A Singing on Salisbury Plain


There’s no escaping the scent of gentle chaos wafting through these last days before Christmas. “I loves me some Christmas,” says the woman to her companion in the checkout line, squinting at her notebook . “But I swear, if I never make another cookie, it’ll be too soon.”

I love cookies as much as the next person, but my sympathies are all with the woman.  While it’s true this year’s preparations have been less time-consuming than usual because of my mother’s death some months ago, I still find myself pulling trays from the oven or standing at the post office thinking, I could stand some peace and quiet.

Especially, some quiet. The pressures of the Christmas to-do list are one thing, but this season reverberates with noise to the point of distraction. Hearing the Chipmunks’ version of Jingle Bell Rock piped through the produce aisle is more annoying than festive, and the irony of Silent Night drowning out conversation speaks for itself.  While carols and seasonal songs blare away, children nag, parents fuss and impatient drivers fill shopping mall parking lots with the honking of a thousand demented geese.

Even at night, hours meant for sleep are disturbed by the ebb and flow of incessant, internal questioning. What have I forgotten? Who will be offended? Can we afford it?  Will there be time?   It’s little wonder by Christmas Day many are ready to throw out the tree with the wrapping paper and get on with it. Twelve days of Christmas? Stretching on to the Feast of the Epiphany? It seems a horror. Who needs more Christmas when we already are exhausted and drained?

Seasonal excess can be an easy target for the Scrooges of the world. Still, most people consider their Christmas pleasures – gathering with family and friends, experiencing the beauty of worship and enjoying the exchange of gifts – to be well worth the time and energy they require. What is rarely considered – by believer or cynic alike – is that we prepare in the context of a world far older than our customs, more expansive than our plans. The world in which we celebrate Christmas turns on an ageless axis, with no regard for human intent and purpose. It is a hidden world, though imperfectly so. It can be searched out and surprised, and it reveals itself in unexpected ways.

I experienced that hidden world some years ago, while on holiday in England. After a stopover in London I traveled on to Wiltshire, intending to celebrate Christmas at Salisbury Cathedral. Arriving without reservations, I discovered a wonderful inn where I came to enjoy long conversations with the innkeeper and his wife. They were cheerful sorts, bubbly and accomodating, just as keepers of inns should be. Best of all, they were full of practical advice for making my English sojourn perfect.

When they discovered I hadn’t planned to make the trek to Stonehenge (“that pile of rocks in a pasture” as another guest put it), they were aghast. “But you must go to Stonehenge!”, they implored. Laughing, I asked if the site wasn’t better visited in summer. Giving me a look that seemed to translate, “Now see what this poor, benighted American is saying”, they agreed summer solstice celebrations are more publicized, but added that the winter solstice has its own good qualities. “For one thing,” they said with only a hint of a smile, “in the dead of winter there are far fewer tourists to clog up the roads.”

With the promise of an unclogged road to lure me on, I agreed to make the trip with them. As we traveled and chatted, they unraveled strands of solstice lore. I knew some basics – for example, that the winter solstice marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year, and that the sun descends on that day to its lowest point in the sky.

What I didn’t know was that the sun’s noontime elevation appears to be the same for several days before and after the event. The word solstice itself comes from the Latin solstitium, which combines “sun” (sol) and “a stoppage” (stitium). According to legend, at the moment of solstice it is not only the sun that stops. If you are in a silent place, with a quiet mind and stilled heart, you may hear the earth pause and catch her breath as she waits for the sun to turn and move, beginning his ageless journey toward the spring.

Charmed by the legend and intrigued by the science, I became increasingly eager to explore the “pile of rocks in a pasture”. When we arrived at Stonehenge, on the day after the solstice, what crowds had gathered were gone. There were no ticket-takers, no vendors, no guides. There was only a strange and forlorn emptiness: a cold sun shining through high, thin clouds,  a tumble of implacable cold gray rock and winter-singed grass dusted with snow. Around the circled rock a cold wind sighed, rocking a single bird circling high above the plain.

Moving toward the stones, I found the silence so complete I could hear my heart’s blood beating in my ears. A sense of presence, profound and palpable, gripped my heart. Anxious, no longer certain of my solitude, I turned as if to confront an assailant. There was no one. There were only the rocks, the sky and a hush of wind, singing across Salisbury plain.

