Waving not drowning


I’m slowly sinking beneath the tide – not drowning but waving – to bowdlerise Stevie Smith’s poem.
And not a watery tide either. My whole garden seems to be subsiding beneath a sea of flaming leaves. Years ago I planted a row of liquid ambers, and sought out the brightest, most vivid species of autumn leaves, and it has proved true to its promise.

The colours, orange and purple, deep red and gold never fail to thrill me.
But now with the end of the golden weather, and autumn sliding into winter, these trees are revealing the bone structure hidden all summer under their luxuriant foliage.

Today, with pouring rain and cold blasts of wind I look out of the window at these grey skeletons and savour the fag end of autumn and the idea of winter settling in – and I love it… the fire’s lit, a pile of logs sitting smugly on the hearth, soup on the menu for lunch, and the pleasure of wearing a bright red wool jumper.

In my other life, the other side of the world, May and June in the northern hemisphere meant the opposite. I loved them then for may blossom and blackbird song, honey- suckle beginning to bloom in the hedgerows along with pale pink dog roses, and the pale translucent green leaves of beech trees with the sun shining through them… and a full moon shining over a loved wych elm on the sky-line. As the days grew warmer, the cooing of wood pigeons in the woods and the murmuring of innumerable bees in lime trees announced those hazy lazy days of summer.

In this country these months mean returning to those well loved clothes which never wear out, the wools and coats of winter, with the rich colouring and textures that summer clothes rarely possess… the sybaritic pleasure of a piping hot electric blanket on a cold wet night, and the glowing starlit sky of a frosty one.

So now I love these months for different things. I savour the bare hard look of ploughed fields, and stripped trees for silver trunks and shades of bark never noticed when the leaves were green. Mole said it best in ‘The Wind in the Willows’: “It was a cold still afternoon with a hard steely sky overhead…

“The country lay bare and entirely leafless around him and he thought he had never seen so far and intimately into the insides of things …Copses , dells, quarries and all hidden places which had been mysterious mines for exploration in leafy summer, now exposed themselves… He was glad that he liked the country undecorated, hard and stripped of its finery. He had got down to the bare bones of it, and they were fine and strong and simple…”

And in his diary for December 12, 1874, The Rev Frances Kilvert described: “… a beauty in the trees peculiar to winter, when their fair delicate slender tracery unveiled by leaves and showing clearly against the skies rises bending with a lofty arc or weeps gracefully drooping.

“The crossing and interlacing of the limbs, the smaller boughs and tender twigs make an exquisitely fine network which has something of the severe beauty of sculpture while the tree in summer in its full pride and splendour and colour of foliage represents the loveliness of painting.

“The deciduous trees which seem to me most graceful and elegant in winter are the birches, limes, beeches”.

The rhythm of the seasons is felt less in the gentle micro- climate where I live, than in the colder regions of the country, but I still revel in them. When I lived in the tropics for years, I ached for the regular changing of the seasons, for cold and bleak or warm and balmy. The lack of variety of perpetual warmth, perpetual sun, perpetual foliage, flowers and fruit, unchanging as the months went by, were in the end, utterly boring to a westerner born and bred to the rhythm of the seasons.

Subtle Screwtape, the senior Devil, writing to his nephew Wormwood puts it better in CS Lewis’s ‘The Screwtape Letters’: “He (God )has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together in the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm.

“He gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is felt as a novelty yet always as an immemorial theme… men will be transported by the mixed novelty and familiarity of snowdrops this January, sunrise this morning, plum pudding this Christmas…”

Yes. The devil is right, it’s the constantly changing seasons, the beauty we cannot grasp and keep, and at the same time the pleasure of doing what we did last year and the year before which gives life a richness and satisfaction. Children feel it as keenly as adults – who is as insistent as a child that we do the same as we did last year, especially at Christmas?

What the elderly devil Screwtape didn’t mention to his nephew Wormwood, who he was teaching to capture souls, was an even more regular pattern of rhythm – the poetry of the waxing and waning of the moon, and also the moods and feelings which are so often influenced by those rhythms. So often in the swings between euphoria and despair it’s easy to lose the way, and forget that these highs and lows are also part of the rhythm of life and of the human soul.

Yet ataraxia, which is an arcane word for: “ a state of freedom from emotional disturbance and anxiety “, coming from a Greek word meaning impassive, really sounds rather boring I commented to my dearest friend as we laughed over this definition. Who would want to be in a permanent state of valium-like tranquillity and never experience all the excitement of living, never to enjoy anticipation, exhilaration, or spontaneous joy. Without the rhythm of our emotional ups and downs, the waxing and waning of feelings and fun, life would lose its zest.

That isn’t to say I actually enjoy the downers… and usually I realise I’m using the left side of my brain when I’m depressed so I can do something to rise again. The left brain is the one that presses logical solutions and sensible brakes on hope and enthusiasm and joy. The voice that says you may not be able to do this – it’s too difficult – you’re not up to it…

Maybe that’s where Screwtape and his ilk gain their footholds on the human soul. The antidote to all this is the shift across to the right brain, the seat of intuition and inner knowing and the accepting and optimistic view of oneself and the world. And so back up into the rhythm of light and dark, warmth and cold, summer and winter, and savouring the joy of them all. The sun and the moon, the movement of the stars, the tides and the winds, the leaves budding and opening and falling, all swing us along through the seasons, and somehow, for me, as each season comes round again, it seems as safe an anchorage as home itself.

