Ancestors

A couple of days ago I finished reading Tom Holland’s Millennium. I had many reactions to his book. Although I read Mediaeval History and Literature at university, I was not as familiar with the timeframe he was dealing with, having spent most of my time in the 12th century, and Millennium deals with the end of the 10th through most of the 11th centuries.

What struck me most, besides the appalling behaviour of both Christians and Muslims in the time covered by Holland’s book was the fact that I am here at all.

As a Druid, I look to the ancestors for inspiration and guidance, and honour them in ritual and meditation. What hit me as I read about the battles, and sieges, and the battles, and more battles, is how amazing it is that I am alive. It meant that none of my ancestors, in a direct genetic line to me, was killed in any of the serious bloodletting that swept across Europe. I meant that none of my ancestors, in direct genetic line to me, retreated to a monastery. Neither of these at least until they had passed on their genes to another generation.

Looking beyond the turbulent century around the first millennium of the Common Era, it also meant that none of my ancestors died of plague, disease, or in childbirth, and if the latter only after my next ancestor was born. Similarly, none died from making pilgrimages. They did not die by drowning or fire, from being on the wrong side in the burning frenzies that marked the actions of and reactions to Inquisition or the Protestant Reformation several centuries later.

I am here because none of my direct ancestors died in the War of American Independence, or Civil Wars in either England or America before they had fathered or mothered the child who stands behind me. Nor did they die in the killing fields of France in WWI, though it was a close-run thing in WWII. My father being spared the horror of the Battle of the Bulge because his CO faked his papers, saying he had a fever. He did this because he felt my father was more valuable to the war effort designing recreation rooms from Quonset huts, which helped morale, than as a fighter on the front line.

That any of us are here is because, though we may have had ancestors who succumbed to TB in the slums of English cities in the Industrial Revolution or died in the mines or mills, they did so after the next generation of our ancestors was already alive. Ditto the Black Death and its numerous recurrences over the centuries.

Realising this, all of this, makes me more respectful of those whose genes I carry, though I have not passed them on to another generation. I am not an ancestor of the future, except tangentially, but since I am not in contact with my cousins I will join the generic gathering of ancestors who belong to everyone and no one in particular.

That does not make me sad or feel any regret, for it was a conscious choice. What it does make me more aware of the burden those who came before me carried for millennia upon millennia, and whose lives and genes make me, were never aware of. In that awareness then is a special kind of honouring. Honouring by awareness is just as valuable as honouring by action, action in this case being the physical passing on of genetic information.

I am humbled with gratitude. I am humbled by the amazing quirks of fate and faith that brought me to the place I am, to the knowing I have of who came before me. I do not know many of the names, but I know about the world they lived in and the dangers the faced from reading history; I know the sorrows they endured from love and loss because I have read literature. I thank them each. I thank them all.

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Young Mountains

Crumpled earth,
landmasses crunched like
stiff brown shopping bags,
rough edges,
uneven surfaces,
crevasses deep fissured,
peaks high soaring.

You are young mountains.

Born of drifting continents,
lands we like believe are stable;
but the quiescence is illusion,
for year on year pushed
and rammed you grow
as the rocks continue
to grate and tear each other.

You are young mountains.

Snow drifted,
snow leopard haunted,
wind ravaged and ice tormented,
rocks slide and snowpack
tumbles terror trapping
the unwary who brave
your craggy slopes for summits,
forbidding foreboding
to deter determined actions.

You are young mountains.

We prod you in weariness,
seeking ways to scale your mass,
because you are there and we are here,
sharing a planet hurling
through space as bulk hurtles
bulk together shaping
reforming making your contours
over and over minutely in increments.

You are young mountains.

You are also made of old stone souls
deep in shadow and bathed in thin light,
and if we would but attend,
you have lessons to teach us:
about the limits of permanence and hubris.
and the cycles of rifts and vaunting,
for we are kin living upon
your ancient rocky ancestors,
your great mineralised predecessors.

You are young mountains,
and we are most of all
foolish young beings of the land.

The first line of this poem came to me first thing this morning when I turned on my computer and the photo as it woke up was of some craggy mountains.

