surfsensei

Reflections and observations on life in general.

Category: memories

Sunlight before dawn.

0450 – I have just woken up with a vivid feeling of immense warmth and light in my body and mind, most of all in my head and heart, the remembered faces of friends and family, and others, circling, all of us bathed in this feeling of warm light.

I’m sitting at a newly-made desk, rain falling outside in the dark early morning when I should really be sleeping, the experience from earlier still very faintly present, like the slow warmth of dull embers in last night’s fire.

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It was a feeling of a warm spring day, a morning when you feel refreshed, relaxed, safe, healthy and able to sit or lie in the sunshine, no need to do or be anything else right now. I could describe it as a little like a solar system of people, some individual animals too. Some were very clear and close by, within embracing distance, others further out, so to speak. Some were present or past friends, some family, a few had been much closer for a while.

To say “faces” is incomplete, your images were clear but there was a feeling of your reality too. It felt a bit like a hug or sharing warmth and light, a metaphorical embrace that brings those sunlight-bathed feelings yet allows complete freedom to move, not constraining, not posessing.

This feeling lasted a few minutes, spurred me to sit up in bed and decide to get up and write this down; it felt important enough to share, however trivial it may seem to you as you read this.

If you’re reading this, you may well be one of those people whose presence appeared, vividly or not, in that brief early-waking experience. If you’ve read this far without dismissing this as trivial or inarticulate waffle, thank you. In any case, thank you.

My alarm is sounding, time to get up and do the necessary things today. I wish you some warmth, safety and sunshine, today, real or imagined.

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False, and Real, Gold

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It’s the end of a busy week, less stressful than previous ones of late but wearisome with tasks I find uninspiring and the reality of working to live rather than living to work at present… a negative view I know but it’s what’s been arising of late, leading into more constructive rounds of reviewing my situation and aspirations.

Having a loose and non-functioning wisdom tooth removed probably didn’t help my energy levels either; the tooth now sits in a plastic tube, a sort of memento mori, a visible step in the eventual dissolution of my body, a useful “wake-up-now!” meditation.

Thus Friday evening is welcome, the weekend a time of recharging and opportunities to do some of the things I am really drawn to.  Last weekend it was a superb day on mountains I hadn’t previously climbed, some plein air sketching and painting too, achieving two objectives and enhanced by the company of a handsome Raven during my lunch, sitting on glittering crystalline snow.

I called by the railway station to collect my tickets, bought well in advance, for a Christmas visit to my sister, then into the nearby supermarket for a couple of things.

Music, loud and hammering in my weary brain, lots of people, slightly frantically searching, calling out, filling baskets, so much stuff, choices and more choices…. my mind felt numbed, I noticed I was wandering through the aisles, a feeling of nagging and unfulfillable un-satisfaction (not dissatisfaction)… I began to feel like a hungry ghost, mentally plucking goods from the shelves yet never losing the hunger.

Reaching the night air outside again felt surreal, a transition into a new phase of a dream.  Back to the car, home, through slow queues of traffic.  A welcome shower, food, recovery.

Now I feel simply tired, waiting for the washing to complete its spin cycle so I can hang it up to dry, a simple, useful, task that is surprisingly satisfying.

At the beginning of the week, I cycled to work on a bright, cold, crisp morning. The trees in Bannockburn heavy with bright autumnal leaves, beginning to fall around me.  I find these colours and the scent of the season  as rich and nourishing to my spirit as the best food and most subtle wine; that sweet beginning of decay and return to the soil, the hot colours in cold blue air and silvery frosts and mists.

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I’m reminded regularly by little things like these of a recurring question.. what is wealth, really?  What do I actually want to do with my energy and experience and time?  What is of enduring value to me?  What are the things I genuinely need and what am I holding onto through unhelpful attachment? How do I distinguish false Gold from real?

The rhythm of Pink Floyd’s song “Time” echoes in the back of my mind as I notice that the washing machine has stopped..

The washing’s done

The spin is over, 

Thought I’d something more to say… 

Goodnight, and I wish you a weekend rich in real Gold.

 

Walking in the Wind

We had planned to go further north and west, a friend and I, to climb bigger mountains in the Mamore range, near Ben Nevis.  The weather has been keeping just ahead of the forecasters and what appeared promising for today became a prospective struggle in arduous winds with likely snow and hail in that area; Plan B was formed, Ben Vorlich, the western one, by Loch Lomond, shorter, closer, still a quality mountain and, for me, a new one.

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The wind was strong, the air cool, I put on extra layers for the first time since March.  The walk in, from the car park near the hydro-electric power station south of Ardlui, revealed rugged peaks and advancing bands of rain and lower cloud.  My camera was going to have to be my  sketchbook today.

