Summer Solstice 2020

They placed a test within the breast

Of humans, who go round and round

To gaze on fullness, once, and then

Descend, with scent and sigh

From gold on face to black

And back…

So little held, this joy of June’s

Delight and softest night with dawn

A moment’s slumber distant

Long grass between the fingers

Petals’ kiss, a fleeting bliss

A setting sun.

Son of the Sun whose outward star

Then cycles down, withhold the frown

And hide, with pride, regret.

For you alone can see the whole

And shepherd in and out without

Fragility, your true nobility.

©Stephen Tanham 12June2020

#ShortWrytz : Lucky

Sometimes, you just get lucky…

You’re standing there with a camera that will actually reach into the shot that you’ve just seen.

You know that the moment will last less than a second, so you don’t even breathe, you just press.

Sometimes, you get lucky. A second later, the glorious white flicker is gone… but left behind is the ghost it allowed you to keep.

©Stephen Tanham, 2020

The Mouth in Red

There are colours so deep, so pure

They drop beneath the colour word

Into a hue of inner meaning

—-

There are some reds

That are not red, but blood

Not spilled, not end of life

But beginnings

—-

When the red that is not blood

Speaks through the blood that is not red

And spills our life upon the opened palms

Then it is wise to listen

—-

With a listening that is so deep

That red, alone, dares speak

Its name.

©Stephen Tanham

#ShortWrytz: Soma of Soft Skies

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been entranced by the soft skies of the warmer months – particularly those of late spring, which heralds their return.

Their beauty speaks for itself… but there is something else that haunts.

The word ‘soft’ is the key. Every one of our senses is touched in a silken way by the early mornings, long days and beautiful twilights. The air is not only warm, but fragrant with the perfumes of flowers, cut grass and the smell of the powerful sunlight bathing us all.

And beyond even this, if you listen deeply there is an emotional and voiceless voice:

“I have brought this to its fullness. Put away thoughts and drink it… Let it become part of you.. Take what you can from it; let its life be yours. It is fragile because it is perfect; it lives for an instant because it is timeless – but needs you for its completion; for it to say ‘I was there…’. But part of you, being creature, must move beyond completion in your life within these cycles.”

The ancient Vedic civilisation of India had the concept of ‘Soma’. Ostensibly a drink given to mankind by the gods, it renewed the vitality of the whole being, and connected us with the heavens. When I gaze upwards into soft blue skies, I think of Soma.

The Sufis spoke of wine as a divine metaphor with much the same properties. These are experiences waiting for us in body, mind and heart. The approach to the longest day is a powerful time to invoke them… When I gaze upwards into soft blue skies, I think of Sufi wine.

Later, as the summer wanes, like Alph the sacred river, we must pass through this beauty and down to a sunless sea on our way from Xanadu. (Coleridge – Kubla Khan)

The pre-solstice is a difficult time to capture and hold. The painter has a good chance; Van Gogh came close… The photographer can only render one aspect of it. The poet is, perhaps, best equipped… The words of Kahlil Gibran come to mind:

“One day you will ask me which is more important? My life or yours? I will say mine and you will walk away not knowing that you are my life.”

Each year, I like to make a silent resolution for the three weeks leading up the Summer Solstice. Each day, I will find a right moment to say, softly: ‘I walk slowly, I walk softly. The life around me is my life. I drink it now. Let it be like ancient Soma in bringing me more alive…’

1 June 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching organisation that provides home-based, mentored training in modern spiritual development.

#ShortWrytz : Fractal Loving

(Above: Blue skies near Sizergh – April 2020)

I confess, I’m in love with the sky…

A strange opening to a blog post, I know, but, when I came to think about my photographic relationship with the sky, it was simply one of love.

“Look up!” The admonition was from Sue Vincent, one of my fellow Directors of the Silent Eye, when talking about churches and what lies above the normal eye-level. It’s a good watchword… and the same can be said about the sky. Ever new, like life, it’s as fascinating in winter as it is in spring or summer.

In winter it’s dramatic and you get those huge vistas that seem to go on forever above the Earth’s surface. In spring, you get the softness of the deep blues and the candy-floss whiteness of the clouds that deliver a feeling of sheer excitement that the infinitely-recharging energy of the deep summer is just around the corner.

I was delighted to read, many years ago, that Benoit Mandelbrot – a father of one of the many sciences that led to Chaos Theory, had taken the inspiration for his idea of ‘Fractals’ from clouds. He was looking for a way to describe the 3D structures of those carriers of moisture in the air; a way to convey the constancy of their type whilst still recognising that they are all unique; a bit like human beings – different but essentially the same. Much like the idea of the Platonic form.