Triggered Thoughts

Yesterday, we were moving about some bits and pieces to put things in storage. One of the bits was an awkward shaped piece of plywood. I was helping carry it. I had not finished dressing and did not yet have on my socks and shoes. But I was summoned to help move this piece of wood. So, I stepped into the breach.

It was fine until we got to the hallway, when my grip slipped and the wood came down and scraped about in inch square of skin off the bottom of my shin, just above the ankle. I made my pain and upset unmistakeable and sobbing went up to find the arnica thingies, and tea tree to put on the scrape and a plaster to cover the place so I wouldn’t rub it when it did put on my socks and shoes.

As I was weeping from the pain the only thing beside it that I thought about was Hypatia of Alexandria. She was an amazing woman, a Greek mathematician, astronomer, inventor, and philosopher, who lived in Egypt in late fourth and early fifth century of the Common Era. Caught up in a power struggle between factions in Egypt at the time, she was set upon by a mob of Christians and killed.

I know this story from the TV version of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, where he was walking around a virtual Library of Alexandria, and spoke of Hypatia. I can still hear his voice telling the story. He said that Bishop Cyril set the mob on Hypatia who ambushed her on the way to the Library, which was also destroyed, and flayed her alive. His closing comment, after lamenting all that was lost to the world then and now by her death and the Library’s destruction, spoken in a bitterly ironic tone was: ‘And they made Cyril a saint.’

I thought of this story because of how much having just one inch of my skin torn off hurt and then tried to extrapolate how much more gruesome and agonising it would have been for poor Hypatia, with all of her skin being torn from her body.

It gave me pause to think about many things as well. The way certain animals are skinned, not always dead or stunned, for their fir or hide. How humans torture each other. I wept not only for me but for all of that pain and misery and terror humans inflict on not only our own kind but our other than human kin as well.

It was a sobering twenty minutes or so spent in the tending my hurt shin and subsequent pondering on those things, before I can back down the stairs to finish doing what I had begun before being called way. I continued to consider all those things for the rest of the day.

One never knows what one incident or accident can trigger. The thought and reflection repercussions an event can set in motion.

My ankle is bruised and the skinned bit is healing, but my awareness is in an expanded place that I cannot return from, nor would I want to do so.

The Last Dark Moon

They say, those who know such things, that that tomorrow will be the last Dark Moon visible from Earth.

Don’t ask how I know this information, just trust that my source is impeccable and beyond all doubting. No one would listen to me in any case, but I wanted to leave a record, not that there will be anyone ever to read it, but I will have said my piece.

That is important to me.

For several years now people have been preparing to flee Earth, making the necessary preparations to abandon the only place humans have every lived. They do this because Earth has become virtually uninhabitable. The air is foul, the water poisoned, the land denuded of trees. There are no birds to speak of or sing any more, and no longer any large, and few small, mammals on land or in the sea. I will not run the list, everyone knows. Everyone saw it coming and those who had the power to alter the outcome did nothing. They did nothing because it would risk their wealth and privilege. So death ruled and extinction became so common place that one more loss, by the end, was any longer mourned.

But, I mourned. I wept for the world as it was becoming. I grieve for the world that has become. And though I wanted to stop what was happening, I had no real power. I could stop buying this or that product, but it made no real difference. To the end I never stopped trying in my own little way.

I have a room in my home with photos of all those who are gone. For as long as someone remembers them, they still exist, at least in my heart. A heart so full of sadness, brimming over with memory of the lost ones.

In all of this, though, I could look up into the stars at night, especially when the power failed, which it did with increasing regularity as the fuels ran out and there were no more resources to strip from the body of Earth. I could look up and see the stars, watch the constellations wheel through the night sky in their dances of destiny and order. I could look up at the Moon and watch the phases, in and out, increase and diminishment.

The last phase of preparation before beginning the evacuation of Earth will be to throw on all the lights so people we know that they are heading; they will see the clusters of lights and be reassured. Of course only the wealthy and the young are being allowed to go. If one cannot pay for passage one can sign on in a renewed form of indentured servitude. Already the new phase of human endeavour begins with slavery, but they have a some fancy name for it that I don’t recall, and besides people have been used to other kinds of indebtedness for generations now to buy homes and to furnish them with stuff.

