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Places are limited, so please contact me to reserve a place.
Snow Moon Fire
By sunset the snowfall had smoothed out the meadow and in the strange lucid twilight I quickly found the fire basket. Once it was free of snow, and the fire laid, the paper and kindling caught quickly and brightly, flickering sudden orange shadows leaping across the snowy drifts piled up around the hedges. I watch as slowly the logs catch, smouldering then glowing through. The small vigorous fire flickering burnished light across the frozen swathes of firm ice-crusted snow. The hard granular surface of the snow, the result of a single sudden February snowstorm followed by daytime thawing and clear night time freezing, looks like sand, light crisp cold fragile sand. As the evening progresses we feed the fire with dry logs, which begins to melt the snow beneath the fire basket in a blackened oval-shape. The full moon rises above the rooftops and the snowdrifts beyond the fire’s orange-light circle are cast in aquamarine moonlight reflections, catching crystalline ice sparkles in sharp blueness. The full moon night is twinkling clear cold, colder than it’s been all winter and brighter than it’s been all month, glowing in harmony with our Imbolc fire.
Illustration – “Winter Trees” © Caroline Salter 2013
Earth Pathways Diary
9th January 2017
Other pieces in Earth Pathways
Finally, today on the last day of the year, I actually saw the kingfisher of Snakey Path Brooke. I’ve lived here for 2 full years now and I often go walking around Cherry Hinton Hall, a regular circuit that takes in the tree sculpture, the Dawn Redwoods, the towering Scots Pines, the Mill Pond, the little slivers of woodland up to and along Snakey Path. My friends have all seen the Kingfisher, they say “How come you live so close to the Hall, but have never seen the Kingfishers?”. Well, I have seen all sorts of creatures around, I’ve seen and heard the Green Woodpeckers doomy drumming in the wild overgrown parts and I’ve see the wild honey-bee nest in the forked Ash tree, and I’ve seen the Jay-birds flitting in a pair – in fact they come into my garden too – but I’ve never, til today, seen a Kingfisher. And actually, when I did finally see the Snakey Path Kingfisher, it was on Cherry Hinton Brooke, not Snakey Path at all.
I was crossing the little bridge over Cherry Hinton Brooke, and at first I saw a white Egret wading in the stoney shallows, so I stopped to look. A sudden dog bounded full pelt into the stream and the Egret flew, and that’s when I saw a swift curving shimmer of sky-blue swoop up into the winter branches – The Kingfisher! The little bird paused and perched in a shrub overhanging the water. It stayed perched for a long time, I fixed my eyes on it’s orange breast, not wanting to lose the sight of it in the trees. A family crossed the bridge, grandma, mum and two young boys, so I stopped them and pointed out the Kingfisher and we all five of us stayed on the hump-backed bridge, staring as the bird serenely perched, sometimes turning it’s head so we caught glimpses of it’s white cheeks in the woodland gloom. We stood there fascinated, chatting quietly, fixated on the little shy bird, for quarter of a hour or more. They’d all seen the Kingfishers before, but usually just a fleeting glance on Snakey Path Brooke. A couple of dogs came tearing out of the wooded area, sniffing and scuffling along the bank, but the Kingfisher stayed put, perched, unperturbed. My mind was glowing with the Kingfisher’s radiant orange breast plumage and the memory of it’s flight, the steak of implausible searing electric blue along it’s back. The family moved on, tracking through the trees on the opposite bank, the boys with a camera edging silently up close to snap a picture of the Kingfisher from across the stream. After a long while the bird took off along Cherry Hinton Brooke towards where it forks off to Snakey Path Brooke and I got a long lingering view , a tiny smear of vivid blueness heading off between the river banks. I was pretty pleased, well, overjoyed really, what a lucky day I’ve had, what a fabulous end to the year. So much so that I think my enduring memory of 2016 won’t be the horrible feeling that yet another celebrity coffin is sliding into the crematorium’s furnace, but the sparkling vision of a tiny, miraculously blue-backed bird, riding the curving course of Cherry Hinton Brooke, swooping colour through the bare overhanging branches, this year I’ll remember for the magic of the Fisher King.
31st December 2016
SHARE if you like sky-clad witches in the moonlight.
