There are a couple of men working in the water mill. I can hear them behind the white slats as they move around inside. It is noon, fiercely bright, and the whitewashed walls are glaring, reflecting the heat and light with undiminished power.
On the second floor a set of shutters has been propped open, a bold black rectangle against the brilliance. Not to receive the corn that would normally be hoisted up, but surely to ease the air that must be molasses thick inside. Machinery whirs intermittently, the water wheel spins slowly for a cycle, then stops. Voices, bassy and indecipherable, call to one another.
Upstream, the lode rests before the sluice, deep and cool and still. The mill gates are open to allow the water through, a dark gaping hole that rises a few feet above the surface. Behind it, before the gloom of the interior becomes too dense, you can just make out the paddles of the wheel.
It is a slow course, the lode, almost static; there is a narrow controlled race bending around to one side feeding into the mill pond on the other side, but all is calm. The water is released into the stream on the other side with barely a sound, creating only a ripple on the far side. Tiny fish push against what lethargic current there may be, quivering soundlessly through the flows that move under the shades and dapples.
Mayflies, dragonflies and damselflies seethe and whisper through the drowsy air. Passing in front of the trees and in the dark bosky overhang across the stream, they catch the light and fizz golden overlapping erratic paths, endlessly circling and rising and falling.
They are not the only ones dancing. A pair of Grey Wagtails, male and female, sit on neighbouring fence posts. They are only partly well-named. Motacilla cinerea. Mota – moving, cilla – tail. And they do it constantly; long tail feathers dab up and down, repeatedly describing a perfect 20º angle, as if from the pages of a maths textbook, time and again. They hop up, turn around, land, and the tail goes. Dab, dab, dab. And cinerea, from cinis – ashes, or ashen. Which is a ridiculous disservice. The upper body is grey (although it is dashed with trim handsome lines of officer class black and white) but the chest and rump and tail are splashed with the happiest, cheeriest school bus yellow that shouts and dazzles in the sunlight. They bounce up together, feathered sunbeams, and drop to the fence, tails bobbing asynchronously.
They’re fearless and confiding, coming close and then veering away, but only for a moment.
In the air, and down. Dab, dab.
Their beaks are rammed with insects. Two or three or more damselflies hang in lifeless bell curves, beetle legs stick out like whiskers. They go up again, over the water, and I realise they’re still catching bugs, even with mouths already filled with loot.
Short raiding sorties, dashing into the sunlight, and then over the cool of the water. Mercurial darts into the busy air, a swift choppy dash for more buzzing treasure. And then back, and dab, dab.
And then they’re gone, diving not back to the fence or over the stream, but into that thick black space behind the wheel, vanishing into the sudden mass of shadow. They return, beaks empty, and begin the process again; single-minded, industrious, they hum with purpose and intuition.
Toil and life and death and the uncomplicated light of noon, the heavy shadow of secrets, the meandrous paths of the transitory, the never ending iterations and the same, all spinning forever and ever in the sparkling air.