None of that really concerns me, what concerns me is what taking away the Dark Moon will do to people’s souls. Granted they will look back on a dark Earth, but it is not the same. Not the same at all. The Moon was for most of human existence a place of mystery, variously a god or goddess. The force of tides that for too long have brought our rubbish and death to the shores where people have not been near for years, for they became too toxic a long time ago.

The last time the New Moon will rest in the arms of the old, as I understand one long vanished native people called the Dark Moon. The New Moon will be forever tarnished, and I will have lived to see that night. Those who can leave will look up and celebrate. They will congratulate themselves on being fortunate enough to go there in the next few months. They will not understand that what they leave was once so beautiful and pristine, and even before they arrive, the Moon was littered with human debris.

We are a wasteful and wasting species. None of that will change as we go off to exploit other worlds. I can envisage a chain of ruined worlds over the next however many millennia. What a terrible legacy.

And tomorrow is the Last Dark Moon, forever. The power running the lights will be able to carry on even after humans embark for worlds farther away.

A very few people will still populate the Earth, but not for too many more generations. All the wealth and all the will to keep Earth viable is on its way, away.

And tomorrow is the Last Dark Moon, when all the stars will sing their song of glory one last time, for once the moon is lighted there will be no phases, it will always be light. No waxing. No waning. No deep mystery. No wonder. Only night as light as day. No night any longer either.

I imagine that any creatures left on Earth will die from lack of the basic patterns of their beings. No dark. No rest. No night. No repose. Even if artificially created dark is possible the energy of all that light will still insinuate itself through every conceivable space. There will be no escaping it.

I shall stay up the whole night, the last real night. The night of the Last Dark Moon.

Perhaps, if I am blessed my heart will burst from sadness and the lost ones can die in peace with me.

The Third Fall

When I wrote ‘The Fall. THE FALL and the Apple’, I only thought of two Falls that were part of my personal story.

There is another, however, one which I have only been introduced to since living in the UK. One I witnessed yesterday, and only the third time in such a spectacular fashion. But this time there was a difference, for in the middle of the experience I connected it to the other two Falls, and it too was connected to apples for it occurred within the mysterious realm of Avalon, within sight of Glastonbury Tor.

This third Fall is that which occurs at the end of a Starling Murmuration sequence.

We were at RSPB Ham Wall on the Somerset Levels. I had spent the day indoors at a meeting nearby whilst my partner explored the reserve, and he brought me there after he picked me up to share what he had discovered. During the day it had gone from sunny and bright to overcast and windy, eventually adding mizzle to the mix.

We walked down to the big hide and back in a cold wind, waiting for the Starlings to come in for the night. I had seen the murmuration there before, from a distance, with a friend who works for the RSPB, a couple of years ago. I had also seen it when out on the Levels many years ago, also from quite a distance the big sky the sky dancers stage. My partner had never had the experience, seen the display.

At the time posted on the notice board at the RSPB building on site, the Starlings began to arrive. Last evening was different from the previous times I had seen the massed dance, from a distance. I had heard the beating of hundreds of wings swooping over my head. I had watched them turn and swirl and wheel, seen masses of starlings blacken part of the sky and then open up into a loose mass. This time was different.

What I had never seen up close was want happens when the aerobatic display ends: what happens after The Fall.

The Starlings rise and drop several times on the way to the reedbed to roost, but the final act in the aerial ballet, The Fall, I had not witnessed up close. The reedbed was swarming with Starlings. Literally thousands and thousands of them. This sort of display only happens in late Autumn and Winter.

There are no adequate words to describe the spectacle. The entire reedbed roiled and quivered, the chittering was incessant, the sound of the thousands of pairs of wings continued to beat as the mass settled for the night, which took time; it was not a rushed settling in, settling down. Some of the birds stopped to take a bath or have a drink. The reedbed was thick and dark with Starlings as small groups continued to move back and forth. Even when it appeared the space could hold no more, overhead another huge group would arrive from behind us churning and whirling, and then another from the right, over the trees. Fall after Fall after Fall. More and more Starlings arriving.

I could feel the intensity of whatever drove these amazing birds to seek the place of their night’s roosting, the place they would shelter for the night. I wondered who choose the site for the night, of all the various reedbeds on the Levels, wondered why they all came to the one in front of us at Ham Wall. I wondered how they all knew when the gathering was taking place. I was curious how come there were always a few stragglers who came in at the very last. I wondered how they got separated from their group. I wondered if a raptor got to any who were late and not part of the massed sky dance.

