing and flowing into my consciousness. The trouble was that the slothfulness clung to me as morning moved into day. Without my early walk my paws began to drag. My sleep-dulled eyes peered at the papers on my desk without comprehension. By noon all I could think about was how lovely it would be to be nestled back under my doona. Had I been more alert, I might have been surprised, or even alarmed, at how quickly I assimilated slothful attributes, how soon and thoroughly my molishness retreated. Days turned into weeks.

Now, I have nothing against sloths. They are beautiful creatures with gentle natures. They might on first acquaintance even appear to be a deal more bright-eyed and bushy-tailed than moles. But something began to niggle. Sloths are not very grounded. In fact, I could hardly have chosen a less earthbound body to morph myself into. Nor are they very curious.

The fact is, I began to miss being a mole.

But could I remember how to gather my moleparts back? Could I even remember what my moleparts were? It was then I remembered the rather shabby shamanic text that Uncle Ratty had picked up on one of his voyages. I managed to summon just sufficient molish energy to rummage for it in the box room. And although I reverted to armchair slothfulness I rallied enough molish perseverance to delve into the secrets of Totem Mole, Guide to the Underworld.

Piece by piece, I gathered myself together: my paws that tunnel down into unknown territory; my snout that sniffs for rich meanings hidden in those depths; my pelt that feels every nuance, and tries, though does not always succeed, to trust those feelings; and my moley curiosity that ponders and ponders until revelations come and can be brought to the surface to share with fellow creatures.

And then there was my love of the earth and fresh air. Ah yes.

These last three days I have woken to a slither of moon in an indigo sky. My snout has twitched, my paws have touched the earth before my mind has even engaged. By dawn I have reached the summit.

I have been reconstituted. My molehood has been reclaimed!

Knit one, purl one.

The days are shorter, the air cooler, and although my pelt is a lovely, cosy, velvety thing there are some crisp mornings I hanker after an extra layer. It is jumper time.

I love woollies; not just for their snugness. Each jumper tells its own tale. Each one’s providence extends the sum of my internal experience. It is an enriching membrane that both grounds and delights.

I first learnt how to knit from Uncle Ratty. I had been fiddling with a loose thread in the hearth rug, and Great Uncle Mole made some comment about devils and idle paws as he grunted himself into his armchair for his after-lunch nap. Uncle Ratty winked at me, and told me to fetch his duffle bag.

It was a grubby old thing, a sort of oily indigo, and had H.M.S. PH X stencilled on it in peeling white paint, but to my young mind it was a cornucopia. He told me to sit on the Egyptian hassock while he rummaged. I fidgeted. He pulled out a ball of string, or rather strings. It was made up of lots of shorter bits all knotted together, different browns, some red, some green, thick and rough, and soft and slimy, the odd bit of wool, too, and even lawyers’ tape. His paw plunged back into the bag again and hovered there until Great Uncle Mole’s snores signalled that it was safe to talk about the sea adventures that made his earthy body queasy. Uncle Ratty drew out a pair of white sticks. ‘Whale-bone’, he whispered. ‘When I was a cabin-boy….’ And he taught me to knit. They were uneven squares with dropped and erratic stitches, because once he had taught me the basics, I didn’t want to interrupt his stories.

Later Mathilde, Tante Mole’s companion, made me unlearn Uncle Ratty’s clumsy style. She knitted the Continental way, wool wound around her foreclaw, faster, tighter. She was a demon knitter. Casting on at tea-time, an entire stocking would be cast off before supper. Mathilde was a stickler, too. I had to undo rows and rows if I absentmindedly purled a stitch instead of plaining it. When I protested to Tante Mole, she told me that Mathilde had won prizes for knitting while still at school in her home town of Mulhouse. And she had been given medal for bravery in the Great War. ‘What did she do?’, I’d asked. ‘Knitted’, said Tante Mole. ‘She sat on the railway sidings and knitted codes into jumpers, different stitches to represent enemy armament and troop movements.’ Speed and accuracy still represented life and death to Mathilde.

Later, I became a knitter, too, – always had something between my paws. I still salivate over colours and their names: heather, moss, dusky woodswallow, periwinkle, spinifex and tawny owl. I still stroke wool samples with longing. I knitted until a decade or so ago when my poor sore paws could knit no more.

But I still love wearing woolly jumpers, one in particular. When nobody is around I hunt out a disreputable old rag of a thing. Its colour is indeterminate. There are stains – port, I suspect, and engine grease. It is a mass of dropped stitches, holes, patches and loose threads. I found it in Uncle Ratty’s duffle bag a week or so after he’d breathed his last.

Light and Dark

As you have probably guessed, straddling darkness and light in this season of change has been providing fertile pondering ground for one mole. The pondering takes many forms but it tends to hone in on the way a mind fills the gaps that direct knowledge fails to provide. And so, in the dark on Knocklofty, I have learned that the thumps I hear in the undergrowth are made by bounding wallabies, and the rustling in trees is created, I imagine, by birds that I have startled.

In the tower the pondering on light and dark was fuelled by the absence of electricity for a few weeks. Well, not a total absence. A long flex from the cloisters was coiled round the central column of the spiral stairwell and attached to a single lamp in the ringing room. The lamp cast strange shapes, illuminating odd corners and pitching other more familiar spaces into darkness. It was hard not to be distracted. We lost our places and our timing became erratic as shadows confused themselves with ropes and befuddled the bell-ringers. Yet this must be how it had been for centuries – oil lamps hung from nails in the walls. Or perhaps a lamp would be centred in the middle of the circle, lighting up the snouts of ringers from below and evoking nativity paintings like Rembrandt’s Adoration of the Shepherds, or Edward Hopley’s A Primrose from England. In Hopley’s painting the faces of homesick migrants are uplit by a primrose which issues a similar glow to the child in Rembrandt’s manger. For us it was more prosaic, but nonetheless made secrets of what we could not see.

Les Murray, in his latest book of poetry, Waiting for the Past, writes of the ‘snapped dazzle’ when electricity was wired into the place where he grew up. And how ‘the old lampblack corners and kero-drugged spiders’ were now turned vivid. In our tower, we now shield our eyes in the brightness and wonder whether we need to don poker players’ peaks. The new glare startles the shabby carpet as if it were caught in its nightdress, and our token rubber bat hangs dismally in its corner, faded and dusty. Little is left to the imagination.

And the rustling in the trees on Knocklofty? A friend down the road revealed to me last week that there were bats in the reserve, and I knew immediately that no birds would make that sound. But still, I can’t see them, and somehow their hiddenness makes me feel better about the poor specimen in the tower.