The light has sunk into the earth: the image of darkening of the light – I Ching
I give you yourselves…I give to you forever this land of Narnia…I give you the woods, the fruits, the rivers. I give you the stars – C.S Lewis
Look closely at trees and this year’s leaves are already there. It might be hidden but with others, there are buds in waiting, made from last year’s sun. What there was of it, but it was enough. I have an ongoing ritual. We bemoan the lack of light she and I, recall seasons for the nature enjoyment we found then wonder what next. “It was fourteen degrees in February a few years ago” I said and “I had a good walk in Wales.” I did, and remember shorts, sandals, a favourite place.
It was mid-teens in the December gone, again this early January. Cold in November but then it warmed up, which reminds me of summer-like spring which commonly occurs. Last year, it was too late for a Scotland trip because I had no car for six weeks then it was nearly the midge season. The year before was lockdown although glorious, for weeks, with early flowers where I walked locally. The difference between Wales before and Manchester now was bright sunshine and beautiful hills. February just a few weeks away, perhaps clearing away winter although there’s usually more coming.
The Chinese I Ching is the book I’ve been reading the longest. I have multiple copies, one of them my first, and numerous studies. As a break from my literature degree I spent hours, days, exploring other subjects. I browsed the Religious Studies shelves and borrowed books on Buddhism, Zen, Taoism. Anything which caught my interest, as I used to look around public libraries for fun.
There was a whole food cooperative in Lancaster where I bought rice, muesli, and consulted the message board. Vacant room, come and live with us, ten pounds a week. Meditation meeting, Tai Chi, Tarot. The notes were down the steps, leaving the shop, on a wall to the left. It was where I read about a Tai Chi introduction. A week or two later I saw Harriet Devlin’s demonstration, the daughter of Gerda Geddes, apparently the first Tai Chi teacher in Britain. Now there are many and mine included Paul Crompton and Rose Li – notable figures if you know the subject. Upstairs in the cafe there was another notice board. Some of this, as you would expect, was rather strange. An Indian guru whom, they said, could heal if you looked at her eyes. A breathing technique which, aligned with positive thinking, led to immortality. I knew one of the latter believers whose father was a psychology professor. She’s rebelling against him, I thought.
With very little money I read those shelves and rarely bought anything. I did buy a book about kundalini, and my first I Ching. It’s a puzzling read but in the last few years I’ve understood how it works. There’s a structure to it, a philosophical system, underneath imagery and apparently nonsensical ideas. There are translation problems too, cultural differences, which you can’t contextualise without overall understanding. A Chinese ruler at that time for example, was (and still is) politically questionable. But that ruler, or king, is an I Ching symbol representing part of your psyche: the strategist, observer, ruler over disarray. The book is poetic more than literal. It comes alive with interpretation, as with any literary analysis.
People read and view me for photographs and words related to nature and mountains. There’s a cultural problem when backpacking (in particular) becomes cult-like and separate. We have layers and components to our lives, an identity back at home. I struggled with this and eventually shifted my attention away from second hand mountains. Not entirely, but not so much of it; depending on who it is talking about their adventures. Walk the hills, read the experience of others less, and fill the in between with nourishing ideas translating indoor to outdoor because they’re not separate. This is now my outlook, bringing the hills alive by thinking about them indoors.
The I Ching is a nature book in the widest sense. It refers to seasons, plants, animals, birds, the energies of light and dark corresponding to yang and yin. It’s the universe we inhabit, how we function within it, with thematic observations applied to large and small examples. In the heat wave of 2018 trees lost their leaves with exhaustion. In autumn they fall naturally, because there is no perpetual summer. Then the day contracts, the year winds down, you can’t walk in the evening. December greenery and bright lights cheer us at the darkest time. January arrives, like a walk you want to finish but can’t.
The I Ching describes light disappearing like Persephone underground. Psyche comes first not science. Light is there in those incipient leaves, growing slowly second by second, arriving like a blush at five, glorious green six, back against darkness at eight.
I write like this is a magazine column. With research, references, and a lot of time. If you like it, perhaps you would support me.