Point of Contact

In the Republic of Ireland we have been released from our 5km exercise zone after six weeks of Lockdown 2. Now this household won’t be racing out to the shops, having carefully curated our personal safety zone over the past eight months – local Dowra Spar and post office, Manorhamilton Supervalu, Belcoo pharmacy and Spar, and Clancy’s of Glenfarne for post office and takeaways. We are basically staying within a self-imposed twenty mile radius from home for essentials. But we took the lifting of restrictions as an opportunity to go and ‘stare at lakes’ over a cup of tea and biscuit and take the dog for a walk in the Glenfarne Demesne. There is a Sculpture trail through the woods. And it is good to get an eyeful of some varied scenery. Of which we have in abundance in the West Cavan and North Leitrim border area.

Today’s blog takes its title from one of the sculptures, one funded in some of the original EU funded Peace and Reconciliation projects back in 2000 (known locally as Peace 1; we are on Peace 5 now. USA, please note that it takes 30 years to undo 30 years trauma.)

Glenfarne, Leitrim Sculpture Trail. This sculpture created by Derek Whitecasein, August 2000.

The sun was bathing country Fermanagh on the opposite shore of Lough MacNean in sunshine. And we were also getting a splendid light and shadow on our shores, too.

It’s 1st December and we are heading towards the shortest of days in our hemisphere, but the light playing with the shade and shadow was extraordinary today. And, thinking of last Thursday’s blog title on resilience, I spotted two spruce trees growing out of a rock surrounded by water. These two baby Christmas trees may never be papermill fodder, but they do speak of what can grow in even the most inhospitable conditions. Even nature is wanting to get the Christmas decor out early in 2020.

They are kind of like Charlie Brown Christmas Trees but even rocks will grow you one.

Today is the beginning of my email e-course 21 Days Journey through December’s Dark Days. Nature certainly showed us how we can have the most astonishing shots of light at this dark time of year. I kept asking my husband to stop the car so I could snap some photos of the rose gold light playing with the mountain and the light. And then, much to my joy, I spotted that hardy upland flowering shrub, gorse. It smells like a mixture of vanilla and coconut to me and it brightens our winter landscape here in Ireland.

At some point I probably will write a poem called “Point of Contact”, but for this week’s poem I have an attempt at a sonnet. My Zoom group was toiling at these this past weekend. And Ruth Padel is right. “Good pattern is hard work.” Maybe once I have written fifty of them I will finally have the hang of it.

The Earth's Heart

Listen...the earth is pulsing every
twenty-six seconds, a slow signal's beat.
A pause. A patient moment. Then. Breathe.
Less hurried than Morse code's dash dot repeats.
Desperation's staccato urgency
is counterpoint to the earth's slow
pulse. And pause. And pause on silent repeat...
its heartbeat a tap through air waves, radio
silence for a further twenty-six beats,
the space between...Can that silence echo?
Is that what I hear in my eardrum's beat,
the thrumming as I speed toward contingency?
Earth is slow. And patient. A lung and drum.
It needs just a tone, content to just hum.

May your dark December days be shot full of astonishing light.

An E-course to Light December’s Dark Days

A Light in the Window: A 21 Day Journey Together Through December’s Dark Days

How are you? Are you okay? It’s dark outside most of the day. Most of us are staying inside, working at home, cocooning from the corona virus, shielding, trying to maintain and sustain life in a new, strange and inconvenient normal. Isolation can feel lonely even with the internet, telephones, Zoom and FaceTime. The dark days of December beckon us into silence and contemplation. This has always been so. But it has also been the time for storytelling beside the hearth and sharing experiences with those who gathered around.

This e-course is both a guide and companion. Each day you will receive an email with a short piece of writing for reflection. From that lit candlewick you can journal around the topic. You may spend twenty minutes or two hours. You may choose to write a poem, or write a memory, or make some visual art inspired by the prompt.

That is your journey.

But journeys benefit from companions, so this e-course is supported by the option to Zoom over the evenings of December 6th (St. Nicholas Day), December 13th (Day 4 of Hanukkah), and 20th (Winter Solstice Eve)  with me and any fellow traveller who choose to check in and share their light with one another.  It is not compulsory, but for those of you who may not be seeing or speaking to others often, you are welcome to my virtual fireside on those evenings.  We will light our stove and tune in via Zoom 6-8pm Irish Time on those days. That will mean North Americans can brunch or lunch with us while continental Europeans can sip their evening cocoa as we swap tales like 21st century Canterbury Tale travellers. Zoom invitations will go out with the Sunday email.

If I ask my husband very nicely I am sure he might be persuaded to give us a tune.

December marks the celebration of light festivals in three religious traditions. Christians will light the first candle on their Advent wreaths on Sunday, 30th November on a day that is a full moon, as well as a lunar eclipse. Jewish families will light the first of eight candles on their menorah on December 8th. Pagans will celebrate the shortest day of winter solstice on 21st December (depending upon where you live in the world) as the rebirth of the sun.

