The Narrow Gate by Ivan Tucker.

Posted on 04/07/2020 By

The Narrow Gate.

The Narrow Gate: Headshot of Bertie, wearing a black bow tie.

This week we are delighted to welcome our friend Ivan Tucker. A true wordsmith. Instead of pictures we ask you to imagine the scene as he walks along the bank of the River Mole near Dorking.

The Narrow Gate.

Take a walk down by the river at dusk
Out beyond where the houses end, to the promise of the path that descends
through Hazel and Sycamore
Past the mill house with buttressed wall, past the old mill, footsteps trace the arc of the bridge
Left turn by the Crack Willows on the sandy beach and the metallic tang of the Nettle beds
Past the murmur of the fishermen packing up, almost silenced by the rush of the weir
Out into the fading light

Past the thickets of Hawthorn and Blackthorn that line the river’s edge
The tall decaying Alders, ghostly light on the long Meadow Grass to my right
Distant conversations drift down from the viewpoint on the hill on the warm summer air
Treading gingerly along the collapsed riverbank path, swallowed by the winter’s floods
Through the arch of the dripping viaduct,
and out into the night

Not yet solstice, and already Cow Parsley is now just bare leafless sticks with crowns of seeds
Pointillism of Buttercups a recently-faded memory, tall stands of docks
With ruddy seedheads and hole-spotted leaves, standing tall
The fallen White Willow forming a bridge to the lights and hum of the sewage works that I hurry past
Through the grove of Hawthorn and Dogwood where the cows shelter in the cool of the morning
As the light softly fades

Arriving at the riffles, strangely quiet tonight, birdsong muted
Looking up at the giant old Oak with its ancient wounds
Climb out onto the tiny island formed by the battered old Alder, and sit amongst its roots
Where there is space for only one to sit, the river at my feet
Re-learn how to be still, how to watch and how to wait
Entering by the narrow gate the stillness that watches the constant flux

The constant chatter of the shallow water becomes another form of silence
No flotilla of ducks pass me this year as they did a year ago tonight
The westerly glow fades, the greens of overhanging Hazel and Horse Chestnut deepen
From their daytime emerald, to evening’s muted shades of olive and grey-green
But the day’s last swifts are still careening overhead as the sky’s reflection in the calms
Turns from Prussian blue to pewter

Looking at the ever-moving wavelets, I realise that small fish are surfing within the curl
Of their vortex, playful and sportive, dancing in the tumult of the water’s spin
Larger fish splash and rise; there is murder concealed in the veil of the waves
Bats begin to flit silently between the low overhanging branches of Oak and Alder
There is a bustle and hum, a vibrancy barely concealed, in everything
That stirs my feet to restless wander

Up, then, stepping through dark roots, snagging on Bramble, dodging Nettle, over the muddy channel
Towards the call of the west, the silvery light still lingering between the Lombardy Poplar spires
The woodpecker’s nest silent now, not even an owl, only the distant roar of the road
Tall ashes and white Willows to my left, the swale and the sensuous rise of the hill above to my right
Towards the place where the pillbox nestles beneath the Walnut grove, just beyond the Copper Beech
And the path rises through velvet darkness of Box and Yew

Startling a hunting heron, turning back towards the river, and climbing down the bank
to the new revetments, lying down on a ledge above the water to open the second beer
A huge fish breaches and splashes upriver, the shadows beneath the Willows grow inky black
Lying back, gazing up through starry saucer-heads of Hogweed to the first star pulsating in the circle of sky
Moths flit and settle, night-pollinating, mosquitoes hunt out warmth and blood, no need of sight,
No moon tonight.

Let the darkness wrap its arms around you from behind, feel it settle over the hill and fields
As stillness deepens. More stars appear, winking, constellations become familiar
Dragging the quiet mind back towards thoughts, and concepts, and memories and ideas
Shake that off, let it go. A silent plane high above, then a satellite, then a bright shooting star
crossing the sky northward, reminds me of a song: Saw A Shooting Star Tonight
and I thought of you

To stay, to stay the night, beside the river and its murmur, watched over by tall poplar spires
To be the clear, all-seeing eye of the world as the high clouds hang in the frozen form of northern lights
To stand outside time’s flow, above thought, beyond language, beneath knowing, to pure, aware silence
But I had come unprepared, on a whim, the twin snouts of cool and damp finding their way in
Nuzzling at cuff and neck and hem, pushing me back towards the roads and houses and dimming lights
To leave the river to itself, the fields to their solitude, the trees to their watching
And the hill to the night

Stirring my feet again, tripping up the unknown bank in the dark, then back over the familiar path
Where my feet know their way, past dip and hollow, over flint and root, through the comfort of the dark
Sounds of late-night music and shouting from the hill above breaking the peace of the last dying light
Up the path through impenetrable blackness, walking slowly, by feel only, toward the glow of the streets
The twin rows of silent houses, their occupants in bed, except the lights of the last few night-owls
The river behind me in the night

Lighting a Candle for Diddley and Mike

Headshot of Mike.

Mike was Ivan’s dad. He and Bobby shared a love of the natural world for nearly fifty years.


“My dad taught me all about nature and ecology, and started the lifelong lesson of how to look and how to see. Of course, we continue our own educations throughout our lives, but my dad lit the blue touch paper, and without him, who knows, there may have been no spark to ignite everything that has followed. We are all of us indebted to our various teachers and those who help us find our path, who shed a little light at our feet so that we can, albeit unclearly, see the way. And then, in later life, we learn that another great teacher is solitude, and we glean what we can from that.

My dad wasn’t what you might call an easy person, and we frequently didn’t see eye to eye, but I realise now how much I owe to him, and have to be grateful for.”

A candle lit for Diddley and Mike.

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Guest Writer    

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