time passes like a wolf sleeping under a white sky

Tick Tock January Canvas Sense of Here

a rising sun, milked gold
raven’s call echoes into sky
how much difference can a moment make
how much difference can a moment make

The first section of the 12-month canvas poem finds its place beneath Wolf Crags.


Does the idea of tick and tock make you feel like slowing down, or speeding up? Is this a call for a pause or for action? Or both?

As we walk through land blanketed white with snow, under a white sky, I’m conscious, as I so often am, of the rhythm of my steps. It’s a rhythm that’s never constant; its determined by the lie of the land, the consistency of the ground, my own mood and energy, my thoughts, and the things I see or hear that distract me. Today the frozen ground asks for slow, careful progress; and the gentle uphill rise makes for a steady deepening of breath, adding its own rhythm to the pace of the walk. We warm up quickly inside our thick coats.  

The clock face we have laid out before us offers a map for a journey and a framework for recording what we learn. We will clock days through footsteps, and each month, during many hours outside. We’ll mark the passage of change through stories and seasons and we’ll expand the feeling of single moments by being still and quiet. We’ll think of time measured by sunrises, stalled by stubborn clouds and rainbows, quickened by storms.

We’ll time travel too, as we ponder on what’s gone before, taking clues from a landscape that layers time in lichen, forests, stone walls, field systems, soil and the flow of water, and drifting into the past as we delve into literary and social history, and talk to people who share their personal recollections with us. And as we walk through the year, we will be thinking to the future. Against the local canvas of the Lake District we’ll be enquiring into plans ranging from the building of new houses to farming strategies, tree planting, habitat restoration, adaptations to a changing climate, river and water management, sustainable transport and footpath maintenance, all of which feed into the prospect of resilience for people and nature.

We’ll also be considering the ‘bigger picture’ of the future – a future determined by the energy, passion and actions of people. The most pressing issue is the projected rise of global temperature: will the future unfold with the catastrophic impact of too great a rise, or will deliberate actions to reduce carbon emissions limit temperature rise and reverse the vanishing of species and habitats and bring us all back from the brink? What type of change will human actions drive? Tick Tock. The IPCC report suggests that without preventative action we may meet the point of no return in just 12 years; but if we do act, as a matter of urgency, we may be able to make a difference. Now is the time. And the clock is ticking. 

As we walk towards Wolf Crags, above the gentle slope of white land, all is white. After about forty minutes of walking along the old coach road, Blencathra comes into view, pleated skirt of a hill that today is all and only black and white. We see Wolf Crags looming to our left, and beyond it, Clough Head coming in and out of view behind low cloud. We slow down to find a place to place the canvas. As I walk my mind passes between all our conversations up to this point, the moment of each footfall on snow, and the installation of the piece. 

The words here begin our year’s canvas of poetry: this sound of time has been sitting at the back of my mind for months. The Tick Tock is like a subtle metronome and I reflect on time, as if to a rhythm. The time of breath, the pace of walking, the passing of days, the time of human lives, the lifetime of insects, the sleeping time of animals that are dormant while the land is blanketed with snow, the time beyond which, if we don’t collectively take the right actions, things look very bleak indeed for the interconnected life of systems and species. I can almost hear the tick tock call to make a change, to choose.

My time is ticking too. My spirit does not age but my bodily frame is ticking towards its demise – my one short life has passed its half way point, of that I can be sure. I begin to ponder mortality, the illusion of ego, and the way that embracing the inevitability of death can be a key to caring for something bigger than the self. Where everything is connected, each act matters. Ultimately it is the wider system, the whole, that bears the consequences of each act. I call to mind some of John Muir’s writings, and the words of the Buddha, and think back through history, both the recent and deep: no individual act can be set apart from the whole. Tick Tock. There are many elements that spin together and set the scene through the passing of time. 

When we take the canvas down and leave, I walk with the words settled into my subconscious where I feel them begin to nudge new thoughts and a new family of words that may become poems. I walk away from Wolf Crags in a day that has brightened, the mountains breathing clouds into the blue. 

Wolf Crags

No matter which season, the wildness of sheer rock faces north, bears the wind, ignores the sheep, knows nothing of the wandering of humans. This black body of rock is an amphitheatre for the ravens’ song, stranger to the feel of light until the short June window of high noon sun. When did the wolves’ howl echo from these rocks? Or were they named for their repose, a lying wolf, shoulders hunched, ears relaxed, face down to muzzle the earth for the scent of change, even during sleep? 

January’s Canvas Poems

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