Each year as the darkness deepens, as days grow shorter and the sun hastens his journey toward the solstice turn, I remember Salisbury Plain – the stones, the silence and the song. My first experience of that deep and richly textured silence was not to be my last. Blessedly, such experiences depend neither upon the stones of an ancient culture nor the shades of a people lost in time. A sense of presence, an experience of deep connection to the larger world in which we live seems intrinsic to life itself. It comes to us as birthright, although there is no predicting how or where it will appear.

Wherever the mystery of connectedness surprises us – in a snowstorm-emptied New York street or a grove of mist-shrouded Redwoods, at a baby’s crib or a parent’s grave, in an empty classroom or an overflowing church, near a dawn-touched shoreline or in the fading shadows of a suburban yard, its nature is unmistakable, and the poet’s words apply:

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
T.S. Eliot ~ Little Gidding

There will be no Stonehenge in my travels this year, no moment of wonder in the emptiness of a windswept English plain. But still the sun lowers and still comes the pause, and once again Solstice has arrived. If we are wise, we will find a bit of space, a little emptiness, some moments of silence in the midst of our celebrations to embrace its coming and its promise.

If we dare to stop – preparing for ourselves a room built of those moments of solitude and silent attentiveness that so often elude us – then as surely as the sun stops, and the earth breathes, and the wind sings silence over the cold-singed plain, we may yet discover that same vertiginous joy.

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Published in: on December 21, 2011 at 4:59 am  Comments (73)  
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  1. Oh My. This. Is truly a beautiful post. Whew. I needed that moment of solstice silence… Truly.

    • Glass_Half_Full_Gal,

      It’s that time of year, isn’t it? As one of my friends said years ago, it’s hard to slow down when the kids are in full holiday mode.

      I’m so pleased you liked the post.Thanks for stopping by – and a blessed Christmas to you.

      Linda

  2. I have found my moments of silent attentiveness here, and I thank you for them. This is a beautiful thing, your essay, the perfect Christmas gift. As I was in the bookstore just an hour ago, I was thinking that there is really nothing I appreciate getting more than words, although at that moment I was thinking of books. Then I came home to find this in my inbox – and had such pleasure reading it. And will again.

    Merry Christmas to you, and may you always be able to retreat to the Salisbury plain and be still, like the sun. Oh my goodness, you are such a lovely writer.

    • Deborah,

      Words truly are wonderful, and I love learning to shape them. I especially love what T.S.Eliot has to say on the matter in “East Coker”:

      “So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—
      Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l’entre deux guerres
      Trying to use words, and every attempt
      Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
      Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
      For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
      One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
      Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate…”

      Perhaps in the end a little silent attentiveness is as important for us as writers as a good vocabulary or knowing the rules of grammar.

      In any event, I’m glad these words give you pleasure, as they do me. Christmas will come and go, and then the whole New Year will stretch out before us, a fresh new year to be tempted by words!

      Linda

  3. “Wherever the mystery of connectedness surprises us” is your truth of authentic prayerful moments. Thank you for sharing and writing another wonderful piece. You are a very talented writer. Thank you for bringing the winter solstice to our attention on this day.

    • georgette,

      Your quoting of the phrase “wherever the mystery of connectedness surprises us” reminded me of another, far more famous line: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

      Not all the surprises of the season are lying wrapped under the tree. I suspect if prayer “does” anything at all, it helps to keep us open and receptive to the sort of gifts we never would have dreamt of.

      Thank you so much for your words. Merry Christmas to you and yours!

      Linda

  4. Thank you. Your post evoked for me memories of a visit to Thingvellir in Iceland on the summer solstice. It’s a national preserve where the North American and Eurasian tetonic plates meet and where Icelandic lawmakers first met a thousand years ago. But more, it’s one of those “thin places” where the reality circumscribed by our perceptions comes oh, so close to melting into the reality that has no bounds.

    • Charles,

      I’ve not heard the phrase “thin places” used as you have here, but it feels perfect as a description for such experiences. When I looked at some photos of Thingvellir and the Silfra Rift, it seemed even more perfect.

      Occasionally, I imagine time in somewhat the same way, with the present as a thin,permeable membrane through which past and future flow.

      What Einstein would think of that I haven’t a clue, but I think Faulkner got it just right when he had one of his characters say, “The past isn’t really dead. It isn’t even past.”

      Linda

  5. What a marvelous thing, to stand at Stonehenge and feel that presence. I have not been, but I have experienced what you so beautifully describe. It is as charlespaolino describes in his comment on the thin places, and “melting into the reality that has no bounds.” It can be felt anywhere we are willing to be still and reflect Life.

