This is the winter solstice. Solstice is an edge, a place of change in terms of how the earth is placing itself in relation to the sun. It begins to gently tip in the opposite direction, each pole slowly moving either towards or away from the sun. Such a subtle edge, but one that has profound effects on terrestrial life. I walk to my place at the edge of the woods. The sun is weakly shining on the northeastern horizon. Everything is saturated in water, reflecting the sunlight as I walk westwards along the top of the nature reserve. I avoid the muddy path and instead enjoy the swishing of tall grass around my wellies.
I am opening my own edges to allow a more sensitive awareness of the back and forth flow of what is outside of “me” and what is felt to be inside. There are the powerful visuals, of course, that can create strong emotion and lead to a lot of inner talk. But I am focusing more on sound – soft sounds. Except for the robins loudly declaring their winter territories, woodland birds are generally quieter at this time of year – soft calls to each other or alarms if there is danger near. “Where are you?” “I am here.” “There is food here.” “Cat!”
I visited my opticians a couple of days ago for a full examination – my first since before the pandemic started. Except for some small signs of early cataracts, normal in people my age, my vision has not deteriorated. A scan of the back of my eyes reveals that it is in good condition. My peripheral vision is good. It always has been and I hope it remains so. Peripheral vision is not about detail or colour, but catches movement. I use it a lot when out walking – peripheral vision and listening. My hearing is such a wonderful thread between inside and outside.
When I reach my place at the edge of the woods, I stop and lean on a horizontal branch. Alerted to movement further into the woods, I wait and watch. A squirrel scrambles down to the ground to search in the leaves. I muse about how big and healthy it looks, aware of aversive thoughts about grey squirrels as I know that a reintroduction of red squirrels is planned in the Southwest, once they get pine martins re-established.
I end this rumination by opening to listening instead. The woods are quiet. I can hear the soft bird companion calls, but don’t bother to identify them – just listen and let them enter through my edges. I become aware of the effect of them on my inner self. I feel tender, soft like the sounds. There is a sense of dropping down into a deeper place inside that I know from meditation. In the distance, the waves of Exeter’s traffic create a constant backwash. This place of trees, moss, fungi, soil, squirrels, and birds is as beautiful now as it was in midsummer.
As I write this, I am reminded about a poem that I wrote last weekend. I had been meditating in our room at the top of the house. That room has a sense of edge between the outside world and the daily life world of the house below.
Listen Outside and Inside
The sharp bark of the neighbour’s dog,
like a needle,
pierces the fabric of surrounding sound
woven of the whisper of tyres in the rain,
percussive gusts on the window panes,
barely there body breathing,
slow, gentle taps of pipes heating and cooling.
The dog is quiet now, and there –
the faint, high-pitched singing of my cells.