Fair weather…

I journeyed from darkness to light, driving through the dawn as the blackness greyed. The silhouettes of trees slowly detached themselves from the night as the sun attempted to pierce a pall of cloud that flushed to palest rose before refusing its touch. Beneath the iron sky, there was little sign of warmth and joy. I wondered how many people would see the same sun gilding the tops of the clouds as they looked out from planes soaring high above the gloom.

The layer of cloud separated two worlds… two realities. Mine was uniformly grey, above, it would be blue and gold, and both were real, both valid… both true. A simple shift in perspective, a few thousand feet, and the appearance of the world and the morning would be completely different.

You could, I mused, say the same of the weekend. A few days, a few hundred miles and a slight shift in perspective have made all the difference.

When we headed north, we had what we thought was going to be the itinerary for the December workshop. By the time we came back, it had morphed and evolved into something rather different from what we had initially planned. The land itself had showed us a different perspective, laughing at our preconceptions, yet, instead of our carefully-laid plans being upset, they had fallen into place in a way that made much more sense.

This is one of the reasons why our research trips are so important. It is not just a case of gathering practical information, like opening times, parking charges and refreshment breaks, it is about walking the planned weekend, making sure it works and leaving space for the landscape to make suggestions of its own.

This time, one of the sites around which we had planned part of the weekend turned out to be a non-starter… but as three other sites decided they wanted to be included instead… two of them jaw-droppingly good and one of them holding a perfect bit of symbolism… we simply adjusted our perspective and changed our plans. In essence, they remain the same, though the details have substantially changed from our original design. When the land makes itself heard, it would be rude not to listen.

We were exceptionally lucky with the weather, catching a perfect dawn and a perfect sunset over the ancient and sacred landscape where we will be working.  We can only hope the weather will be as good for the workshop weekend, knowing that whatever the weather, it will be a perfect day above the clouds. Perhaps we can bring that knowledge down into the day somehow. So now, with three weeks to go, we have more research to do…

Chasing carrots

Because I couldn’t find a donkey…

It has been hot in England recently… hotter than usual, even for summer. There has been no rain in my part of the country for weeks now and the ground is parched and cracked. Harvests are being brought in early, fields are already shorn and neatly dotted with straw-bales, and the human population has been slowly wilting in the scorching, heavy air. So, it was with some eagerness that we awaited the promised rain and thunderstorms.

They didn’t arrive… The forecasters shifted their predictions to the next day, then the next… and all we had seen was a spot or two of moisture accompanied by a distant, lazy rumble of thunder. When the rain finally arrived last night, it was no more than the briefest of light showers. The dog and I, nevertheless, headed outside to enjoy the fall of water, watching its instant evaporation on the superheated concrete of the paving, but glad of the momentary respite.

Although the weather is a national preoccupation in England, we generally don’t suffer too badly from its vagaries. Ours is temperate climate. Summers are generally warm, winters cold but not glacial… but whatever the weather is doing, we will soon be complaining about it. On the odd occasion, we do get a severe winter… by English standards… or an unusually hot summer. We are prepared for neither, and both can bring the country to its knees at temperatures other nations would consider mild. We don’t cope well with what we consider extremes of anything… be that weather or behaviour…

There is a ‘normal’ for everyone… parameters within which we are comfortable, because they are familiar. They do not have to be good, or what we would choose… they are just our accustomed and accepted standards of normality. Step beyond their boundaries and, depending upon your temperament, you are in a zone of unease, or one of excitement. Such boundaries shift and change with time and circumstance… and the adaptability that is one of humanity’s greatest assets can also be its greatest handicap, as we learn to accept a new ‘normal’ very quickly and alter the parameters to suit the moment.

I was talking to my son about this as we headed out to the local farm shop on Saturday. Because of the changes in his life and capabilities caused by the brain injury, he has been redefining his ‘normal’ on a regular basis. He tends to forget where he has come from, and what he has endured and achieved to get here, and the latest version of ‘normality’ takes a great deal of the journey for granted.

We took the country lanes back to my home after we had done the shopping, stopping by a field gate so he could get out, lean on the gate, and watch the fast-forming clouds race in. It is a simple thing, but I remembered the first time he was able to do that a few years ago… and the wonder we both felt at that achievement.