    I have not been able to get in the Christmas spirit at all, but your piece helps me to articulate to myself what I’m really seeking: a greater awareness and the willingness to just be still and Listen.

    Happy Solstice!

    • Teresa Evangeline,

      One of the reasons I love the season of Advent is that it nurtures our longing to be still, to wait and to listen. And you’re exactly right – the “little revelations”, the sense of presence can arise anywhere. They can be sought in the obvious places like Salisbury Plain, yes – but they also live among your trees, with Buddy at your side.

      I love the corporate and communal side of Christmas – the parties, the concerts, the worship. But there’s a place for more solitary celebration as well. When I was a little girl, my grandmother told me that every year one child was allowed to see the star of Bethlehem, shining in the sky at midnight. I rarely could keep myself awake as a child, but today? I still make it a point to go out and look. You never know.

      Linda

  6. Quietly, beautifully put…

    Have you noticed how vivid our fall colors have been this year? A gift of the drought no doubt.

    I hope your holidays are full of peace.

    • Gary,

      So, you had the gift of magic trees, too. Our turned last Wednesday and Thursday, and nearly all at once. It was simply amazing: oak, elm, Bradford pear, cypress, Japanese maple. We had every autumn shade possible, and a couple I’d forgotten about, like the deep burgundy. I can’t remember the last time it’s been so beautiful here. We usually have to content ourselves with Chinese tallow.

      The leaves dropped just as fast. On Monday I went to work and the cypress and crepe myrtle were gorgeous. By early afternoon, 80% of the leaves were on the ground. There wasn’t any wind – they just let go. But they were gorgeous, for sure.

      Thanks for your good wishes and good words. Merry Christmas to you, and to all you love.

      Linda

      • What I noticed around here was the tallows were changing way back in September. Since then it has been a progression of different species around our place with the past couple of weeks having the almost New England colors.

        Our red oak took about a week to go from blazing to leafless. There are still some leaves on some of the bald cypruses, some of the pecanless pecans, and a gorgeous yellow oak at the edge of the woods. The big oaks around my house are still all green though.

  7. [...] via A Singing on Salisbury Plain « The Task at Hand. [...]

  8. You set the bar so high it is often a challenge to write a comment.
    Though I have seen that big stone circle from outside the rope, close enough to read the graffiti there, the touchstone experience you mention comes only occasionally and of it’s own accord.
    Cohen’s version of “Passing Through” says:
    “Glad that I ran in to you”

    • Ken,

      Well, I’m just going to have to furnish barstools, then. ;)

      You’re right about the touchstone experience coming of its own accord. Not only that, I’ve often found those experiences to be not only been unexpected, but unimaginable.

      Perhaps we do get what we expect, but sometimes we get far more than we expect, more than we ever could or would imagine. Sometimes it’s a windfall, like apples. Sometimes it’s lagniappe, with a smile. Sometimes, it’s just grace, and we recognize it for what it is.

      Most of the time, it’s what makes life worth living, and you can live a long time off the power of one of those experiences.

      Linda

  9. Another beautiful post, Linda. A quiet Solstice meditation in itself.

    I always hurry, I’m always on the run. This year my body made me stop with a dreaded bug three days before Christmas — gifts not completed, much less wrapped, baking not done so well. Rick made me promise to “stop making food for other people” while I had a fever (he didn’t have to tell me that, but the fact that he did is testament to what he perceives as my holiday overdrive.) Consequently, the neighbors may be getting new year’s treats (and really, they’ll be ready for them by then, won’t they?)

    And I, unable to do much of anything, will be quiet and hope that tomorrow and the next day are better and that by the 23rd — our family Christmas — I’ll be celebrating in good force!

    A VERY wise friend wrote these words to me a week or two ago. You might know her — she’s a prolific and articulate blogger!

    “I’ve decided that each of us has the right to celebrate in our own way. If we want to do less, or do things differently, or not do the things people expect us to do because we’ve always done them – that’s just fine. If celebration turns into a night with kaluha and coffee and Dixie Rose – that’s not the worst thing in the world. If your celebration comes down to only two decorated trees and a wreath, so be it.

    Better to enjoy what we’re able to do than exhaust ourselves trying to do what we can’t. I call it “de-cluttering Christmas”!”

    Sometimes you have to get hit over the head. And that’s all right, too.

