Bridge of smiles

It can seem hard to find anything to be glad about right now. The news reports are dire, we all have our wings clipped and although there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, we have, as yet, no idea how far away that might be… or even who amongst us will be around to see it. We are worried for our loved ones, missing those we cannot see because of the restrictions, concerned about finances, both personal and global… and the worries just seem to keep on coming.

Yet, silently standing… the requisite two metres apart… in the long queue of people waiting to be allowed entry into the corner shop,  I couldn’t help grinning like the Cheshire Cat. The sun was playing through the leaves of the trees, illuminating the tender greens of spring. The brightness cast shadows, highlighting the textures of bark and leaf. Banks of spring flowers were in bloom, carpets of delicate blue speedwell, bright daisies and dandelions scattered across the grass and the absence of traffic noise allowed the constant, busy chatter and chirp of the birds to be heard. The drone of bees and the quick flutter of butterflies filled the air. In spite of the worried expressions and occasional masked face, I really couldn’t help myself.

A bubble of pure joy in the moment, welling up from beyond the cares of the day, made the smile inevitable.  A young man facing me caught the smile and grinned back. A couple of eyebrows were raised as if in disapproval that we could find anything to smile about, but, for the most part, that young man’s smile was as infectious as the virus that was holding us captive on the threshold of the shop… and spread even faster.

An elderly lady behind me broke the silence… just a banality, a comment about it being nice to see a bit of sun. Another woman responded. Then another. A couple of the older ones recalled the post-war rationing and one told of being evacuated from his London home. You could see tense shoulders relaxing and postures changing as, still obeying the rules on social distancing, our little group connected with each other and within minutes, were all chatting like old friends.

We may have to physically keep our distance from each other as we wait for the crisis to pass… and it will… but we do not have to forget in the meantime that we are people with stories and laughter to share, advice and help to offer and, even in these shadowed times, access to joy when the sun shines.

Little miracles

“It’s a wild violet. A bit scruffy… it has lost a petal… but still…” The tiny purple flower peeked out from between the stones we had piled up at the base of the weigela to cocoon the roots that had sprouted from its stem in the old raised bed.
“Where did it come from?”
“It self-seeded…”
“That’s amazing…”

My son, with his nascent interest in gardening, has a lot to learn and is learning fast. Every day, the garden offers new miracles, details that would pass unseen as part of the bigger picture of spring to anyone not inspecting each plant minutely and daily. Growth points and leaf buds are being monitored, unexpected colours are appearing and the mysteries of Nature are revealing themselves to eyes full of wonder.

Tiny,  scale-like leaves top each little branch of the heather, crowning last year’s faded flowers with pink and vibrant green. A clematis catches hold of the branches of the climbing rose, wrapping its fragile stems around the green wood, pulling itself higher every day. Spires of tulips, their outer leaves wrapped tightly around the inner to protect the half-formed bud, begin to unfurl as the flower grows towards the sun.

Bud casings swell and slowly burst open as the baby leaves they contain seek their freedom. Folded, pleated…Nature’s origami… finding their way into the light.

But it is the roses that really fascinate my son. He planted a host of bare-rooted specimens in the autumn… lifeless, dead-seeming wood that is now coming to life. He watches the growth buds turn from brown to pink, green and red before the new growth emerges… leaves and stems that are not merely green, but deep red, hot pink and lime.

He already had some mature roses too, that I pruned severely either when they were moved or disturbed last autumn. My son was concerned that they would look bare… even though I had shown him that I cut the branches above an almost invisible growth point. He has been amazed at how the sparse branches are filling out, completely covered with new shoots.

I am taking great delight in his wonder, as it is reminding me to see and appreciate the miracles happening just outside the door, instead of just knowing that they are there. And, as we tour the garden every day, we are seeing life in action.

