Saturday, 18 December 2021

ALMOST THE WINTER SOLSTICE

A white grass frost under the light of a full moon, everything silvery like Walter de la Mare's poem. Then the sunrise and the mountains etched across the horizon - Garn Boduan, Yr Eifl, Bwlch Mawr, the Nantlle ridge, Yr Wyddfa, Moel Hebog, the Rhinogs, Cadair Idris, Carneddol, Garn Saethon, Garn Fadryn. It's too good a day to stay indoors, especially after the grey overcast days of this last week, so it's on with my boots and out for a morning walk from the house. The low clear sun gives a golden tint to the land and all its sculpted slopes and valleys. There's a pheasant shoot going on nearby. The corvids vocalise their discontent. The bright sunshine and crisp air is invigorating and uplifting. Every so often a buzzard lifts off an electricity pole and languidly flies out of sight. Is it three different birds or the same bird I see three times? Last Monday was St Lucy's Day. Before the calendar was changed in 1752 the saint's day coincided with the winter solstice. I remember the line from John Donne's 'A Nocturnal upon St Lucy's Day': 'The world's whole sap is sunk' and so it seems today: the trees are bare, the bracken's rich autumnal rust has faded and its dead stems have been flattened by Storms Arwen and Barra. The autumn berries have gone, stripped by blackbirds and fieldfares. And then I see a violet, a dot of bright colour amongst the dead grasses, and a little further on another. They are flowering on a sheltered south-facing field bank. Even on this cold morning I can feel a little warmth on my back from the sun. Nature has its chancers and the violet must be one of them. Maybe the circumstances will be good and the flowers will set seed, or maybe not, but it's worth a try. To me the violets are a symbol of hope. Ever since March 2020 there have been posters and placards appearing here in Wales with the proverb 'Daw eto haul ar fryn' and a rainbow - literally 'the sun will again come on the hill' but translated as 'things will get better'. By the time I get back it's time for lunch. I turn on the radio and hear Thomas Tallis's glorious masterpiece 'Spem in Alium'. 'Spem' - the Latin for hope. The musician Robin O' Neill (a suitably Christmassy name!) describes how Tallis's polyphonic music is scored for 40 voices (8 choirs each with 5 parts). The music swoops down and up, he says, and 'the printed score looks like a flock of starlings'. I listen to the music continually changing, the way a murmuration of starlings is constantly on the move, each individual bird a part of the whole. To all my readers I send best wishes for Christmas and a hopeful New Year.

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