    So, off to some peace and quiet on my little spot of sofa as I look at the tree, listen to a tune or two on the CD and revel in what this year’s Christmas IS and not what it isn’t. Gee, I may have to blog about that!

    • jeanie,

      When I visited my pyracantha-and-persimmon friends a couple of weeks ago, both of them still were sick with flu. I knew that, but the trip was an important one to make, anyway. As it turned out, I brought their illness home with me – an early Christmas present, if you will – so I know the frustration of not feeling well before Christmas, and sympathize.

      Sometimes I think more of us than are willing to admit to it think we need to create Christmas – or recreate a remembered Christmas. But what we call “Christmas” already has happened. We can celebrate those events, or not – but nothing we do or don’t do will add to or subtract from the reality one bit.

      In any event, I’m delighting in my own enforced pause this morning. It’s raining! And has been all night – we’ve received 1.56″ already and may have 2″ before it’s over. Hooray for Santa Cloud! And Merry Christmas. Here’s a little tune you may have missed that’s as wonderful as any I’ve found – a Serbian Christmas song called “Angels Sing”.

      Linda

  10. Three years ago I had a wedding to attend on the south coast. The route took me by the ‘henge, and although the roads were clogged, I was not a tourist.

    On my return I took a detour to enable me to stop for a closer view, as I had never been before. It wasn’t a solstice, just a damp Sunday in September, but there were still hoards of tourists – (I was not there as a tourist, I’ll have you know, just an on-looker.) The thing that surprised me was its size. It seemed much smaller in reality!

    As you are aware, there are many standing stones in the UK. The tallest of all the stones is in a church yard about 20 miles from my home town. Rudston’s stone is over 8 metres high and two metres wide. As a child, my granddad told me it was actually a meteor that had fallen from the sky, and I believed him. It was only later I realised it had been brought there by Bronze Age man probably 4500 years ago.

    Ironically, it was there long before the church was built, and will probably still be standing long after the church has gone. What fascinating stories these stones could tell if only they could talk!

    Once again Linda, this is wonderfully composed and sensitively written.

    • Sandi,

      I’m just laughing. Perhaps you were an “accidental tourist”!

      I can’t even imagine what it’s like to live in the midst of such ancient human history. Your granddad’s interpretation is perfectly reasonable, of course – and a wonderful example of our human tendency to fit the mysterious and inexplicable into a framework that makes sense of it. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know the history of how he came to his understanding? He learned that from someone, and that person from another. It’s just intriguing.

      We do carry those much-larger-than-life images around in our head, don’t we? On the other hand, the Rudston stone is flat impressive. I read a wiki about it, and laughed at this sentence: “Fossilised dinosaur footprints on one side of the stone may have contributed to its importance to those who erected it.”. Indeed!

      It’s a wonderful world we live in. It tickles me that I could write a bit about your part of it!

      Linda

  11. I have been trying to think what I could say in reply to this post.

    ‘Amen’, is all that springs to mind.

    • friko,

      “Amen” will do just fine. It’s a short and sweet way of saying, “Let it be so” – what many of us hope for during this holy season.

      Linda

  12. Brilliant and stunning, Linda. You outdid yourself on this one and, unfortunately, made me rethink my own column on the season.

    Stonehenge is high on my bucket list, but your words brought me a little closer.

    • Tom,

      Those are some pretty high words of praise, but you were out there in the Brilliant and Stunning Hills first, blazing a trail. I still remember finding your post about the cell towers and light pollution, and reading it about six times before I could take a breath. That’s what I aspire to.

      And here’s a secret. If I were given the chance for only one more trip in my life, and had to choose between Stonehenge and Kansas – well, you know my choice. Not many stone fences there, but the feeling’s the same:

      “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
      That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
      And spills the upper boulders in the sun…”

      You live in a land of monoliths, too, and record them beautifully. Some people may see only grain elevators, but that’s their loss.

      Linda

  13. Elegant post – very worthy of the Christmas / winter mysteries

    • philosophermouse,

      Thank you so much. I hope your own celebrations are touched with mystery, and that you’re enjoying the early gift Santa Cloud’s brought us!

      Linda

  14. I visited that pile of stones in December four years ago, bitter wind and rain, but well worth the trip. What I regret is I didn’t have time to stop by Salisbury and visit the iconic cathedral. And you’re right, in this busy Season, we need quiet time to ponder and rest, peace could well start from oneself. And oh what sync, that’s exactly what I’m pondering this week.

