The Song of Winter
Making space for discovery
An Account of My Hut
by Tanya Shadrick
I am writing this in midwinter on Firle Beacon, one of the high points of the Sussex Downs. From here I can fit between my fingers the town I have lived in for a quarter-century, since leaving a remote west country village for university. I do it sometimes – pinch it a little – but not from ill will; for perspective. There’s a poster in the print-maker’s window down there which says: Lewes – Centre of the Cosmos. Absurd, and yet also true-feeling for me – and I suppose for anyone, anywhere, who has lived in a small place long enough. Up here, in the family car, I have made into a writing hut for the cold months when I can’t work in the open air, I’ve found a way to be free of these attachments that root but also bind.
Through my twenties and thirties, I worked gratefully at a secure office job on the campus (just over the horizon line) where I earned my degree. Scurrying between desk, the library and my little terrace house, I loved welcoming home each evening the husband I’d met at just nineteen.
In those years – after a solitary childhood spent exploring fields and beaches – I was almost always indoors and hardly ever alone. My freedom frightened me: gone from where my extended family lived warren-close, I went to earth. Burrowed in too deep, too young.
That life of willed conformity ended in minutes, just over a decade ago. An arterial haemorrhage – sudden, painless – after the birth of my first child. I saw the light, believed my life was ending. I survived just, mended almost. What I did not recover from was an urgent wish to be alone, live more wildly. At first, I felt I must leave my husband and new child, having been brought up – as so many of us are – on versions of the hero’s journey: where real freedom is reached by abandoning all that came before. But having been left by my father when I was small, I held fast for my family’s sake, knowing too well the pain of losing a parent.
From that pressure and constraint, my art came.
I began to study other traditions, other stories, and arrived in the east of five hundred years ago, a thousand. Kenko, Bashō, Po Chü-i — Fishing in the Wei River; Records of a Travel-Worn Satchel; Essays in Idleness. Gentle works about place and people: small observations from occasional wanderings, instead of epic quests.
At first, I wrote privately at park benches and café tables, losing myself in overheard conversation. Then, for an extraordinary few seasons, I declared my gaze, kneeling at the town’s historic lido to write a mile on scrolls of paper as long as the pool, and asking those who came close when they felt most wild and free.
And so I arrived at my life’s work, my vocation: to go where invited – a cliffside National Trust cabin on a coast path, Virginia Woolf’s garden, nature reserves, festivals, hospices – to gather stories and share them.
Yet even in this second, outsider life of vivid connections, the call of the wild was still unsettling me. Having me yearn for time truly apart.
Cows Come Visit. With permission from Tanya Shadrick.
In 1212, the Buddhist monk Kamo no Chōmei wrote an essay known as Hōjōki – translated often as An Account of My Hut. He built his small dwelling on a distant mountain overlooking the town in which he had lived his former life; apart, alone, but just in reach of old friends wanting to make a seasonal visit.
I wanted this. To be alone in nature long hours, but as a quiet invitation, not a turned back. This car on the top of Firle Beacon is that: retreat and way station, both.
Once the children are at school, I dress in many strange layers – old sweater arms for leg warmers, blankets pinned as capes to leave my writing arm free – then fill a coffee flask and hot-water bottle. Each of these everyday preparations delights me.
As does driving up the high, winding Beacon, where my spirits rise with the gulls, rooks and ravens that play on the currents. I know each nest, every bent hawthorn; how the cattle gather in anticipation of the farmer, while starlings hop into the empty hoof steps to beak for food of their own. My rations are apples, cheese, oatcakes – which I share with the corvids that come close, just as people do to my writing table in summer. Like Kamo no Chōmei, I keep a spare mug for visitors from the human world, while being glad of every uninterrupted hour in my part-time, improvised hermitage.
The wild calls me, and I am here to answer.
An Account of My Hut was first published as Thread Seventeen in the Wild Woman Web
Nature Energy — Stillness
by Ruth Snowden
I am sitting by the fireside long ago, many winters past. Dusk is falling and grey shadows are gathering in the corners. Upstairs on the landing ghosts are forming, waiting patiently. A coal shifts on the fire - is that a dragon, emerging from a glowing cave? Yes! A sudden spurt of gas hisses out, released at last from primeval darkness. An orange flame leaps up with a strange whiff of sulphur and tar. The dragon breathes.
