The Highland midge is on manoeuvres. A rare Indian summer in Scotland has brought the tiny biters to life again. Like a biblical plague, swarms of them have been landing on unsuspecting and unprotected skin and leaving a memory. The saying goes that if you kill one midge, a thousand will come to its funeral.
They are a distant cousin of the sand fly, described as New Zealand’s darkest secret. A picnic by the lake or the beach can turn into a fiasco. Open the car door and, on the drive home, there will be more passengers than seats. Best to eat your picnic when it’s blowing a gale, you are wearing white and eating marmite sandwiches.
The village where I live is still welcoming visitors from crowded cities, who amble along the little streets with not a care in the world...at least for a few days. They mess about in boats, sit outside drinking wine and whisky and watch the day drift by. Not for them the city break with its dashing urgency to visit everything before tomorrow or the Mediterranean cruise, sleeping in an inside cabin above the engine room, eating too much and following a frenzied tour guide around Rome.
Rather, it’s a lingering gaze at playful dolphins dancing in the sea and watching ‘bottling’ Atlantic grey seals, resting upright in the water, with their faces looking to the sky. It’s wanting to not miss a second of life in all its languid beauty.
Yet there is a feeling on the air. It is as if the whole world is in turmoil - war, conflict, starvation, atrocity, displacement, seismic politics, environmental degradation. Who and what will be next? Where will be next? What will happen next?
These are interim times. So much seems withheld. Where can we put our trust? How can we endure and at the same time, transfigure our perceptions to discern and re-discover the beauty, the joy and the goodness at the heart of creation and born of God?
‘Another morning and I wake with thirst’, writes the poet Mary Oliver. ‘...for the goodness I do not have. I walk out to the pond and all the way God has given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord, I was never a quick scholar but sulked and hunched over my books past the hour and the bell; grant me, in your mercy, a little more time. Love for the earth and love for you are having such a long conversation in my heart. Who knows what will finally happen or where I will be sent, yet already I have given a great many things away, expecting to be told to pack nothing, except the prayers which, with this thirst, I am slowly learning.’[i]
September brings a changing air too, as the sun crosses the celestial equator. For one day, the length of night and day are almost the same. In the northern hemisphere, the autumnal equinox and the vernal equinox in the southern hemisphere, carry with them a sense of great balance.
Might there be an equinox of the heart I wonder? Where the interim is steadied by the continuity of time, where fear and despair are balanced by trust and hope, where light and dark interplay, where justice, freedom, peace are counterpoints of equilibrium to the elements of life that can diminish us and the earth?
The fields around the village, once golden with corn and barley, have been ploughed, ready for the planting of seed. When trees are bare and colours fade, the secret work of a long winter will begin.
Meanwhile in New Zealand, spring has sprung with strengthening light and emerging colours. The renewal of life, hope and possibility are promised.
I am writing these words in the cold and draughty study of a Victorian clergy house. The tiniest glimpse of light from the setting western sun has found its way, for the very first time, into this Northern-facing room. In a vase by the window, sunflowers, earthen and golden, turn their faces to the Light. So must we.
©Hilary Oxford Smith
Image Autumnal Equinox, Amanda Clark
[i] ‘Thirst’, Mary Oliver, Bloodaxe Books 2007