Celebrating the Light

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“May you be blessed

With the spirit of the season, which is peace,

The gladness of the season, which is hope,

And the heart of the season, which is love.”

Irish blessing.

It is the Christmas season. It has been a dark year for many, with a constant barrage of fear and distress assaulting our senses. A virus has sundered many of our physical connections and many feel as if they are caught upon an ever-darkening spiral of despair. This year, that feels to have been stolen from us, has plumbed new depths for so many people, yet the shadow time of winter, with its long nights and chill weather, has always aroused its echo in the heart of humankind.

It is for this very reason that the dark, midwinter days of the year hold so many Festivals of Light that share a common thread of hope. For those of the Christian faith, it is the moment that celebrates the birth of Jesus, a fragile babe who grew to change the world. Whether or not we accept that story as literal truth, it is symbolic of one that has wound itself through our human lives, casting its light into our hearts.

Many cultures have told of the birth of a Child: Horus, Krishna, Mithras, Mabon, Zoroaster…. There are these and many other threads to this tapestry. Their stories differ in detail, but a common strand runs through them and it is golden. These are the Divine Sons, the Children of Light who illuminate a path we too might tread.

Many are now consigned to mythology by the modern mind that dismisses the miraculous or magical. Few now would accept the story of a Child who sprang fully formed from the rock on this day, whose worshippers came together in a communion of bread and wine. Yet Mithraism was widespread in the world of Rome, and the symbol of the unconquered Sun still persists.

Zoroaster was born laughing, which sounds beautiful to me, and with a glow about him… Horus was the Hawk of the Sun… the theme of Light pervades the faith of the races of Man. Religions have risen and faded over millennia, but faith remains ever fresh and constant in the heart of those who seek the Light, regardless of the Name it bears in our tongue, the symbols we use or the stories we have woven.

We have, throughout our history, followed with love and faith the path of the Lightbringers of our age and our belief has changed our lives. Religions, those organised bodies of doctrine, have not always changed the world for the better,  but the quiet, personal faith that carries us through the days and nights of our lives, upholding us and comforting us through the dark times, giving joy in the brighter days… this is a different thing… a personal, intimate thing, a relationship between the heart of man and the Divine. Religious institutions, like any other, may be rife with politics and intolerance, in spite of their message of love. But the flame that burns in each individual heart owes allegiance only to the Source of that Light.

Whatever path we choose to tread, whichever way our hearts are called, it is belief… faith… that shapes us. Even those who profess no faith in the One, by any Name, are shaped by whatever belief their heart holds in Its place. For myself it is simple; all life, all creation is part of the great and multifaceted jewel that is the One. And I believe that we can find Its Light within the world, within ourselves and within each other.

The familiar Christmas story is a beautiful one, of a carpenter and his wife far from home, a babe born in a stable and cradled in a manger while a Star lights the way. There are many ways we can understand the tale, from simple acceptance to the deeply symbolic. Imagine that stable… animals and the warm smell of hay, a very earthy, humble place, very much of this world. Yet from this simple beginning, a story unfolded… a Light was born… that guides millions of lives still today.

Within our ordinary lives, we too many feel far from Home, the humble things of earth occupy our hands and minds while the heart seeks a star to guide it. Yet within the frames of our lives, we are carrying that star… that spark of Divine Light… and this is what shines for us in those silent moments of turning within. Seeing it, we find our own bright birth in the earthy place we live. We do not have to seek far and wide like the Magi, nor wait for angelic hosts to point the way.

“….And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:  Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”

Luke 17:20-21 (King James Version)

Together, Poles Apart

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As a little girl, I loved the tale of Borrobil by William Croft Dickinson. There was something wholly magical about the battle between the Summer King and the Winter King facing each other in within a circle of stones to wrest the season from each other. That story was set at Beltane, but the ‘battle’ between summer and winter is never more obvious than at midwinter. The period around the winter solstice is the dark time of the year. The sun appears to stand still for a few days, hovering on the horizon. The nights begin early and end late. The days are short and cold. As the winter weather closes in, grey and forlorn, for a little while it seems that there is only darkness.

