November 2008


No sleeping in on Saturday morning.  Instead we collected some people and headed for the hills.  It was a first time for a couple of the collection.  A first introductions with the Mourne Mountains.

We pushed up to a summit at a Goldilocks speed and huddled behind a cairn eating lunch and drinking coffee.  We did not linger long as the wind was gentile yet cold enough to numb our hands and fill us with the urge to move.

It was a truely magical day.  The Mournes were a warm orange and gold.  The hills had a majestic depth in the low winter sun.  One of our friends on this dander spoke of her longing to get out here and away from the city.  She grew up in a very rural area at the foot of the alps, living in belfast fills her with claustrophobia.  It builds up in her, the need to see trees, hear rivers and smell clear air.

“On almost every front, we have begun a turning away from a felt relationship with the natural world.
The blinding of the stars is only one aspect of this retreat from the real. In so many ways, there has been a prising away of life from place, an abstraction of experience into different kinds of touchlessness. We experience, as no historical period has before, disembodiment and dematerialisation. The almost infinite connectivity of the technological world, for all the benefits that it has brought, has exacted a toll in the coin of contact. We have in many ways forgotten what the world feels like. And so new maladies of the soul have emerged, unhappinesses which are complicated products of the distance we have set between ourselves and the world. We have come increasingly to forget that our minds are shaped by the bodily experience of being in the world – its spaces, textures, sounds, smells and habits – as well as by genetic traits we inherit and ideologies we absorb. A constant and formidably defining exchange occurs between the physical forms of the world around us, and the cast of our inner world of imagination. The feel of a hot dry wind on the face, the smell of distant rain carried as a scent stream in the air, the touch of a bird’s sharp foot on one’s outstretched palm: such encounters shape our beings and our imaginations in ways which are beyond analysis, but also beyond doubt. There is something uncomplicatedly true in the sensation of laying hands upon sun-warmed rock, or watching a dense mutating flock of birds, or seeing snow fall irrefutably upon one’s upturned palm.”

From “The Wild Places” winner of the Banff Mountain Book Festival.

Experimenting with food this weekend….. pheasant for dinner last night. Very nice, very posh, “what what”.

Sunday spent relaxing, dying the lovely Sharon’s hair and being re interested by The Wild Places. Sometimes poetic, sometimes enlightening, consistently captivating.

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As I was kicking the cats out last night (not literally) the clouds were tearing across the moon at speed. This month’s moon has many names:

fast-clouds

All Gathered Moon, Dark Moon, Falling Leaves Moon, Fire Friend Moon, Fog Moon, Freezing Moon, Frost Moon, Geese Going Moon, Holy Frost Moon, Large Trees Freeze Moon , Little Bear’s Moon, Long Moon, Moon Before Yule, Moon of Fledgling Hawk, Moon of Storms, Moon of Turkey and Feast, Moon of Falling Leaves, Moon of Shaking Leaves, Moon the Rivers Begin to Freeze, Moon When All Is Gathered in, Moon When Deer Shed Their Antlers, Moon When Horns Are Broken Off, Moon When the Cold Comes, Moon When the Water Is Black with Leaves, Moon When the River Freezes, Mourning Moon, Ring Finger Moon, Sacrifice Moon, Samoni Moon, Sassafras Moon, Snow Moon, Snowy Mountains in the Morning Moon, Trading Moon, Trail Moon, Tree Moon, White Moon, Whitefish Moon, Willow Moon, Winter Divided Moon, Yew Moon.

This morning, along with thousands of others, I kept telling my alarm clock, “5 more minutes”. The air around the bed was chilled by the wind which howled in through the window always open, by a small crack, in all weather.

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Metcheck predicts a temperature for the weather and then it calculates a “feels like” temperature.  This takes into consideration the humidity, wind chill, etc.  Looks like its predicting Monday morning to be a cold one.

wind-chill-factor

So wrap up warm.  And stay indoors, in bed, stuffed with high energy food,  with the heating on, the fire lit, and every blanket or scrap of cloth you own wrapped around yourself.

Listening to: The photocopier whirring next door

Eating: Breakfast, porridge with home made plum jam

Drinking: Coffee as black and as strong as it can get. Coffee usually gets whiter as the day goes on but first thing in the morning it must have nothing to dilute the kick.

Pondering: The fact that the school grounds used to have an ever expanding magpie population that have even been seen attacking small mammals. Now they have been pushed out by the rooks, no magpies can be seen and have not been seen for some time. I prefer the rooks and their harsh croaks on cold winter mornings.

Amazed by: Some of my students in one of my classes have taken a hunger for popular science books. One even read two of them in one day. This morning I searched my book shelf for new treats and am remembering some of the books I enjoyed. I haven’t looked at science books for a month or two but their enthusiasm is contagious.

Its not a miserable day but its how I feel.  I guess I am lucky that up until now I have not suffered any coughs of sniffles since September.  Until now.

It is unofficially winter now according to the tradition that Halloween marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the winter season.  I wonder if it was known as the festival of the dead due to all the killing and the fact that it was a time of year when death was all about.  It was the time when a lot of the animals had to be turned into food and preserved for the winter as there was never usually enough fodder that could be stored over the winter for all the animals.  It seems sensible that the surplus of food and the change in weather requires a big party and an excuse to stay indoors letting all the other world run riot in the dark.

For halloween this year the extend of our celebration was eating a couple of chocolate eyeballs.  No party for us as we were out in the mountains on our mountain leader course.

We could not have asked for a better weekend (apart from my sniffling).  The weather was cool and clear, so clear that some of our group sat and identified Scottish islands at lunch time.  The training this weekend was security over steep ground.  The lovely Sharon and I agree that we always seem to walk away from these weekends learning so much more than we expect.  And then some more.  However, the lovely Sharon also walked away with a couple of scuffed knees.  Did the steep ground get the better of her?  Not at all, it was the flat ground on the way off the mountains at the end of Sunday!

“Mountain climbers will tell you that it is not the ascent that poses the most danger to the climber but the descent.  More accidents happen on the descent.”

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Its just getting dark outside, the air is cold and still, the trees are all sorts of colours in the strange light.  Time to throw some peat on the fire.