Once again we find ourselves at the close of a year. The dark fingers of night grasp hold of most of each day as the light recedes. This is certainly a time to pause and rest along with much of our natural world. It's easy to forget just how long the hours of darkness are right now, our reality swayed by artificial light that banishes the shadow time from the corners of life.
A few years ago Nicola and I had a real awakening when we decided to sleep without a tent on Round Loaf, a local burial mound, at the Winter Solstice. Darkness consumed us by 4 in the afternoon and the wind buffeted our tarp throughout the sixteen hours of darkness until the light returned. It was quite an ordeal. Bereft of sleep, the voices of the wind spoke so loudly we couldn't even hold a conversation to pass the time. Our thoughts were with our ancestors who would have had an intimate knowledge and relationship with the dark, in fact their day began at nightfall, the deep syrupy darkness coming first.
Due to the depth of their connection they would have been aware of the slight changes that signalled the return of the light, just days after the Winter Solstice. One of the things we notice is the subtle change in the song of the Great Tit that happens around the 24th of December. A sure reminder of brighter days ahead.
Seeking the Good Memories
This past year has been a challenging one for many, in one way or another, to some degree and it may take a good measure of focus and searching to pull out the highlights and experiences to truly be grateful for. I used my Earthlight films and times away in wilder places as 'nurture points' for my well being and would like to share a few of those moments here with you.
Nature reigned supreme for me. My commitment to create a nature connection film for each Sabbat forced me to focus, to step away from melancholy, indifference and reticence and open myself up to gather stories to share. Looking back now, I'm going to highlight a few of the animal encounters that took me out of myself and into the real world.
Beginning at the Winter Solstice of last year I spent a few days in local forests and woodlands and my main enduring memory is of the Coal Tit. The encounter lasted maybe one minute but has lodged deeply within me. The tiny bird, probably the weight of a ten pence piece, was hunting for food on the woodland floor a few feet away and as I watched it forage I was consumed with its vulnerability. Such a tiny feather of a life, delicately turning over leaves, searching for nutrients as the winds raged around and the freezing rain seeped through everything.
I knew that it had to eat a good proportion of its body weight each day otherwise it wouldn't survive the long winter night ahead. Every day it had to show up, seek and search, shelter from the bite of cold and just be present with that moment, that very minute of its short life. Something about this tiny bird struck me as more precious than any amount of diamonds. Its tiny heart beating many hundreds of times a minute, a spoonful of blood circulating warmth around its slight wisp of a body. How on earth does it cling on to life?
A Ghostly Bird
Next, I find myself up on the moors on the approach to Imbolc. A light snow has fallen. I've tramped up to this particular spot several afternoons in a row to be present with this ghost of a bird, hoping for a close encounter that I could catch and share. Like clockwork the Barn Owl appeared, drifting effortlessly, silently over the frozen grasses seeking, seeking, seeking.
I fooled myself into thinking I was doing well to be so close, to not let it see me, thinking I was doing good. In reality Barn Owl was very aware of my presence from the very moment I stepped onto its landscape. Perhaps he sensed my presence even before he saw me. The owl kept a close eye on me, flew closer to check me out but maintained a certain elegant distance between us. Every day that I showed up so did Barn Owl, quartering the boggy ground, catching the occasional prey to be swallowed whole. On my final day of working with the owl I was treated to a sighting of its mate. The two of them flew close by, showing me that there would be more owls to come.
Later, as the wheel turned, I woke early on the edge of a nearby woodland. Honeysuckle was now dressed in new green, song birds were busy proclaiming their territory and their love. Dawn had just broken into the Equinox light and I stood watching the courtship of two buzzards high in the sky. Tumbling together above me they intentionally brushed wing tips, their aerobatics clearly demonstrating a particular joy for life. Another moment that would stay with me, one that I caught in an Earthlight film.
As the year rolled on, my memorable times in nature came thick and fast but I offer you Fox, a film that conveys a unique time in a Kent orchard. To be taken into the trust of these wonderful creatures was a joy indeed, although tinged with a heart wrenching sadness at the time. I can say now though that the cubs were fine. They were seen later in the summer playing amongst the fruiting apple trees. Fox is the only film I've spoken on up to now, I hope you don't find my narrative too intrusive.
Summer Solstice arrived and I was on the cliff tops building relationships with Gannets and Puffins. I had never been close to these birds before but a few long days in their company began to show me insights into their lives and personalities. During my time there Puffins landed at my feet and Gannet couples performed their ritual greetings next to me, but the highlight was without a doubt the final evening. I spent a couple of hours sat on the edge of the cliff, within touching distance of a Gannet, both of us still and silent, simply watching the sunset together. A truly golden moment.
Staying with the coast, this time on the Isle of Mull, Nicola and I welcomed the opportunity to spend a fortnight mostly in one spot! We find that by remaining reasonably stationary we get to know a place and that was certainly the case during our July trip. This time it was the White Tailed Sea Eagles that caught us.
Every morning we saw them and watched as they sat in a distant conifer, motionless, watching the sea and reading the landscape that flowed beneath them. Once, or maybe twice a day they launched from their vantage point to swoop through the rising clouds of gulls seeking their prey before settling again. We took some great lessons from their ability to still themselves and choose the right moment to act.
The Rivington Roes
Moving on to Lammas, it was the turn of the local Roe Deer in the yellowing meadows to draw close to me. Early early starts, before the sun, granted me access into their particular world. I've known this Roe buck for a couple of years and watched him grow in stature and build relationship with his own doe. This year I was heartened to spend time with his twin fawns who frequent our neck of the woods.
I also immersed in the smaller things of life, slugs, spiders, flies, beetles and various beings who skittled upon the waters of ponds and ditches. When I narrow my world and become a part of the undergrowth I find it expands my horizons in unexpected ways. Time changes along with the spaces between places. Personalities rise from the macro forest. Webs, both of spiders and relationships glisten with dawn dew, entrancing me with their impossible magic.
Mountains came next, home to the Glencoe Ravens and Golden Eagles. Ravaged by midges, dampened by the breath of forest mists I wandered awestruck through majesty and began to understand the enormity of life, and the unfathomable connections that make it all possible.
Heron, Raven, Trout
Finally, as Winter Solstice approached again I watched the dance of life in Devils Kitchen, Snowdonia, as Raven and Heron jousted over a fresh caught Brown Trout. I never thought a Heron would have the wit to tease, but it absolutely did as it strode into the middle of the stream just out of reach of the Ravens beak, and dangled its catch in front of it. Big personalities indeed!
This, and more, is all out there for us if we are willing to pay the price to be a part of it. Time is the currency of nature, and the more we invest the more we are rewarded. Exponentially so. A mere minute of Coal Tit did more for my awareness of life than hundreds of book pages. A few minutes of Raven altered the trajectory of my life and a couple of sunset hours with Gannet gave me a cosmos of nurture and solace.
As we enter a new year with so many unknowns I vow to be out there, present and watchful, with no expectation other than to get a sense of life in the round as the year rolls on. Maybe you could do the same. The rewards are guaranteed.
I've put together a thirty minute film, mostly from outtakes that didn't make it into my Sabbat season films. It's here for you to enjoy when you have the time. May nature weave its beautiful spell through you too as you watch.