The light. It’s something I forget every year, this annual new year gift: the pale, slanting sunlight which January brings as the days begin to lengthen. The new light washing through old windowpanes. Splotches of sun on the wall, the first of the year, making the children’s budgies trill and twitter with pleasure. Pearly morning mist on the frosty fields; long-drawn afternoon sunsets of golden haze.
Around the start of the year I noticed several people on social media choosing a ‘word for the year’. The idea came from the ever-inspiring Susannah Conway although, by the time I realised that, I had already found myself choosing a word. In fact I think the word chose me.
My word for the year is ‘light’.
Well, good for you, I hear you say, but what on earth does a ‘word for the year’ actually mean?
I’m not sure either. That’s the appeal of it. I’m not following Susannah’s work, but I felt instinctively that it would be an interesting and very possibly enlightening (pun intended) exercise to focus on a word and to see what it suggested to me, where it led, and what unanticipated meanings might emerge in the course of the year. Already I see that choosing light (over darkness, by implication) means looking for the good rather than the gloom in people and situations, which is a helpful mental habit to learn: what I didn’t anticipate was that it might mean – has already meant – speaking up, taking action in defence of what I believe to be good.
Another meaning of ‘light’ that has occurred to me to reflect upon is the Christian one, ‘Christ our Light’ as we acclaim at the Easter Vigil. It’s no bad thing to have a guiding light in this world. In the words of the gospel of St. John, ‘the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.‘ [John I.5] Comprehend as used here ,in the early seventeenth century language of the Authorised Version (the King James Bible) has the meaning not only of understanding, but also of surrounding, taking in, absorbing. The darkness cannot understand, and cannot overcome, the Light.
As I have been writing, the wreaths of mist across the fields have slowly lifted, revealing glimpses of the snowy hills beyond the woods. The budgerigars (the first of whom was 2015’s much-pleaded-for Christmas present to younger son) have been keeping me company: I moved their cage closer to me on the nearby windowsill so that they could enjoy the pale afternoon sun. Strange to see their tropical colours of turquoise and lime against the backdrop of frosted branches and cold white hillside. For a little while, though, before the long dusk makes it too chilly, they revel noisily in the unexpected novelty of sitting in sunshine.
What a gift it is, this clean new light of January, at a time of darkness both literal and metaphorical in the northern hemisphere. If you are wondering about that and other allusions, by the way, be assured that I’ve always made Dancing Beastie a politics-free zone, and I intend to continue that. For the moment, at least. We all need some places where we can step out of the fray to rest a while, to draw breath, and reflect that there is beauty in the world; that despite our fears and worries, there are so many things for which to be grateful.
Not least, the light.
With the possible exception of Andy Murray – now SIR Andy, with a knighthood in the New Year’s Honours List to cap a year of outstanding sporting achievements – I would guess that most of us are pretty relieved to see the back of 2016.
If only the turning of the year could wipe the slate clean of old worries, old tragedies, old wars. We know it cannot, yet still we wish…while 2017 begins with yet more innocent lives taken, in Istanbul this time. The darkness seems strong in the world these days.
There are many, so many of us, though, who choose the light. It helps to remember that.
It need not be a big thing, sharing the light. Maybe you smile at the surly man behind the counter in the corner shop, reasoning that it might be the first smile he’s had all day. Maybe you send a postcard or pick up the phone to someone you haven’t spoken to for a while. Maybe you do far more than this: voluntary work, fundraising, fostering…or maybe you simply manage to bite back the sharp retort to the relative who is getting on your nerves, and give them a kind word instead. Whatever it is, it is worth doing and I salute you for it. As the old saying goes, ‘Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.’
My own wish for the New Year, for myself as well as for you, is this:
May your hopes be fulfilled; may your fears be unfounded; and may your courage be undaunted.
Happy New Year!
You can find more cheering thoughts for January in Oh, what a beautiful day.
Well, that blogging hiatus was a leeetle longer than I intended.