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We had a good ascent up a clear and well-used path, good conversation and challenging questions augmented by challenging squalls of wind and rain and good scenery.

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Despite the wind, perhaps 45 knots on the summit, we found calm shelter behind contorted rocks to eat lunch and greet other visitors, including a pair of ravens to whom we offered encouragement, but no lunch, in memory of an incident on another mountain.

There were many moments of dramatic and fast-changing light, mist, views, too fast to draw, even had I been alone; memory and the camera would have to capture what they could, for later reflection and inspiration.

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I love the drama of strong contrasts, the many greys of clouds, deep inky-black land-forms under murky masses of cloud while dazzled by a bright shaft of sunlight and slivers of silver light off wet rocks or a wedge of vivid green-yellow grass against deep blue- or brown-black mountain sides behind.  I feel the urge to paint these things, the motivation is building again to do this.

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Descent felt tiring, though not difficult, my feet chafing more than usual, my faithful boots feel like they are less a part of me than previously. Less conversation now, more concentration.  Reaching the road felt good, we had completed a “quality mountain day”, as the guidance notes for my logbook used to say.  We have had food for body, spirit and mind today; bon appetit!

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Ben Lomond and Loch Lomond

Voices of Geese

Friday evening, it has been a busy week at the school, filled with opportunities to practice patience, forbearance, compassion, assertive communication, active listening, constructive speech and working “smarter, not harder”…. it seems I have several undercover gurus who pose as colleagues in order to set me challenges and opportunities for personal development;

steps forward, slips back, work in progress, meditation is helping.

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Cycling home with a strong wind behind me, I pass fields of stubble where geese are gathering, mustering for their migration, there must be at least a thousand of them in one field.

Further down the road, I take a detour to visit a local curiosity, a partial “folly” build in the 1700s, now owned by the Scottish National Trust, a set of orchards and a building surmounted by a giant pineapple in carved sandstone.  I walk slowly around the garden, photographing and noticing the changing flower stalks, drying and brown now, and curling, dehydrating leaves that become shelters for small huddles of ladybirds and other small creatures.

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Autumn is beginning, the green becoming gold, brown, red, yellow.  Nutrients drawn back into stems, roots, fruits, for winter storage or reproduction.  Early smells of drying and decay are in the cool air.

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In the peaceful orchard, where time has slowed for a little while, I feel the quiet thrill of the turning of the wheel of seasons, towards the next stage of the cycle.

From a mile away, the voices of a thousand geese come on the wind,  announcing change and a new energy,

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#SharingMySanctuary

#SharingMySanctuary
This is my bed.

Photo of a simple wooden bed.
I have been lucky enough to be able to sleep in it peacefully,
confident that I will be safe and warm enough,
free from fear of sudden assault,
by strangers with no reason to hurt me or,
worse,
somebody I thought I could trust.
Free, too, from fear of a night visit from
police or army, come to take me or my family away,
for “questioning”, or worse.
So far, at least;
let’s not get too complacent and believe that
“it couldn’t happen here”.
The trouble is, it does,
especially if you have lost your opportunities
to earn enough to keep paying the rent, or mortgage, or
if your mind just wouldn’t stay on track enough to get by
and handle all the stuff like bills and job and relationships, or
if you had to put whatever you could grab,
in the dark,
and the shock of approaching fire and explosions,
and the children hysterical and wetting themselves,
to run to the last taxi,
which only waited for you because the driver
is married to your cousin,
and leave everything,
EVERY
thing,
and get to the border, the children still unwashed and exhausted,
no papers, no ID,
you dropped it as you picked up the youngest,
and finally,
after a story you still cannot tell without shaking uncontrollably,
by a series of very small miracles,
arriving in the country where they say
“it couldn’t happen here”,
as they go to safe beds, while
you look for a bed, for room at the inn,
and find that the first thing somebody says to you,
it must be a customary welcome here,
is:
“why don’t you FUCK OFF back where you came from”.

This is my bed,

Photo of a simple wooden bed.
I am #SharingMySanctuary
in a very small way.
I want to see the people whose decisions can make it happen
understand this,
not just know about it,
understand this,
understand how great a sanctuary is
a safe place to sleep,
and make it happen for those who need sanctuary too,
which, really, is EVERY one of us.

I hope that you can be free from fear tonight, and have a safe, sound, refreshing sleep.

(Among others, these people are doing something about this.)

 

Rolling, stepping..

Sitting in a Tesco cafe after a hearty, cheap, veggie breakfast.

Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street ” plays over the somewhat intrusive store musack system, a favourite and evocative song for me.

