Marking the Horizon

Our garden is south-facing, which is lovely when the sun shines, as we benefit from its rays through most of the day.

I’ve begun to write about the history of our ‘gunpowder’ village of Sedgwick in other posts. The old (drained) canal bed that runs through our garden has been a challenge to incorporate into a coherent design, but, a decade on, we seem to have achieved it.

One benefit of the garden’s orientation is that the evening sun sets along a ridge about a mile away. In winter and early spring we have a clear view of this progression, as each day gives it a little more clockwise distance along the horizon line. As the foliage on the far side of the canal grows with the maturing summer, the ridge becomes more difficult to see, but is always there to our right – given that the sun is visible at all…

The approach to midsummer is, for me, the most emotionally powerful time of the year. As a mystically inclined person, I marvel each year at the level of sheer ‘aliveness’ that permeates the summer air, particularly as the sun is setting over that far ridge and filling the Cumbrian world with a last blaze of gold as it sinks between the distant trees.

I take a lot of photographs, as you may know from previous posts. One of the delights of the summer is to poke a long lens towards that sunset and let the blends and reflections create Their own work of art. It doesn’t matter if the photo is not technically good. What matters is to bathe in the beauty of the blazing reds and oranges as they project through the wooden branches of the near and far trees and shrubs.

Beginning in late March, if the day is clear, I will often be found nurturing a final cup of tea on our patio (occasionally, something stronger) and snapping dozens of shots of the moments just before, and just after, the sunset. I throw away most of these, but the odd few are worth keeping… and on a correspondingly dark day in winter, provide some fuel for the soul and a sense of ‘hang on in there’. Cumbria has long, dark and wet winters, which makes the spring and summer all that more precious. Summer, itself, is not guaranteed, though we always have the intense green and the knowledge of summer.

I’ve often tried to express that glorious feeling of the gentle months. It’s not just the obvious warmth, though that is pleasant. There is also a softness to the air, and the sense that it is filled with a kind of creative energy. There is the sense that you are being pulled out of the body and into a state of merged being… I suspect that we all, as children, do this naturally, and that is why kids go crazy with energy and fun when the sun shines.

Really, it’s a state of just being. As a verb it doesn’t need an object: In that golden state, I don’t need to be anything… It’s bigger than that and I will dilute it if I restrict it to a something. That golden feeling of summer captures this. Just to be is the most powerful thing possible. Throughout mystical history, people have sought to express and symbolise this in different ways. The Christian world, for example, names the longest day the Feast of St John. John is viewed as the most mysterious and the most mystical of the Christian fathers, and, for me, the attribution fits well.

This year, Bernie and I have decided to create a permanent marker in the garden to show the alignment with the solstice and the Sun’s final point of zenith on the horizon. One of my sons and his wife bought me, for my birthday last year, an armillary sphere, otherwise known as a spherical astrolabe. This is a model of objects in the sky, based on the the celestial sphere above us, rather than the celestial globe, which is a smooth sphere that maps the constellations.

The armillary sphere consists of a spherical framework of rings, centred on the theoretical Earth or the Sun. It shows lines of longitude and latitude and other important features such as the ecliptic. Our intention is to design a setting for it whereby the arrow can point to the point of farthest progress of the Sun as it crosses the far ridge in its final moment of setting.

This marking of the horizon of the longest day is, of course, an ancient practice. The solstice has been associated with festivals of ‘full-nesss’ for as long as mankind has gazed at the heavens and given thanks for the energy than enables us to have food for our bodies. The harvest comes later. The energy of the Sun is, by then, embedded in what keeps our bodies alive.

We hope our marking of the horizon in this way will provide us a little ‘food for the soul’ as we inch towards the third week in June. This simple act of marking the horizon, will become very special in the weeks to follow.

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The Joyous Photograph

(Above: the first of four simple photographic techniques for making local walks very special…)

From a photographic perspective, we live in a wonderful age. Even the most humble of today’s mobile phones boasts a decent camera. Used within their limitations, we can achieve an amazing record of our days – even locally to our homes – with the use of a few simple techniques.

