The slow work of the soul

August is a month of waiting.   Not the desperate waiting of winter, when you can no longer stand the darkness, but the sweet longing for something anticipated to come.  I look at the calendar and am always surprised that the month isn’t yet over.  There are days in August that seem poised on the edge of time.  Perfect days, like this one, when the sun is hazy and still low in the sky, giving a blurred luminosity to the light.  A day when the earth seems to be holding its breath.  When I feel myself expand out into the silence and every step is like a sigh.

The dene belongs to the birds: gulls, magpies and wood pigeons.  Mallards are motionless on the pond and a blackbird takes a leisurely bath.  A rat dodges two moorhens to reach the undergrowth and a grey wagtail bobs on a rock.  At the marina, the river reflects the hazy light so the world doesn’t feel quite solid.  Swallows chitter and swoop above my head while arctic terns scream.  I watch a gull pluck a crab from the water and devour it as a youngster looks on, crying for its share of the feast.

These are the dog days of summer.  When the hedgerows are lit by the purple and yellow beacons of wild parsnips, melilot, willowherbs and thistles and it seems that autumn may never come.  It is the month when the birds turn silent while they moult, adding to its sense of stillness.  I remind myself to listen for the exact day that their songs cease, but of course it is only afterwards that I notice I haven’t heard the chatter of the sparrows and the goldfinches for days.

Autumn is breathing on the neck of summer.  Already the festival of the first harvest has taken place and the spirit of the sun is captured safely within the corn.  The goldfinches have re-appeared and starlings gather on the chimney pots.  But August lingers and I yearn for autumn’s respite.

Lately I have been feeling the speed of the world.  I’m young enough to have used computers for two thirds of my life; old enough to remember when shops closed on Sundays, when letters were written by hand to far-flung penfriends, when, if you needed information, you had no choice but to visit a library.  Lately, the world often seems ‘too much’ and I long to return to what I remember as a slower time.

British artist Chris Ofili recently unveiled a tapestry The Caged Bird’s Song at the National Gallery.  I watch a documentary about its construction.  Four weavers laboured by hand for nearly three years to create it, unable to see whether they had captured the final image accurately until they had finished and the tapestry was unrolled.  The artist commented that he thought there was something about the slowness of the work that meant the soul of the weavers was woven into it.  I marvelled at their monumental patience and faith.  No wonder that over that period of time, so immersed in colour, line and thread, the soul would seep in.

I lack the kind of patience displayed by those weavers.    And yet, my writing has always taken its time.  Sometimes a story arrives fully formed, but more often it needs to gestate.  The words need to be chosen carefully and woven in the same way as a tapestry, with infinite patience and without knowing what it will look like at the end.  If you live with a story for a long time, your life is woven through it.  The story is who you are now and who you were then.   Some stories are those of an instant, completely of their time.  Others have lingered and breathed with you, absorbing experience and memory and more than a little of your soul along the way.  Creativity may be sparked in a moment, but to birth it is the slow work of the soul.

154 thoughts on “The slow work of the soul

  1. Lovely post Andrea and I truly loved the pictures. 🙂
    It’s amazing how time flies by…the year and the months. I too, feel excited as the year comes to its ending. Firstly, it is surrounded by a lot of festivities and secondly, there is a chill in the air.
    Cheers! to the second half of the year. 😀

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  2. I too have felt “myself expand out into the silence” this month. The slow, steady days have been a wonderful opportunity to steep myself in storytelling. Like Ofili’s weavers, I do not know what the end result of my writing will be, yet try to keep faith that something worthwhile will eventually emerge from my crafting of words. As always, I find so much to inspire me and reflect upon in your post.

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  3. Beautiful. You are so in touch with the natural world around you. I marvel that you know the name of plants, birds and animals. The metaphor that what you observe in the transition from summer to fall is like your writing rings true.

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  4. Beautiful! I do so enjoy reading your wonderful posts, Andrea.
    I seem to have missed most of this summer because of family duties (among other things) so I’m surprised that August is nearly over and autumn is upon us.