This time I watched as he lost himself in the moment, seeing emotions on his face shift from bright to dark and back again, like the cloud-shadows on the land. The wind was getting stronger as dark clouds raced in. The little bit of rain had enhanced all the colours, turning the dry grasses to gold and illuminating the green of the hedgerows, where blackberries glistened amongst the wildflowers. The changing weather and the experience of beauty lifted him out of his normality and allowed him to see what he might otherwise not have noticed.

“You forget,” he mused. “You strive for a goal, but as soon as you attain it, there is always another ahead…. And the goal you just reached becomes worthless, no more than a stepping stone…when you should be content.”
“Carrots.”
“Eh?”
“Carrots on sticks. Donkeys. The donkey keeps walking to where it thinks the carrot was… and when it gets there, the carrot has moved, so it keeps on walking… but the carrot is always out of reach.”
“Expectations. Yep… We do that to ourselves all the time. It didn’t rain… I could be disappointed because I expected rain… but what the day has given me instead,” said the son who had just used his walking frame to cross the rough terrain of a farmyard…and in public… for the first time, “is even better.”

As we drove home, the clouds closed in above us, darkening the sky, deepening all the colours of the land. The wind gathered momentum, whipping sun-dried leaves from the trees into great golden plumes that danced across the road like aureate autumnal spirits. The earth smelled sweet and fresh as the rain poured down on the wide vale below us. Sometimes, you just have to leave expectations behind and leave space for life to happen.

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.

Under the weather

It is spring and here, that can mean anything. For many it means being ‘under the weather’ with colds, viruses and the other miseries that attend the change of season. Yesterday was as warm as a summer’s day… the day before was wintry cold and rainy. Tomorrow…who knows?  The forecast suggests it will be archetypically English and grey but it is entirely possible that it could snow. Or we may be wandering round in shirt sleeves complaining at the sudden ‘heatwave’. We seldom believe the forecast.

Like most countries, Britain has a rich weather lore and we are probably more likely to believe that it will rain if the cows are laying down than whatever the official forecast tells us. And if it rains on St Swithun’s day, 15th July, well, it will continue for a good while to come. The story goes that the Saxon bishop of Winchester chose to be buried outside beneath the feet of passing pilgrims on his death twelve hundred years ago. When a decision was made to move his remains into the cathedral, the rain began, marking his displeasure and continued for a biblical forty days and nights.

The weather here is notoriously changeable and ‘never cast a clout until May is out’ a saying that most of us will heed… though whether the May in question is the month or the blossom is up for debate. On the other hand, should there be ‘enough blue in the sky to make a sailor a pair of trousers’, as my grandma used to say, we can safely leave the ‘clouts’ at home and go coatless in the sun.

The sailors and those who work the land know the weather best. An uncle of mine had a farm. He knew the weather… his livelihood and the wellbeing of his animals and crops depended upon it.  An old sea dog of my acquaintance never failed to predict the weather accurately, even though age had kept him from the waves for many a long year. He watched the skies because his life and those of his shipmates depended upon their ability to read the signs. The awareness was learned and honed, through observation and experience, to a point where he always beat the meteorologists with their focus on scientific data that fails to actually look at the skies.

For most of us, the weather is a hit and miss affair. For all our national preoccupation with its fickle behaviour, few of us can read the skies and predict what the day will bring. Some can smell a coming storm or see that nebulous tint of pink in the light that heralds snow, but most of us just accept what the day brings and live in hopes of a brighter day. At one time our own survival would have depended upon our knowledge of its changes, but today, the weather is little more than an annoyance or inconvenience when it fails to conform to our needs.

We still live under the same skies. The wider patterns of a shifting climate may be affected by both mankind and the tides of the earth itself, but the pattern that announces what the weather will bring on any given tomorrow does not change. The clouds, winds and colours of the light still do what they have always done to hint at rain or sunshine to come. We have, on the whole, lost the affinity with the weather that we must once have had and become acclimatised instead to paying little heed to the subtle signs around us. There is no longer a need.

How long would it take us now to regain that lost gift of weather-wisdom? How long did it take for it to dissipate, so slowly that we did not notice its loss? How far back in our history did we begin to lose it? They are probably unanswerable questions. I wonder too if, in discarding a skill we no longer needed for our survival, whether we gained those more suited to the changes in our nascent society? What other skills might we have lost…and are any of them truly lost at all or merely dormant, waiting for need to arise once more?