Photo by Olena Sergienko on Unsplash

Treat each daily email as a kind of window to open on an Advent calendar.  Treat it as some daily  low-cal, hi-inspiration. We are waiting for the return of the light – physical and metaphorical. Darkness can be frightening for some, but we can befriend it. We all grew out of the darkness of our mother’s womb to emerge into the bright lights of a delivery suite or the softer lighting of a bedroom. Most of us started life with our eyes shut tight, but gradually we adjusted to this new brightness and clarity.

We are in a time of change and uncertainty. Yet, this autumn the whooper swans flew over 800 miles from Iceland and made their winter home once again in local Lough Moneen. They honk overhead daily, just as they have done each year we have lived in our little home in West Cavan that  has a view of hills in County Leitrim and the wind turbines on Corry Mountain in Roscommon.

This e-course requires the most rudimentary of tools. You need a notebook of some sort to journal. You will need a pen. Crayons or coloured pens and pencils might appeal to some of you.  You may decide on some days to use craft materials that you already have around the house.  What you may not have is a candle. This could be a tea light or something fancier and scented; in the interests of home safety you may use a battery charged candle.  Keep it simple and safe and work with the requirements of your household.

No matter what you spiritual or religious tradition or upbringing, celebrate the light during these dark days this December. You are invited to reflect and contemplate as you wait for personal and collective epiphanies. We have the means in our hands and hearts. You are welcome to my virtual fireside each Sunday to share what is sparking within you.

The e-course will cost you 21 $/£/€ – or whatever is your local currency – for all twenty-one days.  You can register for the e-course using the form or by emailing bee@sojourningsmith.blog. You will receive an email to direct you to the Paypal account that will ensure that you receive your daily emailed ray of light during the dark days of December.

Featured image Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash.

Finding the Light in December’s Dark Days

2020 has been, to quote one of my favourite YouTubers, Bernadette Bannerman, a dumpster fire. I am sure that all of us have had lows and then still lowers over the course of the year. To mention just one anxiety: the statistic that there were one million Covid-19 positive tests in seven days just last week in the USA alone.

This does not bode well for the holiday season. The UK is in lockdown for a month in the hopes of saving Christmas. Ireland has had a six week lockdown that is due to ease on 1st December. But…as we configure our bubbles there are going to be not a lot of face to face meetings over the holidays this year because indoor groups beyond a household are dubious. This is despite the Aldi Christmas ad where an anxious child keeps asking his parents “Is he coming?” He is constantly reassured. The viewer thinks…oh, Santa. Of course. But the last scene is the child running to the front door and rugby tackling the knees of a elderly gentleman crying, “Grandad!”

My personal Christmas wish is for dry outdoor weather that will allow another household to have hot chocolate outdoors with us. Bring your own cup and chair. My husband is already figuring out how to make a fire pit to help keep us warm. Given Ireland’s damp Christmases Past this is a Big Wish. Are you listening, Santa?

We know we are lucky. We have each other, pets, and good telecommunications. I Zoom twice a week with my creative writing groups, so I get some social interaction beyond the household, even if it is virtual. I phone friends for chats on a daily basis. We have bolstered one another through Lockdown 1 and now Lockdown 2. We have remained well. Lockdown 2 has been a lot harder than the one last spring though. With holidays coming up and getting cancelled or pared down to the minimum there are some doldrums rumbling.

I am not unaware of how a lot of people find the dark days of December very hard in the best of years. And, as said before, this is a dumpster fire of a year. So I have written a 21 day e-course that will drop a little bit of hope, inspiration and virtual company into your email box from 1st December to Winter Solstice. This December may be a bit tougher, but we can still focus on the return of the light, the wheel turning again sunwards and the new growth in 2021.

My aim is to place a light in your inbox window each morning for those twenty-one days. So I have named this shared journey based on a short reflection and daily journal prompt A Light in the Window: A 21 Day Journey Together Through December’s Dark Days.

Dark Days of December

Like those Canterbury pilgrims of old, we need companions. So there is the option of Zooming into our cottage’s fireside deep in the West Cavan countryside on three Sundays, 6-8pm Irish Time/ 3-5pm EST/12-2pm PST.

The cost will be 21 dollars, pounds or euro or whatever is your local currency.

The first email goes out the morning of December 1st, 10am Irish Time.

You can send your expression of interest to bee@sojourningsmith.blog, which will get forwarded to my personal email account. I will contact you with registration and Paypal details. You can also gift the e-course to family and friends who need a little light during the dark days of December.

Let’s spread some light this December!

Here’s a poem based on a memory from last December. When shall we sing again in a small, crowded space?

A Pool of Light

A splash in this December night, the motley
assembly of voices raised in chorus,
virtual strangers picking out harmonies,
humming along when words fail, beating
time to the tunes , clapping, snugged up
in this small country pub, turf fire warming
the crowd of bodies at the bar and we are

singing, singing, carried along by
melody, camaraderie, joy's memory.
Hope sounds like our rowdy laughter,
applause, the respectful murmur of 'good man' ,
the parting glass wishing all  a 'Good night!'
as Ben holds open the door, formally shaking our hands
as we leave that pool of light and walk out
into winter's dark night.

I hope you will sojourn with me during the first 21 days this December 2020 so we can bask in that pool of light.