THE YEAR'S CRANK has been turned again this January. Now it is Two Thousand And Eleven!
But this sun rose for us on the old Celtic New Year: Samhain, the day when the aged knuckles of the Winter Crone knock on our doors for us to let her in. On 1st November we rose before dawn and climbed to the top of a fond hill that overlooks our village and there cooked eggs while the sun came up. It was a beautiful and memorable sight. All below us, a sea of mist, above which poked the tips of trees and hills - our village turned archipelago.
And that ball of red has warmed us into the winter. Gradually as the outdoors grew colder, our indoors became hearth and heart and home and hibernation. And how dear these days are to me. How truly that heart-flame has been ignited. In love and work and life I am blessed indeed, and I have counted these blessings daily as I descended the stone steps into winter, winding my way deeper into the dark bramble-knotted forest, dropping hand-warmed stones one by one into some kind of soul-pouch hanging by my side, and uttering a prayer-word with each.
We welcomed the Dark Crone in, too. Do you remember that mysterious hand opening the mysterious door? Here is Baba Yaga, favourite old Witch-Woman of Russian folklore, painted in watercolour for a book about Baba Yaga in tales and illustration to be published in the US next year. (A Brilliant Thing Indeed say I!) She too has a hand in the sun's turning, which gallops across the sky of her stories in the form of three horsemen: white (for dawn), red (for midday) and black (for midnight).
I spent a good long while on this painting. It's about 9 inches square, and I have enjoyed exploring Slavic folk motifs and decoration. Can you see the Sirins guarding the four corners? And the hut's chicken legs, of course, cannot be done without. But I've left out her mortar and pestle steed this time, and depicted her more as a Baboushka-Yaga - the kind of Baba Yaga you might more likely meet in the bread queue, or find kissing the iconostasis, perhaps.
Some of you may already have glimpsed this Baba Yaga in the making on Terri Windling's excellent On Your Desk series of posts, where these photos below of my workspace and desk were featured amongst many other interesting creative folks' studios and thoughts thereupon.
Here's the final painting, in all its snowy, Slavic, earthen, hairy-chinned glory. And if you'd like a print, there are some here in my shop.
That desk corner became the Christmas corner when presents started to accumulate, and our whole house got laced with holly and ivy that Tom and I collected from the woods in the powdery snowy dusk one night before his family came to stay for Christmas.
It really was a most incredibly iced and white-feathered few weeks. For a while we were quite snowed in to the village. Post and deliveries and cars could get neither in or out, and for a few days before serious digging and gritting had happened, a strange new stillness settled over the whole village, but with it came whoops and hollers of children with sledges and everyone milled about in the square in delighted confusion. Four wheel drives became useful.
The cold was bitter, and water solidified everywhere. The river stood still, dogs and people walked on it, and underneath, fish waited.
Every day must have two dog walks in it, which is good for those of us who can get stuck at whatever it is we're doing for many pins-and-needling hours. Some days we take a walk each, one of us seeing the morning and the other the evening. Some days we walk together, my beloved and I, watch the daily turning seasons and lace the way with conversation both deep and ridiculous.
And always bounding and hurtling, snow-furrowing, lurching and stick-chasing is our dear hound Macha. She loves the snow more than I could imagine was possible, and becomes this wild and silly child dog, rolling and burrowing in it until she's encrusted and shivering, but still she'll not stop, on she leaps, hare-like in zig-zags, our ice-wolf with the cold winter light in her fur.
She's even there when you're trying to take a close up photograph of hoar-frost growing on snow!
In all this winter whiteness, our winter solstice celebrations were decidedly picturesque. An enormous bonfire was built in a friend's field and comrades gathered, wrapped in wool and boots and children and dogs and scarves and good cheer.
There was hot mulled cider, there were mince pies and there was Music!
In this lovely photo below, you can see Tom playing clarinet and me on accordion. There was much wonderful and chaotic music, like some kind of impromptu Shtetl, we were gathered in the snow fog to play.
