emergence

Heavy metal, thinly sailed, is cast

Like toy, and dropped onto the stone.

Hedges bend, bow and form

New writhing shapes – grotesques –

Their twisted tongues malforming names

Of foolish men who thought to tame

The wild and winds of Cumbria…

——–

And yet, from this we do emerge

In harsh, unruly tufts of grass

And mud that drains off torrents passed.

Bleached and battered, humbled, mute

To greet like rite the coming Spring

With eyes washed clean of Winter.

——–

©Stephen Tanham 2022

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

‘Fly away home…’

derbyday 490

The ladybird was swimming desperately as I scooped it out, feeling that little rush of warmth at having rescued the tiny creature from a watery death. It wasn’t happy, but I placed it on the side of the sink to dry out while I soaked. I would take it outside when I was clad in something more decorous than a towel.

From my supine position in the steam, I could see it begin to move, flexing its legs and shifting on the slippery surface; a tiny splash of colour against the porcelain. I like ladybirds. As a child, they always fascinated me and I was almost offended when I read that they could bite. Surely… they wouldn’t?

They are called ladybirds, apparently, for the Virgin Mary, who was often shown cloaked in red in the early paintings. The seven spots of one of the commonest types were said to symbolise her joys and her sorrows. There is an older association, with the Norse goddess, Freya too; it is said the ladybird came to earth riding a bolt of lightning There is a lot of old lore about them… as predictors of weather, for instance. It would rain if one fell into your hand. It is true they do not fly when the world is chilled.

This one, however, was recovering nicely in the warmth of the bathroom. As I dried and dressed I thought that perhaps I would only need to open the window for it shortly for it to ‘fly away home’… I watched it flex the fragile wings, glad to see it unfurl them. A short flight and it landed in the bowl of the sink as I was running the tap… and slid straight down the plughole, carried by the force of water into oblivion. There was nothing I could do, the little creature was gone.

I waited a while, hoping to see it re-emerge in the manner of the spiders that hide there when threatened. Nothing. There would be no happy ending for this harbinger of good fortune. I was, I admit, quite upset by the incident, having saved it from drowning just minutes before, only to have assisted its passing with the running water.

I couldn’t help but think about it though. It is said in many cultures that the number of our days is predetermined. If it was the ladybird’s time, then perhaps there really was nothing I could have done. Perhaps it only mattered that I had cared enough to try.

sheffield book weekend 046

I thought of the verses from Ecclesiastes, relevant regardless of faith:

To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones,
and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to get, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time of war, and a time of peace.

I am not a believer in strict predestination, though I do subscribe to the belief that we choose the broader outlines of our lives in order to provide us with the opportunities we need that we may learn and grow; a vessel into which the wine of life is poured. I am a firm believer in the gift of free will and the ability to shape our lives and futures within a greater Perfection. I do, however, feel that there is ‘a season and a time to every purpose’.

There is an intuitive understanding of when the time is ‘right’ that most of us feel; a tide of possibility that ebbs and flows with the seasons of our lives, and while some things carry an air of obstinate inevitability, others open before us as new landscapes full of adventure. At these moments we have a choice, whether we retreat to safe familiarity, or move forwards, through the open door into the unknown. At such times we cannot know whether a dragon or a pot of gold awaits us, only whether or not we have the courage to find out.

Yet there are other times when we know we simply need to be still, to find an oasis of calm within ourselves, away from the hustle and bustle of a world that moves too fast around us. A place to breathe and simply be… right here, right now.

And then there are the times when events move beyond our control and we can do nothing to change them. Yet even here we do have choices… we can ride that ever-flowing wave of time and tide and face inevitability in a manner of our choosing. And we can choose to learn and grow, even from the smallest event. In this way, even the seeming vagaries of fate are at the mercy of a reality altered by will. When the ladybird goes down the plughole, in spite of all your efforts, you have a choice… will you simply shrug and move on, grieve and salute the passing of a life, however small… and will you have learned to ensure that the plug is secure next time?

scotland-trip-jan-15-0611

The road…

I left after work on Thursday, driving north for the last Silent Eye meeting before the April workshop. The sun was shining, the day was balmy… spring had, it seemed, finally sprung after the torrential rain that had battered the land all night. Six counties, several road closures and five hours later, I had driven through spring and back into a watery world where the rain lashed the windscreen faster than the wipers could clear it.