My wife and I, plus our cat and dog, are lucky to live in the countryside, just south of Kendal, in Cumbria. Like everyone else we are ‘locked down’ except for buying food and exercising our Collie dog. The emergence of the spring has been a welcome respite, and has enabled a wider choice of photographic opportunities.

In my experience, taking photographs is a deeply therapeutic activity. It gets you out of the house, and makes you focus on something very positive. For the shots I’ve used in this blog my criteria were:

1. To walk only a short distance from home. A typical morning dog walk takes us about two hours and sees us less than two miles away, as we meander and the collie gets lots of ball-chucking.

2. To photograph only objects that are commonplace. The essence of this kind of challenge is to find something special in the ordinary.

3. To use only my mobile phone to take the shots, leaving cameras with more sophisticated lenses at home. Generally this means that the emphasis will be on the close-up shot, but, as we shall see, there can be exceptions.

The opening shot, above, is at the farthest point of our walk. The path along the old canal bank takes a sharp left and dives down into a field with sheep. This removes the middle ground and opens up the perspective available. A few seconds spent exploring the composition through the viewfinder can reveal a pleasing mix of foreground and distant background – in this case, a faded view of the Lakeland hills to the north-west, contrasting with the old limestone and aged wood of the fence.

(Above: Sedgwick House – once a gunpowder mangate’s mansion)

The second image, above, is of Sedgwick House, in the middle of the village. Once the palatial home of a local gunpowder magnate, the gothic-style mansion has seen many roles; including army base and children’s home. Following a recent building conversion, Sedgwick House is now divided into luxury apartments.

I’ve photographed it many times, but today was the first time I’ve seen the light so perfectly balanced between the dappled area beneath the trees and the brighter approach to the building. The two tall trees should have interfered with the shot but, due to their helping frame the light effects, they have actually enhanced it.

(Above: the ‘skewed bridge’ in the centre of the village – this once carried the full weight of the canal across the main road)

The third shot is of the ‘skewed’ aquaduct in the centre of Sedgwick. What is now known as the ‘Lancaster’ canal once ran all the way into Kendal. The canal-carrying bridge was built using advanced stonemason techniques that allowed the shape to be bent. This avoided having to reshape the road into a ‘z’ bend. The photo deliberately emphasises the skewed right arm of the structure, thereby demonstrating its length. The tiny view into the continuing main street is a visual surprise in something so massive and dense.

(Above: the final shot – nature bursts out in the very special hue of spring green)

The final photo is simply a tree bursting with the unique green hue of the spring. It’s impossible not to feel joy in its presence – especially after such a long and muddy winter. Always look for the dappled light at the base of the tree – it’s a joyous as the green on a lovely day like this.

Four simple techniques and sample shots. Anyone can take such photos, and come back home feeling something deliberate and mindful was achieved in the daily exercise walk. In addition, the air is clear and beautiful, given that there is so little traffic on the roads. Get your camera out and take advantage while it lasts… It will give you a record to discuss with your grandchildren, if nothing else!

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Light on Black

(Image by the author)

I will not tread upon your words

Whose worth is in these hills and lakes

Where golden flowers charmed the breeze

That carried you to greatness

But armed with eyes of fingered glass

Which sense and frame intensity

I reach into the now of gold

To capture black’s propensity

To frame in light what lies beyond

And host a soul that only

Reveals, concealed, the single light

Of daffodil that conquers lonely

©Stephen Tanham

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Circles around Sedgwick (1)

It’s a Viking word, Sedgwick. It dates from the time when the Lake District was part of the Danelaw, the half of England under the rule of the Norsemen, and means ‘place by the river’. The river in question is the Kent, which flows from Kentmere lake through Kendal on its way to the estuary at nearby Arnside, then out as a major channel into the expanse of Morecambe Bay.

Sedgwick, our home village, lies on the edge of the Lake District. For now, due to the Covid19 crisis, we are, like millions of others, confined to our homes – apart from essential trips out for food, medicines, or to help vulnerable people. Our incarceration is compounded by our choosing to bring my mother – who is ninety and has (moderate) vascular dementia – to live with us for the duration of the ‘lockdown’ period, rather than leaving her alone in the family home town of Bolton, Lancashire.