Every growing thing is a channel for an invisible but determined life-force.  Watching the garden grow, it seems that how much of that force can be channelled is determined by the natural form of the plant. A rose, for example, that is pruned, thus diminishing its natural form, will put out many new shoots to replace the one that is cut as if to compensate and provide a vessel for the unstoppable influx of life.

One of the old roses did not survive being transplanted. Even its skeletal remains, as the dead wood  begins to decay, is a vessel for life. Insects, fungi and algae have moved in to colonise the vacated form. Life, observed my son,  always seems to find a way. When you consider the innumerable life-forms on the planet and the almost infinite number of ways they can reproduce and replicate themselves, there is no arguing that statement.

It begs the question, though… is life-force itself an infinite or a finite thing? If infinite, where does it come from? Is it in a constant state of cosmic recycling or is it being continually replenished as it is spent? If finite, is every life on the planet simply part of the planetary being? An exuberant expression of earth’s inner life? Either way, the artistry that creates the incalculable diversity of forms can only be a source of amazement.

I thought about how much money local authorities spend on municipal parks and flower beds… planting trees, covering roundabouts in floral designs and generally creating green spaces. With budgets so tight that essential services often suffer, you might think that landscaping might come low down the list of priorities, and yet we continue to make space for nature within our urban developments. Perhaps it is a very deep-seated need that is being acknowledged by the town planners.

Watching the tender, fragile leaflets and stems burgeoning in a suburban garden has opened a doorway to a vast realm of wonder. The sense of connection, of being part of a single stream of life, is acute and beautiful. The sense of kinship with every other living thing in existence, on this world and beyond, becomes unshakeable. And the knowledge that, with or without us, life will find a way is rather comforting. Watching the garden grow brings home the human part in a vast dance of life, where we are but one of myriad dancers. And that we have the capacity to be conscious of that can only be seen as a gift.

Getting engaged…

Some places just seem to have a timeless quality. Almost exactly seven years after our first visit, ‘our blue chapel’ looked the same… still as beautiful and serene as ever. We sat on the rickety bench that is still there, basking in the sunlight of a perfect spring day, in a churchyard decked in flowers and with the obligatory hawks in abundant attendance.

It is not really the same, though… change is the one constant in life. The churchyard was not full of snowdrops on that first visit… there are more graves, more memorials and a different generation of birds watched over us, less elusive and less camera-shy than their forebears.

The biggest change, though, is in us. It is not just that we are seven years older, or that the then-nascent friendship has gone on to produce books and workshops inspired by what we have learned from our adventures in the landscape. There is a connection to the land here that was lacking before… an odd feeling of being welcomed when we revisit old haunts.

It is difficult to describe…and goes deeper than memory or familiarity. I had known this area well for many years and before we began to explore it together, it seemed to have nothing to offer except beauty and history. While I believe that both of those are to be cherished in their own right, the living presence of the land had never caught at my heart in the way that my northern hills have always done.

I had looked at and appreciated the green fields and chocolate-box landscape but I was closed to it; I never reached out to it or allowed it to touch me. I had taken a good many friends out in the area too, to show them how pretty it is here… so it had to be something more than the simple act of sharing the landscape that made the difference and finally made me feel, after twenty years or so, a sense of ‘home’.

The one thing that had really changed was that instead of looking at the landscape, I was engaged in learning from and working with it. Seeing beyond the surface prettiness to the thousands of years of human history and reverence that it has known, learning to see and recognise the regional quirks and differences of the human quest for the sacred that spans the millennia and defies the labels that separate belief systems… or the borders that humankind has imposed. Such engagement makes the relationship with the land, its creatures and its history both intimate and personal.

Perhaps it is simply that paying attention opens doors in the mind. I doubt we have ever been out on a foray in this familiar area without seeing, learning or realising something new… or finding a speculative theory backed by something we have seen any number of times, but never really seen.

