Come sit with me and we can watch the world go by;
That’s all I ask. I won’t mind if you want to try
Some light discourse, then later we might take a stroll
And pass some time there by the river as it rolls
Beneath the trees and winds its way down to the sea:
A quiet time. And if in turn you ask of me
Just company, why then I should feel truly blessed
For I’ll have found a soul to share my time of rest.
Realization recently struck me like a slap in the face from a wet fish – I’ve been far too serious lately and it has been contributing to a morose malaise. The cure? Cast off all sense of grown-up responsibility for a while and just play.
Reveling in immaturity and freedom as I take a short vacation from the gravity of adulthood – it sure sounds attractive. I want to jump in a puddle to make the biggest splash, climb a tree and look out to the horizon, run around and laugh and play. I want to be Huck Finn and run away on an adventure…
Not that I will end up doing any of that – just dreaming. But the other day I did yield to the urge to get away for a spell – irresponsible perhaps, but necessary to restore some peace of mind. I walked along the river path, enjoying the stillness and solitude. It was enjoyable for a while…
..and then I started to encounter people and it spoiled the mood. Gone was my relaxed sense of ease to be replaced by a stiff uneasiness in the presence of strangers.
I took refuge in a place I feel comfortable but although it turned out to be an enjoyable day I couldn’t get time alone to restore some semblance of calm in my mind.
Swirling snowflakes fall without a sound,
Blanketing the ground in folds of white.
Sitting here I watch as patterns form:
Fleeting moments captured by my sight.
Morning comes: the rising of the sun
Illuminates the scene, clear and bright.
Wrap up warm in winter coat and hat,
And step out on this stage, set by night.
Early birds have left the only tracks,
Out despite the season’s frosty bite.
Rambling over heath, mind open wide,
Calm comes streaming in upon the light.
Samhain is over now. One night a year
The normal world outside my door departs;
Retires to the wings, the stage left clear
For actors to appear: the play can start.
Undead hordes come lurching by the dozen
With jack-o’-lanterns shining out their light,
And on their heels the cackling of a coven:
Witches trick-or-treating through the night.
This celebration marks the passing summer,
The seasons’ change: arrival of the dark.
Now the harvest’s gathered, hear the drummer
Slow the beat that tells life’s primal heart.
Feel the vital pulse’s change of tempo,
And light the fires to keep the ice at bay.
With Yule will come the turning of the corner,
When sun returns with growing strength each day.
That’s when the frozen world begins to quicken
As life is reawakened from its sleep.
Despite the thin veneer of modern living,
Our connexion with this land is old and deep.
Whether you still dance around the Maypole,
Or set the bonfires blazing at Beltane,
When Sumer is icumen in the rhythm
Of nature’s bold arousal strikes your brain.
Collective nouns are a curious breed – they often carry the prejudices of those who coined them. So for the pretty, colourful birds you have an exaltation of larks, a charm of goldfinches or a murmuration of starlings. But the large, black members of family corvidae have not received such sympathetic treatment.
A murder of crows; an unkindness of ravens. What have these birds done that they deserve such negative associations? For in fact corvids are among the most intelligent of our feathered friends. This intelligence has been reflected throughout history by the roles played by ravens and crows in mythology across various cultures, particularly Native American and Norse. Not merely bystanders in various myths and legends, these birds often play a central part as protagonists and messengers.
Some North American tribes’ shamanistic traditions depict Raven as the creator of the world. The chief god of the Norse peoples, Odin, was so strongly associated with ravens that he was known as the “raven god”; his pair, named Huginn and Muninn, being the god’s eyes and ears in the world of men, Midgard. Crows and magpies too have long been seen as spiritual beings, mediators between the realms of the living and the dead. Also to this day there persists a belief that should the ravens residing at the Tower of London ever leave, the kingdom will fall.
My personal belief is that crows, ravens, rooks and the other members of the corvid family are admirable, highly intelligent birds with an air of mystery and spirituality about them and a charming, insouciant – sometimes cheeky – manner. No wonder they have featured as tricksters so many times in mythology. And I love the black plumage with its subtle glossy iridescence.
One of my favourite memories is of a stone wall. Not just any stone wall but the one at the front of my neighbours’ cottages where I grew up. In fact stone fence might be a more accurate description: it was a row of upright stone slabs, made of locally-quarried sandstone as were the cottages themselves.
I remember the slabs well – not finely finished like tombstones but left a little rough and then weathered and rounded by the passage of about two hundred years. The raw sandy yellow of the freshly cut stone had long faded to a dull grey-brown supplemented by the green of moss and grey of lichen – it always felt as if the stone, once hewn from the parent rock, had been reclaimed and was once again a living part of the earth. They always had a softness to the touch – a complete contrast to the harsh, discordant roughness of brick and concrete. They truly felt organic, as if they had sprouted from the ground in that place. Being of natural material and standing in that place for so long they always felt to me as natural as the hills and woods.
As something is left to age in a place it acquires the character of its surroundings – hence the deliberate ageing of whisky. Eventually it becomes a part of its surroundings. I believe this used to be the case for people too, when they generally used to live out their lives within the community of their birth. There was a distinct local character (and often dialect) to each settlement and a sense of identity, of belonging. People within the area could tell in which village somebody had been born by their mannerisms and the way they spoke. But that was before industrialisation, before the growth of towns and mass migration, before the disruption and eventual destruction of those long-established communities, before everywhere became tainted by the homogenisation of modernity. Before we exchanged lives of hard toil driven by the natural rhythm of the seasons for lives of comparative ease driven by the clock on the wall.
We have lost our roots. We have severed the umbilicus that joined us to our mother. So many of us now think of ourselves as apart from the rest of nature. We think nothing of dividing the day into twenty-four hours and paying more heed to those numbers than to the rising and setting of the sun. Rain and snow are a nuisance. Insects are just pests. We expect the natural world to be as organised and sanitised as our constructed urban environments. We think of our lives as normal!
I’m not some Luddite advocating abandonment of technology – I appreciate and use advanced technology every day of my life. But I have not forgotten that I am just another animal on this planet, that I am part of the natural world. And if I did not feel part of nature I would not feel that I belonged – I would feel isolated, exposed, vulnerable, alone. But instead I am part of my environment. We have shaped each other over the years so that we now fit well together; I am just another part of the earth, one with the rocks and streams, wind and rain, plants and animals. As settled in my own surroundings as that old stone fence was.