Yet the sun greeted me again as I drove over the Derbyshire hills and into Yorkshire. Traces of white winter lingered in the lee of stone walls where the shadows preserved the last remnants of snow. Daffodils strained at the leash, wanting only a little warmth to burst forth in all their golden glory… and then I hit a wall of fog and I was glad to reach my destination and dinner.

The next day we headed back across the hills to Greater Manchester for the meeting… and later inched our way home, gripping tight to the wheel, as the fog enclosed us. We could see no more than a couple of yards ahead as we drove across the unlit hills on narrow, twisting roads and were grateful to reach the relative safety of the freezing-cold city. And then, as if that wasn’t enough…the next day, it snowed.

It snowed most of the day while we worked, but did not choose to settle until we had ventured out in search of food. Less than an hour over a late lunch and we found the car covered in a thick layer of the white stuff. And then… it snowed some more, squashing the winter pansies in their pots, covering the city in a silent shroud.

We were pretty much stuck, at the mercy of what the weather was doing, and could only wait for the roads to clear just enough for safety before venturing out the next day. The world was beautiful… but, as we essayed the roads I would have to take to drive south, full of dangers.

Roads which seemed passable were soon snow-bound. Vehicles were abandoned in drifts several feet deep. The few inches of powdery snow that had fallen was being whipped by the wind into great, white plumes that heaped fresh hazards on the road and, overnight, the packed snow and slush turned to ice.

The drive home was not an easy one and I could not predict the way I would have to go, but I was determined to get home for my son’s birthday. As long as I stayed on the main roads, it was not too difficult to drive, but beyond Bakewell, the ‘main’ roads are narrow, winding lanes across exposed moors and fields. There was a point at which I should have turned back, were I being sensible…and were there anywhere to turn.  The little car skied and skittered down slopes of packed ice, on roads you could no longer see. I could not take my usual route, but followed the clearest roads, knowing that just a few miles away was a real main road… and that would be clear. Or so I thought.

The main road was clear… except where it wasn’t. Huge drifts of snow, twice as high as the car, bounded the road. Where the wind could blow them, the road was buried. So were the abandoned cars. Such refuge as one would normally find… like the stopping places and pubs… were completely cut off. Once you were on the road, all you could do was drive.

Or stop, when rescue operations blocked the road. There is always a silver lining, if you look for it and there was a bright side to this; parked at the head of a line of waiting traffic, right next to Gib Hill at Arbor Low, was one of the few chances I had to take pictures.

The local farmer hauled the stranded car down from the heap of snow and we set off again. There was little snow on the fields… it all seemed to have congregated in the roadside drifts. This made all the usually-hidden features visible. Standing stones stood out, dark against the white. Old earthworks and medieval ridge-and-furrow fields were easy to see, highlighted by the snow and the rays of the rising sun turned whole swathes of the landscape to silver.

Leaving the hills behind, the roads became less hazardous and I relaxed into the journey.  Driving south, the snow lessened and melted in the warm sun. By the time I left my son’s and finished my day, there was barely a trace of snow to be seen. The weather that had played such a part in the past few days was once again balmy and vernal.

I could not help seeing the analogy with the greater  journey that we take through life. Even if we think we know where we are going, the road always has surprises in store for us. Some of them are beautiful… some hazardous, but all are unpredictable.

There will always be times when we are forced into taking an unplanned route, diverted from our path by force majeur. There will be times when, no matter what we do, the conditions of the journey prevent us from seeing the road ahead. We will be blinded by a deluge of tears, buried beneath the weight of grief or lost in a fog of indecision, not knowing which way to turn.

