Category Archives: winter

The Lady of the Woods in January

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Do we call her the Silver Birch or the Diamond Birch on a grey, drizzly day in January? This is our next-door tree, the bright jewels visible against the dark bricks.

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1.1.17: Ditches

 

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As I walked out on the last day of the year, I noticed the hazel bushes. Some were already shaking their tails, but others were still not quite ready to open up, biding their time.

This was plucked from a bush beside a ditch – a running ditch after all the recent rain. The vase came from a ditch as well, one running beside a windmill next to a canal in Belgium where we had a cycling holiday on February. It reminds me of Victorian school ink bottles, but since the top is broken, all we know is that the miller cast it in the ditch, to be treasured many years later by a family of foreigners. It suits a single stem very well.

Lift up your eyes to the hills …

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There are hills and hills of course. Saint Thomas’s Hill is on the rim of the dish that cradles the city. Most cyclists seem to dismount to climb up it, but coming down is another matter; I think that qualifies as a hill. For the last fifty years it has housed the University of Kent, not visible in this winter’s picture.

Indeed I’ve deliberately shown this ‘temporary’ car park in all its glory to stress the point brought home to me as I turned this corner the other day – without my phone of course, so I could not recapture that careless rapture. Here the panel of parking regulations, the hastily spread asphalt  and the scrubby edges of the car park impel the walker to pass by on the other side as quickly as possible.

 

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I walk this way nearly every day,  eyes averted.

Between where we stand and those whitewashed cottages a footpath takes a short tunnel under the railway; then to the left of the cottages and to the playing field behind the tall trees; a not unpleasant walk. From there the hilltop is covered in university buildings; from here neither they nor the post-war houses across the field make much impact.

There’s no way you could imagine yourself in the Kentish countryside, but look up! There is a hill, there are trees, there is hope. Even if the developers would happily sacrifice the trees on the altar of Mammon. This car park has never been built upon. It used to be an allotment garden, gone wild before we came, but good for raspberries, brambles, lizards and slow-worms. A sustained effort was made to rescue the reptiles, now safely rehoused on reclaimed land elsewhere. But this land will be built on. People need homes too.

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But what struck me the other day as I walked home?

A hint of sun on the hill, made the grass, and the young stems of the trees – there are plenty of willow in yellow and red – shine against the black of their trunks and branches. It was a Psalm 121 moment – I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

A spring in my step, though nothing material had changed. The car park, graffiti and the intrusive buildings were still there, but look beyond!

The window looks out onto real hills, the Black Mountains of South Wales.

 

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This is the River Tame, brown with peat, passing through Uppermill, Saddleworth, last week. What looks like a weir is a set of stepping stones. I thought such things were imaginary when I was little, as they tended to appear in the sort of story books our teachers thought we should like.

Now there’s a set I can walk across any time I visit my mother.

Well, not every time, as you can see. But there is a bridge very near by, so no great hardship involved.

And yet the river has been known to rise much higher than this, when the upstream flood plain is saturated, and the rain keeps on falling. The bridge then cannot accommodate all the water that pours down; it tries to find other ways through. People get the sandbags out.

It rains a lot in Saddleworth!

So thank heaven the powers that be seem finally to have decided against covering the flood plain with concrete and buildings for a new school!

 

Things in the night that monstrous seem.

crypt.monster Take far away each hideous dream,

Things in the night that monstrous seem …

Two lines from the compline hymn came to mind when I read about the Christmas TV Ad which shows a boy who has a monster under his bed. Not a lot to do with the real meaning of Christmas, I hear you say. Let’s play with that idea.

This monster above has lived in the crypt, or basement of Canterbury Cathedral for many hundreds of years, along with a few more of different kinds, not unlike the imaginary beasts in the margins of ancient manuscripts. This fellow is within sight of Mother Concordia of Minster’s Mary and Child.

Ancient writers imagined the infant Jesus creating living creatures from the mud of the ground. I can imagine him playing with toy monsters and dinosaurs as so many children do today. There were plenty of monsters to be seen among the deities of ancient Egypt where he grew up!

Can we not play, and play fairly, in the world created for us and be grateful? Let’s play fairly by some of our less favoured sisters and brothers this Christmas – we all know several ways of helping. Let’s not be selfish monsters!