From the busy lane I scramble down with my bike into the sunlit calm of the canal.
Brownian motion of dust and pollen in the dazzle. Three glowing white galleon swans, imperturbable. A pair of geese graze near a heron that stands still as a carved stick of painted wood. Reeds combed vertical. Far fells lie supine. A duck lands in the water, heavily, as if thrown. A fish touches the surface and successions of rings expand across the curved underside of the stone bridge, fade, are gone. A duck shepherds eight ducklings across the water, away from me, tiny, balls of fluff, so light they seem in their sudden spurts and dashes to run across the surface – so light they don’t break the surface tension. Seven are brown, and disappear in the water-edge foliage; one is bright yellow, and glows. How long will it survive? The swans heave themselves onto the bank, all curves, ellipses, parabolas, hyperbolas, they quarrel briefly with clashing beaks and flurried wings, then settle each into its space. Everywhere there is hawthorn blossom in Hockneyesque profusion. Drawn by the alluring perfume I stop, look close into the flowers, see excited chattering fairy faces looking up, pull back, cycle on.
The canal turns this way and that, roundabout in its northern direction as it follows, lies upon, the 72 feet contour. It is water serpent, datum line, spirit level. The Egyptians flooded the land to establish the level for their pyramids. It lies across the landscape, a languid sinuous presence.
A smart motorboat chugs past. The couple, he bulky and white-haired, she bulky and dyed blond, turn extravagantly away, as if on urgent business, to avoid eye contact. As I pass a man fishing by his boat as he pulls in a wriggling fish. ‘Roach’, he says when I ask. ‘Is that your dinner?’ ‘I’d need a few more of these,’ as he unhooks it, returns it to the water, adds, ‘hope he’ll tell his dad to come.’
Fields cut for silage, some bare, some with ridges of dark green between shaved yellow as the machines buzz back and forth. The lanes are busy with tractors and trailers. There is grass everywhere in the air.
Moored barges. On Buena Vista a blond young man, lying back, feet over the side, plays Spanish music on his guitar, light and melodious. On Moonwitch a dark girl, red hair, intense, plucks herbs from her onboard garden. I’m making up stories in my head. It’s time to climb up from the canal, up to the fine balustered bridge where the canal cuts through manicured parkland like a Picturesque set-piece, and return to the lanes and the traffic.