From darkness to light

The wind is growling and threatening to throw its weight around here on the lane  and while it’s mild at the moment the cold catches my lips. It will be colder and probably snowy soon.

A battered little yellow lesser Celandine flower points me to new spikes of snowdrops, hidden beneath the leaf litter among the trees on the lane. They have been growing in the dark days and will flower when the new bright light of a clearer year appears.

Writing about winter

One of the many aspects of writing The Lost Garden of Garraiblagh which I enjoyed was working with the seasons. As any gardener knows things don’t stop at the end of summer and in the old estate gardens there was still so much to do to ensure the provision of food for the big house throughout the year and including Christmas. It was fascinating to research the methods used in growing and storing vegetables and fruit – and flowers – for the winter period.

At the same time winter and Christmas in the book were times when people not only came together but remembered lost ones and found themselves dealing with strange situations – and comic ones.

Using old family photographs assisted in gaining a sense of a world long gone but one that provided the basis for building the atmosphere.

Garraiblagh

Garraiblagh may be a fictional garden but it felt important to provide some illustrations of the place. In my mind I had an image of the house and the gardens as I wrote but to be sure that I was always accurate in describing particular places and parts of the estate I drew up detailed plans and drawings. Now Garraiblagh feels as real to me as a real place. I hope you find the same when you read the book!

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Time and stillness

The light always begins to change at this time of year as we come close to the autumn equinox. There is a clarity to it that the summer softness does not have and there is the unmistakeable scent of autumn in the air but this year it is warm, really warm. The last few days have been warmer than much of summer and there is a stillness, hardly a breath of wind. It is almost as though the natural world is saying there is nothing else to say or do about this strange year, only mark the stillness, the time of balance between dark and light at the equinox.

This year on the lane the hedges were covered in blackberry flowers promising – no that is wrong – nature doesn’t promise – suggesting to human eyes that there would be a good harvest of blackberries. There hasn’t. They have not ripened properly and those few that have are small.

 

 

But the harvest of anything is not a certainty. There are instead a lot of sloes ripening. Last year there were few. Rosie the collie is still on the look out for ripe hazelnuts to crack but not many yet.

The stones of the walls separating the fields from the lane and the deep lane edge are loosening in some places. The moist moss covering has been drying and because of this I caught sight of a fossil in one stone. A crinoid I think, part of an ancient sea lily from when this area was a warm tropical sea. And once you see one fossil it is difficult not to look for others. I found several and beside them, still flowering, a ragged robin. 

 

Spells and runes

Flocks of starlings wheel in well-coordinated patterns across the sky. I haven’t seen them here in such numbers. Now as I walk up the lane they burst through the tree cover chattering and swirling around mean though describing some elemental spell before flying on into the wide expanse of the field and hills behind.

This year, in this time, I look for any signs or symbols in nature that might be positive. I can understand how our forbears watched the sky so closely, uncertain of the future. The cloud and now the storm and heavy rain have lowered the sky, darkening and making everything claustrophobic. Green hazelnuts and ash keys have been thrown on the ground landing amongst moss and Enchanter’s Nightshade as though a part of a huge casting of the runes.Spells and runes

Sanctuary

There is only the slightest breeze here on the lane. Colours are clear and bright. Shadows are deep but reassuringly still with no hidden portents of Autumn. On a day when the sun is shining  and even George the cat is looking for shade it’s hard to believe there is anything wrong in the world. Thistledown drifts across, landing where it is taken and landing lightly the seeds will eventually drop onto the earth and, hopefully, a new thistle will appear.

Ragwort brightens the edge of some of the fields. Some people like it others don’t. It depends which part of the argument you follow – like most things. Meadowsweet is blossoming everywhere with its creamy coloured and lightly scented blossom. It can be seen among the long grass with the small yellow flowers of the nipplewort while in the shaded areas the cool pale pink-Robert and the rusty coloured flower of dock provide a perfect image for painting.

Then quite suddenly I can hear the high pitched mewing sound of a buzzard and overhead in the hot blue sky it can be seen circling. George moves closer to the house and protection. Danger, real or imagined.

Being on the lane at the moment is being in a liminal place. It is a thin place where one reality can merge with others. At least that is the way it feels. The natural world holds us in a form of sanctuary for which I’m glad when I look at the news. It is grounding.

 In my novel, The Lost Garden of Baltarran a garden is created which becomes in many ways a sanctuary for those who are connected to it but nothing is perfect. And so in my novel there is love and beauty but also danger and heartbreak. There can never be one without the other.

Standing and looking

The last few months have been strange. We are lucky here on the lane away from the centres of population. Walking up the lane and along the narrow country lanes and roads is calming and grounding in a world that seems set on madness.

It reminds me if I didn’t already appreciate it, how important the natural world is. Walking the lane becomes something of a meditation and standing in the rain just looking around is restful.

On one walk while standing and looking around a tiny movement caught my eye on the side of a rock. Ants, lots of them, scurrying around, visible only because some mossy covering had been recently pulled back. Often it is the very small things. I don’t know if you ever played Kim’s game as a child but in that game, a tray with different objects is presented and then taken away and one removed. When it is brought back you have to guess what is missing. The lane is a little like that. I walk past an area and something seems changed,sometimes something added, or something taken away. The ants are a case in point but so are the solitary orchids that appear or the sudden sight of new hazelnuts carefully camouflaged among the leaves of the bushes until a fallen group make me look further.

George the cat has used the time over the last months to widen his territory and move further up the lane in search of wild places. He has now decided that tracking us on our walks is a useful way to while away some time – if watching the cattle in the fields or finding unfortunate shrews is not possible. George makes his way up the lane through the hedges and fields, only revealing himself when he feels he has reached a place that he can watch from. Lying in the long grass with white clover and daisies around him he looks quite regal. The return walk is marked by George deigning to walk down the lane with us in full view -I think he has developed a form of people herding, taking us back in order to fill his food bowl.

I have not posted for a while, not because of lockdown but because I have been finishing the novel I have been writing. Now it is being made ready fro publication and I have been working on the paintings which will form the front and back covers.

I’ll tell you more about that in my next blog.