Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Bluebell Woods and Metaphysical Gateways

The bluebell woods by the side of the road and the hot thick and brooding sky above us. Driving down to the south west of Scotland we are suddenly in the middle of a thunder and hailstorm. The hailstones hit the windscreen so hard we are worried that it might break. The road is awash and we can hardly see. A car coming in the other direction hits a patch of water and it sprays over the windscreen like a wave. As soon as possible we pull over to the side of the road to let the storm pass. We have a small flask of tea, and sip it, as the hail turns into rain and subsides almost as suddenly as it appeared.

Afterwards the sky clears, emptied of its strange almost anguished burden, somewhere between a warning and a gift.

Decades ago I read J B Pick's writing on David Lindsay's Voyage to Arcturus. Here was someone who understood the mystical dimension of what David Lindsay was describing. Mystical but accessible. To read J B Pick's work was so exciting that I wanted to contact him. This was long before the internet. I made enquiries at the library but no-one seemed to know anything about him and I gave up. The other day Tessa said will you come with me to the Bakehouse in Gatehouse of Fleet, they are launching the next issue of Markings magazine which is a tribute to John Pick and he will be reading.

So we drove south, to the reading. It turns out that as well as literary criticism, John Pick writes poetry and fiction, and he lives nearby.

'Seek and ye shall find
but not exactly what you had in mind.'
J B Pick

The whole evening had a surreal quality to it, from John Pick's wonderful short poems, Elspeth Brown's moving words on retiring from several years editorship of Markings, the Bakehouse itself, with its ancient history snuggling up to you with its white-painted walls, to the welcoming hospitality of Chrys Salt and her husband Richard, and to standing outside at midnight, talking, wearing a skimpy t shirt and not being cold! (This was Scotland in May remember!)

As I am writing this, a book drops through the letter box – John Pick has sent me a copy of The Great Shadow House. Let me mention just some of the chapter titles – The Border Ballads:How Many Worlds are There?; The Vision of Beleaguered Light: David Lindsay; David Lindsay and the Sublime; Dream and Reality – Edwin Muir.

And this was the characteristic of the whole week-end – a sense of profound synchronicity, full of what Paulo Coelho calls 'omens' – the storm we encountered, which even at the time felt like one of these experiences that I call gateway or threshold – like signs by the roadside letting you know you are about to enter a different world.

The morning after the reading at the Bakehouse I went for a walk along a path through woods laced with bluebells and the peacefulness and the sunlight flickering through the trees gave me that sense of shimmering threshold, reminding me of the last time I visited this part of the country, many years ago, reminding me of other places too – in Albania, Germany, France, Slovenia. More than reminding, it was like – at least in part – re-entering those places of experience. It was a curious mixture of homecoming and nostalgia.

And there was more. Tessa told me about a place nearby she had visited before and wanted me to see. And there, in another synchronistic sleight-of-hand by whatever powers arrange these things, someone appeared who – did not tell us, but by asking us to reveal what we saw – escorted us through another portal where we discovered that earth sea and sky were connected, where space and time too, were connected and a gateway, both actual and symbolic, had been created a long long time ago. Here, the physical can connect with the metaphysical, the metaphorical. But this experience needs incubation before I can describe it in any detail.