Between

In the park, the wild cherry is the last tree of autumn.  The others have already embraced winter, skeletal limbs clawing at the sky.  But the cherry still shimmers with golden leaves that drift drowsily to the ground.  A pool of saffron encircles its base.  Where the other leaves in the park are crisp and shrivelled, those from the cherry are sleek and shiny as though they still live.  The tree is like a beacon on this otherwise grey afternoon.  It draws the eye and not only because of its colour but because it is clearly something ‘other’ in the drab landscape.

Walking under the cherry is like walking into another time or place.  Time slows as the leaves descend.  I am in a different world, lit from within by the gold-clad branches and the fallen sun beneath.  My skin sings of yellow and gold and I’m sure that if you saw me, I would be glowing with light.  At this moment, the cherry is a threshold to another world.   I feel different standing underneath it.  I’m in the park but outside of it.  Beyond the cherry tree is a different place altogether.

On this evening, I am between: between an amber sunset in the west and a half moon in the pale southern sky.  Between a blazing cherry and a congregation of sleeping naked giants.  Between seasons.  It is no longer really autumn, but not quite winter.  The shift from one to the other is often impeceptible, and this is the time of uncertainty, when there may or may not be frost on the grass, when my breath might cloud the air or my winter coat may be too warm.

As a child I was entranced by a world at the back of a wardrobe, enchanted by a garden that appeared when the clock struck thirteen.  I have always been drawn to thresholds, the places that are between.  I’ve come across unexpected portals: a tree with a swing in a darkened glade,  a bridge overgrown with grass and lichens, towering stones and a circlet of trees.  I wonder why these places are so enticing.  It is because this world isn’t enough?  Or because we sense that the world really is suffused with magic and these between places give us a glimpse of it.

Stories are portals too.  Even those that are tales of the most ordinary places still transport us to another world for a while. Writing a story is like being in another place: I become apart from the world as it is and engrossed in a world that isn’t – yet.  Most of my stories offer a hint of the between, a thread of magic brought back from that other world.

Some places are so soaked in magic that they are always between places.  But sometimes, it takes only a shift in the time of year, or a crease in the fabric of the landscape for the door to open.  It will not be open long, but it is enough to show a glimmer of something else.  In a week or so, the cherry will shed the last of its leaves and the between place will wink out.  The grey will close in and cloak what was for a while a crossing point to another world.  But I was here.  I stood for a moment in that place of gold and light and knew the enchantment of the in between.

Return to Tocil Wood

SAMSUNG CSC

I arrive in a summer storm.  The landscape is blurred with rain; rain that is like a Flamenco, drumming away the sticky heat.  I came here a year ago for a work event and never expected to return.  A year ago, I found secrets here, in the shade of Tocil Wood.

SAMSUNG CSC

This is a place buffeted by trees and run through with water.  And it’s a place of fowl: a gaggle of Canada geese grazing on the grass, mallards, moorhens, coots and Greylags.  Geese honks are like clanging buckets in the distance.  I expect a colourful meadow of poppies, buttercups, ox-eye daisies and viper’s bugloss, in contrast to the greens and whites still dominant further north.  But the meadow is gone, replaced by the construction site for a new building.  I can see only a cluster of ox-eye daisies and buttercups fringing a muddy pool of water behind metal barriers.

SAMSUNG CSC

This meadow path was the track that led me to a small swing in an enchanted glade, but if the meadow is gone, perhaps the enchantment will be gone too.  I find another way around, into the watery landscape, through oaks dripping with rain.  There was a broken tree here last year.  It formed an arch that beckoned me on, but the arch too has vanished.

SAMSUNG CSC

I struggle to find the track to the glade.  There appears to be no way in, but it’s just a matter of easing the eye into the shapes of the undergrowth.  I push through and there is the swing, still hanging in the darkness of the dell.  Lying right beneath it is a single blackbird feather, like a welcome.  I take it with me.

SAMSUNG CSC

I walk further into the shaded glade.  It was always a dark spot, but today it is fogged with rain.  The ground is slippery: thick red mudstone that has been gathered for clay here since the 1st century.  Part of the steep slope has been roped off.  But a little further in, two more swings have appeared.  The first seems to have been made by the same hand as the original, fashioned from slatted wood and rope.  The second is bright blue plastic.  Both wait, empty, for small bottoms to fill them.

SAMSUNG CSC

And though my original arch through the trees has gone, there are others here, trees bent and twisted, beckoning me along the tracks.  One leads to a den that has been created in the trees.  A child’s toy lies forgotten, colourful plastic among its dead  branches.  There are ropes fixed into the hillside.  This unlikely spot has become a place to play.  A slightly wild place, the kind we might wish to have inhabited as children.  I follow the path further into the trees.  The ground is choked with young ivy and  campion, there are oaks and hazels and fallen trees.  I emerge damp but satisfied to have reclaimed a little of the magic.

SAMSUNG CSC

Later, I return to the woods.  I find the clearing of trees that I discovered a year ago.  Another secret space in the forest that spoke of enchantments and stories yet to be revealed.  I wonder if the heron at the edge of the pond is the same bird that guarded the threshold to the woods last year.  A place has many stories.  In one story it remains the same as the first time we met it.  In another, builders put up barriers and change its landscape.  In yet another, children take over and make it a place of play.  My story of Tocil Wood is all of these and none of them.  I was only here for a moment but I am part of the story too.