Yet it is at this very moment, when the winter has its strongest hold, that the light triumphs in the age-old contest as the nadir of winter passes and the sun begins to renew its ascendance.  No matter what the calendar says or how dark the day, the renewal of the light has begun its journey towards spring and many traditions honour this moment in time, each in their own way. It is for this reason that so many of the Lightbearers have been celebrated in the dark of the year throughout our history. It is in the midst of darkness that the birth of hope is both most needed and renewed.

It is odd, for those of us who live in the northern hemisphere, to think that while we are celebrating all the holidays and holy days associated with the winter solstice, those who live in the southern hemisphere are celebrating in the warmth and sunshine of midsummer. The original inhabitants of every corner of the world would have had their own celebrations, born of the turning wheel of the year. Then, when the Old World colonised the New, the colonists took their traditions, beliefs and festivals with them too. Now, at opposite poles of the world, we share, for a moment, common celebrations of Light.

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language.
And next year’s words await another voice.
T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Perhaps that is something we can carry forward, beyond the celebrations, recognising our kinship instead of fearing our differences. Celebrating the fact that we can be poles apart in our beliefs and yet sharing a common desire for peace. This year has been a dark one for many, both at personal and international levels. There has been a sense of unease and foreboding, a longing for community and the fear of encroaching darkness has overshadowed many hearts.

As the seasons turn once more at the solstice, whether we live in the northern hemisphere or the southern, we can use this point of change to move forward into a brighter world. In every heart, there is a spark of Light and each one of us can be a Lightbearer to the renewal of the coming year.

On reflection…

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I woke this morning with the image of a dream imprinted on my eyelids. The image was a simple one… an empty landscape with a lake that held the reflection of a tree.

I could replay the dream in silent freeze-frame. The image was divided in two by the shoreline of a lake.  A tree stood tall and straight as a Scots pine, wide as an ancient oak, right on the edge of the empty shore. Below, the calm waters held its reflection with barely the shimmer of a ripple.

The thin line of the land, a horizon drawn by a child, never changed, no cloud marred the pale, immutable luminescence of the sky. Only the tree, as if dancing to the song in its branches and the rising and setting of the light.

I watched as the birds flew and sang through the bole and children played at its feet laughing. I saw the seasons paint themselves in green and gold, scarlet and black on its limbs. I saw the children grow,  saw their trysts beneath the branches… and saw their children return in their turn to laugh and love and pass.

After an eternity, men came with axes and tried to fell the tree, but they could not. Later, they came with chainsaws, yet still it stood. Then I watched as the tree, whole and healthy, seemed to fall of its own accord, yet where it fell, no trace of it remained, only an empty horizon.

Yet in the clear mirror of the lake, the reflection of the tree still stood, tall and straight as a pine, wide as an ancient oak.

The birds flew above it, and their reflections played still amongst the branches. Children leaned from the bank to play amongst the reflected roots. The seasons still painted the reflection with green and gold, scarlet and black. But on the land, the tree was nowhere to be seen.

Men came and called it sorcery and poured oil and ashes into the waters to obliterate the reflection, but the water retained its clarity. They built a tall fortress, surrounded by a city, to replace the reflection with something of their own creation, something that they did not fear, but the mirror of the lake showed only the tree. The masters of the fortress forbade the people to look out over the city walls, forbade them to approach the lake on pain of death, creating a fear to mask their own, until the lake and its tree became no more than a myth.

When the drought came, many died of thirst in the city on the shore, but the branches of the reflection were still brimming with life in the pure water.