There are many skills in the old tales that we do not possess. We consign them to the realms of myth and magic. What if, amongst the wilder embroideries of the story tellers, some of those skills were once real? Skills that, like weather-affinity, relied upon a reading of signs and signals too subtle for our modern eyes and minds to notice and an observation more acute than we are used to giving to our world. What if there are lingering remnants of those abilities and those who walk amongst us seeming ‘different’ still have access to the layers of attention needed to read what we call the unseen?

We can learn to read the weather through careful and attentive observation. We can ‘feel’ so many things, picking up  invisible  signals and calling it intuition or  gut-feeling. I wonder what else we could learn about ourselves and our world by giving our full attention and awareness to the study. Just how wide is reality…and how much of it do we really see? It is a thought…

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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A change in the weather

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There was something wrong… something missing from the world as I walked the few paces to the car. I couldn’t put my finger on it at all, but I was very clear on the essential fact. There was something … different.

It wasn’t until I turned the key in the ignition that I realised what it was; it had stopped raining. And the sky was clear.

The rain has been almost constant for weeks now. The area in which I live has little in the way of rivers. Usually, I miss them and would wish for more. I know of no natural waterfalls around here at all and the streams are no more than tiny, silver threads. At present, though, they are roiling, muddy streaks, spilling over into the flood plains and sodden fields. Other parts of the country have not been so lucky and the constant influx of water has caused an incredible amount of damage and heartache.

So the clear skies and cessation of rain were a welcome change, even if it had taken me a few moments to pinpoint what was different this morning.

What surprised me the most was not the transient burst of sunshine, but my own acceptance that the bad weather was the norm. It may be England, but even here winter is not normally uniformly grey and wet. We have glorious frosty mornings with pristine skies and soft dawns too. We had even had one a few days ago. But… the pallid shades of gloom have settled in to become ‘normal’ somehow.

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It is not unusual though; life itself often takes on those grey shades where the clouds loom dark and heavy, carrying worries and stress in their nondescript pall. That too can very quickly become the norm and its very familiarity comforting in a strange and perverse way. We don’t always notice when the clouds lift from our days here either… it just feels odd and unusual… possibly uncomfortably so; just because it is different and we know that, but cannot see why… and do not stop to enjoy the moment.

The sunshine was beautiful, but it didn’t last long. By the time I had driven the five miles to work through the early morning traffic, the skies had darkened once more and the clouds were speeding to cover the cold blue, positioning themselves to release the heavy rain and hailstones they were carrying. Even so, seeing the colours of the dark, rain-damp earth stark against the greens and russets of winter, watching the sparkle and sheen of the rain capture the sunlight as the birds played in the morning air… seeing the first touches of spring green highlighted by the sun… it had made my heart sing.

I wondered how often in the grey monotony of life we miss such moments, as I had ‘missed’ understanding the changed weather, just because we are so used to what we know that we can no longer see or appreciate those flashes of beauty that can come in to illuminate our days at any moment.

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Another round – River of the Sun

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Friday evening is always a good sign of how the weekend is going… and by Friday evening we were pretty much all in the old pub next door. You can picture the scene… a low-beamed ceiling that has sheltered its patrons for centuries, a blazing fire against the spring chill and a crowd of people talking, laughing, getting to know each other and catching up. There is something quintessentially British about these moments… almost all conversations seem to involve the weather at some point… even if they then go on to the lightest of drolleries or the deepest philosophical discussions.

river of the sun SE15 034To be fair, good weather makes all the difference and the day had been a perfect example of an English spring. The little village of Great Hucklow looked beautiful decked in flowers and blossom and the sunlight was reflected in the beaming smiles with which we had greeted each other. By the time we headed for the pub, the sun had gone down and everyone had relaxed.

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The first ritual drama had introduced the story, setting the scene for our journey through a period of Egyptian history. A young man had been taken to the Temple at Philae to be trained by the priesthood… years had passed in that training and, at its culmination, the rite had been interrupted by the arrival of Ramases and his entourage… The scene was set for the story to unfold next day.

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It is quite strange… one moment you are buzzing around like the proverbial flies ensuring that all is in readiness… the next, imagination and the skillfully crafted ritual drama have carried you beyond these sceptered isles to another time, another place and anothe mindset… and you are travelling the River of the Sun in a reality far removed from daffodils and forget-me-nots. Then the ritual ends. There is a brief interlude… a time between times… when everyone doffs their robes and returns to a more familiar reality… and, in the evening, heads for the Queen Anne, filling the small inn with smiles and conversation… and making serious holes in the stock of Stowfords.

