from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Friday, 11 January 2013

moments of glory

When I walked up to the top of the field with its woodland margins the evening before last in the just-dark winter inkiness, I was puzzled by little crackling sounds, like those you hear in a bonfire. They seemed to cover a largeish area and were both individually distinct and subtle, and really, together, quite a big noise. I heard them from a hundred or two yards away, and moved slowly and quietly. 

Once I came to within maybe three yards of the margin trees, though, the noise changed to a wave of sound: hundreds of wings fighting their way out of the winter branches in unison. Migrating thrush-family birds overwinter in our little copse; of course I couldn't see them so have no idea if they were thrushes, or blackbirds (yes some of them migrate too), redwings or fieldfares. I can only imagine that the crackling was the tiny cheeps they make to each other as they settle to roost.  

Early in her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek Annie Dillard mentions a tree, an Osage orange, which, ostensibly empty, suddenly flames with an eruption of blackbirds, previously unseen; then another, then another – hundreds of blackbirds from what looked like an empty tree. This was a moment of glory for her, to which she returns in the course of the book. Reading her passage, many years ago now, that tree became a moment of glory for me, too; one which I have not forgotten, to which I return, a metaphor against which I measure, or by which I name, other moments – including, of course, my own personal remembered gloriousnesses. The tree, in the book and in my imagination, is both itself and a metaphor for something else. It has become mythic in size, and that way contains magic.

It must be thirty years since I read her book. It's a classic in the world of 'nature writing': she's a scientist who writes like a poet, but with a very keen eye for details, processes and ecosystems. I loved that book, and instantly the crackling trees here took me to that moment of glory. How important these moments are, especially when the pain of the world is overwhelming. 

The beginning of this year – well, the whole passage since Christmas – has been marked by turbulence and conflict in astrological terms; by which I mean that symbolically the current angles of relationship, unusually intense and complex, between the planets in our solar system have mirrored difficult and troubled impulses for change. Many of us are feeling this in our present personal situations. 

And I, like many people – perhaps especially women – have been very deeply disturbed by the string of horrors since around Christmas: apart from the ongoing wars, things such as the gang rape and murder of that poor student in India, followed by another similar incident also in India, and then yet another in South Africa; and the news yesterday about the young Sri Lankan woman beheaded in Saudi Arabia yesterday – possibly for a crime she didn't commit. The animals tortured. The humans tortured. It goes on, it goes on, it goes on. None of this is unique; we know the world is full of suffering at the hands of humans (that of course is the particular horror) – and thousands of women are raped worldwide every hour. It just seems a little relentless at the moment, and we are affected by it. For many years I refused to hear or read the news on a daily basis – I still can't watch it; am too impressionable and it stays with me, stops me sleeping, colours my day. And then there is the question of staying informed in order to act for change...

Sorry. But I was meaning we can bring ourselves back to the present moment, breathe, remember over and over the little moments of glory. That way, we stay balanced, optimistic, strong, positive, poised to be a force for change.

So, today, I notice the dozen little lilac periwinkles; the nearly-open snowdrops, the wren and hen blackbird with a beakful of worms for, presumably, early babies. The hour or two of sun. The way the frost shimmered and increased the light in the air. The fire, glowing. You, out there, reading this. The way our lives all intertwine. 

And my dilemmas? Am dancing on the horns of. Or perhaps I mean lounging in the saggy hammock strung between the horns of. Trying to differentiate between the voices of fear and the deep instinctual wisdom of the heart and gut. 

Counting the stars. 


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