Joy in the Morning

Early Morning Oak

It’s possible that an observant reader might have noticed that I like to steal my post titles* from songs or novels or ..well wherever inspiration strikes. This one comes from a Jeeves and Wooster novel. I haven’t read it recently, but the first chapter from it was appended to the end of ‘Summer Lightning’ which I borrowed from Lancaster library as a stand in for ‘Uncle Fred in the Springtime’ which I need to read for out book group, but they didn’t have. ‘Summer Lightning’ was excellent – pure escapism, with a high chuckle count. I’m wondering now whether I still need to find ‘Uncle Fred in the Springtime’ for our book group, since reading any Wodehouse novel is much the same as reading any other. You expect high farce and the usual selection of stock characters – but it’s the fabulous dialogue and Wodehouse’s turn of phrase which keep me coming back for more.

So – why ‘Joy in the Morning’? In Howard Jacobson’s pitch for ‘Rasselass’ on Open Book’s neglected classics programme, he described ‘the pursuit of happiness’ as ‘one way or another….the story of every novel’. He makes great claims for ‘Rasselass’ and I must say that I enjoyed reading it this time much more than I can remember enjoying it when I read it before. I can see now why Jacobson described it as ‘chock full of wisdom’ and I can see myself turning to it again in the future. Curiously, it doesn’t have much to say about happiness except in a negative way – time and again the central characters meet or seek out people who they think are happy and then they (and we) discover why they aren’t happy – so we learn about happiness in a negative way: what happiness isn’t.

In Stephen Graham’s ‘A Tramp’s Sketches’ there’s a chapter: ‘A Thing of Beauty Is A Joy For Ever’ (he likes to poach titles too). After an opening which refers to Nietzsche, Kant, Stendhal, Bernard Shaw, Ibsen and Darwin he hits us with a paragraph of pure Graham:

… knowledge of the beautiful is an affirmation. Something in the soul suddenly rises up and ejaculates “Yes” to some outside phenomenon, and then he is aware that he is looking at Beauty. As he gazes he knows himself in communion with what he sees – and sometimes that communion is a great joy and sometimes a great sadness. Thus, looking at the opening of dawn he is filled with gladness, his spirits rising with the sun; he wishes to shout and sing. He is one with the birds that have begun singing and with all the wild Nature waking refreshed after the night. But looking out at evening of the same day over the grey sea he is filled with unutterable sorrow.

That “Yes”, the idea of a sudden and unexpected affirmation really strikes a chord with me. A feeling, a brimming over almost – intense well being, a broad smile, as Graham says: the need to shout and sing – that can sneak up on me in many circumstances but particularly on a walk. So when I left the house early this morning I had no clear idea where I was heading, but it was with a certain expectation – I was looking for a “Yes” moment.

Of course – going looking for the pot of gold is a fool’s errand and setting off expecting to be thrilled by a view or a moment is almost certainly counter productive. There were some pleasant views to be had…

Pre-dawn cloudscape.

But nothing to quicken the pulse or make the heart soar.

The sky was clear and, wanting to keep the light in the east in view, I set off toward it and toward Leighton Moss.

Reflected trees at Leighton Moss – spooky isn’t it?

After the astonishing rain we’ve been having the meres had spread and the paths were underwater. A sign warning of flooding and the need for Wellington boots was, rather ironically,  marooned on a dry island of path with flooding all around it – you had to get your feet wet in order to get close enough to read it. A huge group of coots and mallards were roosting on the islands just by Lilian’s Hide. I pottered around the edges of the reed beds – exploring almost submerged boardwalks, photographing leaves and reeds…

and then turned for home. A roadside hedge, heavy with haws was being plundered by several blackbirds…

and a thrush.

When I stopped to try to photograph them I realised that there were numerous other birds in the hedge too – great tits and blue tits, chaffinches…

and, in a small ash tree, a nuthatch tap tap tapping at a branch.

As I climbed the hill back toward the village the sun climbed above the horizon…

This turned out to be perfect timing since I was now heading west with views ahead of trees bathed in sunlight.

A tree stump by the road was host to…

some tiny earthballs…

…each hollowed with a jagged exit wound through which the spores had been fired.

I had forgotten by now about my ‘mission’ and was thoroughly absorbed in an attempt to capture the way the low sun was emphasising the remaining autumn colour on certain beech, oak and hazel trees. Not with much success, but it was keeping me busy. In Clark’s Lot, a patch of colour seen distantly across the cleared area of limestone pavement caught my eye…

I thought that it was the rust colour which attracted me, but winding back the zoom on my camera, I realised that in fact it was the contrast between that rust and the white of the surrounding birch trunks which appealed…


…and there it was, quite unexpectedly…joy in the morning! It may not have yielded much of a photo, but I can tell you that this morning, with the sun picking out the leaves, it looked fantastic….and I could feel my smile muscles working overtime, and…is that me singing? I believe it is!

Then of course, Nature conspires to put more flashes of red in my way. A robin in amongst holly berries…too much – tone it down please. Haws against traveller’s joy…

…that’s the ticket!

Sprawling over the fence from the wood, a cotoneaster, presumably grown from a berry carried here by a bird from a garden?

This too is lacking in subtly with both leaves and berries a very rich red…

I think that I prefer the different greens on offer in the lichens (or liverworts?) on this small fallen branch…


* Some alternative titles for this post:

The Sun Also Rises

Happiness Makes Up in Height What it Lacks in Length

Its a new dawn, its a new day, its a new life for me
And I’m feelin good

OK – that last one’s getting a bit long for a title. (Great song though**) Any other suggestions? This is a game that anyone can play.

**When Nina Simone is singing it, not one of the pale imitations by the likes of Muse or Michael Buble. Actually, when the horns come in on this song – that’s another example of one of those face twitching encounters with ‘a joy for ever’.

Joy in the Morning

3 thoughts on “Joy in the Morning

  1. I empathize a lot with this post, Mark, and know exactly what Graham means by those ‘Yes’ moments. Indeed, this is why I walk. Not principally for exercise, for the pursuit of knowledge, for a sense of freedom, for a chance to meditate, to escape the busy, humdrum world for a while, to be at one with nature (though all these are really important). It’s for those joyful, sometimes ecstatic, ‘Yes’ moments. The most intense of these can seem almost like mystical experiences at their brief peak. I remember clearly many of these moments in my own walking life – though the really intense ones don’t come along that often. A good idea might be to keep a ‘Yes’ moment diary?

    ‘A Tramp’s Sketches’ – well, that’s another Graham book I’ll just have to get…

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