October 2012


A full moon, fallen leaves everywhere and pumpkins; it’s the end of the Celtic year.

The moon has begun to make its appearance over these last few nights and it will fatten over the coming week.  This year its fullness falls very near to Samhain; Halloween, the end of the celtic year.  In this cyclic perspective of time the new year starts at the beginning of winter and is analogous to pregnancy.  The life recedes into the earth and grows silently, latent, until the birth of spring.

the fattening moon over the cottage

I have to admit that I love watching the moon and its phases, and I love the cycle of the celtic year.  For a long time this appreciation of this beauty has been tainted with guilt.  The Christian faith, specifically the culture of Christian faith in Northern Ireland, does not sit well with the appreciation of celtic festivals.  This is so very strange, especially as the Christian festivals are such obvious mismarrages of the celtic ones.  The winter solstice of Christmas and the festival of easter.  Even the word ‘easter’ has its roots in Ēostre the pagan goddess.   This uncomfortable connection even explains the illogical movement of easter, the first Sunday after the full moon after the spring equinox.  Then there is the bizarre cultural acceptance of the myths of the tooth fairy and santa claus (santa is a very scary one in my opinion. The connection between the flying reindeer, the red and white suit, going up the chimney and the hallucinogenic fly agaric mushroom is just too disturbing).

As time has moved on I have slowly begun to become more confident with my own sense of celtic Christianity. What appeals to me, resonates with me, is connecting with the spiritual side of nature.  Watching the moon, and the stars.  Standing in remote mountain valleys and watching the rivers and wind.  Feeling the pulse and rhythm of the seasons and seeing the beauty in creation.  And when I say creation I need to be clear.   Often my students ask me if I believe in God.  And when I reply that I do, they nearly always frown a little before saying, “but you’re a scientist?”  And at this point I sigh, hang my head, pause, then scream “WHY?” and begin to cry.  It seems such an uncomfortable remnant of history that science and religion are two separate choices.  In my mind one is all about the ‘how’ of it all and the other is about the ‘why’.  Mythos and logos don’t sit well with each other until you give in and use a little faith, which logos doesn’t like, but ah well.

the hiding moon last night

So I don’t buy into ghosts and witches, or santa and the tooth fairy.  I do buy into our ancient northern culture of gatherings and the festival of festival times; the drawing together of family and friends.  I buy into the majesty and deep time of nature and its creation, cycles of star death and birth and the star dust that we are knitted from. I buy into the beauty of the long summer days and the comfort of the long winter nights.  I buy into all this with my own soul and I seem to get paid back with interest.

Tonight the smell of death hung over the cottage.  The leaves on the trees have truly turned and have begun to gather, wind blown, around the edges of hedges and walls.  On this cool autumn night we made the decision to cull the cockerels.  For a few weeks now they have been crowing in the mornings, and crowing when the cats slink by the security lights, and crowing in the middle of the day as they try to imprint their dominance over each other.  It doesn’t just stop with each other. For three weeks now the Rohde Island Red cockerel has been aggressively squaring up to me every time I step into the run to change the water.  He sees me as the alpha, the big featherless one who brings the food.  Although I do chuckle at him every time he does it, I do know that he could easily draw blood from me if I let him.  Several times now I have had to take a stick in with me and slap it on the ground in front of him when he leaps forward for an attack.  The other two cockerels, a breed called Light Sussex, are aggressive to each other but never to me.  I have read that the Rohde Island Reds can be a feisty breed.

In class the topic of keeping chickens occasionally crops up and I try to explain that, with cockerels, it is like Highlander; there can be only one.  The cultural reference is lost on them, but occasionally the 1980s film analogy gets a smile of recognition from a teaching assistant.

Tonight I took the metaphor of Highlander a little too literal and cut off two heads, leaving only one.  There was no lightening and no ‘quickening’.  Instead there was just the scent of blood hanging on the cold October air.  Then there was the epic chore of the plucking and then the gutting.  That wasn’t in the Highlander films.

The ‘one’ remaining cockerel was left feeling a little perplexed.  I am certain he was the lowest ranking of the three of them as he is the one I have seen crowing the least and the one who seemed the most submissive.  It’s not that I was rooting for the underdog, it’s just that the Rohde was the top of my list and of the other two cockerels he has the lightest.  He survived because he was skinny and unappealing for the pot.  Now he finds himself ruling the roost.  I haven’t named the chickens, but I am considering giving him a name; Connor,Connor MacLeod of the Clan McLeod.

At the weekend I ventured out into the mountains.  It was a very late expedition, chasing the daylight with only a few weeks until expeditions are closed down for the winter.  The weather was perfect for walking, cool clear air and magnificent blue sky landscapes.  The autumn darkness seemed to arrive very quickly and coldly.  The chill was softened by amazing star-scape, the familiar constellations in their bold crystalline  glory.

The cold nights have made me more inclined to curl up with a good book.  I have a pile of ‘to read’, but I find my self digging out the same books to read again and again.  These are the books I love.  This is my book list..

the wild places by robert macfarlane

findings by kathleen jamie

a year’s turning by michael viney

winterdance by gary paulsen

wild by jay griffiths

the old ways by robert macfarlane

pip pip by jay griffiths

sightlines by kathleen jamie

An accurately labeled coffee mug.

Topologically accurate.

It’s national poetry day, and to honour the occasion I have written a haiku about getting up out of bed on cold dark autumn mornings.

No no no no no

No no no no no no no

No no no no no