Candlemas at the Cave, Imbolc in the Ice

Candlemas at the Cave, Imbolc in the Ice

It is the scent that reaches me in my bear-like slumbers, drifting day after day in a form of hibernation that sees me rarely raise my head from the nest of covers. It does not force its way into my subdued consciousness, but instead it seems to creep quietly, humbly, into my cave and stands by my bed, waiting for me to notice it.

I rise from the dreamless state that has held me for months, eyes flickering open, and I take a sharp, deep breath like a drowned woman returning to life. The air holds a scent I’d forgotten existed. It’s the smell of thawing earth and dripping ice.

The wall of ice at the mouth of my cave still blocks out much of the light, so the cave is deep in shadows, but through the blue-white mass I see a brighter colour, tinged with gold and I realise it might be the sun. Pushing back my covers, I sit up and take another harsh,deep breath, drawing in the clear cold air I can feel infiltrating the sour, stale air of my den.

I get to my feet, joints stiff and sore and movement difficult, and I stumble to the ice wall. Before I reach it, I can feel the change. Air is moving, through the cut-out in the ice that had become blocked around the winter solstice, and though it is still the frozen air of winter, it is no longer the same. There is moisture in it that holds the scents of the thaw. When I move into the tunnel through the ice wall, I see that droplets of water are rolling slowly down, as if the tunnel is weeping with relief. The tunnel is still partially blocked, but a window has opened, that drips steadily as it melts, and through this rough portal, the air flows. I stand as close as I can to the opening in the ice and beyond it, I can hear the sounds of flowing, bubbling water and the first bird song.

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Why daffodils became the last straw ~ metaphors that strike to the heart

Why daffodils became the last straw ~ metaphors that strike to the heart

Say the word “daffodils” and any literate person will probably reply with “I wandered lonely as a cloud,” and any poor fool who grew up with Not The Nine O’ Clock News will probably put on a funny voice and say, “He does eat daffodils, you know.” My friend Kate will probably tell you of the time her clergyman grandfather ate a daffodil as a part of an Easter Day sermon. They’re generally not the sort of flowers to reduce someone to a flood of tears like rain from a blue sky. Genial, gleaming golden trumpets with a faint scent of spring sunshine and pollen, they herald the real arrival of spring with silent songs and waving yellow heads.

There are hundreds planted along the roadside on my route to work, massed brilliance of almost neon yellow, paler shades of lemon and deeper orange of the narcisssi varieties. They’re there for everyone who walks, cycles or drives past to enjoy for a few brief weeks each year.

Last Monday was my birthday. I’m not big on birthdays, I don’t like to make a fuss about them, so working that day was not a big deal. I decided to walk rather than cycle as I’d asked my husband to collect me from work in the evening so we could go and have a meal somewhere. The plan was a picnic on a beach somewhere, if the weather stayed fine enough.

I got a little under half way when I saw the daffodils. Rank upon rank of them, blooming in the sunshine. Then I saw the other ones. Someone had thoughtlessly picked a dozen or so, then thrown them down onto the path and left them, perhaps trampling them as they did so. I don’t know who picked them or who trampled them. It doesn’t matter, now. They were smushed into the path, withering where they had not been flattened.

I tripped in my stride and felt as if the world had suddenly become shadowed. I’d not been precisely cheerful that morning but not a lot different to usual. Tears prickled my eyes, then began to fall, uncontrollable and hot. Flowers have such a brief life, why did someone destroy those ones so wantonly? I sobbed as I walked, unable to understand why a handful of blowsy smashed-up  flowers had bypassed all my controls and hit me so hard. By the time I got to work, I had to come home again.

Now I’d finally spoken to my doctor about the insomnia and the depression and he’d given me some sleeping pills as an interim aide, and I’d been taking half a tablet cautiously every other night. Reading through the leaflet, one of the side effects is “unmasking of existing depression.” Bang on, that is. Unmasking. Yes, indeed. And I found I couldn’t put that mask back on this time.

Those daffodils were a powerful message, a metaphor from the world that flashed directly into my being. We’ve trashed a beautiful world without a thought for the fragile beauty and wonder therein. Oh you could say, it was just a few flowers and there are plenty more. You could say, well they’re bulbs, they’ll get another chance to bloom next Spring.

You could.

But those flowers were cut down and destroyed before they had a chance to finish their short blooming. Cut flowers in vases don’t bother me, because the time they bloom their beauty is being shared, seen and appreciated. Each flower matters, each bee, each bird, each bacteria, each living being, each rock, each bug that creeps you out, each one matters immensely because while there might be millions or even trillions like it, it is the only one in it’s existence.

Ascribing consciousness to inanimate things or creatures might sound mad, but surely recognising the right for things to have existence is better than wiping out things on a whim?

Thaw #smallstone 13

 

Thaw #smallstone 13

 

It’s still not warm but the change is still startling. I can sit in an unheated house, without needing two jumpers and feeling my fingers become chilled. I walked in the garden without wishing I had put a coat on. The ambient indoor temperature is comfortable even without the heating on.

On windowsills, sprouting bulbs in pots lean towards the light, yearning for the touch of sun. The green shoots of snowdrops shine with vibrant life. Hyacinth flowers still unopened seem paused for breath, and on the dining room table, oblivious of outside conditions, my jasmine plant opens bloom after starry bloom and fills the room with waves of exotic scent, making me think of Mediterranean gardens on summer nights.