The science of Fractals gave us an understanding of why coastlines are infinitely longer than we can ever measure, of why our lungs have a true inner space bigger than trees, of how impossible volumes can be fitted into any small space with the right ‘organic’ structure.

It’s old science now. Except when I look up… then that fluffy white on blue grabs me by the follicles and I stop doing anything else except the act of fractal loving.

©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.

#ShortWrytz : The Time-Capsule

(Above: The Saltpetre – a 19th century gunpowder store at the end of our garden!)

I’ve written about it, before. The Saltpetre is a gunpowder store that was used to house the produce of the local gunpowder factory by the river Kent. The ‘black powder’ as it used to be called, was brought up through the village, slowly, by horse and cart – the cart having dressed wheels to help prevent sparks. There were many deaths in the village from explosions, so everyone was deeply conscious of the danger.

Old (black) gunpowder was mixed in the following proportions (by weight): 75% potassium nitrate (saltpetre), 15% softwood charcoal, and 10% sulphur. Our quirky outbuilding was named after the component with the greater part by volume – 75%. We suspect that gunpowder was also generally known as ‘saltpeter’ in those days when the bargemen would collect it from the canal wharf that is now our garden and take it south.

The photo was taken from the lower part of the garden. It’s lower because it was the canal bed. The Saltpetre was constructed in about 1820, the year the local Quaker banker and gunpowder entrepreneur, the first John Wakefield, persuaded the canal trust to change their route and run as close to his works as possible.

The simple stone structure has been there ever since, enjoying many incarnations, but none as exciting as its original use. For the past decade, we have been filling it up with our ‘stuff’. It’s bigger than it looks and has taken a lot of filling! But, with the Covid-19 lockdown in place, it made sense to spend some of the time doing the long-promised clean out.

Right at the back were three shoe boxes, each one carefully taped closed so that not even dust could get in. I had packed them – several house-moves ago, but any knowledge of their contents had long vaporised.

Grubby from the day’s dusty excavations and disposal into a mountain of ‘black bags’, I reached for a my knife and sliced open the tape, feeling intrigued as to what was in there.

Much of it was instantly binable. But an inner ‘jiffy pack’ contained two items: a vintage pocket watch, bought on a business trip to The Hague, and a passport sized photo of me taken approximately 25 years ago. I had thought the watch was long lost, and was delighted to be reunited with an object I loved. It cost me the equivalent of £150 back then. Not a huge investment, but I found its slim and elegant lines very pleasing, and simply wanted to keep it.

The second item was more shocking. There’s nothing quite so sobering as seeing yourself as you were a quarter of a century ago… Ageing is inevitable, but such a brutal confrontation across the years requires a deep breath.

The day was ending in a lovely and still-warm sunset when, freshly showered, I brought the two objects to our patio table, where Bernie had made us each a long gin and tonic.

We sat in silence, gazing at the evening gold reflected in drink and watch, and laughing at the young man. Talk about a time capsule!

©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.

Circles around Sedgwick (2 – recovered) – a canal of our own

(Above: our garden, larger than most in the village because its right half was the bed of the Preston-Kendal canal. The large stones forming the boundary between the two were part of the old wharf)

Continued from Part One…

(Note: republished from my Mac laptop as the latest version of WP on the iPhone 11 Pro has crashed itself, repeatedly, and appears to have taken the original post with it… I’ve had to recreate this from a (mercifully) still open window that allowed a cut and past of the whole thing… Apologies to those whose links arrived at nothing!)

We have a somewhat unique connection to the history of our tiny village of Sedgwick, near Kendal and on the edge of the English Lake District. The village of only 350 residents has neither shop, nor pub nor church. But its location, four miles south of Kendal is an ideal basis for Lakeland life and also gives easy access to the M6 motorway – a mere fifteen minutes away.

The village has no shop, no pub, no church and about 350 residents. But it’s a gently attractive place to live…

Our home is one of the few properties which still bear the imprint of the old canal which ran from Preston to Kendal in the early years of the 19th century. Our neighbour, Richard – who has lived here all his life – remembers being allowed to stand on the deck of the maintenance barge as the water was finally drained from this stretch of the canal in 1958. The maintenance boat is buried on our side of the property, some ten feet below the lawn (see photo above) that now abuts the large stones that were the original wharf – the ‘dock’ – for Sedgwick’s interaction with the canal… and the canal, or rather, the reason the canal came here, is what created Sedgwick.

In the sixty years from 1770 to 1830 canals were the height of innovation. They helped fuel the industrial revolution. Each one required an act of parliament for its creation. They, plus the long barges that floated on them, were very important forms of transport, known as ‘navigations’, which gave the name ‘navvies’ to the labourers who dug them out by hand from Britain’s rugged landscapes.