On this sortie, we were reconnoitring the upcoming workshop. Places that we know like the backs of our hands. And the well-known sites changed what we had planned quite dramatically… while our little blue chapel managed to reveal a secret, hidden in plain sight, that we have studied and photographed… and yet, its full mystery was not unveiled until we were ready. It is moments like that which make ‘playing out’ in the landscape a constant delight.


Quest for a Quest: The Initiate’s Story

Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

17-19 April 2020

A Living Lore Workshop.

Contact us at Rivingtide@gmail.com for more details. Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

A contract with wonder

P1280562

The glamorous sky seems an incongruous backdrop for mundane chimneypots and washing lines. Veiled by the pallid grey of low cloud or with a symphony of shades, the sun rises over the fields, painting the morning with impossible colour, every single day. Sometimes I can watch…sometimes I am occupied elsewhere… sometimes there is nothing to see beyond a gradual lightening of the sky, yet every morning, the same miracle unfolds, whether I can see it or not.

*

The young rabbit really doesn’t seem to mind our presence, but carries on with the serious business of lunch as we watch. There is no hurry in its movements, no panic…no fear. As if it knows we mean no harm, are no threat, but are simply delighting in the privilege of a shared moment. Rabbits are always around… a common enough resident of the countryside, though they usually scatter at the approach of man.

*

P1280620

It is a perfect spring day. From inside the five hundred year old pub, sheltered from the underlying chill, it looks like midsummer. People sit on the tiny village green enjoying the sun. It is Midsomer though, not midsummer… the Lions at Bledlow, once two adjoining pubs, the Red Lion and the Blue Lion, is well known to fans of Midsomer Murders as the fictional  ‘Queen’s Arms’, while the village church has played the part of ‘Badger’s Drift church’ in the series. I have frequently seen the crews filming around here; the area is beautiful and full of historic hamlets, perfect for creating a magical illusion for the small screen.

We know most of the hamlets… know their churches and village greens, their old crosses and the folklore that meanders through their hedgerows like wild honeysuckle. We have spent a lot of time exploring the region and learning about it, our sense of wonder open wide for the gifts we have found by the wayside. From the unfurling of spring petals to the continuous unfolding of human history that is written in the stones of follies, castles and churches or the burial mounds of the ancients that mark the horizon, we are surrounded by an everyday magic that delights.

P1280566

The world is a place of wonder to a child, seen up close and through eyes alight with the joy of discovery. They are aware of every leaf and feather…every experience is new and full of potential. As adults, we tend to lose that capacity for wonder for the most part. The cares that hang heavy on our responsible shoulders can drag our eyes away from the wider vista of possibility to focus so closely on the task in hand that the magic of the world around us escapes our attention.

It doesn’t take much, though, to reanimate the heart of wonder. Just a simple walk in the woods and fields, a moment lying on the grass watching the play of light on a beetle’s wing the iridescence of a starling’s plumage…  or to stand on a hilltop and see the counterpane of fields far below. Getting out into the natural world seems to recharge our ability to see, feel and marvel at the beauties and little miracles around us, but the charge is easily depleted again when we return to the everyday world of work and need. It doesn’t take much, though, to renew the contract with wonder that we are given as children and bring that feeling home with us, keeping the eyes awake to the everyday magic of the world in which we live.

P1280624


Quest for a Quest: The Initiate’s Story

Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

17-19 April 2020

There are mysteries just beyond the doorstep, sacred places and hidden stories in every landscape. From the five thousand-year-old track that once crossed the country to the enigma of the secret orders that have hidden their true purposes behind sanctity or debauchery, the landscape of rural Buckinghamshire abounds in unsolved riddles.

Join us as we ask why a medieval church was built upon the site of a prehistoric settlement… Why Sir Francis Dashwood and the Hellfire Club met beneath a sacred hill… and how the landscape beyond your threshold can open the door to adventure.

