Bowl of Mice
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Early Morning Exploration
It’s muddy.
It’s barely light, I can just see. There is around three quarters of an hour until dawn. There is somewhere I want to be before then and I’m not completely sure if I’m going to make it.
The steep uphill bridleway is a random mash of half dried hoof prints 6 inches deep and damp pools of that sticky clay like mud that is found everywhere on the South Downs. It makes the going tough, the clay like mud either sticks to everything like clumps of glue that come together to weigh your feet down, or creates a wet slippery surface that refuses to give any traction at all and the dry hoof shaped craters try to catch your feet and twist you ankle if you manage to find a bit of dry ground. My breath turns into clouds of condensation hanging in the air and I’m starting to breathe harder and sweat slightly.

There is a heavy fog that clings to everything and makes everything damp. A thin never ending drizzle that just hangs in the air, defying gravity and soaking me through. I swear when I notice how wet my t-shirt is but It isn’t cold and a coat would just have made me sweat more.
The trees that fill the sprawling woodland either side of me hide animals. I can hear them moving and then freezing if I get too close. I can’t see anything in the combined gloom of the woodland and the fog off to my left and right. The ground in front of me is slowly becoming lighter which makes it slightly easier to find the better ground.
I am aware of the ticking clock.

Something large moves suddenly in the undergrowth to my right. It made me jump and I almost dropped the bag that is thrown over my right shoulder. I put my hand on it to reassure myself the valuable contents are still there, and I stand still. Peering into the murky shapes trying to work out what it was that made me jump. Probably a badger. Or it could be one of the flesh eating ghosts from that BBC series, "The Fades". They take victims into the hills to feed...

I turn back to the bridleway and start to walk. A bit quicker than before. I just scared myself in the dark with my own stupid imagination, but I’m not going to admit that to anyone and I laugh at myself. I know its my imagination but I still want to move from this spot quickly.
Sounds around me are deadened by the swirling mist and the woodland and apart from the accompanying birdsong signalling that daybreak is imminent; I have an acute awareness that I am totally alone.
I have a lot on my mind this morning. I’ve had a lot on my mind for a while in fact. I carry something that I can’t share with anyone. It sits on my shoulders like a huge weight and it seems to get a bit heavier as the days go past. It’s not helped by my depression. I manage to keep a lid on it most of the time,I think, but recently... well... The black dog has been chewing away at me a bit. I’ve managed to keep it at bay enough to stop it biting me properly, but I can’t seem to outrun it.

Days like today I can’t sleep. I’ve been awake most of the night; the black dog has been straining at its leash, barking at me. And now suddenly I find myself here... In the dark... In the wet... In the mud... Sweating... Tired and being followed by flesh eating ghosts, or was it badgers? I forget now.
In fact what the fuck am I doing here when I could be in my warm comfy bed?

My mind is wandering now and I’m in danger of forgetting of where I am going. Keep walking... Reign my thoughts in... Think about my destination. Somewhere that even if only for a short while I can forget about things. It’s going to be worth it. The weather is right, the ground conditions are right, the humidity is right... Keep walking.

Suddenly the fog appears to lift. I can see the daylight filtering through the woodland now. I can see the colours of the leaves, green on the trees and brown on the ground, instead of the uniform grey the fog brings. I know that in reality the fog hasn’t lifted. I’m now on high ground, and still walking upwards. The fog hasn’t moved, I’ve walked out above it. Either way, I don’t care. I smile to myself that the Zombie ghosts can’t follow me now and I let out a short laugh at my own sense of humour. It echoes a bit and once again I have that acute sense of being alone, although without the fog somehow less alone.
I’m almost there now.
There is a hedgerow in front of me with a break in it. Early morning pre dawn light is now everywhere and I can see clearly, although it’s still a kind of dusk. I walk through the break in the hedgerow and a field opens out in front of me and I stop to drink in the truly beautiful sight in front of me.

I have arrived and I have made it in time.
I am at the top of Bury Hill. In front of me is the Arun Valley which sprawls north and south. Its wide flat bottom holds the meandering river Arun. I can’t see the river. I can’t see anything in the valley. It is filled with thick clouds. The fog I was walking through. From my vantage point now looking back down, I can’t see the drab grey fog I was walking in. Instead from above it looks like pure white cotton wool-like water that is moving in slow motion.
The way it fills the valley completely with the hills on the other side of the valley forming headlands in the slow moving cotton wool water, it looks for all the world as though I am staring at a seaside cove with a headland pointing out to sea.
Looking up over the headland, the sky is an amazing mix of pastel shades. Blue and pink hues mix in layers and a contrail from a jet liner in the distance is lit a vibrant orange.