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  5. Ohhh, be still my soul. Yes, it takes long lovely time to build a soul, to allow it to soften and learn, watch and heal, grow and deepen. It takes a lifetime. I love comparing my slow building of my next novel to the slow growth of a soul. Your words always inspire me to think a different way.
    Your words help me appreciate each season also, here in NE (a place I arrived with slow grudging steps, leaving the beauty of the SF Bay, where seasons merge quietly one into the other). Here, each morning I mourn now the loss of the chirpy bird sounds heard on a June day, the smell of fresh grass newly mown, the sight of tomato plants rising out of the dirt. But you make me look at these losses differently. They are essential for the growth of the next season, for the growth of Nature’s soul.

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  6. I remember those old (what a frightening word) days when nobody had a mobile phone. Tech is great but I agree time needs to be taken and when your words take their time, we, your readers are fine with that because when you publish your words are always evocative and so distilled like a sweet cider. It’s still the Summer days for it.

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  7. Beautiful pictures!

    For me, August is a month of endless anxiety. I am terrible with remembering birthdays (I have forgotten my own more than once) and 5 very important ones fall in this month.

    I wake up every morning wondering if I’ve forgotten one!

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  8. Andrea, a beautiful lyrical tribute to summer and its final days this year…you capture the detail of the natural world with love and tenderness and it’s pure joy to read your post, uplifting. I loved learning about the weavers of ‘The Caged Bird’s Song’ monumental task over four years and the artist’s comment ‘that he thought there was something about the slowness of the work that meant the soul of the weavers was woven into it.’ Wow! If I’m in London I’ll have to go and see this work of art. Happy First of September! 😀❤️

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  9. I’ll vote with you for longing for a slower time. A gentler time. A time when people valued basic decency as a society, not just on an individual level. Funny you should mention goldfinches. I am enjoying their last hurrah here immensely–they flit from branch to branch on the Lemon Queen bush outside my window. And I could watch them for hours . . . Another lovely post.

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  10. Pingback: Harvesting Hecate- It is Mindfulness amidst nature – More Mindfulness

  11. I love all your colours, Andrea, both in the photos and in your words!
    I too wish for a slower time; I think it is a weight on the youth of today the speed at which life is conducted.
    Isn’t Ofili wonderful. It is transfixing the idea of so much being woven into the tapestry.
    Your words certainly weave something wonderful.

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  12. So as I was reading about the tapestry taking time and soul seeping into it, my mind immediately went to novels and how much of my soul ends up in each of mine. You captured it so perfectly here too. Hugs.

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  13. This really captures the beauty of summer and the need to slow down. I love your links to the weavers and the creative process. Here we have to slow down so much in the heat of the day but there is so much going on in the very late evenings! Now we have Autumn it’s more like a good British summer but by the end of October wood fires might be needed. I look forward to following your work.

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  15. This post is beautiful and almost brought tears to my eyes. I relate to what you say about the world seeming to move overly fast. I am 48 and remember sitting in the school library with nothing to disturb me other than the occasional commings and goings of other readers. There existted no mobile phones or internet to distract me from a good book, unlike today. Kevin

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  16. We must be from the same era Andrea I remember pubs and shops closing on a Sunday and going to the library to do my research on projects for school. My children agree that time is going fast which is scary because as a child I felt like I had to wait two years for xmas to arrive. Enjoy the Autumn it is my favourite season. I look to the Spring for new creative energy.

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  17. Lovely photos and ways of expressing the glories of nature and the metaphysical within(?) and outside us (?). Question marks because I’m not a spiritual person; I’m kind of between skeptic and a little spiritual, tending toward skeptic. Regardless of that, I can appreciate and enjoy transcendental writing like yours, Andrea. Would you have been a Mary Anning of earlier times or a naturalist like Darwin, a scientist like Linnaeus . . .? [I’m rambling; sorry. It’s the allergy medicine I guess!]

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    • Thanks Leigh, even without the spiritual element, you can appreciate the level of patience it sometimes takes to create a work of art and all that it has of you in it 🙂 I do sometimes wonder what I would have been in times of old, given my family history I suspect I would have been in a very lowly profession!

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