In This Place; At This Time – Winter Solstice 2020

A very happy Solstice to all! I have a particular affinity for the equinoxes and Solstices, and none more so than the beloved winter. I had planned to walk with friends, at the start of what feels like an interesting, ongoing exploration of trig points – but due to some self-isolating in the family it felt prudent to stay away from company, especially this close to Christmas and in the light of rising Covid cases. A loss, but a small one, and I decided to go to a different trig, Haresfield Beacon to walk ‘together but apart’, seperated by space and time but linked by intent.

It was a perfect Solstice walk – blustery, foggy, another incidence of feeling timelessness which has been such a characteristic of this wintertide. Taius asked if there were such a thing as ‘temporal habits’, a wonderful concept.

Solstice is many things, but at heart it is paradoxical – at the very moment of the longest darkest night, we turn to the lighter days. A powerful image is that of the candle in the darkness. At this time this year, Saturn and Jupiter are all but aligned, a rare occurence and lucky are those who see it – and for the last couple of days, the homely phrase ‘thank my lucky stars’ has been peeking into my mind. I am not one for the phrase ‘gratitude practice’ – like ‘self care’, it sounds like something that is another chore on the to-do list, another task for women, in particular, to use as a stick to beat themselves with if they don’t do it. But on this walk, I focussed on how lucky I am:

  • Lucky that while facing a much-reduced Christmas, we will still see all my family for dinner.
  • Lucky that I went shopping today, and could donate to the foodbank rather than have to visit it.
  • Lucky that my little dog’s bad back is better, and she can race across the beacon for the joy of being out, ears and tail waving like black flags, or snuffle along, black nose to the ground, following the dog song lines of scent and track
  • Lucky that this Coronayear has been relatively benign for us – we are still employed, still housed, able to claim furlough. We have not lost anyone (though we know those who have) and we have not been ill.
  • Lucky that reduced work with a financial safety net has allowed me not only to do much self-graft and feel re-invented, but also to focus on writing, on photography, to settle into the quiet and live at a suitably hibernatory pace.

And that was my Solstice devotion.

We reached the trig, which looked eldritch in the mist. Lichen draped the stunted, stubby hawthorns, highlighted here and there with a splash of bright mistletoe. On the approach, the trig gradually appeared at the peak, bemisted tree skeletons behind, and its pathways markers looked like eyes, as if it watched our drawing near. It is fascinating, how such a recent monument can carry such an air of age and otherness. They are squat, lumpen, but with such sharp lines and a strange flattened effect to their dimension. I circled it, approached it. I was aware that my friends were planning to libate the Bisley trig, read poetry to it. Like the shepherd boy in Rosetti’s carol, I had nothing to offer – nothing had suggested itself as appropriate. But as ever, once on site the inspiration solution came – and we three howled our howls like wolves, hidden in the mist, a mum and her two cubs and a pup. It felt so good, to open our throats and sing wolf to the grey skies!

A sharp, winterbite image comes to me – a snow-covered track, trodden with pilgrim footprints, lined with black bare trees, leading to a trig monument which is part-silhouetted against a low late-afternoon orange red sun in a white sky. The trig broadcasts in 3 directions, transmitting.

As we walked away, I found a 3-pronged stick, a natural world cousin of the Ordanance Survey sigil.

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