Between the worlds

Often, I imagine all the writers and artists of the world, toiling away in our separate creative spaces, scattered, but connected by our need to create.  I love to look at photographs of writers, but it’s not the portraits displayed on book jackets that I want to see, it’s those of the writer captured at work.  I want to scrutinise their tools, their notes, their keepsakes – to watch the creative process at work.  I think of them engaged in their work at old battered desks, piled with papers and books; at scoured kitchen tables, littered with coffee mugs; curled up in bed against a pile of cushions; or scribbling in a notebook among the bustle of a busy cafe.  I love, too, to see artists in their surroundings: in huge industrial spaces filled with mysterious objects; airy attics crammed with canvases and adorned with clods of paint; or perched with easel or sketchbook on the brow of a mountain or in the hollow of a sand dune.

SAMSUNG CSC             SAMSUNG CSC

What we all have in common, when we’re immersed in our work, is that we’ve found our place between the worlds, where the magic of creativity can occur.  The phrase ‘between the worlds’ is sometimes used by witches to describe the space generated when we cast a circle.  It’s a space apart from, but within, normal life.  Most of us don’t have our own dedicated ritual space, just as many of us don’t have a separate study or studio, so the circle acts as a marker, conjured from energy, in which to enact the ritual.  And I believe this is also what happens when we create.  I don’t cast a circle when I write or paint, but almost unconsciously, I build an intangible space around myself, forged from the energy I’m using to create.  The real world becomes blurred as I get lost in words or images.

SAMSUNG CSC

The places in which I work are varied and dependent on what it is I want to create.  There’s a tiny room, packed with books, keepsakes, art and writing materials.  It’s a peaceful space, with a comfortable chair and a blanket for warmth that I use for contemplation.  There is the spot next to the window in our sitting room where my easel is placed, because it gets light and I can still interact with the life of the house.  My creative space is also portable: it’s in my notebook, my sketchbook, my laptop.  We all need a place where we feel we can create, but what space do you actually need?  Is your creative space a physical one, or is it a space inside your head?  None of the places I use are dedicated ones.  But when I’m creating, they become sacred space of a kind, so that it’s possible to tune out the mundane things and forge something out of nothing.  Magic is creativity and creativity is magic, in the sense that we’re using something we can’t see (energy), to make a physical change in the world.

SAMSUNG CSC               SAMSUNG CSC

If the world is nothing but energy, vibrating on different frequencies, as modern theories of physics seem to suggest, there’s nothing to stop us making creative space anywhere.  And just as in magic, where the energy raised might be used to heal, to bind, to celebrate, so creative space can be used for many different purposes.  Whenever we work, at that moment, in different parts of the world, there will be countless others writing, painting, sketching or sculpting, all using creative energy.  If you try hard, you can feel the force of it, all that energy, like a furnace forging change.  If you’re finding it difficult to focus, or to find a suitable space to dedicate to your craft, perhaps you can channel it.  Consider the type of energy that you need and gather the circle around you to create your own world between the worlds.

Quickening

If you’re seeking inspiration at one of the darkest times of the year, the festival of Imbolc is a good place to begin. Traditionally celebrated from sunset on 1st February until sunset on 2nd February, it is considered the ‘quickening’ of the year, when the first signs of spring begin to stir. It’s a time when the first hint of warmth and light returns to the land. But Imbolc is also a time of creative transformation, when we start to remember that the fire of inspiration is still inside us, after the introversion and stillness of winter.

SAMSUNG CSC

Imbolc is associated with the Goddess Bride (pronounced ‘Breed’), a goddess of creativity and inspiration. She was said to be a goddess of poetry, crafts and metalworking and so has a particular relevance for writers and artists. One way to pay tribute to Bride at Imbolc is to create something in her honour.

Although it is traditionally a time when the first spring flowers appear, Imbolc falls at a time when there may still be snow on the ground and the signs of spring can be difficult to see. Where I live, rain and gales are ushering in Imbolc, after weeks of heavy snow. There are few obvious signs of new life. Here, the only spring flowers are in pots. When I walk through the park in the morning, the grass is full of bare muddy patches.

SAMSUNG CSC

Autumn and winter are my favourite seasons and I feel a sense of anticipation as September comes. But February has none of the excitement of early winter. As I get older, the more I find that February is a long, hard month. I look forward, not so much to warmer weather, but to longer days. But that is the purpose of Imbolc, as with many of the fire festivals: to remind us that within the darkness, there’s always the promise that the light and the longer days will return. And if I pay close attention, I can feel the first changes in the season. The trees aren’t bare, but are jewelled with their first buds. The birds seem to sing a little more loudly before dawn. There is a new, lighter energy after the heaviness of winter.

This is a time for hope and optimism, for beginning to plan the projects you want to bring to fruition during the year. It is also a time for initiation and is therefore a good point in the year to re-dedicate yourself to whichever creative path you wish to follow. You don’t have to be a witch to take a little inspiration from Bride and from the energy of Imbolc.

SAMSUNG CSC

You can use this time as an opportunity to think about your creative goals and any new creative projects you might like to begin this year. In what ways can you nurture those projects so that as the year turns, they will grow into something worth harvesting? You can review your store cupboard of creative tools and consider what you may need to collect to create the things you wish to create. Why not light a candle to remind yourself that even in the darkness and cold of February, you still have inspiration inside you? But don’t forget to also go outside and gather inspiration from the changing energy that’s out there too.