It’s my last day of tenancy in the flat I’ve occupied since moving up to Scotland to make a new start in a new job, in August last year. It’s been a good home and fresh beginning that I feel sustainably refreshed by.

To quote from a poem by Maya Angelou:

The horizon leans forward,

Offering you space

To place

New steps of change.

Step by step, I’m experiencing this.

At the same time, while feeling content with my current situation and happy with the new place I’ve moved to, today I feel like the rolling stone in the song, about to complete another step towards that horizon.

Once, here…

I’ve recently been on a cycling tour in North-West Scotland, a beautiful, remote, inspiring area that is also, geologically, a former part of the North American continental plate.  I’m still writing the account of that journey up, the daily demands of work and life back at home delaying the process a bit.  In the meantime, this…

I stayed a night and part of a day near the village of Achiltibuie.  On the shore, beside abandoned and crumbling boats, I saw a row of rusted  anchors and chain cable.  I thought of the older community, based on fishing and crofting, that is changing, now.  Some words came to mind:

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Once, here,

were fishermen,

who weighed and dropped us,

singing, cursing,

laughing, praying,

whose boats

we held fast,

in sand

or rocky ground.

But fish and people moved,

new voices, accents,

sound here now

and we alone remain

to hold

fast

their memory,

once,

here,

were fishermen.

Pale gold

There is pale gold here, this afternoon, as I sit with fresh tea and biscuits in my flat; early returned from work with a head full of mind-muddling cold.

To the north, the roofscapes of Falkirk and, beyond, the Ochil Hills are modelled in soft yellow-white sunlight and blue-grey shadows. They appear briefly to advance before retreating, slowly, as the intensity of the light is muted by other clouds.

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From the east windows are the edges of woodland, tree trunks glowing soft gold and browns amongst green-black masses of leaves. Birds are singing, sounding glad of the respite in the recent freeze.

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Sunlight is beginning to shine directly into the flat again after its winter holiday, showing me I must clean the windows again. On Saturday morning it illuminated my breakfast, today it brings an unaccustomed warmth to the clutter of the other bedroom.

Despite the itching, irritating, swollen and congested sensations in my head, I feel a sense of wellbeing ease the heaviness of my eyelids. A sense that spring is just beginning, just beginning, to stir in its sleep, enough to make the buds swell on the branches outside the kitchen window where, a month ago during ice and snow, I left some nuts for a fearless visiting squirrel who leapt across to the thin windowsill from a thin branch and watched me making toast.

Aspirin, sugar and caffeine are doing their work, Time for an early nap, then some food, then more sleep to allow my body’s defence forces deal with the unwelcome intruders.

To you reading this, I wish you health and happiness.

Time for me

to rest and,

perhaps,

dream

of gold.

Under Snow – 2.

Sunday, forecast for cloud and snow most of the day, a good day for indoor things & administration. I achieved some of those things as well as baking bread and toasting an assortment of seeds and nuts, a few of which I gave, before toasting, to a visiting squirrel on my window-ledge. His, or her, I’ll use the former pronoun to mean whatever, climbing is impressive, he leaps from a thin branch to the grit-embedded wall, 10m up, landing squarely and confidently then moving fast over the rough vertical face; if I start climbing again, he’s my teacher. However, this is not about squirrels, though there were many of them about today. This is about a walk in the woods.

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The fresh snow lay on almost every branch, even the finest, to an even depth. It struck me how amazing this is, that despite the snow flakes falling with plenty of space in between them (at least 10cm to my guesstimate), in a short time several had landed on top of and next to each other so as to cover everything. It made me realise the power of the random event, given enough of them, every possible combination can happen, no mystery intent nor agency necessary.

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Callendar Wood is part of the estate of Callendar House, now open freely to the public. It is a mixed, mostly coniferous, woodland but has many yew trees in varying forms, some relatively tall and straight, others convoluted and twisted and sprouting shoots from horizontal and dipping branches that create miniature forests on the tree. They are dark trees, heavy beyond their physical mass with what feels to me like accumulated shadows that they hold under their canopies. Previously I have found them gloomy and unattractive trees but here, somehow, in this context, they appear to carry a sombre beauty that reveals itself when I wander under the dark umbrella to explore the twisted forms that even the straightest trees have.

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Today the yew trees were lightened by the accumulation of snow which they would occasionally shake off the end of an over-laden branch, sometimes aided by the passage of a pair of squabbling squirrels. The shadows beneath seemed today to hold a slight warmth and sense of snug shelter. In the right light, the bark revealed warmer colours, browns and reddish patches that would glow in sunlight, if it were allowed in. As yesterday, I noticed this but did not feel inclined to stop and draw, the luxury of the camera felt enough to capture a reminder of the visual and mental impressions I was noting.

