FEBRUARY "Behind us our footprints lead back to the imperfections of knowledge and the frailties of our human world." (from "Song of the Rolling Earth, a Highland Odyssey" by John Lister-Kaye)
Do you remember church/chapel/mosque/synagogue/temple/gurdwara gatherings? No, I don't mean if, pre-Covid, you attended weekly or more often. If you're that person, then there's probably a large hole in your life. What I mean is, do you remember simply feeling you would go along to the next children's service or join the congregation to mark a personal anniversary or maybe pop into the building in order to light a votive candle? The freedom to worship is closed to all in Scotland and this is one of a raft of restrictions which has been launched for us during the last year. I'm not arguing - I think we can beat this virus as long as we don't mingle - and we keep washing our hands.
I'm hearing a great deal about those restrictions which directly affect the economy. As a people, we Brits are very wrapped up in the money. I don't hear as much about spirituality - I don't mean mental health - they are not the same thing at all. I should think all of us know someone who is struggling with their mental health at present. I suppose I'm trying to say that, in the end, although all adults are aware of the financial struggle ahead of us - exacerbated by Brexit - I wonder how we will get along with the spiritual side of things after Covid19. Here in Wick, many people went to religious buildings on a regular basis. I would pass them on a Sunday morning - me in my mud-spattered dog-walking coat and they in their neat church attire. How different their lives must be now. I don't envy those who take on the spiritual complexities amongst their congregations. I occasionally went to a church service before lockdown. Once upon a time, I went to just about every service held in our village church - I was even on the PCC for a while. I remember that chapter with affection - but, later, I came to understand clerical fallibility and witnessed its effect on the spirituality of those who needed guidance and support. I'm a fan of C. S. Lewis but there are some things he wrote which I'm not absolutely comfortable with. He describes "feeling God in Nature" as "all thrills and no work". He also writes "Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map". I take issue with the first statement but agree with the second. However, Lewis goes on to suggest that we will not develop without using the map. But he doesn't quantify usage of said map so perhaps I'm alright, Jack!!
There are some services which will be missed more than others. In the Isle of Axholme, February started with Luddington's Candlemas Service. Candlemas is the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary and of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. Luddington has another commemoration too. Its Candlemas Service also remembers the obligations of the Lords of the Manor of Waterton to fulfil the requirements of the original deed of the Abbot of Selby, Gilbert de Vere (1165-1179) -
"To pay twelve shillings to the priest at Luddington on the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (February 2nd)"
The twelve shillings represented each of the disciples of Christ and were placed, by the Lord of the Manor, on the shield which was held by the priest.
It's a little bit of history come alive. Before the priest accepts the payment there is the blessing of the candles and, when candles have been lit, a Candlemass Procession around the little church. An uplifting close to the Christmas season!
Currently uplifting is the massively increased interest in the environment since the first lockdown. It's everywhere you look - and it isn't limited to the younger generation - although I know that teachers are encouraging families to go out and take exercise whilst identifying aspects of the natural world around them. More people are asking questions and wanting to help our earth. It really is heartening that all ages want to get involved.
I've never understood that thing about attempting to keep one's age a secret. Telemann was composing when he was in his eighties. Mary Wesley didn't become an author until she was in her late fifties and she didn't have an adult novel published until she was seventy one. After sixty seven years I've learned a lot of things and life is still full of surprises! There are things which don't change - those things are treasured constants - and things which are insecurely anchored so that they may shift and alter. Some things are deliberately manipulated by human beings - sometimes on a power trip, sometimes in search of wealth and sometimes with a need to survive. There has been so much of the deliberate manipulation that the poorly anchored things have begun to drift. Here we are in a world on the edge. The way we treat our planet is in need of a rethink. We've had it our way for long enough - and, frankly, it's going topsy-turvy (you know the familiar version!). I'm not saying we should expect wonders from whales or miracles from marmosets but isn't it time we worked with them? In collaboration? I reckon it's time to check out what the other life forms on Planet Earth are needing right now. While we've had lockdowns, many have had the opportunity to observe the natural world around them and this can only be good - because to know it is to love it. And to love it is to want to preserve it.
Because I live in a rural town in the far north of Britain, I am able to enjoy the natural world, with its gems and its glories, throughout the year. In the rural area of Lincolnshire, where I was brought up, those who have kept faith with Nature are able to follow the old paths and trods - as my grandfather called them - to connect with the same trees, plants, animals and birds as their ancestors did. There has been change, as the earth has warmed, and that change brings with it a sense of uncertainty about the future. Here, in the lowlands beyond the highlands, we have noticed change too.
The first time I visited the north of Scotland was as an eighteen year old. I'd passed my driving test the year before and, after my exams, I took Mum around Scotland. We didn't get as far as the lowlands beyond the Highlands though. That came later. You see, lots of people think that Inverness is in the far north. It really isn't! Dad had an RAC route map made up for us and the cartographer must have been one of those people who thought that Britain's boundary, on its northern edge, was the Great Glen!
Driving north and homeward from Inverness, where we go (in normal times) for shopping excursions, hospital appointments, entertainment and, just a little way outside Inverness, to visit our daughter and her family, we notice the red kites along the way. We see them just outside Inverness and on the way up as far as Dornoch. We haven't spotted them in Caithness yet. Magpies have been getting closer over the years and now we see them in Berriedale - so they've made it to our lowlands beyond the highlands! (You're right - Berriedale is definitely not without its hilly bits - but it is in Caithness!)
