It’s September 2015 and I have been alone in the woods for about 18 hours. When I’d left the drumming and the circle I set off by myself, separating off from the others I had gathered with, because this part I needed do do alone. To listen for voices and see visions, to seek answers to the stones weighing heavy on my heart.
The setting sun filters through the woods in long low fingers as I push through the thick tangle of overgrown trunks and brambles that tug at my legs, lugging water bottle and tent along with my pack, until I find the place.
I had worried I would not know when I found it, but I do. Here. I spin on the spot, looking round, checking I feel safe.
And I did, with the lichen-strewn slope at my back. Tent pitched on the one flat part of my circle, an ancient track edged with stones. I shifted myself up above the path that first night, wrapped in my sleeping bag, watching the stars come out and feeling the day drain away, as dusk turned to night, and the coldness crept in.
I thought about staying awake all night but out in the woods my body felt the cue it had evolved to respond to over centuries. Night fell and I stared at the stars, and there was no fire, and I slept.
In the morning the dawn was grey. I huddled outside, sipped water. It was cold and so I stood up and danced, an improvised war dance. I had worried I would not know what to do on the vision quest, that it would feel forced or contrived, but as what felt like one long moment stretched on to infinity I knew exactly what to do. I danced. My own personal haka, out in the woods, where no one could see me.
And I stood on tiptoe on the very edge of the circle, and watched the line of golden light move closer, and closer. Watched the oak tree a little further east and saw why it had grown just there, because the rays hit it before they did me, and congratulated it for such a good choice, and marvelled that the sun had helped it grow so big and tall, and cursed it for prolonging the time before the warmth reached me.
Finally I felt it. The sun on my face, and then my body. I came alive. I laughed and hugged myself and danced for joy, out there on my own, unashamed.
The blessing of sunrise.
The daily mracle
Every day, without fail, the sun rises and the sun sets.
In a microcosm of the seasons we see the morning, when everything is fresh, where energy rises upward like spring sap. Sink into the languor of the afternoon and then rush to get things done before dark, jettisoning unnecessary things from to-do lists. We move into night when it’s time to rest and be close to each other, to sleep and dream.
Sometimes we stop and witness the glory of the skies.
Sometimes we slow down and watch them change.
Dawn and dusk, these in-between times, pauses when we feel the landscape we are in more strongly than ever. When we experience the tug of the natural world on our bones and cells. Tiredness sets in, or we wake up.
The world exhales
It’s October 2016, and I’ve spent the past few days travelling, exploring a new city. Marvelling at the beauty of evening light in the Autumn; how it snakes down narrow streets like it did between the tree trunks in the wood.
I watched sunrise from the sky and it did not lose its beauty. Though in a sealed cabin the warmth and light are artificial, the breathtaking beauty of a new day still has power. Still stirs something within me, and ever since the wood I am mindful of that which is stirring. I honour the part of myself that rises with the dawn and sets at dusk, a part I do not have a name for.
We breathe in and out, the sun rises and sets, and these times are not just lines on a calendar. They are life arriving and leaving. They are the markers between waking and dreaming, between action and talk, between the days which, passing, make up our lives.
Sunset and sunrise orientate us. Tell us which way is East and West. Remind us of the miracle of being on a rock, spinning, in nothingness. Yet we are something. We live somewhere. Each day holds itself, bookended by these blazing displays.
I remind myself again to pay attention. That every morning and every evening, something huge and immeasurable shifts and stirs, and if I am lucky I can be a witness to it, and allow myself to be witnessed by it. The rhythm of the land breathing. Dawn and dusk, dawn and dusk, dawn and dusk.