It’s a poignant time of year…
I love colour. I’m sure we all do. It’s difficult to say farewell to the mellow flashes of autumn; to know that it will be four months – one third of a year – before renewed colour returns in full to this beautiful land.
It’s important to make the best of the last; to have the camera always ready for those few instances of brightness holding out against the rising trails of mud.
I’m a bit sentimental about this. I always say a silent thank you to the traces of colour that retain their brightness against the brown and grey. Sometimes, I find a single object worthy of more detailed study and bend or kneel to take a close-up shot of it. My favourites are ‘lines of things’ that draw the eye into the distance.
There are compensations… The blue skies of the winter are more intense than the summer’s softness and pastels. Best in the early morning, as below, when the sun’s capture of the leafless and bare branches of a tree contrasts in a deeply poetic way with the frosted darkness below it.
Buildings, too, respond to the stark contracts between winter’s light and shadow. The days are short, but the energy in the sky often makes up for this with intensity.
It’s important that we find a way to react to the darkness, loss of colour, and short days in a positive way. That seems a tall order… but perhaps the winter has a story of parallel life to that of the spring and summer: one that is the key to our own psychological well-being… and one that may even have significant signposts to our spiritual development.
The ancient world had a different perspective on the ending of colour and the decay of ‘life’s bodies’. In this view, the processes had not stopped, but had removed themselves to the space beneath the ground, where, protected deep in soil, their activity intensified. The roots of organic forms are, literally, the foundations of life. In this view, life does not begin in the spring; it begins at the winter solstice deep in the warm and nurturing earth where there is protection from the bare, saturated and freezing surface of the earth that bears the full force of the winter… As do we.
We live on that bare and freezing surface, but we have been gifted intelligence to mitigate the hardship. We also have eyes to see the whole process of the four seasons, each with its own definite purpose and ‘essence’. Such a quaternity features strongly at the heart of many of the ancient myths and religions.
I cannot follow the underground life with my camera. And even if I could that life would look quite alien and colourless, just as our organs would if we saw them outside the body. Their beauty is in the function they perform for the whole rather than the dance of colour in the visible world.
One day, our own physical organs will falter, then fail. Whether we see this as death or an embrace of unity depends on whether we can find a parallel in ourselves.
Perhaps our task is to see the cycle of four seasons as a whole, taking rest when we can in the darker months and letting a different, more contemplative part of us delve into the mysteries of life and possibly-not-death. The seasons are very present to us – they directly affect our lives and can be a threat to our survival. But to the globe of the planet, what is happening in the northern hemisphere is mirrored and reversed in the south. It is always summer, somewhere, as it is always winter, somewhere else.
Everything is in balance, as long as we see the whole of the cycle. As long as we raise our eyes to see.
To the ancients, the turning points were the four dates of solstice and equinox. The equinox gives us equal night and day, but travelling in different directions with respect to maximum light or darkness. The solistice gives us those maxima. Their significance was so great that the Christian church layered its own religious festivals over them, rather than trying to replace their historical and cultural presence. Its seldom remarked on that Jesus the Christ was born in mid-winter, at the time of the deepest darkness, rather than in the spring.
How we relate our lives and selves to nature’s entire cycle of life and death may be one of the key questions of our lives.
Our individual lives, like the beautiful leaves, dance in the sun until their term ends. We have been gifted the use of our intelligence to combat the cold and dark so that we may remain fully conscious during the winter. Our struggle – our challenge – is to locate that part of us that develops as invisible light in the darkness, and thus reconcile life and death to something far more embracing in the long life of this beautiful planet… and beyond to the Sun, which sacrifices all its life to the support of its children in all their forms.
With energy, everything else happens. With gravity and the radiation of light, the Sun provides stability and the basis of life within the Earth as well as just on its surface. Beyond the ‘big bang’ everything depended on the blue giant suns, whose dying nuclear furnaces gave us the very chemistry of life, itself.
Could we ask for a clearer lesson, or a more noble purpose, than to mirror this in our own way?
In part two, we will examine and, possibly, challenge some of the accepted ideas about colour; with the possibility that this familiar quality of life, most poignant in the autumn, will enable us to find a deeper understanding of life and death.
©Stephen Tanham 2021
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.