    • Arti,

      I’d not really thought of it before, but Sandi’s comment above sent me on a little exploration of the various stone sites in England, and I found that churches and cathedrals often were built on sites near stones. Clearly, a sense of the numinous can be a corporate experience as well as individual.

      Perhaps part of the reason religious celebrations have become a kind of cultural turf war is that the sense of mystery, of the numinous, has been lost – not to mention the fact that we’ve privatized celebration within an inch of its poor life.

      But that’s for another time. Now is the time for quiet, for beauty and peace. I confess I’ve glanced, and know that Madeleine L’engle is on your reading list. She’s a perfect selection for this time of year – I went back to “The Irrational Season” and found some passages there especially meaningful.

      Merry Christmas, and best wishes to your whole family.

      Linda

  15. Dear Linda,

    What a delightful story and something I needed very much before I started a very busy day. Thank you for the Christmas Present of a little Peace and Quiet on this Shortest Day of the Year, Winter Solstice. While I’ve never been to Stone Hedge, I have been in places that are quiet and it seems the world stands still for a few moments.

    Thank you very much. You have a wonderful Christmas!

    Patti

    • Patti,

      You, of all people, need a little respite before you begin your day. When you say “busy”, you mean “busy”!

      Your mention of other quiet places made me think of your times in Arkansas – some of your stories make me think that part of our natural world must have been filled with rich experiences for you.

      Enjoy these next days, and all of your celebrations. And thanks for taking time to stop by before you “get rolling”!

      Linda

  16. This was beautiful. I could feel my heart beat as I read this.

    • Chatter Master,

      I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for stopping by – you’re always welcome!

      Best wishes for a holiday season filled with peace and joy.

      Linda

  17. What a perfect pairing of text and poem. A meal for the weary spirit. I have never been a big T.S. Eliot fan. I may have to rethink that.

    • Gerry,

      There’s much in Eliot I find unappealing and incomprehensible. But there are certain poems, certain passages, that seem like gifts from the gods. Those are the ones that serve as a kind of poetic true north for me – especially during this season.

      Every good wish for a lovely and joyful celebration. I’m gifting a friend with some preserves and such from your part of the world, and intend to show her some of your photos. I know she’ll be as eager as I am to get up and go, so we can see for ourselves. ;)

      Linda

  18. A quiet place to reflect. I used to think it was rather silly for people to go off on “spiritual journeys” to “sacred places” in order to find that quiet place to connect themselves to the universe some how. If one can’t find it within, one certainly can’t bottle it and bring it home.

    Then again, sometimes these places, these “thin places” as Charles puts it, are what teach people to find that place within. We are surrounded by so much noise and input these days that sometimes just finding a quiet insightful blog becomes that moment.

    Thank you.

    • Nanette,

      Whatever a person believes or doesn’t believe about the Christmas story, the assertion it makes is remarkable: that any place, any time, any person, can be a bearer of the divine. I like to think God got impatient with a rather dim humanity and finally said, “Oh, all right. I guess I have to use some audio-visuals.” Enter angels, shepherds and stars.

      Using words to communicate silence is paradoxical at best, but sometimes it works – just a little. Wishing you a little silence, and a lot of glitter. Dixie sends her greetings to Syd and Roxie.

      Linda

  19. Indeed, let it be so! So beautifully written, Linda….

    • Ginnie,

      Many thanks – not only for your kind words here, but for all the beauty you bring us every day. I’m going to keep an eye out for those wooden-winged angels – who knows what song they might be singing?

      Merry Christmas once more to you and Astrid – I know we’ll get to share part of it!

      Linda

  20. I found Stonehenge awash with tourists (say me a tourist himself) and still found it rather moving. You probably picked a good time of the year for it. All this coupled with a visit to the cathedral in Salisbury – it’s worth a visit just for that huge great blue stained glass window at the end (which defeated my camera)

    • Sandy,

      Not only that, it was many, many years ago – in the mid-70s – so that also contributed to smaller crowds everywhere in the country.

      The cathedrals were astonishing to me, both for history and size. On the other hand, that treasure of a painted church on your blog is remarkable. There’s no shortage of wonders in the world, and you make the ones in your part of it beautifully accessible.

      Thanks for stopping by – and Merry Christmas!

      Linda

  21. The stillness of the solstice is such a wonderful thing. It must have been beautiful to spend that time at Stonehenge. I love old stone circles, there are lots in Scotland, smaller than Stonehenge, really peaceful places.

