Sunday, 11 November 2018

Sand Script

Today never reached full daylight, it was always dimmed, what light there was, filtered through some unimaginably tinted screen pinned to the sky.

I studied the sky on the bus north. The nearer, narrow clouds, bulging slightly in the middle, then tapering a little at both ends, like reluctant-to-grow cucumbers, were stubbornly deep-grey. Higher clouds thinned out and flattened, were silver-leaf but any light they reflected was absorbed by the rotund cucumbers, dark and immobile.

The beach at St. Andrews, on the east coast of Scotland, was busy. Commemorative silhouettes were drawn in the sand. Names were written alongside some of them. Also a sand-drawn image of Elsie Inglis. 

There used to be a hospital in Edinburgh named after her. One of my extended family was born there. It was closed down, decades ago – or transformed into something else. At any rate, the name of that pioneering woman should never have been erased. But it was.
You can see more images on beaches here) 
I walk along the beach. Briefly, the sky shows patches of pale and lustrous blue. The waves are small and faraway. A stretch of wet sand reflects light.

Walking back, it begins to rain, at first just a little, then gets heavier. Thick rain, but I feel lighter. The sky gets darker and I get wetter and I walk through the town, buy a coffee; its taste has only a tenuous relationship with that of coffee. (But my standards are very exacting.)

And the long bus ride home. Tree colours are bright yellow, like ripe lemons, near-neon. Now the sky on the horizon has splashes of blue and silver.

It isn’t daylight though, not real sun-suffused light. It never has been all this grey-long, rain-spattered day.

I feel lighter though, as if I’m now moving downhill, as if I’ve drunk the water and supplies I brought with me and my load is lighter. The trees we pass, if not golden yellow, are pulsating orange. Heading south is definitely to go downhill. Everything now – air, sky, objects – is suffused with that ochre yellow glow you sometimes get late afternoon in winter, on days that never truly get light, there are not enough hours when the sun is showing, for them to fulfil their light-potential. But sometimes when the sun rests on the horizon it shoots light through the clouds and air and breathes a fiery glow onto everything. It isn’t daylight and it never has been. Not today. It’s been like a smoky grainy reflection seen in an old mirror. But the colours! – rust-red, eggshell-blue, sunflower yellow. Clouds lit from within like nascent candles – opaque bodies each guarding and reflecting an inner flame.

I feel lighter as we roll downhill, heading south to that blue on the horizon.

Saturday, 10 November 2018


Colincamps Cemetery near Albert, Picardie, France. Spring 2018

"A hundred times a day I remind myself that my inner and outer lives are based on the labors of other people, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure that I have received and am still receiving."
—Albert Einstein: "What I Believe"

In Memoriam Will Smith 1882 - 1916

A flower shop. A young woman
pushes the door open, calls out -
I thought that you were closed!
And I think of the flower shop
near the train station
in Albert. Where I chose
a pot of red roses.

The smiling shopkeeper,
the politesse and conversation -
winter morning, bright with sunshine.
I had just arrived in Paris,
took an early morning train,
changed at Amiens, for Albert.

The florist wrapped the roses
in shiny cellophane, red ribbon.
How could I stop him?
I’d hardly slept, I’d travelled overnight,
I’d only just arrived.
I could not be sure I’d find the place
that I was looking for.
Surprised by sunlight,
for the train passed through a landscape
wrapped in cloud
as if it was a bouquet,
offered as a gift.

Arriving in this small town,
walking from the gare SNCF
the sun burst out of its confining cowl of cloud
and flung open the sky.

My fingers ripped the cellophane,
tore apart the careful curls of ribbon,
in the high wind, in the cemetery.
I pushed the roses deep into the earth,
beside the headstone,
placed there almost a century ago.

In a little English town, months later,
I pass a flower shop
just before the clouds swamp
the streets with rain.
And remember
Picardie, red roses
and the fierce light
lashed to the horizon,
tilting, like a boat at sea.

Morelle Smith

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Chronos, Kairos and the River

This photograph of Belgrade from the air is the last taken in October’s recent travels. The Sava and the Danube rivers meet here at Belgrade and it’s the Sava that the ‘river’ part of this blog is named after (the train is the one I took from Bled through Ljubljana

Dragons guard Ljubljana's bridges

The Ljubljanica flows through central Ljubljana

 and on eastwards across Slovenia, some years ago and I liked so much the way the train-track curved and wound along to follow the river’s course, to stay close to it).

Painting by Anton Karinger – Dolina Save (Bled iz Radovljice) The Sava River Valley (Bled from Radovljica) in Slovenia National Gallery, Ljubljana

Starting with the end as it were, of recent journeys makes me think of chronology and the time zone shifts I’ve been through recently (four, including the last, ‘clock-change’ as UK reverts to GMT); I’ve resisted this one, getting up as the darkness fades, determined to get as much light as possible and so not to grumble about ‘losing an hour of daylight’, a fiction of course, yet is felt, if one follows the dictatorship of the clock. Yes, I’m aware of the ‘real’ time (the one the world around me goes by) but I’m lucky enough to set my own hours for work and I can cope with a kind of parallel existence in two different times.

Today is All Saints’ Day and last night was marked by charmingly dressed and made-up children calling at the door, singing songs and reciting jokes, in return for sweets and oranges. But before the Christian era, this day marked one of the Quarter Days, an annual cycle based on seasonal rhythms and changes. But I’m happy enough for it to be named after the Saints, those semi-mythical figures who inhabit the liminal regions between earth life and post-corporeal life, who assist and intercede (it is said) for fully mortal beings like ourselves, from their greater vantage point, reached after we pass through the portal where we shed our physical bodies.

For some reason Hallowe’en focuses on the disturbing denizens of a spectral world, the ghoulish, restless, haunting possibly malefic otherworld beings. But I prefer to think of those ones who inspire and encourage us to relinquish fears of what comes after that particular portal, as well as emphasising the light (in the dark time of the year, some say, the inner non-material light shines all the brighter).

Image from the old Orthodox church (of the Holy Ghost) in Podgorica, Montenegro

And there’s another Time too, one that is different from the measurement of Chronos, the chronological ordering of events – there’s Kairos, the Time of significance, when you feel things fit into place, a kind of high point (we have to use metaphors of place and space to describe time!) of energy, that draws events towards it, because this is the place/time where things come together, giving a deeper sense of significance and meaning. It is also known as the Appointed Time and our perceptions of this have nothing to do with clocks, zones or mathematical measurements but rather, are ones of expansion. These experiences can come at any time in our lives, personal to us, they’ll provide areas of nexus or cohesion, nodal points around which our lives gather, forming an individual and unique pattern. Singular and unrepeatable. Our personal story, our individual looping labyrinth, which is both path – travelled in time and place – and one all-encompassing whole.

The labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral: Photo credit:

So today I feel accompanied by Kairos and perhaps there’s even a residual uplifting gleam from the saints. The cherry tree in the garden has lost almost all of its leaves, but the bright sunlight gleams on its silver and copper-red bark.