So many questions. And, I suppose I could find some of the reasons behind this behaviour; for now, however, I am content not to have the answers. The mystery is fine, essential still. The mystery is part of the magic of experience.

I would love to see the morning rising, and am sure I will manage to do so one day. In the meantime I am left to ponder this Fall, the third Fall, its deeper meaning and its lessons.

Leaves fall from trees in the Autumn. Sap rises in the Spring after the trees Winter rest bringing trees back to life, reawakened. Starlings fall from the sky into the reedbeds to rest for the night. In the morning they awaken and rise to begin their daily cycle again.

Mystery. Wonder. Connection. Awe.

For all the words I have written here, I was speechless last evening. Clearly, to me, the marker of a deep and profound spiritual experience.

The Fall, THE FALL and the Apple

There are two different understandings of ‘The Fall’ that have influenced my life and my understanding of life.

One is a theological construct that I have jettisoned and the other a reality in the natural world which I have always embraced with a bittersweet sense of joy and wonder. And then there is The Apple, which plays a significant part in each understanding.

The Fall as a theological construct was drummed into me from the time I was an infant. The story of Adam and Eve, the Garden, the Serpent and the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. It was the myth that for Christians made Jesus inevitable to redeem humans (and everything else, everywhere else) from the theologically championed Fall from grace that the incident with the serpent and the apple supposedly initiated.

I was not brought up being taught that this was a myth, or a mythic way of explaining the human condition. I was taught that Adam and Eve were real people, and everything else about the story of the Fall, as it were, fell into place from that understanding.

Needless to say, I no longer subscribe to that understanding, nor the faith the taught it to me.

But THE FALL is still an important part of my life, and this other FALL ran in parallel with the theological one all my life. The other FALL is that which happens in the Autumn. Where I grew up in the US, Autumn is called Fall, but THE FALL is when the trees shed their leaves. Autumn is so much more. It is the time squirrels and chipmunks and other creatures cache food for the Winter ahead, when bears and hedgehogs feed up before the hibernation. It is the time when people change wardrobes by putting away light coloured and lightweight dresses and shorts and bring out the woolly jumpers, hats and mittens in preparation for the cold to come.

It is the time that the apples ripen and are picked. When the harvest of this amazing fruit floods the farmers’ markets and roadside stands. It is the time to make applesauce and apple cakes, press and pasteurise apple juice, and tend to the orchards.

Apples fall in THE FALL. The falling of apples and leaves is an event in which to rejoice. It means that Nature and the natural world still maintain some sense of order and rightness.

The Fall of Adam and Eve, so called, to say nothing of the religion that is supposed to be its remedy, has led to misery and guilt for two millennia. THE FALL of Autumn cyclically brings home the reminder life and death are conjoined in a process as old as being itself; of fruit and harvest and plenty, and also scarcity and privation when the harvest is meagre. The Apple plays a role in both these stories.

One story is totally bound up the humans and is for humans. The other is Nature’s story and links together all living beings in the environmental web in its due season. One is a story of shame and loss of childish innocence. The other story is one of glorious colours and sweetness to savour, of the opportunity to experience the world around one with childlike wonder.

So now I celebrate THE FALL and rejoice in the Autumn that brings with it really of release and the reminder to prepare for the Winter, without which, lest we forget, there would be no Spring.

Living Our Golden Autumn

Our path together reached
an impasse when we
arrived at a chasm’s edge,
where we each had to find
our separate ways across
to the future’s far side.

Barely looking back,
he departed from me
beckoned into the
reaching arms of another
and together they flew,
disappearing from my sight,
into the comfort of their
mutually awakened desires.

Alone I made my way down
along a dark and difficult path,
eventually ascending to the
other side of grief and sadness,
thankful and guiltless and free,
to dance through the tall trees,
walk amongst the standing stones,
and unexpectedly to meet another.

And now he and I
are living our Golden Autumn,
enjoying the fine blue bright days
and crisp cool nights,
before Winter’s winds dry us to dust,
when our inner fires burn down to ash,
and we will be blown in silence
into a future distance out of sight,
but never beyond our knowing.