    Merry Christmas!
    The Crafty Green Poet

    • Juliet,

      It was wonderful – as was all my time in England. One day, perhaps I’ll have the pleasure of adding Scotland, Wales and Ireland to my treasured memories. Needless to say,you’ve helped to bring Scotland to life for me!

      Merry Christmas to you, and Crafty Green Boyfriend, too!

      Linda

  22. You did a wonderful job of portraying with words the silent sadness of winter, the sense of longing that we have for our own past and the pasts that went before us and are only rarely, as on the Salisbury Plain that you invoked, turned into stone for others to see and be reminded of.

    • Steve,

      i’ve always thought of the great cathedrals in that way – monuments of stone that capture and contain silence for those who seek it out.

      Silence is a strange thing. It can be the simple absence of sound, or it can be filled with that ineffable “something” that escapes even language. But of course, we keep trying to describe it, to capture its essence – not unlike a photographer, now that I think of it. Cartier-Bresson comes to mind, and his hunger “to ‘trap’ life – to preserve life in the act of living.”

      I hope your Christmas was fine, and that the New Year is filled with delights for you and your camera!

      Linda

  23. “The irony of Silent Night” strikes me so clearly. The noise, the bustle, the confusion…I think it’s anything but what the Lord wanted for us, especially at the time of His birth.

    (That is, in part, a big reason I love the Advent Calendar you gave. It brings me enormous peace and calm.)

    Anyway, I’m thinking of you at this Christmas without your dear mother by your side. It’s hard to be separated while awaiting a reunion some day. I send my love and care, and wishes for peace and blessings. Love, Meredith

    • Meredith,

      I mentioned to Steve, above, that there’s a silence which is an absence of noise, but of course there is a silence that’s another kind of absence – the absence of people we’ve loved. Death, divorce, conflict, poor communication – so many things can leave people alone at this time of year, and obviously it can make the season almost unbearably painful.

      I did miss Mom a good bit this year, particularly while doing those things we’d always done together. Still, it was a good Christmas, if a little unusual. I’ll be writing about that soon – and in the meantime, I’ll enjoy my little star, shining peacefully and silently on my tree.

      Linda

  24. Really enjoyed this post! Ah, how I would love to visit Stonehenge in the complete stillness and silence. Beautiful -”A Singing on Salisbury Plain.” Christmas, I think, should be for wonder and silence and singing to light the soul in this mysterious life.

    Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and yours!

    • Anna,

      Stonehenge is wonderful, no doubt, and I had a very special experience there. On the other hand, I’ve crossed the Texas coastal plain on a Christmas eve and seen a lone star atop a windmill. And I remember what it can be like in your part of the country, when the snow lays round about, “deep and crisp and even”. Christmas eve in snow country is a marvel all its own, with the added advantage of no-air-travel-required!

      I hope your Christmas was filled with wonder, silence and singing. Best wishes to you and yours for a beautiful and prosperous New Year!

      Linda

  25. Have a Merry Christmas Eve and a wonderful Christmas Week, Linda! I remember you mentioned celebrating all the way into January for some, but forgot which part of the world. ;)

    • Arti,

      Christmas week it is, and I’m enjoying my tree and such even more now that the world has gone its way, dragging its post-Christmas sales behind it. ;)

      Christmas eve and day turned into something quite – unusual – and enjoyable. I think you’ll enjoy the story of it, once I’m unpacked and ready to write!

      And I’ve decided to keep my tree up until Epiphany this year. It was our family custom to take it down by January 1, but it suddenly seems entirely too pretty to pack away. So, January 6 it will be – unless I decide to honor the Eastern and Russian Orthodox, who celebrate on January 7!

      I hope your Christmas was filled with joy – best wishes to you and yours for a wonderful New Year!

      Linda

      • Can’t wait to hear about your own Christmas story! ;) Good to have you back, Linda.

  26. Linda,

    Wishing you two Joyful Christmases: the one of beautiful stillness and the one of happy frenzy!

    Claudia

    • Claudia,

      I hope you got your own good portion of frenzy and fun – and joy, as well. All in all, it was a “better” Christmas than I’d hoped for, and certainly one I couldn’t have predicted. Stay tuned, as they say, for “the rest of the story”!

      Wishing you a prosperous and hassle-free New Year!

