Find the Place at the Edge
A path is disappearing between paths,
with remains of a wooden step
rotting and sinking into the earth.
This place speaks to me.
It says, “Return.”
Inside the edge of the woods,
an ash is leaning downhill,
embedded in pungent leaf mould.
Below it, a blackbird
skulks in the undergrowth.
Find birds by listening,
sensing slight movements
at the peripheries of vision.
A hidden place in summer –
now, all is exposed.
I am leaning on the friendliness of trees
that offer solitude in companionship,
at the edge – and immersed.
This ash is dying –
others around already dead.
More than birds, my presence is fleeting.
What can I offer when everything seems
slowly disappearing downhill?
The dawn is the edge of the day – and it was like this today.
As I walked up the green lane, what first caught my attention was a pair of robins searching in the mud – a pair, not a solitary one. Throughout the walk, I came across many robin pairs in various places. A pair of blue tits were flitting and feeding close together among the catkins in a hazel hedge. I heard a great spotted woodpecker lustily drumming down in the woods. A male great tit shouted its “squeaky gate” song. Although there was plenty of frost crunching underfoot at the top of the valley, and still many patches of snow on the ground, the silence of only a few days ago is gone. Here, in the heart of cold winter, spring is edging its way in.
Just a few minutes ago, from my study window, I heard, and then saw, a pair of ravens fly by. The raven in mythology is a trickster and bringer of change. Tricksters are edgy characters. They live on the edge causing mischief and upsetting the settled status quo. Raven Steals The Light is about the dawning of the first day. Like all tricksters, Raven does this to suit himself – but it then affects everything. Tricksters live at the edge – and tip things over the edge.
You could say there are no edges to be found in the seasons or the day really – just the turning – the constant changing. But there are perceived happenings at the edge of the day and the edge of the seasons – indicators of the changing. The actual appearance of the sun is when night tips over the edge into day. With twilight, it is harder to pinpoint that moment of tipping over the edge into night. The disappearance of the sun is only the beginning of the edge of night. Will I feel it when winter really tips over the edge to spring?
Water from the last few weeks of rain still flows down the hollow of the green lane, but the edges are crisp with frost. As I reach the sycamore grove, I wonder how the tiny goldcrests I have been watching there are faring this morning. They need to eat or die, and there won’t be many insects here today. I hope they are finding some in the thick bramble hedges. There are goldfinches dancing and chatting in the big hawthorn. A wood pigeon sits stolidly on a branch. Out on the top field, frozen grass and leaves crackle under my boots. The gulls and magpies are nowhere to be seen – a couple of crows, that’s all. No dog walkers about. When I reach the place at the edge of the woods, I stop and lean on a trunk. Silence is here. Ivy leaves barely shift in a breath of breeze. A blackbird briefly crosses my view in the woods below. A great tit lands in the top branches of the ash tree – hops around briefly – then leaves. The only sound is the distant, muffled roar from the Exe Bridges roundabout down in the valley bottom. This is as quiet as I have ever know this place – the icy sleep of winter.
Normally, I would only post my own poems on this blog, but this one deeply moves me and relates to the, sometimes, unbearably difficult times of trying to deal with a change – a hard edge. Rilke is so gentle yet powerful here – “…be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses…” – wow!
LET THIS DARKNESS BE A BELL TOWER
by Rainer Maria Rilke
Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,
what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.
In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.
And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.
from Sonnets to Orpheus, II:29, translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows
I woke up in the middle of last night with what could only be called an anxiety. The fear was one of possibly being overwhelmed. Since I decided to join Extinction Rebellion last spring, I have stayed at the edge of it – watching, listening, and learning. I have observed how many of the other local members are really involving themselves in terms of their time and commitment, but not felt I wanted this level of involvement. I joined the XR Devon Drummers and attend practices most Sunday afternoons, as well as playing with them in a few local actions. The furthest I have gone with them is to Plymouth. I still feel at the edge of the band, and am quite happy with this. It’s challenging enough for me to play a new instrument (agogo) and also understand all the signals, and I am still on a learning curve. I want to be more-or-less confident by the time April comes when I intend to go up to London and play.
But yesterday I went to a meeting with a different XR group – the biodiversity group – and found myself stepping over the edge a bit. The group want to plan something “eye-catching” for Earth Day during the April rebellion outside Parliament that confronts current fishing and farming practices and legislation. I volunteered to take notes – simple enough and an “at the edge” kind of role – but somehow I began feeling more “involved” and was informed of the need to learn a lot more about how XR communicate and operate. Why should this matter? After all, I really want to do something meaningful to help protect the wildlife and natural environment.
Central to my enquiry into The Edge is “feeling the edge” – being sensitive and aware about how I respond to opening to and moving in any direction at a perceived edge. The edge is a place of risk. Of course, whatever direction one moves in will bring change – but an edge has a sense of some real unknown, some risk. So, I woke up with anxiety. I identified the perceived edge here as between Being and Doing. All my adult life, until I retired, I was mostly a “Doer”, despite the longing to “Be”. Since then I have been learning to “Be” – giving it space in my life and becoming sensitive to the joys it brings. It is essential to my poetry, to my whole inner life, and also to my ability to relate. I still like to do, but work hard to find the balance between them. For me, it is an edge. Having both the mini-stroke and then Long Covid taught me a lot about just being, as I couldn’t do otherwise. There were immense gifts from these experiences. I am at the edge now, feeling the risk of loss and overwhelm if I go too far into doing. I want to do more for XR, but fear losing some of the other parts of my life that nourish me: writing, editing, immersing myself in nature, dharma practice, this enquiry…
I was finally able to go back to sleep after making some notes, identifying the fear and jotting down some strategies for handling this particular edge. When writing about my desire for freedom in Touching the Flame, I recognised a desire to be held or contained as well. I think this is what is needed at this edge. I need containers around time and commitment. At the moment these involve my making a list of what I want in my life in terms of doing and being, and using my diary to put in spaces for each. We shall see if this is enough to enable me to move and balance at this edge.