Monday, December 29, 2008

" the blue smoke mounting at evening..."

" '... the whole sensible appearance of things (omnes rerum temporalium species) is the lotus flower,' said Paulinus of Nola ... it is at its greatest in Lucretius 'austerity of rapture', denying all that lies beyond the flaming ramparts of the world; at it loveliest in lines from the Georgics, the blue smoke mounting at evening from the little farms, and the shadow of the hills on the plain."

The frost, which deepens every morning, has caught the last of the roses,

and crushed the lemon scented geranium to sorbet. We have been sitting in a crystal sphere of high pressure, and thought the cold can be a struggle and a hardship, the days have grown into blues and golds more intense and yearning than those of summer can ever be.

It has taken me a long time to repossess my birth month as the one where I belong, the most precious of the year, to find the depth and dearness of these short days; for many years we were strangers. Now I know there is no peace like December's, no light like that of a clear day at the winter solstice, no shapes lovelier than those of leafless trees inked onto early evening sky. I feel sure I could never happily live in a place where December came in summer.

I light the fire early, spend much of the day at the table beside it, writing, eating, drawing, drinking - hot drinks as much as anything alcoholic - and reading. Helen Waddell leads me from the fall of Rome to the wondrous twelfth century, bringing to life the extraordinary pools and flashes, reservoirs and illuminations of grace and gentleness and beauty that held their own against the dark and brutal background of those times. History probably contains no parallels, but perhaps some echoes. She writes poetry of poetry, lyrical stories of loss and beginnings, of attainment and partings.

I have drenched myself in light and colour, pointing the camera at the gradually diminishing fruit bowls,

or Christmas cake,

or at the roses which came as a gift (churlish to grumble at being given roses, by a neighbour and her granddaughter whom I occasionally teach, but these sad, scentless, fondant-icing things, costly and wasteful to grow and buy, I would prefer not to have; I like the gallant, frost-perished mummified relics in the garden better).

The new coloured pencils are more vivid and luminous than should really be countenanced, nearly hallucinogenic, compelling. They still alarm me a little. I've found myself doodling cute cartoonish Georgic vignettes, or simply producing formless washes, just to swim in their colours, which don't really appear until the water touches them, rather like Japanese water flowers, or those magic painting books that I had as a child, grey dots until washed with a wet brush.

In the afternoons I walk up the hill. The only sounds the calls of birds: flocks of wintering larks and bramblings, a marsh harrier coming up out of a fallow field, jays and magpies staccato quarrelling, a majestic heron soaring. Tipped furthest from it as we are now, the sun seems paradoxically to be closer to us;

it bobs along at my shoulder height as I walk the ridge road, and as I stand among the lifeless and ghostly stalks and husks of the maize field,

it floods this quiet, dreaming, austerely rapturous land with rose and orange, and I think perhaps I am at the flaming ramparts of the world, and I need go no further.

The little farms of my village are stone and slate and rendered concrete now, not thatch and withies like Virgil's probably were, and indeed, are no longer even farms, though their inhabitants may be farmers, or the children or grandchildren of farmers, as I am. The comforting blue smoke is as likely from central heating boilers, though there is woodsmoke too. Yet they nestle in the shadow of the hills at evening, which stretches over the plain towards the sea, and they draw me back with so much that is held dear.

This peace, this joy are flawed, illusory; they are pampered, solipsistic and doomed, for me and for the world. Pain and despair drip in through the cracks, the intractability of our condition; the human race is living in end times, it always did. But for now, we are safe and curled in the 'whole sensible appearance of things', the lotus that can drug us into believing that the world is sweet. I can't say I mind.

The weather has changed, but not eased, the piercing clarity of the last several days has given way to a freezing fog, the lightless damp of which offsets any rise in temperature. Long since mercifully relieved of any sense of obligation to party in the New Year, or of failure that we don't, or requirement to drive home tired and dispirited (New Year clebrations usually left me feeling this way...) on dark and dangerous roads , we may or may not stay up. We'll meet friends for a lunch (or brunch, indeed, they being in part American) party tomorrow, which I'm happy about; preferring a baptism of the new to a wake for the old. The Twelfth Day, the Feast of the Kings, will be the last of my holidays. About right.

Happy New Year.


Unknown said...

What a rich and beautiful post with a necessary melancholy note. Those flowers coated in frost like something in the window of a master confectioner sum up the mixture of the sadness (and horror), and the delight with which we must view the world at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009. Not a lot to be cheerful about, but much for some to be grateful for.

Happy New Year to you and Tom who are deserving of the best.

Anonymous said...

Magnificent post, Lucy. Your frost covered rose reminds me that usually ours are like that at Christmas, except this year with the heavy frost then snow. Frost is so beautiful in the garden and you've captured it well. Thank you for your lovely images and writing this year and for your friendship! May it continue with creative abundance in the New Year, along with all wishes for good health and happiness to you both!

leslee said...

Happy New Year, Lucy! Wishing you many more beautiful things to come.

herhimnbryn said...