Now, let's see how many friends in these pictures have links.... There's artist and writer Lunar Hine on the right holding baby Ember, her folklorist husband Thomas Hine plucking violin, and runic jeweller Jason of England with the drum. In the other pictures lurk acupuncturist Susie Yorke who took this first photo, martial artist Damien Hackney (on violin too), his jeweller wife Miriam Boy, Jason's wife Ruth Olley and Terri Windling's dramatist husband Howard Gayton (in the two-accordion photo, where we look like a pair of down-and-outs!) Terri was there too but escaped my camera, alas! And of course my writer-storyteller-craftsman love Tom Hirons has a link too :) And he's responsible for all the photos of me um-pahing from various angles, including this to the right, with my "accordion face" on! What a talented and good bunch of friends and neighbours to share the warmth of a bonfire with!
From further down the field as dark approached, all that could be seen of us was an ember beyond the glistening night fog, and the distant sound of polkas.
The whole excellent affair warmed the heart like whisky, and, would you know .. we were home by half past six!
On Christmas day morning we woke to a brilliantine day, all was white and crisp in the sunlight and the sledge tracks on the hill echoed with children's screams of glee.
We all walked up and looked down over it all and marvelled.
And Macha crept through the woods...
Our home was full and warm with good food and gifts and ivy winking with lights and heavy eyelids in the early evening.
Our village has a tradition of all going for a walk together on Christmas, Boxing and New Year's Day. We joined the Boxing Day walk and friends and visiting families trailed along the beautiful frozen riverside, all wrapped in coloured winterwear, figures in the snow: a Brueghel painting come alive.
As our house is tiny, we gave up the sleeping space for our family guests over Christmas, and made cozy camp in our new workshop at night. It's an old granite store, with a tin roof, and decidedly damp. The rent is peanuts, and it has one plug socket. But it gives us space to do work that involves saws and drills and wood and so on. We found a secondhand woodburner and collected bits of fluepipe when we could, only just getting the thing in and the chimbley hat on in time before the heavy snows fell that night. The stovepipe elbows its way up and along and out in a most Heath Robinsonesque way, but the smoke puffed out over the snow-covered roof, the inside grew warm(er) and, oh, it is good to sit by a wood fire again!
In time we'll make it nice, with paint and roof insulation and tool shelves and suchlike, but for now we have fire and sofa and warm floor thanks to felt artist (and workshop neighbour) Yuli who gave us some cast off felt underlay and woven mats and a bag of sheep's wool too to stuff in the draughty cracks!
On Christmas morning we were iced in! The snow melt icicles had dripped off the roof over the chimney and built an ice wedge in front of the door! We had to chisel our way out with the fire poker through a tiny gap! And those icicles! Grown from tiny ice twigs to magnificent spears longer than a man! The air was so cold that when I touched them, they were dry as plastic.
We sat quiet by the fire in the evenings in that workshop over Christmas, with full bellies, frankincense burning, dreaming books and happy and into the next year.
And the snow lay long, prettying the trees' fingers like lace jewellery. The trees sat still, and the land sat still, and the water sat still, and winter whispered to us that life could really be this magical, yes, everything might just be alright.
And we listened as we walked, kicking up the dry powder and forgetting the green beneath.
Though some trees still had their leaves, and dropped them topsy-turvy after the freeze, decorating the snow with back-to-front confetti.
Time had paused on its way this winter, it had got waylaid in an inn, perhaps sat down with a cup of hot wine and got embroiled in a meaty conversation about quantum folding or the sparsity of grit on the roads. Whatever happened, the interim was quiet, and beautiful, and when the thaw eventually came, things moved again. The new new year is most definitely begun. Under the snow the land had become yellow and maroon, but now it pushes upward again, and smells of the thought of spring. Perhaps snows will return before warmer days, but we are now walking down the other side of the see-saw. Daylight is apparently longer, and we look forward with plans and resolution to new projects and a whole year of Maybes. Tom has begun his second term of a degree in acupuncture, which is not very near-by, so two days a week, Macha and I are without him and must bury ourselves in new clocks and paintings and schemes.
There was a wonderful treasure buried in the snow. It had the shape of togetherness, and I shall add it to the other stones in my soul-pouch and count it in, a blessing among blessings.
If I were to imagine a song for this winter, it would sound like this:
Pustono Ludo I Mlado by Kitka from their album Voices on the Eastern Wind
(-I think the title means something like the wilderness of the young and crazy - Bulgarian readers are welcome to correct this!)
Bulgarian gaida and polyphonic gut-wailing to bring home a heart from the top of a mountain, and to hold it warm against you, to bring it into your hut, out of the flying snow, and to hurl it in full joy up into the sky to rise as a New Year's Sun.