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The weather was still a subject of some concern, though. Next morning we planned on rising long before dawn to greet the spring sunrise on the hillside. These early morning rites have become something of a tradition. They are optional…yet we have been blessed by having the majority of our company gather to walk the hundred yards through the silent village each year; usually with at least three of us in somewhat unusual garb. It can be cold before dawn in April and the dew can lie heavy on the grass. As we wandered back to the Nightingale Centre, we wondered what the morning would bring.

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Subject to change…

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The red kites lit the sky with their grace, but the weather did the landscape no favours. I drove away from the damp grey of Buckinghamshire without a qualm on Thursday, heading north for the monthly meeting of the Silent Eye… and a days of freedom from the constraints of necessity. I had plenty of time so planned a leisurely meander up the A5 which, for much of its course, follows the old Roman Iter II, better known by its Anglo-Saxon name of Watling Street. The rain would make travelling on the motorway hazardous with the spray and the inevitable lunatics, and I’d rather take the back roads any day.

I also thought I should probably, and finally, call at Lichfield Cathedral. I will have to at some point, but I am always too early on the way back and on the drive up I am usually too hungry for the hills. So that was decided. I would visit the Norman Cathedral with its odd spires en route. I should have known better than to decide anything. It doesn’t seem to work like that. We long since realised that we go where we are guided when the time is right… and I thought I could make plans?

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It was not to be. Watling Street was closed and barred by a large lorry. I was obliged to reroute and take the motorway, grumbling to myself as I turned the wheel. For the next hour I submitted to poor visibility and lousy conditions. My nice shiny car was now coated in liquid dirt and the habitual muscular tension of modern life had a firm grip on my shoulders.

Even so, my mind was free to roam; the external conditions of fast moving and uncontrollable traffic could not restrain the imagination. It occurred to me how similar that was to the way we move through the world… no matter what the day brings or how our plans are scuppered, we are obliged to adapt to the moment as it unfolds. And regardless of what happens outside or how mud-splattered we may get, our inner being is still our own and affected only by what we choose to allow to write its name upon our minds and emotions.

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The rain was sheeting across the windscreen, with visibility barely see more than a few yards in the terrible weather. The concentration required for safety left little room to notice anything else and the driving was tiring. I left the motorway at the earliest reasonable opportunity, intending to cut across country on a fast road and pick up the lanes I love through the Derbyshire Dales. It was only then, with the motorway mere yards behind, that you realised that the teeming rain was a false impression, churned up by the wheels of others. All the sky really held was a gentle spring shower. The local conditions of the motorway were, in truth, an illusion… but none the less real for all that. They still had to be navigated and addressed while you were caught within them. And that too seemed to mirror the human journey.

I had, unfortunately, left the motorway a junction too early for the road I intended to take. I had to smile at that… yet another accident of the road. I couldn’t check the map while driving so I would, once more, have to rethink. The road took me through Breedon where the church that perches high above the village holds a treasure trove of carved stones. Oddly enough ‘Don’ and ‘Wen’ had used some of them in their ‘correspondence’. I wasn’t calling there again though… that would wait till Stuart was with me one of these days.

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Still, it meant I knew roughly where I was. I followed the road, heading towards town I knew lay in the general direction I needed to be until I saw a sign for Repton. That rang a bell, though I couldn’t remember why… until I followed the winding lane that took me to a signpost pointing to ‘the ancient capital of Mercia’. That was it. I had looked for Repton and failed to find it when I had been to Breedon. So having found it by accident I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I parked near the market cross and headed off to explore the ancient church, grinning to myself at how these things have a life and agenda all of their own.

It was a considerable time later when I finally crossed into ‘my’ patch of Derbyshire, where the lanes are now as familiar as home. I cursed as I saw the huge buzzard perched on the lamppost… there was nowhere for me and the camera to stop just here. But it didn’t really matter… as a guardian of the way and welcoming committee he was a welcome sight.

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A few miles further on I cursed again as the distant snake of stationary traffic warned of roadworks. Drawing closer something caught my eye above the green fields and suddenly the curse became a prayer that the lights would change to red and halt my progress. The prayer was answered and I watched the buzzards for a good five minutes until the traffic moved once more. I even got a picture or two. Which just goes to show that even in apparent setbacks and delays there is room for the gift of joy.

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