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Passing Callendar House and the expanse of lawns that lead to the long ridges of the Antonine Wall embankments, the place was busy with families, noisy with delighted children tobogganing down the last frontier of the Roman Empire.

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It’s been a good weekend, experiencing energy, exquisite moments of visual beauty, space, movement, stillness and a slightly different view of things, under snow.

Under Snow – 1.

We’ve had a lot of snow in the last week, here in Scotland, it’s made the usual headlines and stimulated the usual discussions that you hear from the British Isles whenever any part of our wonderfully wide spectrum of weather presumes to exceed the acceptably mediocre level of novelty and mild inconvenience. Despite the depressingly widespread ownership and misuse of bloated “SUVs”, usually boasting at least 4-wheel drive and sold as fulfilling the “go anywhere” dream, few seem able or willing to drive these through even a couple of centimeters of snow and ice and so schools are closed, people are stranded and epic tales are told in conditions that would be laughable in countries that have to cope with rebuilding roads and power lines after most winters. I have, however, felt it better to drive than cycle to work over the last week, given the many patches of black ice, invisible until too late on a dark winter morning and evening, which is frustrating but better than limping in to work with bruises or worse and a damaged bike; there’s enough hazard from motorists to cope with.
Given this present situation, getting out for a walk has been more necessary and refreshing than usual and this weekend has been very satisfactory, with a modest but beautiful walk on some hills to the north of Lochearnhead, yesterday (Saturday) and a more reflective stroll this afternoon through freshly snow-laden trees in the nearby Callendar Wood.
Yesterday’s walk was the result of turning a setback into an opportunity to explore, my original and planned destination being blocked to me for a lack of any more space to park cars in a considerate manner in a sensible proximity to the path up the mountain (Ben Ledi). Exploring northwards, I found space in a layby close to the official car park, inaccessable to 2-wheel drive cars and full of Mountain Rescue team vehicles – they were on a training exercise. My route led up through the dense, dark walls of the forestry plantation, tight-packed trees laden with several inches of snow. The snow was about knee deep and the Mountain Rescue Team had helpfully trudged a narrow groove-like track through it so I could make easy progress to beyond the tree-line.

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Apart from the team, I was the only person there for most of the day. I startled a grouse from its hiding place under the snow, it erupted from behind me and flew a short distance to where it could observe me from behind a lump, leaving wing-marks in the snow around the hole whence it had sprung. In other places, grouse and mountain hare had left their spoor in isolated trails over the wind-sculpted and crystal-covered surface through which I now ploughed my less graceful way.

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The air was very cold but the wind light and it felt mild. I felt energised and exhilarated by the bright light and crisp air and snow. At a suitably sunny and wind free spot I stopped to enjoy a brisk and very quick snow-bath, wonderfully refreshing despite the rapid numbing of my feet as soon as my bare feet sank into the soft surface; I felt as alive as after a dip in the sea, warming quickly as soon as dressed and running the next few metres through sheer energy.

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The views from the two small summits (Meall Buidhe and Beinn Leabhainn) were superb, a full panorama including Ben More in Glen Dochart, Meall an Tarmachan and Ben Lawers above Loch Tay and, in the south, Ben Vorlich and Stuc a Chroin, which dominate the mountain view from the school where I work. I thought of friends I would like to have shared this with and sent them good thoughts and wishes anyway, sharing through the ether of the mind feels more useful to me at these times than yet more Facebook posts, though that’s ok for later.

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Meall an Tarmachan & Ben Lawers, with Loch Tay, from Beinn Leabhainn

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Ben Vorlich (L) and Stuc a Chroin from Meall Buidhe

After taking photos – the air was too cold to use watercolours (the water freezes and you have to paint with slush… not successful) and it was getting late in the short day – I set off down, the new moon crescent high in the sky as the sun retired to bed. The mountains were turning from shining white to a soft and dreamlike grey-blue, slightly luminous in contrast to the dimming mauve sky behind them. When I see these things, I think of how I might paint them, though I don’t yet feel the urge to do so strongly enough to turn that into a result, it’s as if it’s a train of thoughts that are arising and falling away, perhaps to hide in the recesses of my mind and ferment over time until, if ever, the “right” moment comes to pass.

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Glen Dochart, Ben More & Stob Binnein, summits for a future visit.

As I descended, the snow went from crunchy crystalline to softly silent; out of the wind, now, I was warm. At the road, a welcome bonus, my car was still there and in working order. It had been a quality day, in part thanks to those two people who parked their cars so badly that they occupied enough space for two more. I could have been conventionally irritable, angry, feeling cheated and taking it personally. Instead I chose different objectives and got what I was really after anyway, more in fact. Definitely a quality day, I’m grateful.

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