On this day before the spring equinox, I am marooned. I have come to the island that is my soul place, to write, circled by the sea. This is a tidal island, reached by a causeway. For eight hours a day, at the two high tides, the causeway is covered and the island is left to the birds and the seals. We spend the day in what was once the lighthouse keepers’ cottage, ten writers, working together but apart on a writing retreat. But for me, this is not only about my writing, it’s also an opportunity to bring to life the symbolism of the equinox as the wheel of the year turns once more.
The equinox is a time of balance, when the hours of light and dark are equal. Afterwards, the sun will prevail, the days pushing back the darkness. Being marooned on this island is like the strandedness of winter. Cut off from the world, in a landscape that may appear barren, longing for the tide of darkness to turn and for winter to end. But winter is also for dreaming and introspection. It is when what is beneath becomes clear and we realise that the tide brims with creativity.
When I emerge from the cottage onto the drenched island, the silence simmers. Half a dozen grey seals recline on the reef, occasionally stretching. A parcel of oystercatchers huddle on the rocks. Turnstones swarm languidly among the seaweed. Black-headed gulls and sanderlings wait at the edge of the causeway, like tiny bouncers. Only the sea is agitated, bellowing against the rocks. There are people over on the mainland, unable to cross. I feel protected, privileged to be at the other side of the tide.
Just before the moment of high tide, I find a place on the rocks and let myself be scoured by wind and salt. I have gathered two pebbles – one dark, one light, to represent each half of the year. Balance. I cradle them in my palms while I consider winter’s gifts: a new novel, dreamed into completion in the dark; words scribbled in turquoise ink, recapturing my joy in writing; a perfect whelk shell found on a storm-tossed beach at the start of the year, promising treasures to come. I thank winter for its gifts and return the dark pebble to the sea.
Winter is over. The tide is already receding. A flush of eider ducks crosses my vision, flying north. I am left with the light pebble, reminding me that it is now the time for action. The pebble is smooth, but not unblemished. Its imperfections will remind me that no year runs smoothly and every creative process has its obstacles. When I return home, to the world, it will sit on my altar next to the whelk shell.
There is a sense of peace about this day. Writing among writers with the sea at the windows. At times it is hard, six solid hours in which to focus and knuckle down. But it works. I came with the intention of finishing the first revision on my novel and between walks around the island, I do it.
As I cross the causeway, I leave winter behind. I have been spring-cleaned by sea and wind and I am filled with the imprints of the island. The tide has turned, unmasking spring.
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