As I make my way up the slope between a watching avenue of old oaks and sycamores there’s a real bite to the air.
Persistent rain has forced the ground to swell like a sponge and leak out rivulets that race down newborn gullies and channels.
This morning I had to drag myself out of bed. Even now as I walk under the bare canopy of winter trees a part of me wishes I’d stayed in that warm room, swaddled by darkness, under the heavy blankets, fondly aware of Nicola’s breathing presence next to me.
The comfort of the known always pulls me although I do my best to step over that particular edge into the unstructured wildness beyond those four walls. As I reach the lake a mist being swirls over the path ahead of me, curling uphill, defying gravity and evaporating into the freezing waters.
I shiver a quick hello to my crow familiars who always make space to greet me with their guttural caws. This morning they seem particularly attentive so I tip my trilby hat to them.
Cresting the far edge of the lake embankment I follow a fox track that weaves a trail into Devil’s Bit Meadow. Her steps, efficiently placed atop each other, will last another hour or two until the grey slush is claimed back to water. I know the fox was a Lady as her tang, held by the still, misted air, is less musky than the dog’s and doesn’t catch at the back of my throat in the same way. Crow prints accompany the vixen’s marks. I wonder what stories they made together in the predawn woodland?
Pouring down from a high birch tree the monosyllabic song of Nuthatch bursts through the silence. My first of the year. I stop and pay attention, knowing this is a sign of spring. And as I sit on a moss wetted stump I hear the joyous song of Great Tit and the harsh, laughed yaffle of Green Woodpecker.
My mood lifts. This is home. This is a homecoming. Out here I remember about life. Nature is gently reminding me that the wheel turns. The light returns. I see squirrels busying themselves in the beech trees, fat with young, ready to birth a new year. They know stuff. It’s in their bones. And it’s in mine too. I just cannot find that knowledge unless I fill my eyes with green, wash my head clear of manufactured news and notifications and heed the call to be fully human again.
My legs are now beginning to ache as the chill fingers of winter leach deep and drain me, but it no longer matters. I see the light through the skeletal trees, pulling the mist from the stream and showing me certainty. Nature speaks of hope, but also of so much more. Perhaps my ancestors, and yours, long ago would have held onto hope at solstice that the light would return for them.
Deep in the shadowy corners of the darkest time they had no assurance of survival as the weather had its way with them. But at Imbolc, as the light began to linger longer with the passing of every day, they would feel a building sense of assurance that yes, life returns. Light and life once more join hands in an eternal dance that will march inexorably on through a blessed Beltane and beyond.
Climbing high with the rise of the sun I speak with the alder catkins who purple the valley in readiness for new seedings. Once over the ridge I gaze across miles of unbroken moorland. Anglezarke is changing. The moor grasses are lightening with the onset of spring, preparing to make way for new green shoots which themselves are brooding unseen in the black peat.
My new barn owl friend ghosts from the edge of the forest, his dark onxy eyes meeting mine somewhere over this expanse of wilderness. And then I see her. His Lady! She quarters over the moor and glides with him for an intimate moment. A testament to the new life around the corner so sharp and true that it brings tears to my eyes.
The Return of the Light is a film I made, with the help of the land, to depict this special time of year. Nicola and I invite you to watch it here, and to share any thoughts that may arise within you.