      Linda

  27. Merry Christmas and may there be silence all around at many times on this day!

    • Jack,

      Thank you! And there was a goodly portion of silence, particularly since I took off on a journey with not even a laptop. Unplugged, I was – completely. Three days of incommunicado isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

      I hope your holiday was filled with all good things – especially the joy of the world that surrounds you.

      Linda

  28. I have experienced the silence you describe twice in my life. Once as a teenager in the Anza Borrego desert in California, and once with my husband (on our honeymoon) when visiting the Chaco Canyon Ruins in New Mexico. That was so many years ago now. I am sure it has changed since. Perhaps not so silent? Thank you for reminding me of these awesome and introspective experiences… I had forgotten for a time…
    Merry Christmas, Linda!
    ~ Lynda

    • Lynda,

      I had to go hunting for the Anza Borrego desert – I’d never heard of it. I was surprised to see it’s very close to another new discovery – the Salton Sea. I’d bumped into a photo of that taken by a fellow who camped out for days (weeks?) just to get those “perfect photos”. Now I can’t find his site again, but I did find this, which you might enjoy.

      On the other hand, I’ve visited Chaco Canyon and other sites in the area, and understand perfectly why it would be memorable for you. Memories constellate like the stars – perhaps that’s why we see them more truly from a distance.

      I hope your Christmas was wonderful. Best wishes for the New Year!

      Linda

  29. “There was only a strange and forlorn emptiness: a cold sun shining through high, thin clouds, a tumble of implacable cold gray rock and winter-singed grass dusted with snow. Around the circled rock a cold wind sighed, rocking a single bird circling high above the plain.”

    Your beautiful words are such a gift–and were that not enough, here you are, quoting Little Gidding. Who knew that Eliot had something for every occasion, eh?

    I hope your Christmas was lovely and to a bright New Year ahead.

    • Susan,

      The dear Mr. Eliot’s a treasure, whether you need a little inspiration for a high holiday or some humor to help with obstreperous cats.
      Whether he has something to help with taking off a few holiday pounds I’m not sure, but I’ll be looking!

      Christmas wasn’t exactly lovely – I need another word. Fun? Yes. Also: surprising, funky, laughter-filled, refreshing. All of that will make sense if I tell you I landed where I first “met” you on Raining Acorns – the only thing missing was the houseboat. Post to follow. ;)

      Happy New Year to you – I can’t wait to see what treats you have for us in the coming months!

      Linda

  30. What a wonderful and perfect post for Christmas, Linda. Very moving.

    While I’ve not been to any ‘thin places’ ( I love that description!), I have had a few ‘thin moments.” A precious few minutes when the hubbub of the world fell silent and still and I could feel the infinity of time and the presence of something more than myself.

    • Gué,

      I was thinking about your description of your decorating while I was at work this morning. It occurred to me that in so many ways, simplicity and silence go together. When we have an interminable “to-do” list to prepare for the holidays, the only thing we’re likely to hear is that internal voice telling us to hurry up!

      Beyond that, I think any experience of a “thin moment” turns the place where we experienced that into a “thin place” – even if it’s in the back yard, pegging out clothes.

      Best wishes for the New Year – don’t forget your black-eyed peas!

      Linda

  31. “Vertinginous joy” indeed! the perfect phrase for one of those perfect aha moments. One quietly felt and kept, treasured like a special stone in one’s pocket, always there, always sure, always treasured.

    I remember the line from the beginning of this entry where the woman remarks “I loves me some Christmas” because oh my how we love it here, too.

    It’s been chaotic and familial and deep felt and humbling and wonderful. And so I must stick my head out the door to say hello and Merry Christmas (week) and and Happy Harbor (in all its festive beauty) and here’s to another year of fabulous writing!

    • oh,

      I did love me some Christmas this year – I forsook the Harbor and its lights for some rather different lights, which story I’ll be telling. Let’s just say your putting-up-the-lights story probably was bested by someone involved in putting up what I saw!

      I’ve been meaning to tell you – I was bragging on your wreath(s) and the Botanical Garden and their wonderful wreaths to another blogger, and lo! It turns out she worked there for five years or so, and knew exactly what I was talking about.

      It’s a small world indeed, and I’m so looking forward to sharing it with you in the New Year. Best wishes, for health, happiness and lots of good books!

      Linda

  32. The seasons change, and the chipmunks sing — for better or worse!
    All the best to you for this coming year, Linda!
    Yours,
    Andrew.