Beside me, my mother sits knitting. The soft fluffy sound of bright blue yarn being slowly formed into a new shape. The hypnotic click click click of her needles. We don’t speak. I look up at the darkening sky beyond the window and see whirling white feathers beginning to drift down from the leaden sky. My mother silently absorbs their shape and form and sits with it. Later she will embroider beautiful, intricate snow flakes all around the yoke of the jumper she is crafting.
This is the song of winter. Stillness, waiting, darkness; voices and visions of the hearth and the ancestors. Stop. Listen. Rest. Embrace the gifts. Here are a few suggestions...
Start a dream diary. Keep it by your bed and write down your dreams as soon as you wake.
Learn a new craft, such as knitting or wood crafting. What did your ancestors enjoy doing?
Observe the different shapes of winter trees; their stark lattice of twigs against the sky. Make art.
Write a winter’s tale - perhaps one of magic and times long ago.
Take time out each day to meditate and go within.
Notice Nature — Up
by Amanda Goode
A human can visually perceive things much better horizontally (left to right) than vertically (up and down); and out of the two vertical directions, we more readily see things below our gaze than above it. This may be very handy for spotting panthers sneaking up on you from the undergrowth (or oncoming cars when you are crossing the road) or for avoiding tripping over things, but it's rubbish for spotting things above you. Seeing as we are essentially ground dwellers, strolling along at our at average 1.7 metres tall, that means there is an awful lot to miss.
Not all things above our heads will attract our attention by making a noise, either because they are being deliberately quiet or they are inanimate. Just today a buzzard noiselessly swept across in front of me, and early last spring on a breezy day a willow tree was joyously and silently giving birth to hundreds of fluffy seed babies right above our heads.
Who might be perched on the rooftops, or soaring through the sky? Are there any nests in the tops or fungi of the trees? Perhaps you will catch sight of the sunlight shining through leaves like stained glass, or see unusual clouds.
Whenever you are outside, try to remember to look up.
What’s in the cauldron…
Spell Sachet for Creative Endeavours
January is a good time for setting intentions. Here is a quick spell-helper to aid you in focusing your creative intentions.
— Orange peel
— Citrine crystal (optional, if you use crystals)
— Orange felt (or any orange fabric)
Using a square of orange felt or fabric, make a small spell bag by folding in half and sewing along three edges. Empower your chosen ingredients by breathing gently onto them and visualising your intent. Add the ingredients to your sachet and visualise reaping the benefits of the magic. Put it into a secret place in your home and leave it to do the work.
What deck we are using…
The 78 cards in this round tarot deck are powerful, evocative images, using 30,000 years of symbols celebrating Goddess cultures throughout the world.
Format: 78 round cards in full-colour, 4 1/2" diameter with an instruction booklet
"The Motherpeace Tarot has been a wise and loving oracle. A clear mirror, also, that constantly shows the truest face." ~ Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple ~
What we are reading…
If Women Rose Rooted - A life-changing journey to authenticity and belonging
“…Sharon Blackie leads the reader on a quest to find their place in the world, drawing inspiration from the wise and powerful women in native mythology, and guidance from contemporary role models who have re-rooted themselves in land and community and taken responsibility for shaping the future.
Beautifully written, honest and moving, If Women Rose Rooted is a passionate song to a different kind of femininity, a rallying, feminist cry for the rewilding of womanhood; reclaiming our role as guardians of the land…”
What we are listening to…
Woven Wonderings by Laura Palicka
Laura Palicka is a young nomadic artist originally from Australia, who is travelling the world and playing music. Her music is created close to nature and is full of hidden meanings and emotions.
Levana is a sisterhood & band of storytellers, mystics & songsmiths, who met in the mountains of North India. 'Levana'. In Hebrew this translates as the feminine side of the Moon, in Latin meaning to raise up & in Greek Mythology Levana is the protector of the newborn. Listen below for a live recording of Water The Seeds, by Laura Palicka and the LEVANA Sisterhood.
That’s all for this month…