Three people, two dogs (we have a five-year old Collie and my mother has her aged Pomeranian with her) and an exotic looking cat… It’s a challenging mix.

So… how to (a) stay sane, and, (b) make best use of this enforced grounding?

The lower part of our garden a hollowed-out basin as its used to be a section of the long-defunct Preston-Kendal canal.

Doing the garden is one possibility. We have a large and challenging garden due to half of it being a residual hollow resembling the bed of a canal… which is just what it is. The celebrated Lancaster canal, which connects Preston and Tewitfield, used to extend all the way to Kendal, ferrying coal from the south and gunpowder (amongst other things) back to Preston, and via the docks there, out to sea and the world… Our house is directly on the line of that route and the (long gone) wharf here played an important part in the history of the village.

(Above: the old canal holds many surprises. It will form the starting point for many of the walks to follow, as will the occasional ‘bridge to nowhere’)

More on that, later… Sedgwick is only famous for two things, so it’s nice to be connected with one of them… (and, obliquely, both!)

(Above: The entire village of Sedgwick, set in its classic glacial ‘Basket of Eggs’ topography (technically – Drumlins)

The canal north of Tewitfield was drained of water in the 1950s and our garden is one of many plots that were sold off to the owners of adjacent land. We moved here in 2010 and inherited a sunken wilderness which has taken many years to bring into harmony with the rest of the plot. The far side of the garden rises to the level of the old canal path, which, although our land, is still a public right of way and footpath. When we’re gardening – which is often in the warmer months – we often get walkers stopping to chat. We spent most of our savings transforming the decaying 1960s property and are happy to suspend the garden work and take a few minutes to chat to those passing.

Cumbria is next to Scotland so the weather is similarly chilly and wet. But the verdant green countryside is the result. Currently, the unseasonal north wind is trying to exterminate us with arctic conditions, and mum can only take so much of the cold, though she hates being ‘cooped up in the house’, so gardening is only a partial solution. We used to take her out for drives, but non-essential motoring is now out of the question, so… it’s walking. Despite her age, she still walks a few miles every day at home. It makes sense to carry that on, keeping her healthy and exercising the dogs at the same time.

(Above: Mum at ninety, with Sammy the Pomeranian dog – inseparable companions)

If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know I take a lot of photographs. Many of them find their way here, when they are appropriate to the writing. In this time of reduced mobility, I thought it might be fun to describe and illustrate some of the local walks we take.

I’ve called this series ‘Circles around Sedgwick‘ because that’s just what they will be: circular walks from our home that last, typically, 3-4 hours. We take along a flask of tea and a biscuit or two. The cafes are all closed, of course, and those with outdoor tables seem to have stored them away. I can understand the logic (reduced social meetings) but the result is that we usually end up – at the farthest point of the walk – huddled against some stone wall, hiding from the wind and sipping tea.

(Above: The black arrow shows the location of the tiny village of Sedgwick. The dark shaded area to the left of Kendal is the Lake District National Park)

Where is Sedgwick? It’s a small village a twenty minute drive due south of Kendal. Kendal is the major gateway town to the Lake District, though the fast A590/591 dual carriageway re-routed the majority of the traffic past the town and on to Windermere or along the coast to Ulverston and Barrow in Furness. If you were visiting the northern lakes of Ullswater or the popular twin-laked town of Keswick, you’d stay on the northern M6 motorway and exit at the Penrith junction.

We are therefore in what is known as the ‘South Lakes’, and that is what you’ll see on the sign at Junction 36 as you leave the M6. At the moment, you’ll find the A590 looks, unusually, like this:

The mighty A590, which conveys millions of visitors each year to the Lake District – now virtually empty.

Sedgwick is a small village. It has a farm shop, no pubs (the nearest is a thirty-minute walk away), and no cafes. It does have an excellent cricket club, which will serve you a pint on a Friday night, if you’re a member. The nearest church is a twenty-minute walk over the hill to the even smaller hamlet of Crosscrake.