Sometimes I see a bird which needs checking in my field guide - only to find that it shouldn't visit us here - but it does - now! Perhaps we ought to obtain an up-to-date bird book annually! Things are changing in line with the higher temperatures and altered weather patterns. The Somerset Levels' cuckoos may be on the decline - but we have no shortage of cuckoos here. The other day, as my daughter and I were walking our dog, Orlando, we were casting our minds back to the same walk in the spring and summer months. It was wonderful to remember the cuckoo and summer bird visitors of all songs and sizes, and the memory of orchids growing wild amongst the buttercups and spectacularly beautiful grasses, made us smile.
We are in February and the view from the sitting room window is onto a sunny square with sparkling roofs all around and a tyre-marked covering of snow at ground level. This cold weather has lasted since before Christmas and it makes global warming a bit difficult to comprehend! But we're looking now at the world view. Across the planet, people everywhere are affected by climate change - from confusion at the erratic behaviour of shoals of fish, and of marine life generally, around the shores of these islands, to the terror of those living on low-lying settlements in and around our oceans, anticipating an enforced and imminent move from everything they've ever known.
You and I may feel impotent. What difference can we make? We're just the little people! I'm no speaker - perhaps you are. If you are - then speak! Please!
For my part, I shall continue to reduce my carbon footprint as much as I am able. I shall care for the victims of this change in our environmental circumstances as well as I am able. And I shall continue to share my delight in this wonderful world for as long as I am able.
I can do my bit where I am now. As a homemaker, I am aware of the value to the environment of changing my brand of laundry liquid to one which has a reduced impact on the seas and oceans of the world. As an amateur naturalist, I know that I need to increase the number of nectar and pollen-rich plants in my garden in order to support the bees and their creepy-crawly chums. As an educator, I can't stop sharing my enthusiasm for my lifelong passion. I'm not full of knowledge - I can't quote stats at you - but my love of the natural world is forever! Hope it's contagious!
I found the first snowdrop buds in the garden last week. They are tucked under the wee bay tree - and, today, they are still in bud. From experience, they will probably remain like that for a while yet. I quite like that they are buds for a long time because snowdrops represent a hope held fast and lasting until Spring stops her whispering and starts to chuckle loudly through the last clear days of Winter.
This weekend, I removed the white hyacinths which have delighted since Christmas and replaced them with a vase of daffodils. I didn't add anything to them. At first they were stark and stern - but now they are puffed out with soft yellow frills and flounces and soon they will be daffydowndillys - tooting their trumpets in honour of new life! They came from the shop but I've no idea where they were grown. I wish the person who harvested them could see them brighten our house today. I'd share a pot of tea with the daffodil harvester if I were able!
It's a puzzle of a month, is February. Certainly winterly, the last of the really cold months in the northern hemisphere - which is the only hemisphere I know! We called it February Fill-Dyke in Lincolnshire and it did - fill the dykes. Dykes are walls here, but, in Lincolnshire, they are ditches and water channels. The thaws which followed the freezes were significant and roads were sometimes flooded as a result. Then came the frost and ice again and nobody ventured out of doors unless they were obliged to - so much safer to be off the roads and footpaths. There is something to be said, however, for getting well-wrapped up on a February morning and carefully picking one's way into the countryside for what will probably be the most invigorating walk you'll take this year. Don't forget to give the garden birds their water before you set off though!
There are sometimes strangely mild Februaries. When we lived in Orkney, I remember the children playing out in what we called the "pig field" (so-called because the people who had lived there before us had kept pigs in that area). They started out with coats, scarves, hats and gloves. (The children - not the pigs!) The scarves, hats and gloves soon appeared in the porch, then the coats and, when I looked out of the window a little later, I saw their jumpers draped over the fence - they were playing outside - in Orkney - on a February day, wearing T-shirts! I went outside, ready to read the riot act, but common sense told me this was an unnaturally mild - nay - warm - Winter's day! A marvellous memory!
Memory drips into a glass with which to toast the future. It seems to me that the big memories are the ones to watch out for - they're the ones which come gushing out of the genie's bottle and, in their enthusiasm to engage, can become distorted and disfigured - the ones to entertain with but not necessarily to learn from. Beware of those! But the little drips of memories are the ones which continue to form us well into old age. Reminiscences - such as that of the Valentine's Day when our first child was a baby and the whole world seemed to have burst into Spring on that one day - birdsong, violets, primroses, hedgehogs sleepily wandering the lanes and hedgerows of our village. Flashbacks - like that cold snowy February evening when I was ironing close to the fire and the children were fast asleep in their warm beds. I was willing the snow to settle so that we might build a snowman the next morning. It was a very small snowman. Reflections - as of the walks I used to take alone, as a teenager, along the field edges and through the old common land near to our house. In February, there were primroses growing on the banks of the ditches and the fields were hard, with ice in the grooves. The deserted house I passed was called Primrose Hill and I found out much later that a relative had lived there many years before.
Together these recollections help to shape who we are and, as we grow older, they will provide the coordinates necessary to negotiate the changing landscape of our lives.
What will I remember of February 2021? The list will almost certainly include Lockdown. But how will I remember it? President Biden's determination in placing America at the heart of the scientific solution to the climate crisis is something worth remembering. When we all despaired of Donald Trump's negative influence on environmental issues, our planet seemed vulnerable. Now it is extremely fragile but there is hope - we can do this thing together!