Food for threadbare gourmets

When I want a quick sustaining lunch, this is one of my favourites. I grate a medium sized potato, mix it with an egg, season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and tip the whole lot into a frying pan with hot olive oil. I turn it like a pancake when the under- side is done. While it’s cooking I grill a couple of rashers of free range bacon, and… quick, tasty and satisfying.

Food for thought

Even as our few remaining wilderness areas are threatened, each day more of us venture into these beautiful landscapes to experience the energy for ourselves. And, immersed in the natural rhythms of the earth and the wind and the sky, our minds relax and we view our lives with quiet perspective. We can see our paths and can recognise the synchronicity that has guided our footsteps.
James Redfield from The Tenth Insight


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22 responses to “Waving not drowning

  1. Thank you Grace – a beautiful word, and treasured


  2. Juliet

    What delightful reflections on the seasons Valerie. I love the quote from the Screwtape letters, about the balance of permanence and change, and your garden descriptions, and ‘the well-loved clothes which never wear out’. My winter coat is like that (so far).
    I too have been reflecting on the seasons – now on my website blog, which you may find easier to access and comment on. Do have a try:


    • How lovely to hear from you Juliet, thank you for your appreciative comments as always.
      I went straight to your wonderful blog about samhain, and so enjoyed the knowledge and wisdom, the layers of meaning and the thinking behind it.

      I wrote a comment, danced through all the hoops and was then confounded by the instruction at the end, and assume that I haven’t got past the barrier ! Alas…


  3. . . . . the beauty we cannot grasp and keep, – Interesting thought.
    Perhaps fine art is as close as we can get.


  4. Valerie, this post reminds me once again why I’m happy you’re back to posting. I feel the same way about the joy of seasons and each season prepares the heart and mind for the next. I love each season and I, like you, would miss the seasons if I were somewhere without them.



  5. Valerie your words transformed my day. Thank you


  6. Sigh! Your writing is so lovely, so poignant, so beautiful. I always feel this way in the fall, but my mood and my joy darken as winter takes hold. But hope arises as Spring approaches.



    • Thank you dear Linda for your lovely words…I can understand your apprehension when you have so much to cope with in winter on the farm.. Hope you’re reveling in the joy of spring, ..
      love to dandy Sherlock too XX

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I love experiencing the seasons through your writing Valerie. We have the best of both worlds here this week – the glorious spring, but also colder rainy days when we can wrap up warm and appreciate being cosy.


  8. Thanks for these great words about the seasons. You started by referring to the trees as markers of seasonal change, and trees recurred throughout this great post. I was thinking about trees especially hard today, and their amazing, sustained, continuing generosity through seasons, years, decades and centuries. Think of it. To reproduce itself, a tree has to produce only ONE seed that grows to maturity. Yet through the decades they produce countless thousands of seeds, always encased in fruits of some kind. These fruits and seeds meanwhile nourish countless beings:; insects, birds, mammals, reptiles, humans, through decades and centuries. And the leaves of trees. The grateful sweet shade they give to countless beings. The shelter they provide as homes for birds, mammals, reptiles, insects. The way they scrub carbon dioxide out of the air, and give off clouds of pure oxygen. The way their roots reach deep and pull minerals to the surface layers of the soil, and water — they can raise the water table of a whole region and cause dried springs to flow again. The way they anchor the soil to the earth . . . . And what trees have given to humanity — besides everything else, the wood of their bodies to provide our infinity of building materials, utensils, tools, paper, garden mulch, sawdust, and engines of war; their beauty, the sound of their leaves in the wind. The sap of their bodies for sweet syrup and sugar. What does a tree ever take from anything else?? Nothing! They give and give and give and give. No wonder trees were worshiped by Druids. We should all be constantly bowing down to them, planting them, loving them. Thank you for your words of praise for them today.


    • What an amazing comment – thank you so much – so much to think about, and to learn – and you reminded me of so much that I already knew, but never thought about or pieced together – wonderful words, they deserve a blog themselves, thank you, thank you


  9. You cause me to stop and consider the seasons in different light. Truly I am intolerant of cold thus find myself counting the days till spring and summer. I mourn the arrival of autumn, knowing it foretells another winter. You have given me something to think about, perhaps a different way to see the changes in season.

    As I am always glad to see your name, I am forever happy you have returned.


    • Val, thank you once again for such an encouraging comment.. I on the other hand always learn something from your blog…
      Hope you can get over the cold !
      I feel the cold terribly too, but have made it an art form to keep myself warm and snug !!!


  10. Oh, I do love your posts! I too love the changing seasons and especially love being able to see the beautiful structures of leafless trees. My lovely parents gave me Kilvert’s Diary many years ago – I must read it again.
    I agree too about emotions and seasons and would add in the weather. We have lived in a pathetic fallacy this week as the government stayed the same and half the country wept, the rains came and fell and fell.
    If we didn’t feel low sometimes we wouldn’t recognise the highs and the Valium state would kill off all creativity.
    There’s a quick tasty lunch to try. Thank you. 🙂


  11. Lovely to hear from you Sally… so glad you understand about Kilvert ! One of my favourite diarists – I love people’s diaries – which is why I enjoy your blog apart from the beauty… it’s like reading a diary of your life !!!


  12. Valerie – I agree with you so much about those colours and about seasons.

    It’s strange here in the Northern hemisphere where we’re in late spring, the slowest trees are leafing and the Swifts have arrived, to read of autumn now!

    Mybeautifulthings: if you’re in the UK, the government didn’t stay the same and we’ll soon see the consequences.


    • Yes, Spring in the northern hemisphere is so precious, after waiting through all those long hard months of winter… I love the freshness and brightness of all the spring flowers.. drifts of crocuses, primroses and the like !


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