26 December 2013



A little bit
Of the receding sun
Now gilds the hills
Across the lake from me.
Midwinter's day
Draws to its early close,
Dusk paints the world
In silver-grey.
Against the frozen blue
The golden light of lamps
Begins to shine from living rooms,
The warmth of family meals
Scenting the air.
The cat
Purrs on the couch.

26. 12. 2013

19 December 2013

Winter Light

I was going to write a deep, thought-provoking post today, but then I thought, Naaah, it's Christmas time. It's supposed to be about being jolly, and holly, and other things ending in -olly. (That's a shameless quote from Terry Pratchett's Hogfather. Thank you, Sir Terry.) So I decided to think about Christmassy things instead.

Early this morning, I dreamt that I had had to move to Australia quite suddenly. And as we were carrying things into our house there, I felt really disoriented, because I had no idea where anything was in that town, or how things are done Down Under - I woke up still thinking I should google the place, so I could at least see on a map of Australia where I was and then perhaps find the nearest grocery store. Anyway, the point of my telling you this: I got to thinking: I don't know that I would like being Down Under for Christmas. It would seem really weird - kind of wrong - to have Christmas in the middle of summer. Christmas needs darkness, and cold, and winter, at least for this Northerner it does.

Part of the fun and atmosphere of the Christmas celebration is the lights, and they need darkness to set them off. This year we put up perhaps the charlie-browniest of Charlie-Brown-trees ever (Love it. It came from the woods behind our house.). And for all its sad, thin branches, once the lights were on, it was transformed. It's beautiful. The light shines in the darkness - that's what Christmas is all about, isn't it?

And then there's winter sunlight. It has a completely different quality about it than sunlight at the other times of the year. Some years ago, I was looking at an art book, in which the author was demonstrating how to turn a summer photo of a wooded landscape into a snow scene. But the problem was that what she was doing didn't work. The author lived somewhere south, might have been Southern California, and by her own admission had never really seen a snowy landscape. The snow was painted well enough, with blue shadows and all, but the angle of the light was all wrong. She just kept the shadows cast by the sun in her southern-latitudes photo, but a sun that high would never produce snowy weather; her summer-sun snow painting felt really bizarre to me. A winter scene in the Northern latitudes is determined more by the angle of the light than by the snow lying on the ground. See? Those trees are most emphatically winter trees, sitting on my kitchen counter with the winter noon sun shining on them through my south-facing window.

I love winter light, the low, slanted noon sunlight falling through my window, and the sparkling, twinkling, warm light of candles and Christmas trees at night. And soon, very soon, the light will turn, and all will gradually become brighter again. The sun will rise in the morning when I need to get up, and then long before I need to get up (and I will grumble at it then), and the darkness will be, yet again, banished to its short night time. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness shall not prevail.

Incidentally, none of this means that if any of you Kiwis or Ozzies wanted to invite me for Christmas (and pay the airfare), I'd turn down the invitation. I might not want to move Down Under, but I'd love to come for a visit!

Life, the Universe, and Light in the Darkness. Winter will pass soon enough.

04 December 2013


I haven't been saying much on here lately. And it's not because I haven't got anything in my head - rather the contrary, it's because my head is too full of thoughts. For weeks now, morning til night, I've been reading, studying, thinking, writing, thinking some more, reading again, thinking, writing… (and so on and so forth - you get the picture). It's a deluge of thought, and my mind will not be still.

A few years ago, someone I knew, who was writing a column for the local paper, wanted to post a piece on Silence. He gave the paper his column for the week, and what he had meant it to look like is this:


Unfortunately, the typesetter didn't quite get the memo, and set the page in standard style, filling in the empty space with STUFF (I can't quite remember what it was, might have been advertising). It rather spoiled the effect, or, as it were, had an effect of its own. We can't bear empty spaces, cannot tolerate silence.

This past weekend, on two separate occasions, I had the opportunity to practise silence. And the remarkable thing was that it was corporate silence - silence with other people. Twice, I sat in a room (well, once it was a church), among strangers for the most part, and everyone was completely still. Doing nothing but being silent. Meditation, contemplation. Silence. And it was powerful.

Now, on a daily basis, my life isn't particularly noisy as far as decibel level is concerned. I live in a quiet house with a rather quiet family; these days, I can hear the clock tick-tocking almost daily. But what is lacking is that inner silence, that space in which my mind has nothing else to do but be still. And that is what these spaces of corporate silence last weekend gave me a glimpse of. The discipline of sitting among others, in a space determined by others for a time period not decided on by me, just being silent - it fed my soul. The presence of the strangers around me helped me to the framework of stillness which my soul was craving.

Oh, my mind was still doing its hamster ball thing, aimlessly rolling here and there, running, running, running - but, actually, that was okay. I could just let it run its course of furry frenzy, smile indulgently at it, and keep sitting there - silent.

I did not come away from the experience with any profound insight, any solutions to personal, world or academic problems, or - as you can tell - the text of several perfect blog posts completely formulated in my mind. You see, that was not the point. The point of silence is not to come away with Something, although at times that happens, too. The point is to sit in Nothingness, in Silence, just for its own sake.


Life, the Universe, and the Hamster Ball of the Mind. I wish you, for today, a space of Silence.