But there were those to whom the lake called… the madmen, the dreamers and those whose hearts played like children… who heard the song of the birds in the branches and the whispering ripples on the shore. Some marvelled at the magic of the shimmering image, captivated by an unattainable beauty. Some believed the reflection to be the truth and gave themselves to the waters, drowning in ecstasy. Some turned away, weighed down by sorrow at the passing of the tree from the world. And some saw that the reflection was no more than an image cast by something they could not see and, turning their backs on the lake, sought the source of the image. For these, the tree still stood, straight as a pine, wide as an oak, its branches still painted with green and gold, scarlet and black…the reflection no more than a promise and a shadow of reality.

When I woke, it was one image that remained… of a tree on a shoreline drawn by a child, an empty horizon and a perfect reflection below.

Seeking Spirit

“You could find something spiritual in doing the dishes,” said my friend, as if this was unusual.

“He’s right. And although I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it,” said Stuart, “ you could probably find spirituality in going to the toilet.” Half a dozen themes suggested themselves as he spoke.

“Disposing of the old and outworn…”

“…and how unhealthy hanging onto it too long can be…

“An illustration of how difficult it is to find personal time and peace in modern life… ”

“A meditative interlude…”

“One could talk about chemo constipation and how a breakdown in the system affects every other part of the body and mind…”

“…which shows how health is not static but a process. Nature has worked for thousands of years to create a process that works beautifully…”

“A perfect system. Recycling waste to feed plants and through them the animals that in turn feed us…”

“A completely self-contained system. And we think we can do better… and treat it with little or no respect.”

“We’ve only just got away, in evolutionary and social terms, from living with muck. Manure and its human equivalent were very much part of our everyday lives till recently… now we’ve moved away enough to become squeamish. “

“So we try to feel in control…”

“And fail miserably.” Because, when all is said and done, Nature is a bit bigger, a lot older…and a great deal wiser than we are.

So they were both right… you can find something spiritual in anything. Especially in Nature. It depends, really, on how you define ‘spiritual’.

For some, it is a side of life that is finer than mere flesh and earth. These are elements to be escaped, transcended, left behind as we strive for a higher state of being. For others ‘spiritual’ is something to do… attending a place of worship, perhaps… praying or adhering to the rules of a religion… following a moral code, meditating, or seeking the answers to the age-old questions that have beset the heart of humankind. And it is not by accident that the words ‘question’ and ‘quest’ share the same root.

There are as many ways of approaching spirituality as there are souls. None of them is right or wrong… each must fit the feet that walk their path.

For me, my approach to ‘spirituality’ changed decades ago when I first began to actively study the Tree of Life. I was reading The Mystical Qabalah, the best approach to this glyph and system that has, in my opinion, ever been written. Dion Fortune, undoubtedly one of the most important writers of the past century or so in the magical field, writes with a down-to-earth clarity that illuminates the stuffy corners of the academic approach to mysticism…. two concepts that do not really go well together, but knowledge is a necessary fuel for understanding.

When I read the words ‘God made manifest in Nature’, I knew what I had been missing in my own approach.

When you see divinity, by whatever name you wish to call It or in whatever form you choose to picture It, made manifest in Nature… pervading everything, from the sand on the beach to the plants, animals… and even into the works of humankind, because they are, in many ways, as much part of nature as the nest or mating display of a bird… then you see the world and indeed all creation, through a different lens. There is a rightness about it that even finds space for what we see as ‘wrong’ because, in the wider scheme, everything has a place. Even darkness, pain and evil have something to teach, for how could we choose between two paths were we only to ever encounter one?

And, when you see the world through that lens, then how can you see your own life through any other? The spiritual life is life, warts and all. It is not something to aspire to, nor something to seek… it is neither distant from nor alien to our base human nature… it is everything we see, feel or experience… from going to the loo to washing dishes, from watching the rising of the sun to holding a dead sparrow in our hand. You do not have to find the spiritual in your everyday life, It is already there. It is life… and It is you.

A dismal dawn

It was a miserable Monday morning. Frozen fog clung to every branch and blade of grass, the temperature was well below zero and I had to be out early with the car.

