Piper At The Gates Of Dawn


One of the many pleasures of living in the highveld climate of Nottingham Road, as opposed to the tropics of Durban, is that one really gets to experience all four seasons here. And my favourite time is the moment of transition from one season to the next because it still carries the expectation of good things ahead. At the moment we are busy signing off on summer and welcoming in autumn and thoughts are turning more to making the inside comfortable and less about making the outside pretty, spring cleaning without the zing as it were. There’s the promise of beautiful autumnal days still to come; of lazy afternoons lying on the sofa, washed in weak sunshine and rereading Nigel Slater, as well as all my treasured gardening books, and even dusting off some old Josh Grobin cds. Oh, and eating chocolate. Well, that’s how I’m picturing it anyhow. Autumn in the Midlands is all about crisp blue skies, sunshine that you can bask outdoors in and landscapes that photographers will travel miles for. Ah yes, I’m looking forward to it.

Recently I’ve become quite interested in astronomy. Kindled at first by Prof Brian Cox and the Wonders of the Solar System programmes, and then by my wanting to know more about moon cycles and lunar planting, I now find that there’s more to it than meets the eye (so to speak). It’s a primordial connection to long lost practices of our forefathers – navigating by the stars, farming according to lunar cycles and wonderful pagan rituals dictated by solar eclipses and equinoxes, on which the Christian religion very cleverly piggybacked. (Today, by the way, is the autumnal equinox in the southern hemisphere when the sun shines directly on the equator and the length of day and night is nearly equal. The equinox in March is also known as the vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere).  I digress; astronomy is also a constant reminder to us that we are part of something vaster.

There’s a blog that I subscribe to called Notes from Near and Far written by Julian Hoffman. He has an empathy with the place in which he lives and a way with language that I can only aspire to. In his post called Across the Sky (check it out – the pelican photos by Steve Mills are also phenomenal ) he writes:

“It’s not easy remembering to look up. Standing amidst cloud and snow brought home to me the forgetful tendencies of the eyes. Our lives are lived primarily on the ground, in the here and now of our immediate concerns and surrounds. We’re so used to keeping our eyes ahead of us, focused on the next step – on work and worries, our daily routines – that whatever glimmers about the edges, or passes high above, can easily slip unnoticed through our days. As far as the human mind can fathom, what arches above the clouds is virtually endless, a universe of other worlds and stars and galaxies beyond reach. Comparatively few things pass into the narrow orbit of our experience, the tiny span of our sentient presence on this planet, and yet we’re part of something indescribably vaster all the time.”

He goes on to say that the pelicans “are reminders: to be open to faint glimmers that appear in the distance; to look up and let wonder lift me from the surface of the earth; to let go and lean into the sky.”

Oh, that I could write like that! And one of his readers commented “as though in writing we can only nod to the numinous, without being able to explain it”. I suppose if you move in literary circles there’s a standard to maintain, even in your comments! I do nod to the numinous more often here than I ever did in my previous life, not in a religious sense but in more of a “communing with nature” sense. For Mole and Ratty it was meeting the Piper at the Gates of Dawn, for me it is “leaning into the (night) sky” and losing myself in the Milky Way. One particularly splendid numinous experience comes to mind when Judy was visiting me at the farm. The Milky Way was directly above, so I laid out some blankets on the front lawn, plunged us into total darkness by flipping the trip switch and dragged my reluctant friend outdoors to participate in some communing. Need I mention that a few glasses of vino had already been consumed? I also had uncontrollable hay fever at the time. As we lay on the grass, me sniffing and snuffling and Judy muttering something about frostbite, I waved my arms magnanimously up towards the heavens and earnestly proclaimed “Judy, that sky is not something to be sneezed at”. Hysterics ensued. Elation, I believe is a common response to the numinous.

a splash of yellow from my bedroom window

a splash of yellow coreopsis from my bedroom window

sunflowers pop up from the leftover bird seed

sunflowers pop up from the leftover bird seed

a bed of physostegia

a bed of physostegia

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4 Responses to Piper At The Gates Of Dawn

  1. Alan says:

    Cathy, as always you’re writing is lovely, you’re choice of music outstanding and your musings over a bottle of wine, spreadeagle under the milkyway are hilarious.

    • Cathy says:

      Thanks Alan for the compliment. I find that wine tends to bring out the best of musings, it’s remembering them that’s the problem.

  2. Wendy says:

    I also really enjoy the change of seasons. Here in NZ daylight saving change is on the 7th April so for the last week the sun has been rising over the hills as I walk to work. The mornings are crisp but not cold and the sunrises over the waters have been amazing. Once we have put the clocks back an hour I will miss seeing those sights.

    • Cathy says:

      What a pleasure it must be to be able to walk to work, let alone see stunning sunrises on the way. Once winter settles in though I’m sure you will be grateful for the clocks being turned back. I wish we could have daylight saving here in KZN in summer. I like the idea of having a siesta during the heat of the day and then enjoying a longer, cooler evening.

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