The old canal – what’s left of it – will form the starting point to many of these local walks. We’ll encounter some of its history, and the reason for the presence of the largest house for miles around…

(Above: small village, mysterious mansion…)

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Unfolding Lilac

And then one day there will unfold

Before delighted gaze

A purple ring where thickest mud

Had tempered walks on winter days

⦿

Where sliding boots had struggled

To cross the sodden land

Our eyes now look with wonder

To gaze on colour’s gentle hand

⦿

Time and tide’s persistence

Their essence of ascent

From sodden bulb to flower’s joy

A hidden rite of innocence

⦿

Directed upwards, called to seek

The calling power’s face

As cheek by mote they flex and float

To form the softest carapace

⦿

Awake and break dark winter’s chains

Cast off the inner gloom

And breathe the air with lilac stare

Then give the light its living room

⦿

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

#ShortWrytz : Hope in the Sky

The early March night sky

I have always looked for the key ‘moments’ as the turn of the year progresses. My favourite is the first day when you feel like ‘spring is in the air’. But, prior to that, there are certain nights in March when you feel that there is ‘hope’ in the sky – and sometimes that comes in the darkness rather than in the day.

Here in Cumbria, we have long, wet winters. A few days ago, we returned in the early evening from walking Tess, our collie, on one of Morecambe’s beaches (such a good alternative to the endless mud that fills the paths around where we live) to find an intense sense of brightness in the twilight sky. I looked up to see a wispy cloud formation that ended in a bright moon and, nearby, Venus.

I spent the next few minutes with the camera jammed firmly on the car’s roof while I reeled off a variety of shots with different compositions.

The above photo is my favourite. It gives me that ‘hang on’ feeling – that the sky is talking to you, that the long wet and dark winter is slowly giving way to what will be a very welcome spring…

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

#ShortWritz: End of the Road

The A66 road connects east and west across northern England and runs through some of the highest parts of the Pennine Hills. Notorious for its severe winter winds that topple heavy wagons, it’s also very beautiful.

Here, at its western end, this fast road soars across the glacial landscape, up and down like a bird of prey, before dropping us onto a scene of such scale that the breath is taken away… no matter how many times you’ve seen it, before.

Ahead to the right are the Lake District peaks of Blencathra and, beyond, Skiddaw.

As if respecting our fragility in the face of such size, the highway finally curls left, spinning us gently into Keswick, where hobbits love, and the cafes are plentiful… with fish and chips if you’ve fled the dragon-vastness into hunger.

Castlerigg, whose origins are lost in time…

In a thousand different ways, you can be born again at the end of this ferocious road. On the hillside to the left of where this photo was taken lies the stone circle of Castlerigg, ancient beyond measure and watching…

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

#ShortWrytz – Intricate Outlines

Words for photographs I’ve taken…

Winter offers the photographer a challenge – to be creative with what little colour there is…

One way around this is to look for the most contrast to be found. In this shot, taken on a walk in the mid-afternoon, the pale sun was already falling towards the horizon, filling the shadows with a rich, inky darkness. Lovely!

I walked for a while until this scene was framed against the diminishing afternoon sun. It’s not always easy to say why something ‘works’ – it just does…

Intricate nature in all her glory. Withdrawn, but with the forms of growth bare for us all to see and marvel at. And the fence and gate provided a nice counterpoint; suggesting that, for all our love of straight lines, the eye, at least, can play the two together.

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

#ShortWrytz – Bare Ash

Words for photographs I’ve taken…

It’s a view I get every morning, letting the pets out before making the first cup of tea. The beloved ash tree – almost certainly doomed to fade away when the ‘die back’ virus finally gets this far north

Today, with the strong wind stripping away the last of its leaves, I had a deep and poignant moment when it seemed to face me in its starkness, and, somehow, bravery.

The blue ‘orb’ produced by the camera lens rests in the image where I imagine the tree’s heart might be.

Human and tree in the presence of each other. Bare ash… bare empathy.