The weekend will be based around Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, and runs from Friday afternoon to early Sunday afternoon, and costs £75 per person. There will be a moderate amount of walking across field paths.

se2020

Meals and accommodation are not included in the price and should be booked separately by all attendees. Meals are often taken together at a local pub or café. For those arriving by public transport, we are able to offer a limited number of places in shared vehicles; please let us know if this would be required.

Contact us at Rivingtide@gmail.com for more details. Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

Whitby Weekend: St Hilda’s Well

I dropped my companions at the next stop, the tiny, hidden hamlet of Part Mulgrave. They were to walk along the clifftops for a couple of miles… a walk I would have loved under normal circumstances… but once again, I was obliged to take the sensible option and the car. At least it wouldn’t hurt to have a vehicle poised at the other end of the trek.

Which left me with about an hour to kill, I thought, before meeting them all at the Cod and Lobster in Staithes. So, when I noticed the little church on my way back to the main road, it seemed a good idea to stop, especially as the nominal said it was dedicated to St Hilda, the erstwhile Abbess of Whitby.

The first recorded church in Hinderwell, a village named for the Saint, dates back to the twelfth century. The church that now stands on the site is a mere baby, dating from 1773. It was also locked, which was a disappointment… until I caught sight of an information board and followed its lead to an unexpected gift.

The story goes that, fourteen hundred years ago, the area was suffering the effects of drought, so the villagers petitioned St Hilda and asked her to intercede through prayer. Or else, that she was passing through the village and called forth the water. Either way, the spring was born in answer to her intercession and has flowed ever since, rising through the churchyard to become the main water source for the village for many years. It became a place of pilgrimage and its waters were credited with healing properties, especially for those with complaints of the eyes.

On Ascension Day every year, local children would bring a stoppered bottle with a stick of liquorice root inside, filling the bottle from the spring and shaking it to make a sweet drink. I remember chewing liquorice sticks as a child too, so smiled at the old custom. The event was called ‘Shaking Bottle Sunday’ and is still remembered with an alfresco service every year.

Much of the old well housing remains, though the facings were repaired and replaced by a local benefactor who shared the saint’s name, a weathered sandstone bowl still remains as part of the structure that seems older somehow.

It was a peaceful spot to while away a little time, with a beautiful old yew sheltering the church. I wondered, as I watched the water, just how old this ancient well might be, and whether it had always been the object of Christian veneration? When Hilda founded her Abbey in 657, Christianity was already the nominal religion in the area, but old beliefs die hard, especially in rural areas and close to the sea, where offending the Old Ones and the faery folk would have been seen as taking a needless risk.

Celtic Christianity had grown around the customs of the various tribal systems. It was, perhaps, closer to the earth and nature than the Roman canon. For many in the early faith, the Christ may have been seen as just another god to add to their pantheon… one whose story echoed those they already knew. The debates between the various religious and political hierarchies would barely have touched their lives. Faith was just something you lived. Whether you left an offering for the spirit of the spring or its saint, both the gift and the reverence would have been the same.

So it was with a sense of standing at the centre of a web of light that brought together many threads of faith and belief, across all of human history, that I poured the drops for the gods.

The Cycle of Life

The approach of the autumn always makes me reflect on the nature of life; in particular the way the mysterious essence of life takes form and shape, ‘living’ for a while, then giving up its life and surrendering the elements of that form back to the earth from which it arose.

We all feel the poignancy of life’s seasons, but it’s useful to align ourselves with the processes of the autumn and reflect more deeply on the ‘life lessons’ that nature lays before us… quite literally.

Soon, I will walk in my muddy boots, through crisp and cracking leaves; leaves that, a few short months ago, glowed with the mysterious and magical green of the spring. These days, I cannot help but feel a kind of kinship with their fate, as the inevitable process of attrition by the wind, rain…and my walking boots, crushes them into smaller and smaller particles of their former selves, ready for the chemical dissolution that will complete their natural recycling.

