Do we not see that words fail as pigments do—that the effect is too coarse, since in describing it we put it before the mental eye as something distinctly visible, a thing of itself and separate. But it is not so in nature; the effect is of something almost invisible and is yet a part of all and makes all things—sky and sea and land—as unsubstantial as itself. Even living, moving things had that aspect. Far out on the lowest further strip of sand, which appeared to be on a level with the sea, gulls were seen standing in twos and threes and small groups and in rows; but they did not look like gulls —familiar birds, gull-shaped with grey and white plumage. They appeared twice as big as gulls, and were of a dazzling whiteness and of no definite shape: though standing still they had motion, an effect of the quivering dancing air, the “visible heat”; at rest, they were seen now as separate objects; then as one with the silver sparkle on the sea; and when they rose and floated away they were no longer shining and white, but like pale shadows of winged forms faintly visible in the haze.
They were not birds but spirits—beings that lived in or were passing through the world and now, like the heat, made visible; and I, standing far out on the sparkling sands, with the sparkling sea on one side and the line of dunes, indistinctly seen as land, on the other, was one of them; and if any person had looked at me from a distance he would have seen me as a formless shining white being standing by the sea, and then perhaps as a winged shadow floating in the haze. It was only necessary to put out one’s arms to float. That was the effect on my mind: this natural world was changed to a supernatural, and there was no more matter nor force in sea or land nor in the heavens above, but only spirit.
Chapter Six: By Swallowfield
One of the most attractive bits of green and wooded country near London I know lies between Reading and Basingstoke and includes Aldermaston with its immemorial oaks in Berkshire and Silchester with Pamber Forest in Hampshire. It has long been one of my favourite haunts, summer and winter, and it is perhaps the only wooded place in England where I have a home feeling as strong as that which I experience in certain places among the South Wiltshire downs and in the absolutely flat country on the Severn, in Somerset, and the flat country in Cambridgeshire and East Anglia, especially at Lynn and about Ely.
I am now going back to my first visit to this green retreat; it was in the course of one of those Easter walks I have spoken of, and the way was through Reading and by Three Mile Cross and Swallowfield. On this occasion I conceived a dislike to Reading which I have never quite got over, for it seemed an unconscionably big place for two slow pedestrians to leave behind. Worse still, when we did leave it we found that Reading would not leave us. It was like a stupendous