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.

My Cave

 

My cave

I found the cave high in the mountains by accident, if such things exist, wandering through tunnels of ancient rock, in pitch darkness, feeling my way for miles. My hands were raw with scraping against rock. There came a point where to go back was probably harder than going forward and as I stumbled, at the end of my strength, I saw a light ahead and rushed towards it. As I lurched towards the light, a strange figure was silhouetted against the daylight and I saw it was a reindeer and knew I was safe. My guide had come to meet me and I breathed a great sigh of relief.

I left the depths of the cave and found it grew wide and filled with light as I moved forwards and found myself on a wide ledge, maybe fifty feet across and the same deep, the surface filled with fine white sand. In the middle of it were large quartzite boulders arranged in a circle, and in the centre of the circle there were ashes that felt warm still. From the air, I knew we were high up, but the view was not alarming. Rather, I saw forests spreading out below my ledge and I saw there was a narrow path leading from my cave down into the forest. It began with wide steps and then was lost in foliage as it wound down the side of the mountain and into the forest.

The scent of pine and leaf-mould filled the air and I could sense a hint of winter snows, but whether going or coming I couldn’t tell. The forest was a mixed one, but this high, it was mainly pines. Further away I could see the vivid greens of deciduous broad-leaved species.

That first visit I was content to stay on the ledge, lighting a fire from stacked logs in the entrance to the cave, and sitting watching the flames and being still. Resin smouldered at the edge of the blaze, bubbling and finally igniting with blue tongues of fire that danced amid the yellow ones. The air became cold as night fell and only the thick soft coat of my guide laid next to me kept me from freezing. Who better to travel the dark night landscapes with than a reindeer?

Later visits I began to explore the forest around us but to begin with I loved to just sit at the entrance to the cave as the winter swept in. The fire pit moved deeper into the shelter of the cave as the cold took control of the forest, and I would sit wrapped in blankets and furs, dreaming, watching as snowflakes danced in the wind. The firewood was restored each time I came but in spring I learned who had done it: I did. By some twisting of time, I laboured long bringing back fallen wood and chopping it into logs, so that the winter I had already lived through might have fuel. Each time I filled the stack, I came back and discovered the wood gone. Time means nothing there, as long as you honour commitments. You get used to it. It helps not to think about it too hard or your brain swims; some things are just better accepted unless you can really figure them out properly.

Sometimes, when I am feeling stressed or miserable, I let the memory of my cave come back to me; the scent of pine resin and snow floods me with other sensations and I feel the deep silence of the high mountain guarding the great forest and for a second or two at least, I feel peace.

That’s all you can ask for, some days.