For the past few years, I have been immersed in the folklore and history, traditions and myths of my land in a way I had never expected. This is not the country of governments and politics, nor the land of business and traffic jams or socio-economic divides. This is the deep well of life accessible to all.
I have seen and shared the growth of bluebells under the trees, the chalk cut figures spanning millennia, the hillsides and skies, the wildflowers, valleys and groves. I have danced the serpentine dance and walked barefoot where legends tell a dragon was slain. I have gazed upon living history in brick and stone, traced the human story in the earth and told tales of long ago.
The land itself has changed me, I think, or else awoken me to a deeper vision of the world that has, like the buried treasure of some ancient site, lain hidden from my sight. I do not think it is possible to work with the stories, currents and history of the land and remain oblivious to the rich tapestry of life.
I have shared knowledge and received it, glimpsed understanding, heard tell of far off landscapes and peoples, stories other than my own, lives I will never know. And yet, they are the same. The details may differ, the names and the skein of history in which they are bound may change. There are redwoods instead of ash, deserts instead of moorlands, yet the human story within the landscape shares a thread that is lost in the same long ago and it bears a common theme.
Standing in the ancient holy places, it is these very differences that bring home the commonality of our heritage as human beings. They are but details seen through the vast lens of time. The emotions I feel are echoed, through the ages and across all the lands, by my ancestors and reflect a future yet to unfold over lifetimes yet unborn.
The same imperatives drive us, though we hunt now in supermarkets and trawl the internet for knowledge instead of parchment scrolls. The same human frailties and desires shape our lives. The same strength and courage in face of life’s challenges define who we become. The same reverence for the divine, however felt and conceived, carved both the great hill figures, carried the sarsens and built the churches and temples of our own times.
To take time to seek the wildflowers in the hedgerows, to watch the snow lay heavy on the bough, or to watch a hawk in flight and a sparrow welcoming the morning, is to step outside of time for a moment, the attention turned away from the hustle and bustle of the mundane. To stand within the landscape and feel the ancient life both of the earth and her people is to see this great vista of history spread like a patchwork quilt at your feet. Each square a different pattern or design, the colours and fabrics changing and contrasting with each other, yet together forming a thing of wholeness and beauty.
Watching the sunset tonight from a village garden, the urban traffic noise a distant hum, I wondered how many sunsets have been watched alone in joy or grief, or shared in laughter or silence by the millions of other eyes that have turned to that golden glow. How many more will watch as it sinks below the horizon, bathing the earth in a last flare of light?
Just sit for a moment, close your eyes. Beneath your feet, beneath the concrete, the wood, the tiles or the grass lies the same earth upon which I stand, upon which we all stand. It is there, ever-present. Evolving and ageing, changing just as we, but older and slower, deeper and richer, its surface buzzing with the same life that runs through us all.
Once again I am reminded of a phrase from an old Hindu prayer that I love: Thou art everywhere, but I worship thee here. There is a reverence that comes when we are rooted in the earth of our landscape, when we listen for its heartbeat in the changing seasons and feel our place within it. Our human lives differ only in detail and degree, both from each other and from that of the land, yet the essence of life itself runs through all with a kinship too often forgotten or ignored. Yet it is beautiful, and within this earth our own roots are planted deeply, and our life is drawn from the same source.