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

Monday, 16 July 2012

time's backstitch

Backstitch is one of those stitches where the action takes place under the surface. For each stitch that you take on the surface of the fabric – and which is a stitch back the way you came – two happen forwards, invisibly, on the reverse of the fabric to jump ahead. What this means is that each time you want to move forwards you actually appear to be going backwards, but at least it's only one stitch back to every two forwards. (I suppose that at least it reverses the Sod's Law theory.) Nonetheless it's an odd thing to be going back to the place you started the previous stitch.

Can I apply this metaphor to our passage through time? Seems to me something like this happens periodically, when time seems to loop back on itself. Thanks to relativity and quantum mechanics we know that time probably doesn't just unfold in a neat linear forward motion; that's just our way of measuring things conveniently from the so-called past to the projected future.

In other words, there are the great cycles of time in history where history itself, as they say, repeats itself. On our own human-sized microcosmic scales, in our little individual lives, we experience this too.

It's relatively easily explained psychologically on the individual plane: simplistically speaking, we tend to draw to ourselves, or be drawn to, at a subconscious level, others who and situations which exhibit patterns with which we are already familiar, patterns that find their match, their resonance, in our own psyche.

According to this thesis, this is why we find ourselves, in our relationships, up against the same patterns, the same issues, the same problems, over and over, even with, say, a new and quite different (apparently) partner – until we have confronted and tackled the root problem. (This may also explain the sense of familiarity we have on occasion when meeting a stranger whom we experience as being significant in some way to our lives; sometimes we fall in love with that stranger. I know this isn't a romantic view; and there is also the notion that our souls might reincarnate within a soul-group, with some of the same 'others' as before, so the sense of familiarity may in fact be an actual recognition. But that's not what I'm writing about here.)

Sometimes this sense of history repeating is not so easily explained.

In the summer of 2008, TM and I, fairly newly partnered, were doing a long-distance walk along the ancient Ridgeway, a prehistoric Wessex track, over three days and four nights, camping as we went, to arrive at Avebury. Early on the morning we finished, I had a panic phone call from my daughter to say that her little horse had been fatally injured. Cirrus was a stunning and gorgeous pony whom we'd bred – our first and only foal – from my daughter's little outgrown white mare (we keep our animals for the span of their lives, so the mare had been retired).

Cirrus was perhaps the biggest and most loved 'project' in my daughter's life; 13 now (ie still fairly young, in horse terms), he was being trained to pull in logs, as well as allowing E to ride the wildish reaches of Dartmoor. We'd handled him from day one, and 'training' involved only kindness, and explanations using body-language coupled with words to evolve a system of co-operation. (We don't ever use any kind of coercion on animals in our family.)

After this phone call there followed a period of very intense nursing using every available means of allopathic and complementary treatment; my daughter mortgaged herself to the hilt, as they say, and also practically lived in the makeshift stable, in which, in addition to everything else, she'd installed a CD player for soothing Bach to be played at a low level all the time.

Although for quite a time he seemed to rally, there came a time in mid-July when it was obvious he wouldn't make it. I've written about this elsewhere ('And Remember') in my new poetry collection All the Missing Names of Love, so I'll spare you the detail. Suffice it to say that my daughter dealt with his dying, his death and his burial with enormous grace, love and dignity. A rite-of-passage.

(Since then, there have been a number of other family bereavements – we as a micro-collective have been dealing with a lot of loss and death now since 2006, so this seems to be a particularly dense period in our personal family history.)

But how to explain this? Last week's three days' walking on the coastpath, four nights away, with TM – the first time we've done a long-distance hike carrying our gear since the one in 2008 with its grief-stricken ending. The morning after the last night, last Saturday, early, almost to the day of Cirrus' death, there's a phone call from my daughter to say that Cirrus' mother, said little white mare who'd shared our lives for nearly 25 years, was suddenly, inexplicably and critically ill, and that she (my daughter) had spent the night on her own in the field in the rain trying to keep the pony warm; and then another call to say the pony hadn't made it.

Déja vu as I walk across the field to find my daughter later that same day; déja vu as I see her beautiful tired sad face.


  1. I'm so sorry for your family's loss and I would have been in that field if it had been my beloved animal. I recently lost my elderly Irish Wolfhound. She had reached the end and both she and my husband and I knew it (very agressive cancer) so we had her suffering halted. I stayed with her right through so she could look into my eyes as she closed hers and a part of me went with her as it always does. I like to think she's running with my other four Wolfies in some animal spirit world and that maybe I'll meet them all again one day along with others to come.

  2. Angie, thank you so much for your kindness. I feel for you too - the loss of a dog is a big thing. Non-dog-owners don't always get that the gift of a dog's heart may often be the only experience of genuinely unconditional love that humans truly have.

    Wolfhounds and deerhounds are my favourites: our family includes Ash, a 3/4 deerhound lurcher, and an unbelievably kindhearted and gentle dog. I lost another dog two summers ago (also in July again) to an aggressive tumour. It's hard; and it's life. What a blessing to share our lives with animals, hey?


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