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Before the Storm (Clouds) by Isaac Ilich Levitan (1860-1900)

The weather has changed. The dead-heat has gone out of it and though we’re still enjoying startling blue late summer skies, those skies are now a broad canvas, at times full of storms, compact blooms of white, towering to a great height like the smoke-plumes of a sinister weapon. They drift ponderously across the land. I saw them first in a dream, at the weekend, but I misinterpreted them, turned them into apocalyptic mushroom clouds, out of which poured the ruin of mankind. Then, on Monday, I drove a long way, travelled south, through the Midlands, ┬áthe North Wessex Downs, and the Chilterns. And there, all along that two hundred mile roaring ribbon of the M6, the M42 and the M40, I saw them, those same towering storms, painted on the blue, like lotus flowers, or old English roses. They were remnants of a hurricane that’s blown clean across the Atlantic, and are still lending a richly animated energy to our days, breaking up the sluggish humidity that has lingered since mid July.

As I drove, marvelling at this beautiful spectacle, my dream broke, or rather the storms broke my dream, brought it back to me, fished it from the black waters of unconscious memory. I don’t know how the mind does this, how it sometimes works ahead of itself, lets its dreams be informed by imagery we have yet to encounter in our ordinary waking reality. I only know that when we do encounter it, it turns a key and we cannot doubt a part of us has passed this way before.

I’ve written about Dunne, the pioneer aircraft designer who first studied this phenomenon, and who published books on it, to very mixed reviews. Word of it still falls upon a largely sceptical audience, so I won’t labour it here, except to say that in the West we have forgotten how to dream, are no longer in awe of them, and consequently no longer open to their potential for revelation, or healing.

I puzzled for a long time over Dunne’s books, troubled, because to see the future implies our future is fixed, and I didn’t like to think of the world being that way. Unless we have a choice in the paths we take, unless we can choose our future, I felt the world had no meaning for me. But nowadays I think it’s more a case of seeing not the future but a future, that only on occasion do our waking lives coincide with one of the futures we have already seen.

I did not dream of that weary journey down the sluggish motorways. It was too tedious, I think, to make anything other than the most abstract impression upon the dreaming. But the images of those storms was so impressive, they could not help but be borrowed as background for an allegorical tale, one in which I was preoccupied with visions of a civilisation on the brink. The dream made no sense to me, just as my journey didn’t in the end. It was just ten hours in a new-smelling lease-car, a night in a worn-out hotel in a fold of the Chilterns, within earshot of the rumbly M40, and all for a one hour meeting. But like many things, purpose and, more, the direction of our lives is often only revealed in retrospect, and with the perspective of long years passed.

Meanwhile the storms continue to drift across the land, darkening skies of a sudden, and sending down great wetting rages of rain to paint the roads black and slick and splashy. Mazzy and I slipped out last night, in a pause between the squalls, but I kept the hood up. My rational excuse for the impulsive jaunt was that I’d run out of bush tea, so made a circuitous 10 mile twisty-road tour, finally swinging back by the Sainsbury’s store in the neighbouring village for my Rooibos. I didn’t really need the tea. It was more that I’d been away for a long time in the south, and had missed her.

While we were out we clipped the northern lash of a slow moving cyclone, a vast thing, slow circling across the plain, raising columns of dirty white against a blue grey, dusky sky. Cars were coming out of its shadow with their headlights on, looking drenched and startled. We turned north and outran it. Mazzy and I were both safe under cover before it staggered sideways a little and tipped its buckets over us, to no effect.

Clear skies again this morning, but a tuggy wind and more rain forecast.

I dreamed of trees, and butterflies, and I was among a gentle, brown skinned people; we fished clear, shallow waters with long spears for rainbow-coloured fish.

And we were happy.

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