Dynamic Earth

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Dynamic Earth, Holyrood, Edinburgh: here’s a place, nestling beneath the great volcanic Crags in Scotland’s capital, that celebrates Earth’s beginnings 4.5 billion years ago, AND the light and far-reaching creation that’s still taking place right here in the present. There’s such an energy here, such a history, such a present, such a future …

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Hushed

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Winter-Time

Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,
A frosty, fiery sleepy-head;
Blinks but an hour or two; and then,
A blood-red orange, sets again.

Before the stars have left the skies,
At morning in the dark I rise;
And shivering in my nakedness,
By the cold candle, bathe and dress.

Close by the jolly fire I sit
To warm my frozen bones a bit;
Or with a reindeer-sled, explore
The colder countries round the door.

When to go out, my nurse doth wrap
Me in my comforter and cap;
The cold wind burns my face, and blows
Its frosty pepper up my nose.

Black are my steps on silver sod;
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad;
And tree and house, and hill and lake,
Are frosted like a wedding cake.

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Bitter and beautiful

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I’ve been meditating on the juxtaposition of two words in my mind today: bitter and beautiful.

Bitter – because this afternoon’s cold recognises no barrier in five layers of clothing and a felt hat. I am chilled right through to my very bones.

Beautiful – because this is Holyrood, Edinburgh, a place where both natural and humanly-fabricated elements of the city appear to revel in their own illuminated loveliness. A bit like the light in some of Rembrandt’s glorious portraits, one witnesses something of a warm glow, from the inside out. Soul-shining.

It’s an odd and delightful sort of thing, isn’t it, that the two can co-exist in the same moment? – the extreme discomfort of bitter cold, coloured and warmed by awestruck appreciation of the bared beautiful. It’s only a little while since these trees were dressed in all their best finery, peaceably overlooking the delights of garden parties in the great Palace of Holyroodhouse. Today the bitter cold has nipped the last of the leaves at their stems. Fallen and blown, they will now nourish the ground of future’s green glory. Limbs are bared as they face the months of winter, just as our human frame and spirit is bared – and ultimately nourished and grown – by assorted forms of all that we describe and experience as bitter.

All life has deep roots – temporal and eternal. We, with cities and trees, learn that bitter and beautiful work together. And those of us who have learned, and are learning this well, will wait quietly for Spring. Patient, and shining, from the inside out.

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Neighbourhood

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This bright and sunny day is exactly the right sort for some photos of my immediate neighbourhood here in Holyrood – which I think, with its close juxtaposition of very old and modern, is wonderfully photogenic …

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I have a favourite bench in Abbey Strand just in front of the Palace of Holyroodhouse. I often sit here, where poems begin to take form, and raise a metaphorical glass to another writer, to whom this bench is dedicated:

Johnnie J Kerr, Poet, Songwriter, Entertainer, Citizen and Lover of Edinburgh

This afternoon a lovely companion on the Abbey Strand bench told me of how she had recently completed a bit of writing herself. Now 98 years old, Mrs Hilda M had once hosted HRH the Duke of Edinburgh on a visit to the little community where she lives not far away, and about how she thinks she must have loved Edinburgh quite a lot really as she has spent her whole life here. And sunlight created a sparkle upon and around her head.

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Memento Mori ~ New Calton

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I’m one among many ‘regulars’ at New Calton Burial Ground (link) – the steep central footpath of which is frequently my route on foot to St Andrew’s House bus stop, Edinburgh Station and to shopping, Princes Street Gardens and the many other delights of Edinburgh City Centre. And today I want to observe that this cemetery is a place full of life!

The oft-seen tombstone inscription Memento Mori – a call to remember the inevitability of death – succinctly encourages wonderers and wanderers to live life fully and well in the meantime. Locus iste – ‘this place,’ this well-lived life, hic domus Dei est et porta caeli – is surely ‘the home of God and the gate of heaven.’

Here lie the mortal remains of architects, authors, builders, clerics, craftsmen and engineers, medics, masons, statesmen, surgeons, tanners, ‘writers to the signet’ (later evolving into what we know as lawyers), parents, children, ‘high and low;’ and many of the tombs look like little roofless houses with lockable iron gates, originally overseen by watchmen of the tower – to curb the enthusiasms of grave robbers intent on supplying the nearby medical school, ‘without whom’ …

And all who come here are treated to a view of fabulously ever-changing sky, the Royal Palace of Holyroodhouse, one of the city’s first gas lamps, the modern Scottish Parliament buildings, and the remains of an extinct volcano that last erupted around 350 million years ago – which is to say, they encounter a living history lesson of huge proportions, supporting the growth of well-kempt lawns and flowers, together with literally thousands of opportunities to delve into history and research, all the while contemplating bustling modern life in Edinburgh today – on the way to buy groceries.

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James Spence, Writer to the Signet, 1818

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Memento Mori and a representation of human skull and bones in (unusual) naive art: ‘The Burrying Place of Jas. Strachan, Tanner’

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The tomb of Alexander Henderson, Merchant – with a now open gate

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The Palace of Holyroodhouse (left), Arthur’s Seat, the Scottish Parliament Buildings, and Salisbury Crags (right)

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And then ‘home by another way’ for me today. Walking past the Scottish Poetry Library there’s another invitation to pause, in pavement chalk:

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Living in tomorrow or perhaps yesterday
Or perhaps not in time, but not today
Here there were only three days in the week
And twenty minutes were a full hour

John Cornford

What is so full of life about this city, ancient and modern, is her perpetual invitation to remember, to dig deeper, to know a bit about the root and origins of many things, to stand on the shoulders of giants, to prick up one’s ears to the sound of distant bagpipes on the wind, and to thrive.

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Holyrood Jewel Of A Day

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Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee Weekend holidaymakers have been basking (and paddling) in sunshine here in Holyrood – a ‘crown jewel’ of an Edinburgh day! This evening I’m watching tv coverage of the Jubilee Concert at Buckingham Palace – whilst also watching evening sunshine and seagulls on Holyrood’s Salisbury Crags from my window …

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Kilimanjaro

Late, great breakfast at the fabulous Kilimanjaro Coffee on Nicholson Street this morning. Friendly, warm and welcoming.

Imagine an architectural era of craftsmanship when Edinburgh’s beautiful chimney stacks were built of dressed stone …

You just call out my name, and you know, wherever I am, I’ll come running …

Carole King
for Tapestry, 1971

Honestly, sorely tempted by Beautiful at the Festival Theatre – but for the fifth time? Maybe a little excessive!

2021 – Living beneath Arthur’s Seat. Here’s one from a year ago today – one of those times and a Springtime view that’s engraved on my heart …

A lovely couple of hours in the gardens with my book and camera before supper

An explosion of magnolia

New College School of Divinity on The Mound

Edinburgh Castle, parts of which date back to 1103, and integral to Edinburgh’s World Heritage status, seen from Princes Street Gardens

The Ross Fountain, Princes Street Gardens

St Cuthbert’s Parish Church & St John’s Episcopal Church, Princes Street, Edinburgh