    • Andrew,

      They do sing, indeed! Now that Christmas is past, I’m rather chagrined that I never did hear them – not one time. I suppose it’s a case of “be careful what you wish for”. Now that I think of it, I missed that other classic, “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”.
      There’s just no honoring tradition any more!

      Many thanks for your good wishes. Despite all those rumors of the impending apocalypse, I have a sense that it’s going to be a good one.

      Linda

  33. I should have read this BEFORE Christmas – but I think I can enjoy the benefits of waiting silence even now. Thanks for making me consider, and pause.

    • Bug,

      Oh, if your life is anything like mine – and I think it is – we both know that a reminder to stop, and look, and listen is good any time of year. It’s not just for railroad crossings any more!

      I traveled for a few days over Christmas, and left the laptop at home. It was rather remarkable – no news headlines, no weather forecasts, no Google, no blogs…. Where I stayed, there was no television, no DVD player, and only an old AM/FM radio, in case a person just needed a little music.

      It took me a day or so to turn on the computer when I got home. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, exactly – it was more as though I still was carrying that silence with me. Quite nice, actually.

      I hope your Christmas was great! Now that I’m all caught up with comments here, I’ll be by to visit and see what you’ve been up to!

      Linda

  34. The ugly truth is I am far more Druid than Christian. I fully appreciate silence. Easy to get with no television, wife, or kids in no particular order.
    And you are a terrific read even if blogs scare me. Scared or not I think I will fire one up this summer. Maybe on the solstice, those were always great days when I had hair. My semi annual haircuts, rituals are where you find them and your results will vary.

    I see a post from hill country a place that is calling me almost as hard as Hwy 1 and the bayou.

    Happy New Year.

    • blu,

      Silence is easier to get than we sometimes think. Well, external, anyway. Sometimes I have a little more trouble with the internal chatter.

      Sure would love to see you start a blog. I enjoy your comments over at BW’s. Honest to goodness, I didn’t have a clue when I started this one. The first six months was pretty funny – my friends still remember how excited I was the first day fifty people stopped by to read. But it took six months. Patience, patience. Glad you stop by, and I’m glad you enjoy what you read.

      Rituals sure enough are where you find them. I may have started a new one this Christmas. We’ll see. It was pretty funny to show up in Breaux Bridge and feel like I’d come home for Christmas.

      Don’t forget to eat some blackeyed peas tomorrow, and some cabbage, too. Luck and money will result, or so they say. I eat them, and then remind myself how much worse things could have been if I hadn’t!

      Linda

  35. The world seems to rattle with ever more noise and conversation. I hope we don’t lose the value of what you write about so eloquently in this post, Linda. Silence isn’t an emptiness waiting to be filled; it’s where we can go to best fill our own emptiness. I will continue to visit your wonderful blog, because I need to be reminded of these things, repeatedly.

    Happy New Year!

    • bronxboy,

      How beautifully you describe the reality: “Silence isn’t an emptiness waiting to be filled; it’s where we can go to best fill our own emptiness”.

      Finding – and creating – more silence is one of my ongoing projects. I need it for thinking – and if sending the tv, texting, Facebook and such packing is a way to find a little more silence, so be it. Silence isn’t just a place to visit – it needs to be woven together with all the sounds of our lives.

      Sometimes, I even sneak into and out of your place without saying a word – I love your writing as much as ever, and maybe more, but leaving my comment amongst all that activity seems more like an imposition on you than anything else. Every day I breathe a WordPress blogger’s prayer: “Lord, save me from the chaos of being freshly pressed”! ;-)

      Happy New Year to you and yours – who knows what this one is going to bring?

      Linda

  36. Oh my, this is my first visit ever into your blog. What an artist you are. I love how you’ve combined your gift of writing with your gift of photography. You are so insightful. Your work is inspirational as I myself have discovered the moment you have discussed at the grave of a parent.

    This is the best piece I’ve read in a very long time. I was enticed by the narrative, drawn in with the images, and my soul was touched by your shared wisdom.

    • Preston,

      I’ve enjoyed the work that you and Anna do, so very much. It’s a pleasure to have you stop by here, and I’m glad you found the time spent here worthwhile.

      I’m quite touched by your kind comments – most of all, I think, by the untold story behind your mention of a parent’s grave. We just never know when the universe is going to “give us a nudge”, as Lawrence Durrell has it in his “Alexandria Quartet”. I suppose part of our responsibility to learning how to pay attention.

      Again, thank you for reading and commenting. You’re welcome any time!

      Linda


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