you know of course that
another wrote ‘ne’er cast a
clout ’til May is out’
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Riotous birdsong this morning and – though I’m almost certainly kidding myself – a sense that Spring is not far away. Snow along the Pennine ridge is a feature of Spring up here – and somehow looks lovelier than usual when viewed from a landscape strewn with daffodils. Not many of those around yet, though there are a few hardy yellow souls numbered among our garden snowdrops.
I’ve been wondering today how a heron I’ve been watching for a few days can stand for so long in a freezing cold river. (And rehearsing chunks of Mary Oliver’s Upstream in my head). This most watchful and patient of fishermen must have thermally protected legs and feet. I’m minded to look up how that could be. Plodding along, close to home, I was startled and delighted by a deer just feet away. Or perhaps I ought to say that the unsuspecting deer was startled by me! Too quick for a photo today, I shall keep a closer watch for them in future.
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Yesterday’s grey evening gave way to a glorious golden morning. We’ve not had as much snow as other parts of the UK and the ice on this road lay in wait for the unsuspecting (me) – and I’m glad I only sustained a bruised shoulder. It’s not so bad walking uphill. The ski run, of course, catches you out going down! Not a morning easily resisted though, and once again the coffee on my return tasted and felt doubly great.
I wrote the other day about Professor Brian Cox’s reflections upon snowflakes and the fact that each has taken a different journey. I also posted a while ago about Mary Oliver’s The Other Kingdoms. It’s a poem that yields new and ever deeper fruits with every reading – and I’m struck today by the thought that Brian Cox would doubtless appreciate her lines
… the snow, for which the peoples of the north
have dozens of words to describe its
from The Other Kingdoms
The Truro Bear and Other Adventures
Mary Oliver and Brian Cox alike invite us to contemplate. What’s the hidden story (even where and if unplanned or not deliberately intended) behind different elements of creation, whether poetic or physical? Could either have anticipated that their works would lead me to contemplate an hour’s people watching on London’s Euston Station? Observing people greeting one another it’s plain that there are dozens of words to describe different arrivals. Diversity in unity. Poetic creativity. Life.
The English Lakeland Fells are always a glorious sight, but driving South today the whole of the southern range had been transformed – snow white, standing brilliantly outlined and proud for miles against the dome of a deep blue sky – and our hearts soared.
The truth is that startlingly beautiful transformations are taking place before and behind our eyes, indoors and outdoors, and in both our outer and inner lives, every moment of every day. Faced with today’s especially mountainous majesty – which couldn’t be missed if one tried – I realise though that I do miss so many miracles around me simply because I don’t pay attention. A sort of adult-dullard-by-accident!
So I’m going to make a conscious effort to look out for life’s multiple transformations, and to take note of them. It’s something beyond all telling that entire mountain ranges can be “painted” by zillions of tiny flakes of ice, themselves works of breathtakingly beautiful art, design, order and symmetry. Gifts to be on the lookout for, moment by moment, and so many of them incalculably good for our souls.
I brushed some snow from a garden bench this afternoon and my bare fingertips instantly felt the sharp bite of ice so that I was much less inclined to sweep it from the chairs! But as a thaw progresses and snowdrop shoots appear fresher, greener, stronger and taller than they did before, it occurs to me that the same snow that nipped my fingers has apparently blanketed and protected them.
Nature’s a never-ending source of wonder!
A certain minor light may still
Out of the kitchen table or chair
As if a celestial burning took
Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then –
Thus hallowing an interval
By bestowing largesse, honour,
One might say love.
From Black Rook in Rainy Weather
The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath, page 56
More snow today on already hard frozen depths. Everywhere looks stupendously beautiful – the Fells behind us and the Pennine range ahead of us. Still flooded fields are now the most picturesque ice-rinks imaginable. Maybe it’s just my imagination but flocks of sheep (whose tongues must be half frozen) look happier in snow than they did in recent driving rain.
Perhaps twenty-five or more garden sparrows have been making short work of seed, suet and fat-ball feeders today. Blackbirds – big consumers of porridge oats, clever things – seem to have been a bit bad-tempered with the sparrows, and the robins, who are usually pretty handy at taking care of themselves, have been watching them warily.
All of them are hungry – enough to pay little heed to the hopeful rooks who swoop in, comically intent on gaining foothold on perches designed for much smaller birds! It pleases us greatly to think that our regulars are daily stocking up with the energy resource they’ll need to get them through another snowy night. From our kitchen chairs we watched them as the evening’s fading light appeared for a while to glow incandescent around their tiny, busy, dear little frames – thus hallowing an interval …
Our neighbourhood has been quietened by snow and ice in the past twenty-four hours. There’s an especial sort of crisp, clear silence to be found beneath a starry night sky in a snow covered garden and – as ever – I find myself utterly enthralled by the notion that there is no music without the space of silence wherein life’s notes may fly. Which brings me …
‘Space, the bound of a solid’. Silence, then, the
form of a melody
Not, Silence, for thine idleness I raise
My silence-bounded singing in thy praise,
But for thy moulding of my Mozart’s tune,
Thy hold upon the bird that sings the moon,
Thy magisterial ways.
Man’s lovely definite melody-shapes are thine,
Outlined, controlled, compressed, complete, divine.
Also thy fine intrusions do I trace,
Thy afterthoughts, thy wandering, thy grace,
Within the poet’s line.
Thy secret is the song that is to be.
Music had never stature but for thee,
Sculptor! strong as the sculptor Space whose hand
Urged the Discobolus and bade him stand.
Man, on his way to Silence, stops to hear and see.
The Poems of Alice Meynell, 1847-1923
London, Hollis and Carter, 1947
New Grange Enter ... whirling suns resound engraved on the threshold, flowers of immortal fire shake their sistra. In a dark school you will overcome the colour of mortality when a far-off clarity seems near.
Collected Poems, p228
Snow fell around us quickly and quietly today, creating picture postcard scenes of stillness and beauty – cause for deep gratitude in a world where graphic images and lived realities of unimaginable horror are now part and parcel of our ordinary, everyday lives, wherever in the world we are.
The late poet Sally Purcell looked forward in hope to a time when humankind “will overcome the colour of mortality …”, stirred from grave’s “dark school” (literal or metaphorical) and quickened, re-vivified, by warmth and music – shaken sistra – of “immortal fire”.
And we do well to celebrate signs of hope – contradicting hopelessness wheresoever we’re able. There have been other “picture postcard” scenes today too. Women voted for the first time in Saudi Arabia. 195 nations reached a historic agreement to work together anew in the urgent task of limiting dangerous global warming. Here in the UK tens of thousands turned out to support winter festivals in communities flooded just a week ago.
Hope and hope some more – until “a far-off clarity seems near”.