Summer weather…

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August tomorrow… high summer… when the rush-hour traffic melts away and the roads are driveable, even at eight in the morning. A time of beaches and sandcastles, of ice-cream and strawberries. Of flowerbeds that are a carnival of colour… of sunshine and suntans… Or, in England… fog, rain and plunging temperatures.

Opening the curtains this morning was a waste of time. It didn’t get any lighter, and one look outside was enough to realise that it probably wouldn’t. The dog eyed the rain that battered the roses and went back to bed with a look of disgust. I couldn’t blame her… but like it or not she needed a walk before I left for work. We agreed… eventually… that we would indeed venture beyond the threshold, but Ani displayed none of her usual enthusiasm. To Ani, water should be confined to the pools and streams where she can get a mud bath.

If there is one thing we are good at in England it is weather. The variations we manage are quite stunning. Yesterday I came home beetroot red, in spite of long sleeves and soft cotton. Today, I am thinking seriously about putting the heating on to dispel some of the mouldering and all-pervading dampness that seems to have settled on every surface. I am cold, my bones ache and it feels like December… except that winter is just as likely to be mild and sunny…

I have to wonder though. Is it summer? Or is that just an arbitrary division of the year to which we doggedly hold, bound in place by our ideas of family holidays and the closure of the schools? The earth seems to think otherwise. Technically, I suppose it is, but we are, after all, already closer to the autumnal equinox than summer solstice. The harvest is being gathered, bales of gold dot the fields, there are ripe blackberries on the brambles and many flowers have already set seed.

Maybe it is a question of semantics and association. Speak of summer and the mind wanders to balmy days, leisure and laughter. It is our image, based on the memories that spring to the surface when we say the word… yet time does not stand still and summer melds imperceptibly with autumn, just as it had melted from spring for one brief burst of glory.

We like to have things neat and tidy in our minds and speak of the ‘first day of summertime’ as if the seasons will change at our instigation, or at least with some modicum of punctuality, when in fact there is no immediate transformation, more a gradual blurring as the seasons flow, one into another. I think it may be because Nature is beyond our control that we seek to cage her with our definitions and timescales. No matter how we manipulate genetic coding, defy medical conditions or learn to use the forces of the natural world, we are, at some level, conscious that Mother Nature still looks on with maternal indulgence at our meagre efforts to harness natural laws and bring them to our service.

We can delay, but cannot conquer, death. We can fertilise an embryo in a Petrie dish… but can we actually give it life when we cannot even adequately define it? Or are we merely taking the raw materials that Nature has given us to form a vessel, in the same way that the potter takes clay and water to shape a cup to hold the wine?

As to the weather… we have no chance. Ask an Englishman…

Out of control

heather 2015 derbyshire, higger tor, beeley circle, edensor, bak 038The clock is ticking… there is far too much to do and never enough time. That’s the way things seem to be these days, with everyone keeping an eye on the clock and a tight rein on deadlines. We all have them, often hidden…whether it is the meal you need to have ready on time, the kids to pick up from school or the dental appointment you have to squeeze in after work. Deadlines come in all shapes and sizes and half the time we don’t even realise they are there. We call it routine and recognise the benefits of having a rhythm to our days that allows us to get through them with some modicum of reliability.

It can be comforting to know what is expected of you at any given moment… it is a safe place to be, in an odd sort of way and our tendency is to fill the time available with what we know needs to be done, balanced with what we actually want to do. Even leisure time is pretty much scheduled… an evening with friends, a couple of hours feet up in front of the TV… these things take on a regularity that lets us know where we are.

The more overt type of deadline can be a spur for many people; that last minute completion fuelled by adrenaline has a familiarity and carries a sense of achievement… as well as relief. We seem to have transferred our skills as hunter-gatherers to our modern way of life… hunting at our work, chasing the prey of success, either personal or corporate, and gathering moments of leisure like ripe fruits to savour.

As we squeeze more and more into our waking hours, the quality of leisure has entered a strange land of extremes where many feel they have to be seen to be enjoying themselves… always ‘doing’… Some take up hobbies they find relaxing, whilst yet others simply switch off and use the white noise of electronic media, to relax. We are, when you think about it, always trying to control how our days unfold.

How many of us simply… stop doing. Just sit, not furiously thinking about the next problem to be solved or task to do… but just sit and let our thoughts meander where they will, our hands unoccupied, without feeling any pressure or guilt at taking time out? Time to not do, just to be?

For all of us such time has real benefits in terms of relaxation and freedom from the stressors of daily life. It is a time when inspiration comes unbidden, a place where realisations can swirl to the forefront of the mind. It is an essential time of inner silence, where that ‘still, small voice’ can whisper to a consciousness ready to listen. Such moments are the times between time, a place where we simply open the doors and leave space for something greater than we to come in.