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.
Tuesday, 25 August 2015
This morning in the meadow dew lay on the grass like a promise. After the night, we stood in the healing water, Dog and I, listening to the laughter from the terrace, the green woodpecker in its dipping flight, until morning came clear of the trees, lapped us in light.
Now, wind shakes the poplars until their leaves rattle, slams windows, harries cloud. No explanation, no apology from wind. It's only we who fear leaf-drop, fear the long long fall to winter as a loss, fear that there is – as indeed there is – no end to it all at all.
Wednesday, 19 August 2015
Once I turn off near Morlaix for Huelgoat on the beautiful forest road, an August morning rush hour means I pass maybe four cars in a 20-odd mile stretch. Crossing the Landes de Cragou, the moorland section, the sun has broken right through, all bar one small mist-ribbon at tree-canopy level, and its slant illuminates the way that every gorse spike, of which there is thousand upon thousand, is blanketed in the webs spun by those little spiders that launch themselves on the currents of the breeze in early autumn.
Early autumn it feels, despite the increasing warmth; I pass line-ups of scores of swallows on wires.
And the little boulangerie has my favourite buckwheat bread, still warm from the oven.
These are good things. But I’m short on sleep, and the dog, who didn’t enjoy this crossing any more than the last, isn’t properly through her latest op yet, and we have a long long drive in the heat in my ancient campervan down to the hot Cévennes to lead the retreat I look forward to so much, coming as it does at the opposite end of the year from my Iona week (or weeks, now, I’m pleased to say). But I’m exhausted, and would be grateful to feel that I might do more than perch on the tightrope of my life for a while, since everything about my future is still in flux.
All this is forgotten as I drive up to the lake which is her usual beautiful elegant self, a pewter platter on which the morning, plus two swans, sits.
Right then, my gearbox goes.
First response: panic.
Second response: I still have 3rd gear, and it got me to Huelgoat, just a mile or three from my stopping-place for a couple of nights.
And the wonderful garage man, who always gives me one of those from deep-beneath-the-eyes smiles, lends me a car to get self, dog who’s too old to make it on foot, and gear up the steep hill to where I need to be, and takes the van keys to look at it as soon as.
What’s more, my dear friend B is driving all the way from Switzerland to be with me later today, and join me on the drive down (630 miles from here by the shortest route); and my much-loved friend H is immediately offering me help by text.
Dog and I have a brief wander into the early forest, and a coffee, while I let the possible implications of yet another van problem sink in, and the feel of overwhelm at everything in my life – and then let all that drift away across the lake.
When a few tears escape, I know they’re as much for the fortuitousness of the timing of the gearbox collapse (it could have been much worse), and especially for the kindnesses I find everywhere, as much as for the many challenges that this period in my life seems to be bringing me.
And then I arrive, and the little house resting there in its pool of sunshine makes me smile.
Thursday, 6 August 2015
Surfing has been on my mind a lot lately; more metaphorically than literally. I am, personally and professionally (well, my whole life, really) in deep waters at the moment, with my head being ducked frequently. I say this not with self-pity, but rather as a statement of fact: I have chosen adventurous paths which are not based on material or emotional stability, and my temperament and therefore the situations I find myself in are reflective of that. It's uncomfortable, but I trust the ocean to wash me up where I need to be. At the least, I shall be scoured of an old skin and maybe find a new selkie-skin to swim in.
I relate to Laurens van der Post’s words: ‘And so I came to live my life not by conscious choice or design, but as someone following the flight of a bird.’ (My paraphrase.) Adam Nicolson in his wonderful book Sea Room says something similar.
I believe that psychological growth requires putting oneself out on a limb now and then. Times of stability need to be interwoven with times of risk. To be creative requires this, too. It's not so much that this is a conscious choice; it's just that creativity as a priority, as a modus vivendi, will require this of you.
I have a deep sense that the soul, each lifetime, always knows what it needs to bring us to wholeness, integration and self-realisation; the trick, of course, is to get out of one’s own light and learn to listen.
The good news is that with age comes the ability to trust that I can breathe underwater. And I have been repeating to myself a mantra that I think I’ve mentioned here before more than once: you can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf. Boy, am I learning to surf better.
Below is an excerpt aimed at writers from my book Writing the Bright Moment – inspiration & guidance for writers. It comes from a chapter that considers the risk-taking necessary for the creative process to unfold, and how planning, so necessary later in the process, can get in the way of creative expression if it’s the starting-point.
'Years ago I was learning to surf. I love water, but my preference is to be on or near it. Being in it, though exciting, holds a bucketful of fear for me if it’s deep and wild water (which, it being the North Devon Atlantic coast on which I was brought up, it was). I also love waves; but being tossed and thrown by big breakers a long way out of my depth, with my head continuously thrust underwater, is a terrifying experience.
'So since surfing involves – in my experience! – a great deal more immersion than buoyancy, you can imagine how I was pushing my fear threshold every time I carried the seven feet of fibreglass which represented my notional terra firma down over the sands. And, though the exhilaration of catching a wave is unlike anything else, and worth all the duckings, I found it quite hard to get myself to the stage where I could let go into it. I’d shiver on the shoreline, dig my toes into the sand, allow myself to be distracted by shells and pebbles – anything rather than notice how the undertow pulled at my ankles, and just how many hundreds of miles and billions of gallons of water swayed deeply and horribly between me and America, with only the three miles of Lundy Island to break it... (The procrastinations, of course, were a precursor of my life as a writer.)
'Slowly then you edge towards the water, wading until the surf is beginning to break against your knees, then creeping up your thighs, and you’re raising yourself on tiptoe or jumping to avoid that first cold slam of water against your lower belly.
'By this time you’re far enough out to launch yourself belly-down on your board and paddle out past the waves. Then you meet the first serious breakers roaring towards you, enormous as you’re lying prone, mountainous glassy walls about to crash; and either you breast them into a moment’s stillness the other side before the next one towers, or they pour their icy weight over you.
'And you paddle and duck, paddle and duck until finally, eyes stinging, arms tired, you turn, pausing in the quieter waters, keeping an eye out over your shoulder for a promising swell. It’s tempting to stay here, where it’s calm. This is where the waves are born, first as gentle undulations, then rollers, then the fearsome elemental breakers, which charge the shore and dissolve, before sliding back home to start the cycle again.
'The aim is to catch a wave just before it breaks. As a likely-looking swell rolls towards you, you paddle like crazy towards the shore to be travelling at the right velocity to catch the wave just as it peaks. If your timing’s off, you will be thrown, tossed under like flotsam, separated from your board and tumbled, flailing in cubits of opaque choppy water; of no more note than the kelp and bladderwrack with which you might share this tumultuous break of water.
'You’re trying to catch your breath and the board before the latter catches you; ribs can be broken, temples smashed, eyes taken out, even, by the sharp hooked fin that stabilises and steers the board (I had surfing friends who’d suffered these injuries, and more). You wonder – in between fighting for air and desperately struggling to get your head above water – why you ever thought this might be fun. You wonder whether you’ll drown.
'But if you catch it, you’re borne in like a bona fide part of this watery world towards the shore, sweeping in like a sea god(dess) on this flimsy piece of board. And – like after childbirth – you soon forget the terror.'
© Roselle Angwin, 2005/2015
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