We will, without a doubt, sometimes feel that we will never reach our destination. But, just as surely, there will be a helping hand to pull us back from the brink… a ray of sunshine through the dark clouds that gather round us, or a moment of beauty to lift the spirits. And somewhere along the way, there will be the warmth and welcome of love.

All journeys have a beginning and an end, though where or when either of those may be, is a question we may never be able to answer. Does a journey begin when you place your foot on the path or long before the decision is made to travel? Does it end when you arrive at your destination, or is that merely a stop on the way? Spring has its beginnings in the deep darkness of winter. Seeds sown in spring will blossom in summer and, in turn, produce their own fruit in autumn.  The road, like the cycle of life is endless…and both will lead us home.

Weather window…

For the past few days I have up to the proverbials in rose-thorns, leaf litter, mud and, inadvertently, the stream that runs through my son’s garden. I may have moaned about the cold and the wet, and the  sojourn in the stream was entirely unplanned, but I do enjoy gardening. Not so much the wafting around with a pair of secateurs, dead-heading the blooms and tutting at the greenfly, but more the heavy-duty stuff. I have always enjoyed digging…though that will not stop me complaining about it, just on principle, and if I didn’t, my joints would do it for me.

Last year, the winter weather set in before I had put either my garden or my son’s to bed for the year, so this year I was determined to get it done. I managed to get my grass short before the ground became too waterlogged to mow it, but what with one thing and another, this week was the first chance I have had to tackle the bigger job at my son’s home.

That has not been too much of a problem as, until the last few days, there has been no frost and the weather has been unseasonably mild. The roses are still in full bloom, as is the fuchsia, coreopsis and even some of the bedding begonias… it seemed a shame to curtail such persistent beauty.

Even so, this is England at the end of November…time was running out and a weather window presented itself that was too good to miss. Several consecutive days of dry, sunny weather… and if it was going to be cold, the work I needed to do, I thought, would keep me warm. I was wrong about that… the temperature plummeted and the spray from the jet-washer would have made a snowman shiver.

After yesterday’s mishap, falling in the stream, I really did not feel like driving back down there today and starting again, but it was another sunny day…and how many more of those can I expect? So, I got the job done….and, as I drove home, finally satisfied with the results, I saw rain clouds coming in and the first drops beginning to fall.

Weather, like life itself, is notoriously unpredictable, even when the forecast looks good, anything can happen. That recalcitrant butterfly in far-off climes can cause havoc with the wind patterns and bring the rain clouds early, putting paid to any idea of ‘leaving it till tomorrow’.

You have to accept what the day offers and run with it. Refuse or procrastinate, and the opportunity may not come again to achieve what it is that you desire. How often do we dream our dreams and think ‘if only’ or ‘I will do it when…’ We put things off until some future date because the conditions are not quite what we would like….only to find that, when that ‘when’ arrives, it is too late. We no longer have the freedom, youth, money or health to seek the fulfilment of our dreams.

A weather window does not always mean getting perfect weather. It may indeed be sunny, but the temperature may be sub-zero. It could be warm enough…but raining. It does not have to be perfect…we just need it to be sufficiently okay to get the job done.

Had I not cleared the garden for winter, the garden would not have minded. It continues to grow as it will whether it is scrubbed and trimmed or not. But, had I not done the garden, I would not have spotted that one of the local stray cats has hurt its paw and so could not have tried to help. I would not have had the joy of watching the wren and the blackbirds, seen the squirrel scurrying through the branches or smiled at the curious kite circling overhead. I would not have had the robins following me for days, so close I could have touched them and I would not have seen the first signs of spring piercing the earth.

And, had I put the job off because, in spite of the sun, it was very cold, the garden would have survived the winter but, come spring, its treasures would have been hidden beneath the dead leaves and sprawling thorns. When spring comes again, the clematis flowers would have been drowned in dead branches and the tiny roses lost in the evergreens.

There is a season for everything, and a garden teaches you that not only are its needs seasonal because of the weather patterns, but present and future gifts depend on them being done when the time is right. Tomorrow’s beauty depends upon what you are prepared to do today.