The moon is our closest most visible heavenly body and has had influence on human culture for millennia. The moon is seen as a source of divination and knowledge. There are dozens of known Moon Goddesses across the world and across time. There are goddesses of the full moon, the dark moon, waxing and waning moons, the blood moon and dragon moon. And all these moon goddesses symbolise a visible change in the appearance of the physical moon, they are observation distilled into iconic folklore. For instance, a blood moon can be seen in the visible reddening of the moon during the night of a lunar eclipse. The dragon moon describes a solar eclipse, where at the height of the day the sun is devoured in the invisible maw of the moon, day is suddenly turned to night. If you’ve seen a solar eclipse you’ll know what I mean.
The phases of the moon – full/waning/dark/waxing are also directly observable phenomena, and some moon goddesses seem to relate to visible attributes of these lunar phases. For example, Artemis hunter goddess carries the visual echo of the waning moon in the curve of her bow. The taut bowstring showing her arrow is not yet loosed, a warning of the failing moon. Artemis’ arrows bring swift death to her prey, they are sacrificed and fall to earth, like the impending death of the moon and her disappearance from the sky on the nights of the dark moon. Artemis gives significance to moonlessness and deepest blackness, as anyone who has ventured into the woods on the dark moons will tell you.
The full moon evokes the vision of the pregnant full-bellied mother goddess. Not The Mother of All Goddesses, just Mother, with all her memes of fertility, anticipation, continuity and love. For many witches the full moon riding the night sky is the goddess. The full moon is the bright, almost touchable manifestation of moon energies. The full moon can be both seen and felt. If you want to see a moon goddess, to feel the glow of a divine presence, go out into the night, walk in moon-shadows, wander in the brightness of her shine, and then look up at the full moon beaming, hanging still in reflected light – that is the vision, that is the moon goddess.
On the other hand, there are no goddesses of the blue moon or the green moon or any super moon, and that is because these so-named moons are the invention of the number-crunching cyber age. Data from the NASA cloud reducing divine knowledge to theoretical statistical correlations. See, a blue moon is the occurrence of two full moons in a calendar month, see the problem? A green moon is the occurrence of two dark moons in a calendar month, which if you think about it in terms of observable lunar events, is totally meaningless. For a start, by definition a dark moon can’t be seen, rises with the sun and is blotted out in the daylight. Also, the calendar month is an artificial time construct devised to enable global institutions to sustain continuity in their commercial dealings – beginning in the late 1700s when England copied France and finally adopted the Gregorian calendar.
So, if you can’t physically see the moon in question, and it’s phase is only relevant within a modern calendrical context, how does that relate to the traditions of pagan moon worship? Truth is, it doesn’t. All it signifies is that the Moon has been commodified, rationalised, named and branded with spurious adjectives and superlatives. The moon has been turned into an app, that tweets to Facebook that there’s a green hunter super mega moon rising tonight, and that makes you look mystic and interesting – and I mean, everybody likes sky-clad witches in the moonlight.
The sun has slipped below the horizon, the end of a gardening day . I straighten my back and brush soil from my hands. Distant mature ashes and limes are printed inky black against a last glow of daylight as it dips into ochre dusk. A damp coolness rises up from the earth, a blackbird calls out his nightly watch and I stack my gardening tools away for the night.
Shadows thicken as I put the kettle on to boil and I gaze deep into the growing twilight of the garden, until the gloom seems to ebb and flow with crepusculous speckles that I can barely sense. Between the bat that flickers around my periphery vision, and the still silhouette of my cat on a garden wall.
In the settled pause of twilit teatime, I make my brew and wait, watching the garden unfurl in the gloaming, exhaling, filling it’s own space, and spreading out in the dusk.
Earth Pathways Diary
4th April 2016
Other pieces in Earth Pathways
My face is tingling in the dark, burning in the glow of the campfire. Everybody is gathering beside the fire, with chairs or on blankets. We draw in close, into a warm unbroken circle. Faces catch shadows in the firelight, some gaze into the fire, joyful voices ring close in the air.
Updraughts whip the fire’s flames into glittering orange cinders that spiral out into the deep night air, our wishes and dreams and petitions waft up in sparkling clouds, fading off in the height of the near-dark sky.
The night stays in my memory, I remember the misty rain that sprinkled around us. My head and back, places untouched by the drying fire’s heat, are drenched in the light summer-rain. Around me sit friends, with drums and guitars, flutes and voice. People dance a circle dance, close to the fire, edging and following the glowing circle of firelight. Somebody close by is playing a Hurdy Gurdy, It’s steady rhythmic drones build a deep, earthy resonance around which percussion, pipes and chants weave, flow, wax and wane. We are a circle within a circle with no beginning and never-ending, the chant hangs, spinning gently in my memory.