The sun is about to rise. I move into the field and find a spot I like, and then I begin to get set up. I know I don’t have much time.
Tripod. Legs extended and level: - Check
Camera. Clicked securely onto tripod, battery full, favourite lens: - Check.
Find my field of view, set my aperture for a good depth of field, set shutter speed: Check
The sky is getting vibrant in its colours along the horizon. I’m rushing now trying to make sure I’ve forgotten nothing.
Remote shutter control: - Check.

I stand back just as the sun breaks over the horizon. Suddenly the vista in front of me changes.
The pastel colours vanish and the dark orange sun climbs slowly above the horizon lighting up the sky around it a deep deep orange. There is a very fine mist in the air, the layer above the thick fog in the valley, and it catches the suns rising golden fire scattering it, making it more intense still. Then the cotton wool water that fills the valley catches the magical burning orange and the transformation is complete and total.

The effect is just stunning. Jawdroppingly beautiful.
The whole valley is a mix of oranges and reds, the fine mist mixing the colours. In the valley somewhere there is a gust of wind, and the golden fleece water suddenly swirls around a ridge of high ground. A wave of magic golden fire water moves and pours over the ridge. My finger keeps pressing the remote trigger on the camera.
I can’t see what pictures I’m getting but I hope I am catching something close the amazing magical panorama I can see in front of me.

The sun is rising now. I know I only have a minute or two of this amazing effect left. I am standing in something akin to a special effect in a surreal film. I can feel the warmth of the sun on me now and there is steam rising from my wet t-shirt. Even my grey t-shirt is lit an intense golden orange.
I have seen images of fantasy sunsets and sunrises in books and magazines, but things like the sight in front of me don’t happen in the UK. Yet here I stand. Camera clicking. I feel like I have been chosen to witness this. I can hear a car on the nearby road, but looking around I can see no other humans. I am still alone.

I turn and find a small patch of dry ground and sit down. I realise too late that 'dry' is subjective as the dew suddenly soaks into my trousers and the cold water makes itself uncomfortably known to my backside. No matter. I am here and I am part of this amazing sight. I think I feel a bit emotional. I can feel some tears welling up in the back of my eyes, but I shrug them off.
Bawling at a sunset would be a really soppy thing to do, so I pull myself together. Just.
Then I smile as I notice that the weight I’ve been carrying on my shoulders isn’t there and I feel better.
I start to hum a song on my mp3 player. I dont realise what song it is at first, the mp3 player is on random play, but then the words pop into my head and I sing the chorus quietly to myself.
I couldnt have put a more appropriate song on if I had thought about it. I wish I could sing it as well as Jay Kay sings it. I’m probably murdering it, but there is no one here to hear it but me, so I don’t care...

The wind it whispers and the clouds don't seem to care
And I know inside, that it's all mine
It's the chorus of the breaking' dawn
It’s the mist that comes before the sun is born
Nature's got me high and it's so beautiful
I'm with this deep eternal universe from death until rebirth

This corner of the earth is like me in many ways
I could sit for hours here and watch the emerald feathers play
On the face of this I'm blessed
When the sunlight comes for free
I know this corner of the earth I know it smiles at me
I love this corner of the earth I know it smiles at me
I love this corner of the earth I know it smiles at me

And then the show is over. The sun is suddenly too high in the sky, the colours gone. My shirt is dry and the warmth from the sun is becoming intense already. I look down at the white clouds still filling the valley knowing that it is going to be a scorcher today. It won’t be long until the clouds both in the valley and in the sky are dispersed by the heat.
I don’t move though. I sit here looking at the view and think about things. I think about my family. The emotion I managed to hold back returns. I wish they could have witnessed this amazing show with me. I glance at the time. They will probably just about be waking up now and I want to be with them.

I get up and brush the mud off my backside and realise just exactly how muddy I am.
I am looking forwards to getting everyone together for a cooked breakfast today. I feel like I’m lighter. Something has been taken from me. Lifted from my shoulders.
The black dog, usually a slavering beast snapping at my soul, has been well and truly muzzled this morning. He will not feed from me today. He will probably escape again soon, but for today he is a helpless pup.
Today is going to be a good day.

I turn my back on the valley and swing my camera bag over one shoulder. I can’t be bothered to collapse it, so I lift my tripod over the opposite shoulder and after a brief pause and a final look back at the view now bathed in bright sunlight, I start to make my way back down the bridleway towards home

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