Weather windows come when they will, for gardens, and for dreams. We have to be ready to accept them, even if they do not seem perfect… because not only may they never come again, but sometimes, what does not seem quite right, may turn out to be just perfect after all.

Watching the flowers grow…

I was convinced it was Sunday. The roads were quieter than usual on my way to work and that is a sure sign that it is a Sunday. Not because there is less traffic on the roads, but simply because, the shops being shut until ten, there are few cars about at half past seven in the morning. It took me until Tuesday to realise it had been Monday and the schools were on holiday.

There was a time when I would not have needed that particular clue. Working a regular job and having children meant that such alterations to routine were always eagerly awaited; holidays and weekends announced themselves loudly in our lives instead of sneaking up on me or laying in ambush to catch me unawares. I no longer have children of school age… in fact, my youngest son has a daughter of his own already in school… and for the past eight years I have worked seven days a week, except when I have been on the road. Like school holidays, weekends have ceased to exist, unless I am away. The passage of time I am all too aware of, but the specifics elude me as I no longer have those accustomed  markers to remind me of where I stand within its flow.

It is an odd thing, this notion of time. It rules our lives with an iron rod and yet there is no consistency to it. In Britain these days, we are not allowed out of the house for a couple of weeks after we are born… we wait a set amount of years then must begin school, and a scant few years later, we are expected to behave with the supposed wisdom of adulthood yet are allowed none of its privileges.We can legally marry and have children at sixteen, but cannot drive, drink alcohol or vote.

Youth, middle age and old age are defined by numerical averages that have no meaning to those at the extremes of the spectrum of health or attitude. We can qualify for retirement homes at fifty-five and because of that age can be classified as ‘vulnerable’… yet the minimum age for the state pension is sixty-seven.

We live our lives by clock and calendar, regulating our own internal rhythms to the required and prescribed status quo… until Daylight Savings kick in and throw us out by an hour.  And, although we may moan and groan about all of these things… especially here in Britain where it seems to be a national pastime… we simply accept the imposition of artificial timetable on our lives.

We don’t even think about that…  Time itself may be a frame for perception, but the regulated time to which we daily and yearly submit is no more than a corporate convenience, an organisational tool. I do not advocate a complete disregard for this organisation… society as we know it would cease to function without its order and shibboleths, but I wonder if we place too much value on our adherence to the accepted norm and our judgement of ourselves within its confines.

As I drove to work, the dawn was breaking. It struck me, in one of those ‘why didn’t I realise that before’ moments,  that it does so every day. The leaves are turning and falling in golden drifts as autumn kisses summer goodbye as it does every year. Neither the sun, nor the rest of Nature, gets a weekend or a holiday. Weekends do not exist, nor do Monday mornings, nor, in fact, do any of the days of the week. Years and days are astronomical events, months no longer follow the lunar cycle. Weeks are no more than mathematical constructs, designed not to reflect time, but to contain it.

On the other hand, the sun never has to start early or work later than its alloted duty. Nothing is born, comes to maturity or dies before the ‘right’ time. Nothing retires, it simply evolves, following a natural rhythm dictated by fitness for function. Maiden, mother crone… child, warrior, sage… all enabled and limited by Nature herself; the transition individual, not regulated.

Plant a seed and, when soil and season conspire to make the right conditions it will germinate and grow. The manner of its growth and health will be influenced by both its own nature and its environment. Force it to maturity before its time and it will lose strength, cut it before its time and it will add neither fruit nor seed to the riches of the earth.

We may have to accede to convention and a societal need for order, but we do not have to do so blindly. Nor are we obliged to impose upon our inner selves the constraints and expectations of external time. We can be what we are, not what our acquired expectations make us think we should be. We do not have to obey all the ‘rules’ We need not grow old before our minds and bodies are ready, nor do we have to stay young longer than is right for us. And even then, we can be old and wise one minute, a child full of wonder the next. Our outer lives may be subject to the clock, but our inner growth cannot be forced and is ruled only by natural time.