Friday, 12 October 2012

The Cottarton Labyrinth

Last summer, despite being the butt of all jokes and other disparaging comments I built a labyrinth in the middle of our field. Not a maze like you find in English country manors with passages framed by neat boxwood, most with dead ends, designed to bewilder you. Or a-maze? The labyrinth leads you in one continuous path though by no means a direct one, to the centre, and then back out.  You can walk it at any time of day or night, when you feel distressed, when you’re happy, want to meditate. Or you can walk it when you have absolutely no reason or purpose in doing so. Do it consciously, each step taken with awareness, and you find yourself emerging from the pathways  in a different space then where you entered.

The view toward the cottage

Building a Cretan-style labyrinth, or any other is quite easy and doesn't require advanced surveying skills. First, you learn how to draw your labyrinth on paper. Then you repeat the same process on the land. My introduction to drawing was a you-tube video.  I cleared away the space with my scythe. After I’d practiced my art skills and knew how the deisign worked, I repeated the process on the cleared space, using 3 foot long bamboo sticks as my pencil. I used them also to measure the width of the path and stuck one into the ground every three feet. The labyrinth axis is lined up with  Janetstown Hill,  the most prominent peak close to Cottarton,  so that the structure blends with the energy of the land.  I marked the  cross at the labyrinth centre with stones from our land. At the heart is a collection of white quartz. No doubt you'll find your own objects to enhance the structure you build. After drawing the labyrinth on the land I mowed the pathways, and kept them mowed throughout the summer.

During August white clover grew in the structure. On a warm day you could smell its honey. My favorite time of day was around 9 pm when the low angle of the sun lit up our grassy field in bright golden hues. There was a peace in the air that did not appear to originate in any human thought Something you might call, sacred. You wanted to indulge totally in what was there. Without boundaries. To walk in circles, with your feet constrained to move along a prescribed path seemed almost unnatural.  At other times, especially when one felt overwhelmed by  turbulent thoughts, the pathways were more welcome. Walking them awoke an inner movement toward harmony. There was no thought of suppressing unwelcome thoughts or feelings, but rather a process of becoming more aware of them. Seeing what was already there.

Stone circle near Aboyne

Some people like to go to a church, cathedral or other special building to pray or meditate. Lately I've found most such places, built by human hands, to be empty and uninspiring. The temple that inspires is not one that is built by us or by our clever thoughts. It’s outdoors in the order created by nature, with nothing to separate the sky from the Earth. The language is expressed in the grains on the grass stalk, seemingly haphazard clover clumps and gnarly pine trees. I suspect that our ancestors five thousand years ago or earlier also sensed a certain sacredness in such places which is why they built their stone circles. Not to create temples of worship. The temple was already there. But rather to mark those spots that were particularly meaningful. Where, if you spent some time, you might discover yourself and your connection with the land.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Bees and the Northern Lights

Three days ago the bees were acting up. Temperatures were below 10 C, and so I expected them to remain huddled in a ball inside the log, but there they were, buzzing in circles, darting here and there. They clustered in large groups on the log. Some took off to forage, but others, plain excited danced in zig-zags to the music of  an unseen piper. Some alighted in Amber’s hair when she approached the hive. A first!

Meanwhile, unseen by us,  a large mass of plasma erupted from the sun and began its journey earthwards. Did the bees sense it? I’m quite sure that they’re aware of many influences that you and I don’t notice. Our unconscious thoughts and feelings for one. Geomagnetic storms are known to affect their WaggleDance.  They have a close relationship with the sun. Adult worker larvae take 21 days to develop, the rotation period of the sun. When the Queen takes her mating flight which way does she fly? Directly toward the sun. It’s well established that worker bees use the sun’s position when executing their Waggle Dance --- a complicated set of gyrations performed on the honeycomb to tell other foragers where the best food supply can be found. And what are beeswax and honey if not energy sources --- the sun’s energy stored by bees and ready for burning.

Clearly I didn't understand what the bees were telling me or I would not have been so surprised when Charles called last night to tell me that the Aurora was active. I hung up quickly and darted outside. There it was on the northern horizon, a curtain of greenish-white extending a quarter of the way to the zenith. Amber even brought out Ellie to look, but poor Ellie, just out of a bath, found the warmth of the indoor fire more inviting than the green thing-a-jig on the horizon. From the white haze, several green flames shot upwards, waving, hair-like. I thought of my camera, but realized that by the time I fished it out of my clutter, the flames would be gone. Oh well, that’s why UFO’s are never properly photographed either.  A second green curtain developed higher in the sky. You knew that it wasn't a cloud because stars shone steadily through it. Minutes passed, the lights shifted  to cluster brightest under the pole star. A large pink glow gathered close to the horizon, remained there for a few minutes before dissipating. The green flames died away and there remained the white glow that was not from street lights.

Luckily, others were able to capture the show.

Did the bees know about the solar explosion before it arrived? I don't rule it out. Barbara Shipman, a mathematician at Rochester University described their the Waggle Dance  in terms of a six-dimensional figure, one that can also describe the behavior of sub-atomic quarks. I've no idea what her discovery means except that bees remain extremely mysterious, with an intelligence that far surpasses what you'd expect of the little things. Perhaps they're not limited by our three dimensions.

Reluctantly I went inside the house. Daily life --- what people call “the real world” was calling, even though it’s probably less real than we think. This was the first time I’d seen the Aurora since returning to Scotland. It’s an unexpected guest, beautiful and uncommon. When it’s there you want to stay with it every minute. You don’t know when you’ll get to see it again.