But is it just the leaves that are recycled in this way–or something else? The form is a container for the indefinable ‘aliveness’ of what is inside it: its essence. We never actually see this essence, but we feel it – and it glows with the joy of being alive within that spring green which heralds the return of collective outward life. This capacity to feel what we cannot see is an important part of being human – and is really another sense.

Spiritually, we can learn from each season. We can also use our feelings to see a whole greater than the sum of the parts.

The four seasons offer us the following parts of this whole:

In spring, we feel the freshness, the new light, the change of colours, the return of milder weather. We also feel a surge of new energy as the Earth extends itself – through nature – into all the inherited forms of life. Like the leaves, each of these forms is unique; no two of them are exactly the same and yet each follows a type. The type is inherited through nature’s coding of evolution, and makes us what we are – physically.

The spring contains joy, a fundamental characteristic of being. In the spring it is made manifest.

The summer that follows is a time of fulfilment. The promise of the spring is carried to fruition beneath the calm, blue and golden skies above us. There is a feeling of completeness, a deep sense of inner rightness. The fruits of nature’s beauty are there for us to consume, so that we, in turn, partake of the bounty of fullness. In summer, we have that feeling of going outwards into the world.

The autumn is a time for reflection. Winter is around the corner but not yet with us. It is a time for gathering-in; preparing our selves – and those who depend upon us – for the harshness ahead. Our feeling of openness is replaced with the poignancy of knowledge of what lies ahead and a saying goodbye to the forms of things which have shared the spring and summer with us, such as the leaves falling from the mighty and enduring trees. Winds begin to pick up, again, completing the process of outer reduction, and the shaking free of the old.

But the autumn is also a time of harvest. We ‘plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the ground’ as the harvest hymn goes. Animals scatter the seeds of life for the natural world, ensuring life’s best chance for continuation away from the ‘tree’ from which they fell.

Finally, winter ‘reaps’ that which is no longer fit to contain the invisible life. But the strong things remain. The starkness of the outlines of bare trees dominate the natural landscape… but we cease to see them after a while. Trees are wonderful structures. Ouspensky described them as ‘living four-dimensional patterns’ because they show all the stages of their personal evolution.

We each have a winter tree inside us. It is the pattern of logical and emotional learning in our minds. Like a physical tree it shows us the forking and branching that our life’s journey has taken. It is a friend, an inner book; and we can learn much from its contemplation.

Nature’s key processes in the winter are beneath the ground – within the roots of organic life. They cannot be seen or felt, except by contemplation of the innermost purpose, while the bare structures of the trees above endure the cold, rain, ice and snow.

There will come a time to lay down that personal tree – to offer it and our life’s history to the greater cycle of life. We will have reached a different point of completion in this winter journey, and what we really are – invisible and ineffable – will return to the state from which it can begin a new life, restored, recharged and refreshed. Our small tree of experience will merge with the universe’s story, adding a tiny but important contribution that truly belonged to us, but which now may be read by all life.

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

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.

Everywhere…

It was, without a doubt, a glorious day. Spring had painted the world with colour. The sky was a cloudless blue, the birds were singing and the sweater had finally come off, replaced with a thin cotton top allowing bare skin to absorb the sun. Magic. Even the early ride to work had been a joy…apart from the travel-sickness. I’m not a good passenger; my little car is off the road at present and taxi drivers notoriously lack delicacy in their driving… So I am blaming the taxi for the sudden wave of emotion that grabbed me as I watched the fields give way to housing.

I understand the necessity of providing more homes, but the five miles of green fields that once separated my home from the town are now being obliterated by bricks and concrete. First they build the best homes… looking very like a rather swish village. Once sold, they fill in all the wonderful green spaces with flats and smaller streets. Next come the facilities to serve the homes…and, once the house-builders have sold everything, the warehousing and industrial units start to ring the ‘village’ in. Meanwhile, the new high-speed train line will be cutting through the landscape right next door.