The memory now is so faded that I don’t recall who I was with, who sat beside me, who opposite. Mainly, I remember is the roaring fire, music, dancing, chanting, the heat and the rain. That we were there together, celebrating harvest in the ancient act of community. We are the old people, we are the new people, we are the same people, stronger than before.
Muffled up and walking in the park, that bright harshly cold midwinter morning I was horrified to see what had happened to the Sequoias.
I’d identified three Sequoias, or Redwood trees, in my local park a while back. I’d recognised them by their yew-like needles, their tall regular ovoid profile and red spongy bark, and I checked them out, spoke to them, whenever I passed through the park. But the needles of the Sequoias that winter morning had turned an awful lurid orange, the colour of the underside of a slug, or the nasty neon of cheap orange squash. It was as if they were shedding their needle leaves, yet as far as I knew Sequoias – Coast Redwoods (Sequoia Sempervirens) and Giant Redwoods (Sequoiadendron giganteum) – were all evergreen. I made a concerted effort to call on the Sequoias every few weeks over the rest of the winter and watched in dismay as the trees seemed to wither away and die.
I thought and read about Coast and Giant Redwoods a lot for a few months, learning that Sequoias are the largest, tallest and oldest trees on the planet, there is fossil evidence going back 5 million years. And although native to north west coast USA, since the 1860s they have become quite popular transplants in parks and botanic gardens across Europe, indeed Redwoods seem to grow larger, faster and stronger in European soil than in their native habitat. In the website Redwood World (http://www.redwoodworld.co.uk/) I found an invaluable information resource and exchange, with a county by county list of redwoods in the UK, there was no mention of Redwoods in my local park, only trees in the University Botanic garden and newly planted saplings in private gardens.
Although I thoroughly researched Redwoods it wasn’t clear to me why they appeared to be dying, there seemed no evidence of insect infestation and our local park has no large animals, like deer or cattle, to eat the trees, I began to assume environmental failure.
In googling image searches I tried to distinguish the two species and identify which species was dying in my local park. My local specimens were most like the Coast Redwoods (Sequoia Sempervirens), red burnished bark glowing in bright spring leaved green, growing tall, straight and wild in endless sun dappled groves on the internet. I was pretty sure my park Redwoods were not Giant Redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum) which seem to exist primarily in freak-of-nature type photographs – tiny human standing by stupidly enormous tree, or a cabin made from a single hollowed out log , or tunnelled through for a road, I decided that all those implausibly-giant-tree photographs on the web are either CGI or Giant Redwoods. My redwoods although clearly mature were still small enough to encircle with my arms, small enough to hug.
Then, one solitary park-walk in mid-April I noticed the Sequoias gleaming with that tentative nearly-bursting leaf-bud mild- halo of green, just like the park’s oaks, ashes and conker trees – it looked to me like the Redwoods were miraculously coming back to life. Sequoias resurrected. I spent quite a while with one of the trees, noticing new growth, leaf shapes, patterns and sizes, and then I rushed home, giddy to google “deciduous sequoia”.
That was how I encountered the third member of the Sequoia family – the Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostrobides), a tree believed to be long extinct, an ancestor to Coast and Giant species , known only as fossils. Then last century a stand of deciduous Sequoias were discovered in China, it took until 1946 for the connection between the Chinese trees and the fossils to be made. To prevent final extinction seeds were gathered in 1948 and distributed to universities, research facilities and botanic gardens around the globe.
The Dawn Sequoia is characterised by its deciduous nature and the leaflets occurring in opposite pairs on the stem, apart from this, for a lay person, there really is nothing to distinguish the Dawn from the Giant or Coast Redwood. The outline of the Dawn and Coast are almost identical and they all bear the distinctive bright spongy red bark.
All three trees in my local park are mature enough to produce cones and to have reached their current size they must have come from the earliest batches of seed distributed in 1948. I have contacted the Cambridge Botanic Gardens and Redwood World website to see their thoughts, and it will be interesting to see if I can discover the story of these three rare trees and how they came to be planted here, in a suburban Cambridge park.
In December 2012 I took this series of photographs of the stone-laid labyrinth at Gaunt’s House in Dorset.
The Labyrinth at Gaunt’s House is a classic seven-circuit labyrinth in turf and brick, laid out in the private grounds of a Dorset Retreat Centre. It has been used for meditational and spiritual purposes by visitors to the house since it’s construction around the turn of the millennium.
In December 2012 I was staying at Gaunt’s House for a fortnight volunteering. We were painting and decorating a cottage on the grounds, in exchange for bed and board. READ MORE
View more photographs HERE