The garage is just two miles from my home in normal circumstances, but the construction work for the new high speed railway line has made it into a five mile hike. The garage will normally run me home when I drop the car in to them for its MOT, but they are short staffed. The one bus of  the morning had just gone by the time I have negotiated the road closures and diversions and, to make matters worse, I could not make myself understood over the phone to the taxi company.

Shouting might have enabled them to hear me… but the pitiful croak that was all my voice could muster was not going to be able to maintain that volume for more than a few words. And then they hung up anyway.

I was cold, damp and shivering… I needed to get home and into the warm. I called my son, well used to the vagaries of my squeaky voice, and asked him to order me a taxi. He called back a few minutes later to tell me the two mile trip would cost me fifteen pounds… oh, the joys of living in a village… it couldn’t get much worse…

“Can I give you a lift?” said a voice out of nowhere. A runner of a similar age to myself was breathing great clouds of steam into the air. “I couldn’t help overhearing. Where are you going?” I told her, and loved the order in which she had asked the questions. She nodded at the oxygen tank on my back. “Are you in treatment?” I told her it was lung cancer… the one reason I could not just walk home. “My car is at the other end of the village, “ she said, weighing up the hill I would have to climb to accompany her, “wait here and I’ll be right back.”

How kind, I thought as I waited, little realising that she was not just parked at the other end of the village, she had actually run to get her car out of the garage, especially to take me home.

As we drove, she quizzed me about the prognosis and treatment and told me all about her friend who had also been diagnosed with incurable cancer, but who, with treatment similar to mine, has been healthy for years. It did not matter that every case is different, that the treatment and our response to it varies, what mattered was her kindness as she spoke with a certain amount of knowledge, reassuring without promising, adding a little hope to an otherwise dismal day.

Although the sun has not pierced the fog today, although the chill has lingered and has refused to be chased away, a little touch of kindness brought light and warmth to the morning. It takes very little sometimes to turn the day around, no matter how dull or how dismally it begins.

Weird world

Diana Avebury (9)

“GHOST, n. The outward and visible sign of an inward fear.”
Devil’s Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce

I was looking for some information and came across a video of a paranormal investigation at a place we are very familiar with… Avebury. It centred on the old Red Lion pub, reputed to be haunted by a whole host of ghostly presences; from the shade of Florrie, thrown down the well in what is now the dining room by a jealous husband, to the bedrooms that have seen guests packing their bags in the middle of the night and vowing never to come back, right through to the spectral coach and horses that clatters into the yard. I watched out of curiosity, enjoying the glimpses behind the scenes of the 16th century inn I know so well.

A further bit of browsing took me through several other clips along the same lines, and while it may make for popular entertainment, it does little to substantiate the insubstantial, seeming instead to offer such a clichéd approach that it is more likely to cause people to be dismissive than to question whether there might actually be some truth in the phenomena.

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I am not a blind believer in much of what is purportedly paranormal activity, particularly as it is shown in popular media. I am sceptical and will always look for the logical explanation, while thoroughly enjoying the old tales. On the other hand scepticism does not discount belief and I am more than willing to admit that there are a good many ‘more things in heaven and earth, Horatio’ than we can account for with logic.

Over the years I have experienced enough subjective examples of such weirdness to be convinced that there are layers of reality not measurable by the scientific means currently at our disposal. We are, however, constantly developing new ways and technologies with which to see and understand our world. Just because we cannot prove something empirically or scientifically at this stage of our evolution does not mean we will never be able to do so and the anecdotal evidence of centuries holds some fascinating trails.

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We may not even be asking the right questions as we attempt to define the unexplained. Is the perception of a ghostly figure a manifestation in space or across time? And if the latter, which may not exist at all as the linear phenomenon we generally accept, how could we measure it? Or is it perhaps that the mind gives form to something less tangible, something sensed at a subliminal level?