After seven years (!) of blogging, it seems that I needed a seven month sabbatical. I haven’t forgotten the fellowship I found in Dancing Beastie: the support, kindness and loyalty shown by readers has helped me through some tough times, more than you might guess. Thank you.
Thank you also for kind comments in my absence. It’s so nice to be missed! While I’ve been wrestling with how I feel about blogging, I’ve turned meantime (like several other bloggers) to Instagram. You can find me there as Dancing Beastie, of course. A photo and a brief caption is easier to fit into the busy days than a blog post.
In dark and troubled times for the world, I began to wonder if a little blog about the pleasures of a quiet country life had any point anyway. Recently I came to a decision. In dark and troubled times, a little blog about the pleasures of a quiet country life is exactly what’s needed. So Dancing Beastie, the blog, remains open, however erratically.
May I wish you and yours a very merry Christmas! and may we all have peace, hope and joy in the New Year.
Hello, I’m still here! How have you been all this time?
It’s Saturday lunchtime and I’m sitting in my local café with my family, on my laptop. Don’t you just hate it when people use their electronic devices at table? Normally this is an unspeakable crime in our family.
The excuse – accepted by my family, though with a little teasing – is that we have no internet connection at home. Well, we do, but it’s so minimal as to be worthless (0.2 mbps, upload speed zero). I can’t see videos, I can’t upload photos, and in the time it takes to load a web-page, I can put the kettle on, let the dogs out, hang up the laundry, make a cup of tea and sit down again.
We are trying to fix the problem. Apart from anything else, my husband runs our business from home, so internet access is crucial. Meanwhile, oh, there’s so much to share: sunny days in the garden, bluebell woods at their height, crab apple blossom and even a slightly alarming rescue mission for a wild swan. For now, however, our lunch is here and I must rejoin the family. I hope to be back with you before much longer.
May already: although it doesn’t feel like it yet. A few warm, sunny days towards the end of April were balm to the soul – and to the garden, which put on a growth spurt (mostly of nettles). Last week, however, swept out the month with snow and hail. You can get all seasons in a day at this time of year.
Yesterday morning, it being the May Day bank holiday, my husband suggested we plant the rose bushes which I bought recently in a fit of extravagant optimism. I think he was looking forward to a morning’s pleasant labour together in the spring sunshine. It was sunny when we went into the garden, certainly…but by the time we’d fetched the spade and the sack of manure, a sudden squall had got up. It’s not that easy trying to dig a two foot hole while holding onto your hat. The emptied plant pots went bowling across the grass, along with my husband’s cap. Meanwhile another couple of slates slid off the castle roof onto the garden path…sigh… At least the rain, the first in several weeks, was welcome; although we wouldn’t have minded if it had arrived an hour later.
It is satisfying to have got the roses planted, whatever the weather. Two generations ago there were rose beds dotted all over the garden: before the First World War, apparently, my husband’s great-grandfather had two gardeners whose job was just to tend the roses. Changing labour patterns in the middle of last century took the total number of gardeners from eight to one: perhaps inevitably, most of the flowerbeds were grassed over to make maintenance easier. I’ve always had a soft spot for roses, however, and wished we had more, despite their reputation for being high maintenance. In planting some new ones (actually relatively ‘old’ varieties like soft pink ‘Gertrude Jekyll’) into one of the remaining beds, I’m hoping firstly to bring some more romantic prettiness to the expanse of lawns, and secondly to save myself the job of having to plant out dozens of bedding plants twice a year, as was done in the past.
We shall see. The great thing about this time of year in the garden is that it’s still full of promise: this year, you tell yourself (every year) will be the best ever. Look how tidy and healthy everything looks!
Actually that moment of perfect promise lasts about five minutes. This year it was two weeks ago on Thursday. The tidying up of the winter borders was finished; the beds were dug over with rich brown earth; the fresh new leaves were just beginning to look as if they meant business. Then came the two days of warm sun – and lo, the next time I looked, every flower bed and path was bristling with weeds. And then last week’s snow and frost put paid to several tender seedlings (though not the weeds, obviously), including my son’s neat little row of nasturtiums, planted out optimistically early. We will have to start again with those.
