Sunday, February 08, 2009

The tender mantle

Monday February 2, 2009:

“Beneath her snowy mantle
The busy city sleeps.
Among the shaking birch trees
The Russian wind cavorts.”


Gently the quietness descends. Nothing stirs. London lies sleeping under the softness of Bridget’s mantle. This is her gift for Imbolc.

Awoken by the unusual stillness, I stumble into the garden, my feet sinking silently into the deep yielding snow. A brisk northerly wind blows flakes caressingly onto my cheek, into my hair and my outstretched seeking hands.

Step by step, I cross the garden. As I brush by, shrubs and trees bent under the weight of the settling snow scatter their icy burdens.

I stand before the stolid hornbeam, touch the snow sprinkled ivy it wears like a silky dark green jacket. The Green man sconce is completely submerged beneath snow, frozen like a mask. Gently, I stroke it away and sigh a greeting to the tree.

The holly branch swings low before me. Can I get past without it dumping snow all over me? I duck low, but not low enough. The icy crystal clusters slip seductively down the back of my neck melting coolly upon my still sleep- warmed skin. “Why thank you tree” I say smilingly to the holly, bowing low.

The icy rind crackles under my feet. I step carefully, aware that beneath it lies sheer smooth ice, as treacherous as an ice rink. Below the deceptive softness of the snow, the ground is hard as iron.

Amid the crunches, the sound of heavy wings criss-cross the garden in a counterpoint of soft fluttering. Fleetingly I wonder why the birds aren’t singing this morning. I listen to the tender softness of their wings, purse my lips, round my cheeks and blow a greeting to them in my own feather language. We “thwoh-thwoh-thwoh” to each other contentedly, as the snow continues to fall. We are alone, the birds, the snow and me.

The alter beneath the rowan tree is buried. Tenderly I brush away the soft snow from the dragon’s spikes, smooth it away from the great egg-shaped cobble, blow flakes off the roundel of hornbeam sitting on the icy slate. I hiss with pain. My frozen fingers hurt. I warm them on my mug of tea.

“What a beautiful morning” I think as I begin my dawn prayers. Around me, the birds circle, the bushes shift in the wind and from time to time let slip their icy clusters. Behind my closed eyelids, I see silver sparkling faces watching from amongst the trees. Beyond my hearing, the air chimes and tinkles imperceptibly. Is that the frost singing, I muse?

I move slowly to the green lady plaque on the graceful birch tree and clean away the snow from her face. I squeeze between the bending shrubs and find myself back at the hornbeam.

The hornbeam has a great strong arch of a branch. IN the space left by its prickly thorny neighbour is a gateway to another place. Every morning and evening, I stand and greet the tree. Every day, the gateway is there.

I stand before it now and my mind wanders through, eager to explore. I call it back. This is not the time to make that journey, for I know that the tree wants me to be purposeful when I do go through. It will wait for another day, I think turning to walk back.

London has stopped. The signs of spring may be here underneath the snow. Winter’s icy grip reminds me that there is time still to savour the darkness. I am glad. Along with the rest of the world, I decide to take the day off.

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