“MIND, n. A mysterious form of matter secreted by the brain.
Devil’s Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce

The mind itself is an unexplained object in many ways. We know so very little about its workings or its capacities. We are intimately acquainted with our own mind and believe without question in the invisible but seemingly evident minds of others. Yet, let’s be fair, we’re not even sure where the mind is, although we can probably agree that the brain is its primary vehicle of expression; a junction box that brings that insubstantial and elusive quality of self-awareness into physical and measurable manifestation. Perhaps we underestimate its capabilities as well as its whereabouts?

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“ELECTRICITY, n. The power that causes all natural phenomena not known to be caused by something else.”
Devil’s Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce

There are, after all, a good many things we simply cannot see and do not know, yet we can deduce an explanation… a description… from the actions of their presence, absence or combination with other materials or forces. Think about electricity, for example. Without it you wouldn’t be reading this. We know how to generate, capture, direct and harness it. There are long scientific papers about electrons, particles and flow, but I’m still not sure we know what it actually is. ‘Life’ is another…some of the ‘definitions’ are wonderful examples of the way we accept description without question rather than realising we simply have no clear answer.

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“LIFE, n. : A spiritual pickle preserving the body from decay.
We live in daily apprehension of its loss; yet when lost it is not missed.”
Devil’s Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce

But then, would we really want to take all the unknowns out of life? Where would be the sense of wonder or the joy of discovery if we were omniscient? For me the mystery is half the beauty.

Changing tides

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He tripped, catching the pointed toe of the winklepickers on the kerb. Righting himself he looked around, his eyes darting self-consciously to seek out any possible observer, even while he reassumed his pose of studied nonchalance. Do they even call them winklepickers these days? From the anonymity of the car, I watched… the shutter of memory capturing the scene in vivid detail.

I took in, with some appreciation, the shiny black shoes, drainpipe jeans and striped shirt. Honey gold hair, worn a little too long to be called short, carefully coaxed across his brow. From one hand dangled a blue jacket… but what had caught my attention was the brown waistcoat and large, black satin bow tie.

This was a late summer Saturday. His attire both too warm and too contrived to be casual. An incongruous look, even if he was going to a wedding or other social gathering. Heading in the direction of the town centre and around fifteen, at a guess, I couldn’t see him making his way to such a function alone. The town and the plate glass reflections of shop windows were, I guessed, his goal. And possibly a girl. He looked nervous enough.

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You could read his emotions in the way he walked… every step seeming to shout ‘look at me!’, even while something in his stance suggested he still wondered if he looked as cool as he felt or as idiotic as his father may have told him.

I smiled to myself; a mother of sons. There is something very fragile about those first, tentative steps into a grown-up world of independence and learning to express the person you know yourself to be on the inside. It is a time of great vulnerability when the desire for acceptance and approval can lead to you conforming to the patterns laid by others, responding to their image of who you ‘should’ be.. and a time when the fledgling wings are easily clipped, damaged or irreparably broken by an unkind word or a lack of trust in your ability to become an individual in your own right.

The indulgent smile froze for a moment as I realised that some aspects of teenagerhood are not reserved for teenagers… but can happen to us all at any point in our lives. I thought about my hair.

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It is now non-existent, lost to chemotherapy…a temporary state, I can hope. It had once been dyed red , but although it had felt outrageous, in retrospect it was fairly tame, almost natural. A small, domesticated and timid attempt at self-expression. It had been building for a while and though the mahogany was quickly allowed to fade back to propriety, the lava was rising.

I was in my fifties when I dyed my hair rebellious; a colour somewhere between disaster and flame. It was short too; I had hacked it off with the meat shears in an act of sheer defiance… carving an image that owed no thought to anything but my own freedom to choose. I loved it. It carried danger signals and waved a flag of independence, screaming in no uncertain terms that enough was enough and I would no longer take either the garbage or the begrudged crumbs of affection upon which I had subsisted for far too long. I had no idea where this was going, but that it was going to go somewhere… anywhere….I was very certain….

