I just spent two months in the United States and got to see spring in three different places. Really, I got to see three different springs.
My first spring was in San Francisco, which was unaccountably hot. The last time I was in San Francisco, in the July of their summer, I needed my winter coat. This February I needed t-shirts, which I hadn’t packed. It was hot. Not just mildly warm, but as if I’d arrived in the middle of summer, except it wasn’t. There were leaves on the trees, magnolias in full bloom, shedding those deep-red-purple centred white petals onto the street. I felt completely disoriented, particularly as I’d come from my own Blue Mountains where – in summer – I’d been needing to wear several jumpers.
We stood in the labyrinth to cast our circle. It’s an intimate space, about six metres across with the paths made of brick and the curves between the paths mosaic. The mosaic is in rainbow bands of colour, the outermost circuit red, then orange, yellow, greens blues and purples with the centre piece mainly white, an ‘om’ symbol picked out in a small glittering pattern of colour. Set into the grass in the community gardens it’s where we do our public rituals and – on this occasion – where we were for our monthly meeting. We walked the labyrinth in, passing and passing each other as our circuits lapped and turned and threaded through the journeys of others; separate but companionable. It was cooling down; the day had been warm and the bricks and tiles retained that warmth, fed it back to us when we arrived in the centre and sat down, welcoming, sheltering us.
I stood balanced on a jagged spit of rock with the sea below me on both sides, water churning and swirling. I guessed it would be covered at high tide. I felt remote, at the tip of the world. The grit of ash was in my hands and releasing to the wind, the sea, the rock. Small pieces of bone fled through my fingers, back to our beginnings in the ocean and death. The waves sucked and smashed in and out, like the breath of the universe or life and death itself; in, out, in, out relentless and endless. When I looked down, my jeans were whitened in places, with ash. My hands were covered in it. I put the back of one hand to my mouth and licked. Salt and ash. Grit.
I just spent an evening at Watkins Books in London talking about my latest book Circle of Eight: Creating Magic for Your Place on Earth. As a way of trying to explain how a geographical Circle of Eight might look if you lived in a city I experimented with, placing the bookshop itself as the centre of a Circle of Eight, radiating outwards from there.
I often marvel at the difference between humans and trees. In particular, I wonder how it would be to spend your whole life in one place – and I don’t just mean one locality, I mean one exact place, like a tree does.
What would it be like to learn the angles of the sun, never moving but only by them moving past you? To offer a refuge to birds, animals and insects that isn’t fleeting, temporary, but will last as long as your life lasts? To deepen into the earth gradually, over years, learning the precise geography of the land beneath you – it soils and clays and rocks, the exact bands and patterns of them – to seek water not as some temporary, immediate need but as a life long commitment, learning exactly, precisely where it is to be found and anchoring there.
I stepped into the labyrinth. It was midnight on new year’s eve. I walked its paths in the darkness, in the mist of low cloud, mist hovering in the air all around me. I could only see the paths of the labyrinth by default; they were completely dark, whereas the lines between the paths, picked out in a mosaic of coloured tiles, held and reflected what little light there was. So I trod the curves and turns of darkness, held between faintly shining edges. In daylight these mosaic pieces are a rainbow of colours, starting with red on the outermost one and following the rainbow’s strata as they get closer and closer to the centre, but at night none of that was discernable, only the gleam off their surface. Treading paths of darkness, inbetween the light, felt deeply significant to me as I walked out of the year in which my mother had died and into a completely altered and unknown future. I would be in darkness, though held and guided by the light.
We sat in a small circle on a slab of rock, looking down into the dramatic valley and across to the sunset. There was a cold wind but the view and the place were worth it. Usually we begin by checking in, listening as one by one we speak, telling of what’s happening in our lives or strong for us at the moment. After it was suggested we start the check in we fell silent, waiting for someone to speak.
We fell silent but the world around us wasn’t silent. I heard birds chittering and calling out as they gathered in bushes, getting ready for the night. We heard insects, buzzing and humming. The winds in the valley swept up the sides of the cliff and we heard them as a whole soundscape. The longer we stayed quiet, the more and more we heard. It stretched out. Still no-one spoke and still we heard more and more. There were a dozen or more different birds calling and singing, choruses of them; themes that continued with commentaries that circled round and returned, notes that were sustained and sounds that interrupted, before fading back to be part of the whole.