Such is the joy of gardening. It is the triumph of optimism over experience. At least the busily growing weeds, and all the planting still to be done, keep me from idleness. And oh, look, the apple blossom is coming out against the western wall of the garden. Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May – but I’ll still hope for apples come September.
You might enjoy The very hungry caterpillar: a tragedy in three acts
and also What colour is your May?
During my lengthy silence here, the seasons have moved on at last. Spring is indubitably springing.
In the fields, the new grass is grown enough for the cows to have been put out to pasture a few days ago. Every morning now we spy another calf, born in the quiet of the night. The swans are building a nest on the lochan; the oyster-catchers are digging scrapes in the garden urns to lay their eggs. And I have been busy in the garden, clearing and digging, planning and planting. For the first time since we took over Castle Beastie thirteen years ago – for the first time in my life – I find myself the head gardener. Quite a thought if you are as ignorant of gardening as me. Still, that surely means that I will learn by doing – the mistakes as well as the (I hope) successes.
We are still immersed in the school holidays, but my intention is to write here from time to time with reports from the front line of horticultural ignorance. It must be the sap rising that has made me want to return to blogging, if only occasionally, and with the usual haphazard subject matter apart from the garden. So with that gloriously British piece of enthusiasm said – onwards! And may the joys of spring be yours.
Hello, how’s your winter going so far? Are you as fed up of the weather as I am?
Rain, snow and storms in a Scottish winter are not news. They are just a Scottish winter. But torrential rain, repeated flooding, and storm system after storm system…that is news. Indeed, the only fun in watching the otherwise depressing evening news on telly these days is the ‘weather porn’ feature, when we can watch the BBC getting over-excited about the latest bit of extreme weather. Usually led by some poor reporter standing in the dark, drenched with rain, their hair whipped about their face as they gesticulate at the waves or the swollen river behind them. (One daft thing which has me shouting at the telly: they never wear a hat.)
It’s supposed to be El Niño behind all this meteorological turmoil, isn’t it? We were warned in the autumn that a bad winter was on the way, but I at least hoped that meant days of crisp snowfall, not the endless wind and water. Anyway, enough grumbling. Other countries are faring much worse. We have had a few snowy days, and very pretty they have been too:
The many wet days have given me a reason to make my first ever batch of Seville orange marmalade. It looks like sunshine in a jar: a very satisfying thing to make in this dreich season.
Our first snowdrops are flowering, encouraged perhaps by the warm December we had, and unperturbed by wind, rain or snow.
At the moment, however, the wind is our main news. Storm Gertrude, which hit us on Friday, brought down an alarming number of heavy slates from the castle roof and half of one of my favourite beech trees. We have lost several lovely beeches in the past few years; trees two or three centuries old which, sadly, have reached the end of their lives on our watch. I hope that the saplings we have planted around the place will have the chance to bring as much pleasure to future generations as these fine old trees have brought to us.
Friday’s storm has also smashed one of the antique cast-iron urns which adorn the grounds, and brought down masonry from a chimney stack on the sixteenth-century tower of the castle, so there will be some repairs to be done once the wind has dropped.
Not yet, though. As I write, the wind is rising again and we have barred the shutters in preparation for a story night. Storm Henry is forecast to be a bad one, with winds reaching their peak in the wee hours of tomorrow morning. Westerly gales worm their way through every chink in the old walls and chimneys of the castle. Your feet get cold from the draft as you sit at the kitchen table, and our bedroom is Baltic as the wind moans and whistles through the sash windows. I’m off to bring in some firewood now for the evening. Stay warm!
My first ever ‘tree’ post was about beeches (not this fallen one, but its neighbour): The inaugural Tuesday Tree.
Other stormy adventures are to be found in Many of these trees were my friends.