Basically, I was little more than a come-again teenager, facing the world all guns blazing to assert a self-image I had yet to form and a confidence I had yet to feel. It was a time of change and reaction where I tore off the masks I had allowed to take up residence and began to wear instead the passion for life that I had always felt and kept locked primly away in the staid closet of domesticity.

Such a conflagration can go either way… but having once embraced the searing of the flames, I grew to love the contentment of the warmth of glowing embers. I did not need to display the blazon of a passion that will always burn. The challenge became a more carefree confidence, the red once more its gentler, natural shade, though now comfortably streaked with silver and growing wild. Outwardly, I have come full circle, back to the place I began, yet I see now through different eyes from another arc of the spiral of understanding.

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Major changes always bring on a moment of panic, while the wave rises high and gathers momentum. A new job, new parenthood, the end of a relationship or the beginning of a shared life… all call for us to readjust our perception of who we are as values and the demands we make upon ourselves are shaken out of their accustomed patterns and rearranged. We can change our style, choose a different expression of who we are, or who we want the world to perceive, but these are no more than outer manifestations of an inner state of mind and heart. At some level of consciousness we are always wondering who we will be when the wave of change finally crashes to the shore, spreading its fanning arches of foam across our lives.

As I watched the youngster walk up the hill, I realised I could not have told him the answer to that question…it is always one we have to learn for ourselves through lived experience. We will be who we have always been… our essential self does not change; we may learn and grow, we may alter our perspectives, swap one mask for another or discard them altogether… We may seem to recede into our own shadow or blossom in the sunlit fields of joy… but the essence of our true Self remains as clear and pure as the day we were born…and at any moment we may turn and drink from the well of being that resides within.

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The long night

The seasons turn as we approach the turning point, the Solstice… the longest night… just three short weeks away. And yet, the sky is beautiful this morning, a clear, deep blue graced with the lights of heaven. The world is still and silent, even the birds are hushed as dawn creeps over the horizon of a rain-washed world. The moon lights the village and touches the rooftops with silver. Branches are down in the lane and few are the leaves that still cling tenaciously to the trees, most stripped away by the vicious fingers of winter winds.

There is such strength in the grasp of leaf to twig, both so fragile they can be plucked and broken by a child, yet the bond of life so strong it can withstand the most inclement weather. Until it is time for them to fall.

Even when the leaves fall it is part of a greater renewal, the confetti of the marriage of the seasons, nourishing the earth and the tree from whence they fell. The tree sleeps through the winter, seemingly lifeless, husbanding its resources against the coming of spring. Beneath the skeletal surface of this dying time the life within shapes new leaves and blossoms, waiting in pregnant patience for the warm kiss of the sun.

northagain 064Leaves fall, branches break… the old and sere stripped away by the turning wheel of the year, clearing the way for a green birth.

There is so much laid out before us, even in the avenues of our city streets. The life of nature is so strong and so beautifully balanced. So easy to damage when, with careless hands her children grasp at her skirts, taking anything that claims their attention and desire… yet strong enough to recover when we are no more.

In the little wood where we sometimes walk, the small dog and I, man has left his traces. From the earliest times, track and road have passed this way. From the air, the circled marks of ancient homes can be seen in the fields, the line of a Roman road, lost now to plough and furrow. And still we carve this little patch of green to serve our needs. Yet as soon as we turn our back the wild things cover our tracks, reclaiming the earth for themselves, our little lives more fragile than their delicate blooms.

In towns and cities, sites and factories that were once hives of industry fall silent as technology moves on and we are proud of our advances, not noticing the quiet crown of plant and sapling our forgotten edifices wear, the gentle but inexorable hand of nature taking back her own as soon as we depart.

The seasons of the earth are echoed too within our own lives… we are part of the cycle, our bodies dance to the same natal song of the seasons. Life springs from death, death from life in an endless round.

northagain 108The cadence is echoed within us as we laugh for joy beneath the sun of summer and weep in grief when winter touches our hearts. In the dark days, we too may feel as if leaf and branch are being stripped from us, battered by the winds of change and the storms of emotion. Yet like the trees only the damaged and broken falls from us… the green heart is strong and holds the pattern of renewal within itself.

