Bittersweet

The misty dawn blushed a soft, rosy pink, probably  embarrassed by the number of clichés it was inviting. It had begun with a delicate glow, suffusing the rising mist with gold as I shivered on the doorstep, then painted the world in pastel colours, as gentle as an apology. As the sun rose, the temperature plummeted, the swirling mists turned to fog and you could almost see the ice crystals forming. Another morning was born…

The sudden frost highlighted every detail of plants still resolutely green, each strand of spider silk and the edge of every fallen leaf. The ordinary became beautiful. Details that are overlooked a hundred times a day were limned in crystal and became unmissable… yet, but for necessity, I would have taken the option of comfort, stayed warm indoors and seen nothing. As I scraped the ice from the windscreen of the car, I was once again struck by how simple it is to learn the lessons of life by observing Nature at work. My own experience of the morning was one of frozen fingers and yet, the bitter frost served only to highlight a beauty that might otherwise have been missed.

Necessity and inevitability so often lead us into bitter and painful situations, but without them as a contrast, would we…could we…truly appreciate all that is right in our world? Would we notice a dawn if the sky always wore the colours of sunrise or do we need to experience darkness in order to understand the essence of light? Looking around too, I noted that while some plants were still green and would remain so in spite of the coming cold of winter, others were sere and brittle, giving every appearance of being mere skeletons of the vibrant life they once wore. Yet here too, Nature teaches, for beneath the soil, those brittle bones wait only for spring to grow once more… different in appearance, perhaps, but still essentially the same.

There was nothing new in those thoughts… no fanfare, no great revelation. It was no more than a gentle reminder, a reassurance that we are never called upon to make sense of this world and its upheavals on our own. There is always a teacher on our doorstep, always a deeper wisdom than our own, older and with experience of all that has ever been. It knows the tides of night and day, of winter and summer, freedom and necessity…and it is poised to teach us, every day. We do not always listen, we are wayward students and easily distracted, but the earth knows her children well and repeats her cycles, waiting for our chattering minds to quiet and allow us to understand. And when we do…when we listen… sometimes, it seems as if she smiles.

Magical mornings

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It was a luminous dawn, the world blanketed in a thick cocoon of frost against the darkness and silence of a newborn morning. The sun rose, pale and gold, strewing a million diamonds on the tarmac path; setting a fire in the heart of ice. There is a magic in the morning light that seems to bathe even the hard edges of winter in a soft glow. Where the light streams, its gentle warmth sends showers of tiny droplets glinting to earth, yet where the shadows hang heavy, the frost lingers, clinging to the day with hoary fingers.

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Looking down, splashes of unexpected colour stand out against the whitened world… the scarlet stalks of ivy and bramble, the earth tones of autumnal remains and the vibrant shades of the evergreens. Details, hitherto unnoticed, leap to the attention, thrown into relief by the blank canvas of the frost. Shapes unseen are highlighted; fractal patterns that seem to hold the story of creation in their humble familiarity.

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Looking up, the birds are waking, stretching chilled wings against the morning. I wonder at them… their delicate frames and fragile bones kept safe through the frozen night by no more than a feather. So tiny, so light, yet they can fly against the storm winds and through the battering of the rains. This morning I watched the sparrows as they woke, fluffing their plumage as we might shake an eiderdown. Such busy little birds, clinging to the smallest perch to watch the day begin.

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Light strikes the trees, turning them golden as the sun rises higher, painting the doves pink and waking the jackdaws in a flurry of wings. On the low roof the frost crystals turn the little clumps of moss into the hollow hills and forests of a faery landscape where imagination walks, painting tales of otherworlds to be explored. Even the cars are clad in jewelled fur that makes them look like the surface of some fantastic planet.

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I love mornings like this. They truly are magical, both to see and to ponder, when the delicate overlay of a winter frost changes everything and yet the beauties revealed by the frost are always there, just waiting for us to see them. We are blind to the familiar world, habituated to its presence. It takes change to open our eyes and hearts to what is already there waiting for us. In this way such a morning reflects the journey of the seeker; turning to face the light of being and seeing that no matter how far the journey may lead him, no matter how many changes may come, his destination has always been a place he never left.

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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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Frost-flowers

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Could I stop the car and get a picture? No. The narrow roads of the Derbyshire Dales are simply not wide enough to just pull over where you will. I know every stopping place on that road and have probably stopped in all of them to wield the camera at some point over the past few years. I knew that there would be nowhere to park, so drove on, drinking in the beauty of a magical land.

I had left a grey, mizzling day behind me, but the weather followed, depressingly monotonous. It takes more than a dismal day to depress me when I head north, leaving the place where I live for the place where I come alive. The road holds many personal landmarks for me, marking stages on the journey from south to north. There is the arbitrary point where it ‘feels’ as if I have left the south behind… then a stretch of anticipation thirty miles wide leads to the point where ‘north’ begins. Finally, there is the crest of a hill… and as I drive down it I can see the high peaks on the horizon.

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One last town and I am there. In the north. The land rises, all green and black on a damp, winter afternoon, until the hills open out as you reach the high places and ancient sites curve against the sky. The green is vivid, the clouds low and the temperature drops. Buzzards watch from the hedgerows and as they lift on great, speckled wings, they carry my heart with them. It is always the same.

Except, this time it was different… and truly magical. The clouds had come down, enveloping the world in soft mist. The damp grass glowed with a green fire again the chill. But the trees and the dried stems of a forgotten summer were white… pristine white with a thick coating of hoar-frost. They seemed made of spun-glass or sugar, delicate and friable, yet they are hardy and withstand the worst of the English winters, high up on the hills. The perfect setting for a fairytale.

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I drove on, lost in breathless wonder at such ephemeral beauty. Some things are just gifts of the moment, not meant to be captured, but only lived and enjoyed. The frost on the trees would melt at the first breath of warmth, leaving only a memory of their delicate beauty.

The next day we were in Great Hucklow for the monthly meeting of the Silent Eye. Arriving early, we walked through the misty, frosty lanes; just as beautiful as the day before, but not quite as strange and ethereal as the frost-flowered trees against the brilliant green of the hills. There was a vague sense of disappointment… the scene was so close to the wonder of the day before… and yet, it was not quite the same. Still, at least, this time, I could take pictures.

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It was on leaving the village for the next leg of our journey that the magic unexpectedly returned unbidden and my companion saw the magic I had witnessed. Again, it was impossible to stop and photograph the strange, white trees against the green. It was almost a repeat of the previous day… and over almost as quickly as the car passed through the landscape.

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Ephemeral as they are, these gifts that touch the heart with a fleeting magic are more precious than those repeatable, habitual patterns that bind our days. You cannot go back to recapture any past moment, nor can you conjure at will the gifts that life or Nature gives. All you can do is be ready to accept them when they are given… ready to notice, moving through the world with attention and awareness… ready to live them to the full, then let them go. Sometimes the moment is the only thing you can share a moment with and memory the only lens through which it can be recorded. Like the frost-flowers, experiences melt away, leaving only the sheen of having been experienced in their wake, yet it is such moments that add a richness to our lives.

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