Glory be! What a wondeful post Lucy. Your frost would be so welcome here right now.
Happy new Year to you. Tom and Mol.

Catalyst said...

Heartbreakingly beautiful photos, Lucy. Thanks for being there and Happy New Year.

robinstarfish said...

You live in such land of light, in word and image. I'm always so refreshed after a visit here.

Happy New Year, Lucy!

christopher said...

Winter Walk

The freeze, the chill fog,
The red rose buds encrusted,
I am here put right.

I walk these paths with glory
On my mind, and you at heart.

The old is going,
The new is coming to us.
We're more willing now.

julie said...

So much beauty and light! A belated Happy Birthday, Lucy, and may you have a wonderful new year, filled with color and mystic light.

Your blog is truly magical.

Sheila said...

Lovely, lovely, lovely. I want to come and walk with you. Perhaps it won't be too terribly long.

Enjoy your time off to the fullest! Looks like you are off to an excellent start!

Happy New Year!

Lee said...

A delightful post.

Very best wishes for 2009.

Granny J said...

I caught my breath when your blog opened to that rose! Oh such a lovely post, Lucy.

May the year ahead be a wonderful one for you and Tom and Molly.

Dale said...

thank you for this wonderful post. & happy new year!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful pictures, rapturous words, Lucy. What a wonderful meditation on year's end and year's beginning. (You're so right about the qualities of December.) I'm looking forward to much more of the same through 2009.

Roderick Robinson said...

Thank you for movingly celebrating something that often goes uncelebrated: the subtlety of life in a temperate climate. Brits should be taught to embrace winter not grumble about it; it’s a curtain gradually drawn on spring and a time for closer observation. It’s never a fixed state and its changes reassure. Unlike, say, Singapore where the sun shines and goes down at the same time every day. Where sometimes it rains very heavily. And that’s that. No prospect, no gradualness.

Outside my window there’s just enough colour piercing the silver overlay to disqualify the word monochrome. I am forced to look harder, to reject the cliché. Weather for adults.

HLiza said...

I see that colour pecils had been put to good use..Happy New Year Lucy! It's been so much fun knowing your world just by peeping from here..

Rouchswalwe said...

What a way to see in 2009! Thank you and Happy Happy New Year!

Avus said...

Exquisite!..what more can I say?
Best wishes to you both.

apprentice said...

Yes a lovely post and I too prefer the frost encrusted braveheart of the garden.

Your 2009 drawing is lovely too.

I love these short days with their beautiful silhouettes and glazes.
And yet it is hard to enjoy them when you need only lift your eyes to see so much suffering elsewhere. Land is as much of a blessing and a curse as it has always been.

Julia said...

Happy New Year Lucy! A beautiful post, one to savor and return to.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I loved this description of your life in winter. Beautiful.

I wish you a truly Happy New Year. With much peace, health and joy!

Crafty Green Poet said...

what a beautiful post, words and photos both. Wishing you and Tom all the best for 2009.

Dave King said...

Fabulous photographs. I was particularly caught by your last of the roses. We have two looking exactly like that, buit I didn't manage to catch them as well. Congrats - and a great New Year to you.

Anonymous said...

We do make our home in our birth month, don't we? Maybe that's part of the appeal of Chinese astrology.

I've always associated strongly with mine, and I'm quite selfish enough never to have considered whether or not anyone else in the human race associates strongly with hers. I wonder what makes some uncomfortable with that association, as you were for years.

Such nice photos, the better for the arrangement here, like flowers in a vase.

Happy New year, Lucy.

Pam said...

I occasionally wonder if one ought to have a similar attachment to the date of one's death...

Beautiful post. Shivers down my spine and it's not even particularly cold here.

Happy New Year.

Bee said...

Lucy, this is such a stunningly beautiful post (rapturous, indeed). After glorying in your words and images, who could not be convinced of December's beauties?

(I agree with you: I couldn't bear December in a warm place. It feels strange and wrong. Even though our holiday in the Bahamas was lovely in its way, I hated it as my "Christmas.")

Your line about the lotus is the best thought for year's ending.

meggie said...

Your wonderful writing weaves a magic net through the wonderful photos.
Happiest of New Years to you & Tom & Molly.

Lucy said...

Thanks all, for your lovely responses. The cold continues, it is quite hard work, partly because our methods of heating just about cope with most normal winter weather but struggle to be adequate for this. However, I always feel that sense of becalmed time out at Christmas and New Year is more justified when the weather is more extreme!

Brunch was delightful.

Rosie said...

a soothing lyrical beauty,...thank you Lucy!

moe lauher said...

Lucy, I so enjoy your postings. The writing, the photographs and your wisdom. May the Lord bless you and yours in the New year.

Frankofile said...

mmm so much to mull over here. Thank you.

Michelle said...


green ink said...

Happy new year Lucy! Love the frosted roses, they're just stunning.

Linda S. Socha said...

Hello Lucy

These photographs are absolutely lovely.....I love them all. I have been here many times. Today, I am just visiting to make sure you and the lovely lavender background are still in the virtual world!