As the wheel turns it is easy to become lost in the dark days, feeling a verdant spring to be too far to reach, fearing in the shadows that it will not come. Perhaps, like the trees, we too are then husbanding our strength, withdrawing within where growth and renewal can work their magic unseen, ready to blossom at the first touch of the sun.

When the Solstice comes, the world, still facing the worst of winter, turns almost unnoticed towards summer. We know this, yet the winter is still to be endured. The days will lengthen, the light will be bright on days covered in snow, ice is yet to break open the cracked stones, and we will huddle by our hearths as if there is no warmth in the world, forgetting that we have passed the nadir and the eternal dance of the seasons carries us onwards towards a brighter dawn.

When we are lost in grief, gripped by the cold of fear, it is hard to see that light at the end of the tunnel, hard to believe that we have passed the worst point when we see a dark road still looming ahead. Yet this is the rhythm of life itself, as the earth holds us in the reassuring and loving embrace of a Mother and shows us that not all is lost in winter, it merely endures the frost while within, nourished by the fallen leaves that were stripped away by the storms and the turning year, the green life springs anew.

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A foggy morning

fog 014I scrape the ice from the windscreen, looking with little enthusiasm at the heavy pall of fog that blankets the world. November… we’ve done well to make it this far without ice on the windows. Even so, my fingers are already that peculiar shade of blue that I forget about through the summer, only to be painfully reminded by the first frost. I must dig the gloves out, I suppose.

The oversized fleece is warm, the sweater beneath making me feel heavier than I should. I slide into a car that feels damp and chill. I have things to do outside today at my son’s home, but first I have to get there, and, of course, it is rush hour, such as it is in lockdown. The roads are choked with slow-moving traffic, the morning rat-run exacerbated by roadworks. I wait, feigning patience, for a gap through which I can dart into the flow of traffic.

Cars, mostly silver on this grey day, glide like silent ghosts, too slowly for their engine noise to pierce the shrouding fog. Their outlines are blurred, visibility is poor and the inside of the windscreen is fogged by my breath as I join the snaking line of cars that move in macabre procession towards a town where few wish to be. You can almost feel the reluctance of the drivers who head to work, called to spend our days earning the living which leaves us so little time or energy for life. We move so slowly it feels like a funeral.

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I can see the silhouettes of birds perched in spectral trees, the looming monsters that seem to appear without warning as the trucks come towards you on the narrow road, their lights predatory eyes that open to pounce upon the unwary. The camera is in my bag and I would love to be able to stop and explore, capturing the misty magic of the fields and woods, seeking the beauty I know awaits just off the beaten track. There are so many ways I could have chosen… over the hills, through little lost villages… beneath skeletal trees denuded of leaves…

I can’t, though, as I am already running later than expected.

Leaving the village behind, the road cuts through the low lying fields and here the fog thickens. The road itself becomes almost invisible; the only guide is the dull red glow of the tail-lights in front. Car follows car into nothingness, trusting that those ahead know the way. Each car is an island in a grey sea. Behind are the points of white light of those who follow, trusting me as blindly as I trust those ahead. Unable to see, you are acutely aware that the only ones who actually know where they are have already arrived at the destination we all share; the town with its lights and the warmth that dissipates the mist.

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I wonder about that. The weather echoes part of our own journey. We follow the stream, often through necessity rather than choice. Yet the stream draws us… there is safety on a beaten track, security in following a trail lit by the journey of others, even if we only trust… rather than know… that those who have passed this way before know where they are going. Some, we assume, must have made it to our common goal and it is from them that the stream leads back to where we are. Yet I have to wonder how much we miss by sticking to the known route; failing to explore the hidden wonders that are veiled by the mists along the way.

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