It may be a temporary thing, but it might be enough to get me through to Candle-mas and the start of springtime.

Heartbeat of the Earth

It’s a glorious day in England and the late spring is rushing along as fast as it can go. I keep looking up at the sky to see if I can see a great cloud of volcanic ash heading this way but all I see are white clouds scudding along like frisky sheep.

I walk, fast enough to keep warm, because the wind is still cold, blowing in from the north east and bringing the smell of the sea long before I reach it. Sometimes I stop and talk with other dogwalkers; we admire each other’s animals and talk dogtalk. There’s a great camaraderie among dogwalkers and it’s probably a measure of my slightly sick mind that it occurs to me that using the cover of dogwalking might be a great disguise for a serial killer. We greet someone who we don’t know like a long lost relative simply because of their canine companion.

The beach is bracing, the wind whipping the waves into fine spume that makes you wet if you walk too near the shoreline. I feel sand seep into my trainers. Back up and head towards the wood again as I run out of beach. The nudist beach is no more, as much a result of coastal erosion as it was of county council statutes; but few naturists felt the narrow stretch of rough shingle was worth the pains of visiting any more.

   I return via another belt of ancient woodland, taking a short cut across a vast meadow and then back into tree cover again. I love trees. The dog trails behind me, following her nose where it leads and when she does that I stand and wait for her to catch up and feel the sun and the breeze on what little skin I have bared. It feels good. Back into a grove of trees, I remember my days as a warden on a nature reserve, working as education officer and I take a sneaky look around to see if I am watched before pressing my right ear to the nearest tree. A distant hint of moving liquid sounds inside the trunk, faint but distinct. This one is too big. I try a sapling and the sound is thin and thready, like the pulse of a dying bird.

Moving on I reach the final open space of the walk and a parade of trees greets me, spaced out across grass studded with wildflowers making up for lost time. These, like Goldilock’s porridge, are just right. Not too big and not too small. I lean my face against the first, feeling the bristle of lichen like kissing a man unshaven on Sundays. The trunk is warm from the sun and the lichen crackles and shifts as my ear finds the sweet spot. Like a river, the heartbeat of the tree thunders away and the tree seems to lean against me as the wind catches it, like a Shire horse will lean on the farrier as it is being shod. It feels strange, a great affectionate gesture from a loving stranger who has become a friend in the space between one heartbeat and the next. I stand, my cheek against this tree before moving to the next and repeating the experience. Four trees  later and I have moss and lichen in my hair, making me look like a slightly stout dryad, if dryads are allowed to wear combat trousers and National Geographic Buffs.

I cut down the field and back into the first belt of woodland, and stop amid the grove of chesnuts, where the bats inhabit a hole in one trunk and woodpeckers rear a nestfull of chicks every year in the hole below it and here, I stop for a moment and listen to the sound beyond the song of birds and the wind in the trees and further beyond the traffic on the A12 a few dozen yards away now.

So distant that I may well be imagining it, I hear another heartbeat: the earth’s. It might be my own magnified by my melancholy and sensitivity, but it doesn’t matter. Just as the trees leaning into me like horses comforted me, so too does this notion or perception. The earth is herself alive, and sentient and that comforts me beyond anything. Humanity may be doomed but the earth will recover.

    I go home, feeling tired and a little sad but not despairing. That’s as much as you can hope for some days.

Springing Green

 

Springing Green

 

Sap is rising:

Cut me and I’ll bleed green.

From the short sharp movements

Of winter’s economy, I move

Into languor and the lazier

Dance of spring.

Slow swaying hips

And wide striding legs,

I eat up the miles

Feet skimming the ground

Head in the clouds

(such as they are today)

And my eyes on the rising tide

Of butterflies and bumblebees

That have emerged from slumber

To mate, to forage and to live anew.

Cut me, and I’ll surely bleed green today.

A Slow Spring

A Slow Spring

 

A slow spring:

Coiled and ready

Pressed down hard

Contained and compact

Energy building like a storm

Tingling with life.

A slow spring:

Buds swelling and greening

Twigs quivering with anticipation

And the quickening feet of sparrows

Making them bend and shake;

Soft breezes, not harsh gales.

A slow spring

Fields still bare, brown

Mud becoming fertile chocolate

Laid in stripes across land

Seeded and prepared

And poised to explode.

A slow spring:

Bird song rising to crescendo

Drowning the rush of melt-water

And the creak of old trees

Shaking with surging sap and age

A slow spring:

Rushing rampant

Wanton in warmth

Catching up lost time

Hurtling recklessly forward

Into a swift, welcome summer.

Retreat

I noticed yesterday on my walk that though the daytime temperatures have not risen much above five degrees yet, the bird song is all spring songs and the quality of the light has changed quite distinctly.

I wrote the following poem a few years back after a rather haunting dream of being stalked by a polar bear….

Retreat

 

The fields of endless white

Spread further than the eye can see,

Grim mountains of jagged grey,

Still clad in silken swathes of snow,

The air so crisp it tastes of glass

And fills my mouth with blood.

A scent of stones fills the air,

Old and cold as passing time.

The crunch of paws though ice,

Breath like steaming clouds,

A stench of passing death,

The brush of icy whiskers

As Winter’s bear retreats.

I stand alone on the snowfield,

The trickle of the starting thaw

A quiet chuckle at the passing

Of the season’s snow bear

And the merriment of the new.