Monday Motivation: Capturing the moment
It’s 8:17 on Friday morning. I’m sitting in our living room with the autumn sun streaming in, half blinding me. Through the sliding doors and the floor-to-ceiling windows I can see the rippling waters of Priory Marina Lake, on which our houseboat* is tethered, and which more-or-less surrounds us.
The waters are, as I say, rippling, light glancing off their crests. But what we’ve come to realise over the months we’ve lived here – and specifically during the idleness enforced by covid, when we’ve spent hours watching the lake – is that the mood of the water changes not just day by day or hour by hour but minute by minute, depending on more variables than we can compute.
For instance, the River Great Ouse which flows past the channel feeding the lake, rises and falls as rain sweeps across its catchment area, and pumps in water, or, subtly, drains it. The ducks and geese and swans that constantly patrol the lake leave wakes that cross and cross again. The fish we watch from our deck passing back and forth occasionally breach the surface and send suggestive ripples out. Boats of every possible description – narrowboats, cabin cruisers, rowing boats, canoes, kayaks, day-boats and wide-beams – pass up and down the channel, sometimes sedately, sometimes briskly, sending modest bow-waves to lap against our pontoon.
But it’s the surface of the water that I want to draw your attention to today, and its infinite variability, and the challenges to the writer to describe this specific detail.
So, drawing on observation and memory, I want to tackle that task: to describe the many moods of the lake that quite literally we depend on. Or to try to, because the water is so fickle, and its moods so various.
On colder days than this, when the wind rises from the north, and the temperature drops, the water becomes choppy, seeming to move aggressively down the channel, a series of knife-edged wavelets ripping along in a tightly patterned cascade.
At others, when the breeze drops, the water is dimpled, serene.
And at yet others, particular in the early morning before the wind gets up, it’s mirror-like, so calm that you can imagine stepping out onto it.
But then a mallard bustles across it, breaking its unmarred surface; or one of our resident swans thrashes down the runway as they do from time to time, impatient to get to the feeding grounds in the river, their great wings beating the air, their feet frantic, churning the water.
Sometimes the water is simply ruffled, when a mischievous wind plays and darts across it. And when driving rain, combined with strong gusts, comes, it’s as if invisible beings are chasing each other across the water, alighting here, swirling and turning, then high-stepping across the lake to come down hard in the distance.
On other days the lake seems to be undecided. Ripples run in from every side, crossing and criss-crossing each other, creating a complex pattern of interference. The net effect of this is a strangely digitised and flickering field that’s difficult to bring into focus, and impossible to photograph.
This has been an exercise in observation, and in finding words to describe an ever-changing, elusive quality visible all around us, but difficult to pin down.
It’s a process that we all engage in whenever we pick up a pen. How to capture a mood, a fleeting thought, a transient emotion; how to find the detail that somehow stands for the whole; how to see and then record.
* Overtaken by a fit of whimsy, we called the houseboat Impatience, to distinguish it from our narrowboat, Patience, which lies at its berth just a hundred metres away.