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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Going west – a ‘misty, moisty morning’

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We had enjoyed two glorious days of sunshine in Pembrokeshire. Drawing back the curtains of a room that had boasted a clear view of the sea the night before, it seemed that the morning would bring us a different view of Wales. Heavy sea-mist clung to every bush and every blade of grass was bent beneath the weight of water. I forced protesting feet back into the confinement of walking shoes. Like it or not, I would need the secure grip they offered on the slippery path. The rain fell doggedly… not heavily, just enough to stoically resist any attempt at intrusion by the sun and ensure that we would be thoroughly drenched.  It would make photography difficult, with a constant search for some dry shred of clothing to clear the lens, but there was something entirely fitting about the mist.

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The coastal path we would be walking is beautiful in the sunshine. The waters are crystal clear, with every pebble visible through the shifting sparkle of blue and turquoise. In the mist, you walk outside of time in a landscape full of mystery. Islands, barely seen through the veil, seem to hover as if magically suspended and you get a glimpse of how the oldest legends were born… and why Wales is hailed the birthplace of so many of them. Every so often a window would open through the mist, revealing the promise of beauty, just for a moment, before swallowing the tantalising vista. The cliffs became a place of ghosts and forgotten voices that whispered in the rain.

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The mist softened the distance between the leading party and the few of us walking at a slower pace, making each cluster of souls an island in the brume. For once, I was reluctant to hurry on and catch up, in spite of the rain… there is something  quite unique about the sea-silence that seems to gather at the edges of the heart, waiting to share its secrets.

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We were walking what must once have been part of a pilgrim route along the cliff tops. To our right, fields and flowers waved bowed heads in the invisible breeze. Beneath us, to the left,  small rocky bays invited exploration on brighter days. The saturated earth glowed with countless shades of vivid green, splashed with the colours of summer. From every cliff, ancient faces seemed to watch the way to the little chapel that was our goal.

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When the diminutive shape of St Non’s finally emerged from the mist, I greeted the sight with mixed feelings. It is a place I have long wanted to visit and I was very glad that finally, I was about to do so. It would undoubtedly be good to shelter from the weather for a little while too and simply sit in the quiet of the chapel, resting my unforgiving feet. But there was a part of me that was in no hurry to leave the mists and return to the ‘real’ world; the warmth and friendship in the human voices of my friends would drown the chill song of the western seas that calls to some far memory whose shade haunts my blood.

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