©Stephen Tanham

Bad morning at the pharmacy

Not a pharmacy…

It’s been a bad morning at the Boots pharmacy in Kendal, which is why I’m posting some gentle pictures of the park where, earlier, I walked Tess before the catastrophe…

The annual ritual of the flu jab is upon us. We soothe it with breakfast in Kendal afterwards; but we have a Collie dog, Tess, who needs at least two good walks plus frisbee chucks each day. The logistics can be demanding…

Boots Chemist don’t allow dogs in their stores. I’m okay with that–especially after a run in muddy park; so we take turns to have a tiny needle pushed into the muscles of our upper arm, while the other one looks after Tess.

You can probably sense the sinister way the tension is building, so I’ll insert another picture of beautiful, soothing, autumnal Kendal:

Dog, Frisbee, Man, Kendal… nice… Where were we?

Because we were operating serially, and we don’t always get processed at the time it says on the appointment, Bernie usually calls me when it’s approaching my turn.

The phone rang… mmm, early!

Another soothing picture of Kendal

“The pharmacist is stuck on the M6!” Bernie’s voice said. “Twenty minutes at least.” It can happen. Heaven knows we’ve had enough disasters of our own – stuck in motorway tailbacks.

So we decided that I would give Tess a longer play than normal while Bernie waited outside the side door of Boots which they wouldn’t open because the pharmacist had not arrived. And then, if the pharmacist had still not arrived, have a small coffee at the Costa that’s just around the corner from Boots.

It was a crisp morning, and the thought of my wife, on-time and being made to stand outside the store on a cold morning was not peace-inducing. She can have a short fuse on such occasions…

The Soothing ‘Fellside’ district of Kendal caught in the morning sun

“I’ll carry on chucking Tess, then,” I said. “Give me a five minute warning when you’re about done with your jab.”

I started another circuit of the park, taking me away from the entrance. After only a few minutes the phone rang unexpectedly.

It was Bernie. The display said so… But there was no voice. This happened twice more over the next two minutes and I remember thinking of using my phone instead of the frisbee and apologising with my arms to the other – and nearby – dog walker who was getting fed up of hearing me shout, “Can you hear me?”

The phone beeped and, without thinking, I repeated my moronic question. There was silence, then I noticed it was a message, not an incoming call.

‘Please come to Boots, now.’ Read the message.

There was an unspoken urgency in the words. There was also a complete lack of explanation, suggesting that a probing return text would be… unwelcome.

I was, at that point, staring down at a steaming pile of dog-poo, successfully coaxed from Tess after our first twenty minutes of chucking the frisbee. In my left hand was a readied poo bag, clutched like a demonic glove puppet and ready to swoop on the pile. But the summons was clearly urgent!

I left the dog poo where it was…

It was in the long grass and well off the pathways, I reasoned. No-one but me was going to be in that small piece of wilderness in the three days it would take to rot down… In truth, I was more occupied with the raging fury hidden in the phone’s text.

Something bad, really bad, had happened.

(I’m not sure how that photo got in there…)

She was standing outside the door of Boots.. looking… em… icy.

“They processed you quickly,” I said, lamely; instantly regretting it.

“They didn’t,” the icy tones replied. “Give me Tess, they’re waiting for you…”

Two minutes later, I had bypassed the scowling matron at the dispensary desk and was being ushered by a young and clearly flustered locum-pharmacist into the tiny injection room.

“She’s really annoyed!” He managed, looking both surprised and browbeaten.

No kidding! I thought, presuming he meant my wife and wondering how badly this lesson in real-time living was going to end.

“I got here as fast as I could, but I can only process one of you…”

I think I stuttered.

“But she’s standing…” I pointed back out of the cupboard.

“She’s paying,” he offered. “So I can’t deal with her. You’re an old person and it’s free on the NHS. As a locum, I’m only allowed to work on NHS cases.”

He coughed – a kind of insecure punctuation to the sentiment. I suppressed a smile. He had, single-handedly, rubbished my glorious ascent to my sixty fifth year… and ‘free’ flu jabs.

“But,” I said, now incented to increase his discomfort “She ‘told’ Boots all that on the form she filled in!”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m just a locum..” Then he added, raising a finger, “We can give her a discount!”

Bernie has told them she will be seeking a new supplier of flu jabs.

I hope the poo is untrodden. I sincerely hope I don’t dream of sneaking out in the darkness and trying to find it… the green plastic puppet in my left hand…

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.