Given the darkness that has dogged much of 2017, it is perhaps appropriate that this year's shortest day should be shrouded in murk and mist – but even this can have an ethereal beauty if we do but seek it out. I dusted the cobwebs off my boots and headed to the woods, the river and the marsh.
Spectral birches shred the sky draped in mist. Woodpecking echoes, forlorn, unanswered – direction unknown carried on fog-sodden air. A hawk on stake-out, but hunkered and huddled, watching. Conserving.
Tactile childlike words to describe the route: squelch and slither, gloop and ooze. Newly plodged foot prints flattening ways through the reeds around the wettest bogs…but still the moles throw up their hills of sifted earth and somewhere a robin sings. A deer skitters at the margin.
England is way too small, too crowded, to do proper wilderness, but the degree to which we lament that is clear in these small managed spaces, facsimiles of what we've lost, allowed enough of a free rein to provide breathing space, ponder-space, nature-space. Wild enough for romantics, free enough for science, protecting. Conserving.
Fog is the most haunting of weather. Cold-fingered, damp and ancient. It is quietening, a closing in, a reminder that there are still mysteries in the world.
At the turning of the year, I pause to reflect on what has passed, what continues and what is yet to be. For many years I have done this is in the form of a written prayer, committed soulfully to paper and then burned and cast to the winds. A made-up ritual rooted in nothing whatsoever…but then, aren't they all, if we travel back far enough?
This year I am very conscious of Rebecca Campbell's advice that what is rising can only rise if what is falling is allowed to fall away.
I would like to say that this year has been a year of transition, but more accurately it has been a year in which the foundations for change have been laid. There are still areas in which I am pulled between desires which may prove mutually exclusive, arenas where my path may be blocked or diverted by the needs of others, and by my own need to remain true to my own core values.
I am still learning to let go. This simple ritual grew out of a need to let go of what I would have held on to, many years ago. What needs to be released is always the hardest part of the story to write – because while my head knows that what is past must be allowed to rest in the past, what is rising can only rise if what is falling is allowed to fall away…there are the quiet fractured heart-voices still whispering 'yes, but…'
My soul, my heart, my psyche, whatever you want to call it still struggles with the notion that letting go, letting be, has nothing to do with failure, or worth. It is a simple choice, like any other. Not that, this. So I try. To commit it to paper, to the flame, into smoke on the wind and let it go.
Easier things to get down are the celebrations – honouring the achievements of the year – my own and those of others whose joy in success also brought a smile to my eyes. Small victories and large ambitions met, the trivial and the potentially significant. Mark them all.
The largest tranche is gratitude, giving thanks for all the grace and luck and good fortune. For the people who have cheered and supported me…those who have challenged and taught me. For the simple things that I don't notice on a daily basis, that many in the world cannot count upon being there for them tomorrow: food, water, four walls and a roof. For laughter, and surviving the tears, and for the times when anger was the only valid response, and for being humble enough to admit when it wasn't. For being loved, and trusted, and at times forgiven.
The naming of things matters, being specific and clear, no room for those 'yes, but' whispers that don't really come from the heart, but from fear. The turning of the year back towards the light is not a time for fear.
It is a time for trust, and hope.
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