Their reign was brief. Britain’s growing network of railways meant that the slow transport by inland boat was made obsolete within thirty years of the canal’s height of success.

Sedgwick has few claims to fame. One is the former canal; but a far more important reason is how and why the canal ever ran through this tiny place at all…

Let’s tell it as a bit of a mystery – by way of a walking tour and easy reading.

(Above: from the top lawn the extent of the old canal is apparent. As the stones indicate, it was wider here to provide a docking wharf and a turning point for the larger boats returning to Lancaster or Preston (and on to the sea))

We have a large garden. It’s taken us ten years to transform it from the run-down wilderness we inherited when we decided to blow most of our savings designing and having built a home on the edge of the Lake District.

(Above: How the old canal bed looked when we bought it!)

At the end of garden, on the south side, is a stone outbuilding known locally as the ‘Saltpetre’. It’s quite well known in the village and forms a key part of the industrial history of the place. A sign on the canal path about a hundred metres away describes it. It was built in 1830!

(Above: ‘The Saltpetre’ is a large stone outbuilding at the south end of our garden. As its name implies, it played an important role in Sedgwick’s link with the manufacture of gunpowder – its only industry!)

Historic gunpowder (also known as ‘black powder’ to distinguish it from modern smokeless powder) is the earliest known means of creating a chemical explosion. We associate gunpowder with war and aggression, but far more of it is used in mining, quarrying and other peaceful endeavours. The canals, themselves, were created by the use of gunpowder to blast away rocks that would have prevented the straight lines necessary to create the economic route.

Gunpowder was made from a mixture of sulphur, charcoal and potassium nitrate. The latter was known as saltpetre – pronounced ‘salt-peter’. The sulphur and charcoal are fuels for the core ‘burning’ reaction, while the saltpetre injects a literally explosive reaction of rapidly expanding oxygen, catalysing the ordinary burning into something entirely different…

No saltpetre, no bang…

Saltpetre is known, historically, as the ‘white mother of gunpowder’. We will explore its relationship to Sedgwick and the strange naming of our outbuilding in the next post.

(Above: The side view of the Saltpetre, with the steep slope down to what would have been the canal bed)

The interior of our Saltpetre building is still floored in the original limestone ‘cobbles’ once used throughout Cumbria.

(Above: Limestone ‘cobbles’ form the floor of the ‘Saltpetre’)

For now, let’s climb out of the old canal bed, through the gate and up onto the original canal path – still in use as a footpath and right of way. The immediate area is heavy with trees which follow the steep bank down to the adjoining farmland.

About a hundred metres along the canal path we get to the old bridge that is the centre of Sedgwick. The bridge is an aqueduct – designed to carry water over a roadway. Its strength is demonstrated by the fact that it’s still here, and still carries the bed of the long-drained canal through the centre of the village. A special national authority still exists to protect and maintain such structures.

(Above: the steep and irregular stone steps lead down to crossroads which marks the centre of Sedgwick)

The bridge is of the ‘skewed’ type. This allowed the existing track or roadway to operate directly beneath the ‘bending’ stone bridge. Without this design, the road would have needed alteration to become a ‘z’ shape.

(Above: Sedgwick’s Skewed bridge allowed the road to pass directly beneath the aquaduct)

The other side of the skewed bridge allows descent via a pedestrian slope. The village hall is directly ahead at the base of this pedestrian slope.

From here, continuing on the canal path, we walk southwards for a few hundred metres until we come to the edge of the village.

(Above: The old canal path is intact, and provides the basis for many local walks)

Eventually, after another five minutes’ walking, we come to one of our most iconic and mysterious structures: a ‘bridge to nowhere’ that crosses a canal that is no longer there. In this view you can see what happened to the canal along most of its length; it was sold off and filled in to create agricultural fields – as it was with the piece that is now our garden.

(Above: one of the many ‘bridges to nowhere’ as we call them!)

At this point, we can look down the slope to see a very different face of Sedgwick. There, set in its own grounds, is the largest building for miles around. Its present name is Sedgwick House, but originally it was named Wakefield House. ‘Wakefield’ was the family name of a man whose industry was to transform the landscape of Sedgwick; and connect it with the beating heart of the rest of industrial Britain.

(Above: Sedgwick House… but it didn’t start off that way)

(To be continued… )

©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.

#ShortWrytz : Dreams of Trees

The river is just below. Close and beautiful, as always, but he’s photographed it a hundred times and the winter’s challenge is to find a new place; a place hidden in the old, hidden in the usual.

And then, as he turns to seek elsewhere, it’s there. Devoid of leaves, its tall structure is all there is, but its presence is magnificent and dark with enduring purpose against the cold March sky.

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.