The cynicism of the whole affair reminded me of the sequence in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when the Vogons are about to demolish the Earth to make way for a new hyperspace expressway.The Vogons, before pressing the button, pointed out the need to look carefully at the plans…
“There’s no point in acting surprised about it. All the planning charts
and demolition orders have been on display at your local planning department in Alpha Centauri for fifty of your Earth years, so you’ve had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaint and it’s far too late to start making a fuss about it now… What do you mean you’ve never been to Alpha Centauri? Oh, for heaven’s sake, mankind, it’s only four light years away, you know. I’m sorry, but if you can’t be bothered to take an interest in local affairs...”

Even in the few brief years since I have lived in my own village…a much older one…I have seen it expand, nibbling away at the countryside that should be sustaining us. I even live in a new-build flat, right on the edge of the village where once there was just a field. A couple of years down the line and there is talk of another field or two full of houses behind mine…and the high-speed train, of course will pass this way too. But it wasn’t regret that made my eyes prickle with tears. What came with the utmost clarity was a realisation of how very lucky I am to have been born when and where I was.

There are still great open spaces, even in this tiny island. We will not fill them in my lifetime. The very roads and transport that cause so much pollution have allowed us to roam and see places our great grandparents might only have read about, even within our own land. We have the leisure to travel, even if we do not travel far. And there is still beauty on out doorsteps no matter where we are.

Once in the town, I was obliged to walk to the local shop for a few groceries for my son. Instead of taking the long route through the streets, I cut through the forsaken alley that runs behind his home. Graffiti sprawls across the walls, plastic, glass and the detritus of human indifference strews the ground… yet the birds are everywhere. Blue-tits and coal-tits hop from branch to branch. Sparrows, blackbirds and thrushes flit by or add their song to the chorus. Magpies are nesting in the trees and the doves sing a soft, reassuring counterpoint to the music of life.  The resident robin watches as the local squirrel scurries across the wall. A confused blue butterfly romances the forget-me-nots and even here in the town, a red kite sails overhead.

The flowers seem to be laughing at the sun. Escapees from the confines of the gardens, discarded and thrown into the alley as trash, have taken root and flourish, side by side with the wildflowers that the gardeners would call weeds. Gnarled bark creates patterns of shadows and petals reflect a light so bright they almost consumed and rendered invisible. The fresh fragrance of flowers lifts away the taint of exhaust fumes and the breeze and birdsong silence the traffic noise.

Blossom casts petals like confetti on the bridal rite of spring… a rite that will go on regardless of what we do. Mankind is a newcomer compared to Mother Nature. We have brought destruction and yet we have also created beauty. I wonder what our final legacy will be… and whether we can, as a species, live to find harmony with the forces of nature or if we will self-destruct through our constant expansion and desire to conquer the very source of our own lives. I remember a documentary series I watched some years ago, Life after People,  and find the destitute, littered alley strangely comforting… full of hope. There is a life-force in nature that is stronger than humanity’s heedless tenure. Unless we manage to wipe every trace of life from this planet we call home, she will survive us and slowly cover the traces of our juvenile destructiveness. Perhaps, like a grieving mother, she will cover our memory with flowers.

At a more personal level, I had to smile as the flowers were a reminder of how little importance may really be attached to so many of the things over which we agonise. The memories of those cringeworthy moments of youth and inexperience, for example, hidden in the undergrowth of the memory, are replaced with a greater poise and confidence as we grow. Damage that we may have either caused or felt will remain and take time to heal, hidden in the shadows beneath the leaves,. But it is often just those decaying and discarded experiences that form the basis of new growth. Yesterday is buried beneath the blossoms of today.

From the darkest corners of our lives true beauty can be born; the starker the contrast, the more it will shine, yet, without that contrast we might never notice …Spring is a season of hope and promise. Life and light drive cold winter into monochrome memory. We know that there will be dark days again, it will rain, it will storm and the seasons will continue their dance.  But there is always spring.