north light

Year: 2014 (page 1 of 3)

Soft Browns of a December Morning

There’s very little light just now, and precious little sun.

Still, with a brief respite from the wind, and ice, and snow, and a break in the rain this morning, I went out.

I went out, and walked by the river, through the wood.

It’s what I am learning I must do, at least once a week.

Just: walk through the mud, with the trees, by the water, however dark, however dull, however crazy you might seem without a dog and only a camera for company,

Just: walk in a wood on a Sunday morning.

My practice, and my prayer.

Between Sleet Showers

It was not, to say the least, the most promising of forecasts.

With a day of rain and wintry showers on the way I was reconciled to a day spent indoors, but there was something about the break in the clouds when I was washing up the breakfast dishes that said: maybe you can still get out. Once felt, the tug is hard to resist so I decided to head out anyway, and hope for the best.

It was sleeting again by the time I got in the car, but twenty minutes later, the skies had cleared.

I found myself with a good ninety minutes or so to walk by the river between showers.

It was cold, it was muddy, the water was sleety slate grey and the skies were often looming heavy, but still, all the way along, I felt absurdly lucky at this chance to walk, at the unexpected gift of time between showers.

It was darker than I had realised and although my fingers got frozen taking photos I don’t have the images I’d hoped for, only those I’ve stored in my head: the reflections of the viaduct rippling in the water; the flight of a duck, low and determined as he headed upstream; the mallards drifting, swimming, laughing by the banks on the other side; a sudden glint of sun catching the last of the seed heads; the trees almost bare just the splash of berries, a blue tit, the robin; the cold on my face, in my fingers, the sound of the river in my ears and the feel of the sleet on my skin when the showers returned ~ these are the gifts of my walking on a Sunday, camera in hand, saying over and over, to the river to the trees to the birds: thank you, thank you, oh thank you.

And this is why I try and walk at least once a week, even when the days are so short, and when the weather’s bad.

When you’re inside it’s sometimes hard to make yourself go out, but when I’m walking it’s impossible to remember why you wouldn’t want to.

How else to remember the look of this day.

How else to remember: how it feels to be alive.

“I am your own
way of looking at things,” she said. “When
you allow me to live with you, every
glance at the world around you will be
a sort of salvation.”

William Stafford, from When I Met My Muse

This Day, Today

It is the 16th October, a soft, rainy, autumnal day.

It is the day of your birthday.

At the graveyard, two council workers carefully pile up barrow loads of leaves, tumbling from the trees all around, falling on this day.

It’s five years ago, your last birthday before you could no longer live at home, and we’re still sharing tea and a Victoria sponge.

It is this time last year: lost in lines of remembrance and the gold soft light of a Galloway autumn day.

It’s New Year’s Eve, the afternoon you were buried, snow all about and bitter cold, and the children sledging down the hill: over and again, like a tape playing on a loop inside my head, they race down the hill, shrieking with excitement, their laughter drifting over the voice of the minister, finishing his prayer.

It’s the day of your birth, written on this stone, as you are handed to your mother, her name written here, next to yours.

At a bend in the drive, the wheels of the council van skid on the rain soaked leaves.

It is today, indubitably here, this day.

And full to the brim with the others.

choosing to let go
the loosestrife
heavy with bees

drizzly morning three women in pink jackets and a red umbrella

Holding the Edge

The Celtic monks loved the places at the edge – islands off islands off islands.

These sites make fine places to walk, and think, and be quiet for a while. Many of the old monastic sites are to be found in the west of Scotland and Ireland, but there’s one on the east, not too far from here now, only a ninety minute drive to Lindisfarne.

Last Thursday was a happy combination of a day off, sunshine, and the causeway opening in the middle of the morning – the island closes and opens with the tide – creating the promise of a day.

Of course, we weren’t the only ones to figure out this happy combination, and from the causeway on there was a constant stream of traffic: people, cyclists, coaches, cars, heading for the edges of the edge.

The place was seriously mobbed, but even though the crowds changed the feeling of the place, I couldn’t help but feel glad there were so many there.

Dozens and dozens of people, off the beaten track, breathing in something of history, of refuge and retreat, of the quest for peace, beneath the hugeness of the skies.

I came home refreshed, sun kissed, with sunburn on my shoulders, and big wide vistas in my mind.

And here, a few days later, sitting in the sun of my back room, and making plans to head out again into the loveliness of a Scottish summer, it seems slightly absurd, disrespectful almost, in a time of war, and planes being blown out of the sky, to talk of places and moments that are full of such loveliness.

To write about big skies, and breathing underneath them, and the long quiet quest for peace.

To read the news is to know the world is full of darkness, destruction, devastation and pain, beyond our comprehension. You can’t ignore it, or pretend it’s not there.

And yet, I also know – or rather, it’s not a knowing, but more a sense, a feeling, a belief – that it does make some kind of difference to keep on affirming what matters and to claim some part of the air space for quiet, human voices, in amongst the toxicity of news, and incessant branding.

Perhaps in some way that is what it means to go to the edge, and hold it.

Perhaps that is what the monks were doing.

Perhaps that is what we need to do, and keep on doing.

Hold on to the belief that another way is possible, still.

so lonely
in this polished world
clicking in the reeds
on Linlithgow Loch

The human eye adores gazing; it feasts on the wild beauty of new landscapes, the dignity of trees. The eye is always drawn to the shape of a thing. It finds some deep consolation and sense of home in special shapes.

~ John O’ Donohue

Refusing the Operation

I pause on the bridge over the Bog Burn, to stop and watch the river.

Behind me, the world moves past: people cycling, running, walking briskly with dogs, or trudging home with shopping. I don’t know if they wonder what I’m looking at, I mean, it’s nothing special – a slow moving stretch of water, slightly brown coloured, it’s hard to know how clean, and I shouldn’t really call it a river at all.

But still, if you squint, or somehow soften your gaze, you might notice the way the hawthorn tree is drooping, laden with blossom, drifting right down to the water, so the blossom is touching the surface, and connecting with its own reflection.

Tree, blossom, surface and reflection on this slow moving, brown coloured water, blend, and merge into one.


It makes me think of a painting.

It makes me think of a poem.

It makes me think, I need to keep refusing the operation.



The picture is from a few weeks ago – the blossom is long gone now.

The inspiration is this poem, Monet Refuses the Operation, by Lisel Mueller.  It begins like this:

Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,


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