The next stop on our Caribbean cruise was Basseterre, the capital city of the tiny island of St Kitts, where we were booked on a tour. The coach took us out of Basseterre, along the coast, and on the beach we spotted a pair of brown pelicans, the national bird of St Kitts, and later on saw energetic young egrets nesting in bushy, low-growing trees. We then turned inland, and before long arrived at Romney Manor, once the great house for a sugar plantation. St Kitts and Nevis are both volcanic in origin, with very rich fertile soil, ideal for the production of sugar. The islands were settled by the British in the 16oos, because of the huge financial gains to be had in the international sugar trade. Romney Manor was once owned by Sam Jefferson an ancestor of Thomas Jefferson 3rd president of USA, but was sold to the Earl of Romney in the 17th Century, and was then called Romney Manor. In 1834, the estate became the first plantation to free all of its slaves. Part of the estate has now been made into beautiful botanic gardens. Narrow paths twist through borders of bright, tropical plants and flowers, and a carefully kept lawn surrounds a 400 year old saman tree. The valley below is covered in thick green vegetation.
Within the gardens is a collection of buildings where Caribelle Batik create beautiful and unique fabric designs. They utilise traditional Indonesian methods using wax and brightly coloured dyes on high quality cotton fabric, that have unsurprisingly become the most sought after batik textiles in the Caribbean. We watched a fascinating demonstration, and saw swathes of newly finished batik designs drying in the warm air. Then we browsed around the extensive shop, where choosing what to buy was very difficult!
Does anyone know what the white flower is? It looks a bit like giant honeysuckle to me.
It snowed last night, not deep or crisp or even, but definitely snow, sprinkled across the garden like icing sugar. Although it was bright and sunny this morning it snowed some more, soft fat flakes drifting and dropping aimlessly. This afternoon it grew colder, and the snow fell like tiny hard crystals whirling madly in a biting, easterly wind. Some of the longer spikes of grass are still standing tall, but most of the lawn and flowerbeds are covered with a thin lacy blanket of snow. A few small, half-open daffodil buds, have been stopped in their tracks, as winter has returned with a vengeance. Tiny pendulous snowdrops stand straight, while pink and white hellebore flower-heads are heavily laden, bowing down to almost touch the icy cold earth. I’ve defrosted the bird bath three times today, and have been rewarded with the sight of blackbirds and pigeons grabbing a quick drink, and I spotted a wren on the trellis, and a squirrel high up in the oak tree. Despite the bitter cold, there is still life in my garden. We may not have had the snow we were expecting, but there are a few days yet of snow and below zero temperatures forecast, so who knows…..
I stand at the window looking out into a cold and blustery winter afternoon. My mind is still. I wait, expectantly, but for what? I see the wind rifling through the dead leaves in the gutter, worrying at them, tossing them high into the air with abandon, as if by the hand of an exuberant child. The clouds zip by, their shape and colour constantly shifting. Now, as I see the light begin to fail, I wonder at how the days slip by so quickly; we are half way through January, and February is already on the horizon. As the forever changing seasons move inexorably on, I realise that spring is a mere heart-beat away. I marvel at how the sun comes up each morning, although at times it is obscured by cloud; and how the moon waxes and wanes, and the tides ebb and fall. I consider how rain waters the earth, and how the sun warms it and brings forth life. And I have questions about myself; how I can be here by sheer chance, and what is the purpose of my own existence? I weigh-up the possibilities. Is all this intricate detail some great cosmic mistake, a huge coincidence or confluence of separate events? But surely not! Surely there is a creative designer and all-powerful hand behind the astounding complexity I see around me, and in me.
Then, as I wait, I sense a voice in the deep recesses of my mind. “I am here my child. I created all the wonder you see around you, and I created you. I created your inmost being, and I knit you together in your mother’s womb. You are not a mistake, you are my beautiful child. There is a purpose in your existence. Wait and see what wonderful things I will accomplish through you.”
Today is the shortest day of the year for us in the Northern hemisphere. It is the winter solstice. The sun is low in the sky, and it is the first official day of winter. It is a day stuck between dark and light, on the knife-edge between the seasons. This month, this week, every afternoon has been cut short by an ever earlier dusk, sometimes with a flurry of sunset red and gold, but fading quickly into black night. Today maybe the shortest day, but the hope of longer days dawns tomorrow, albeit very slight at first. The see-saw has fallen, light has won again; for a time.
But still we hold our breath and wait, for an everlasting light. A few more days of twinkling Christmas lights will lessen the gloom, for soon we will welcome the Light of the World, who seeks to take away the darkness within us, forever.
This morning is very different from yesterday, yet it seems somehow the same. The weather is a little warmer, and the sky is no longer clear blue, but soft grey. There is no sparkling rime of frost, no crackle of ice underfoot; instead there is a chill dampness in the atmosphere, and the bushes and plants are bedewed with water droplets.
Like yesterday, the air is still. Smoke from the chimney drifts and drops, then lazily oozes down the sloping roof. It is quiet, and even the birds are silent. It is as if the world is waiting, holding it’s breath. As if something is about to happen.
This morning is cold. A thick frost lies heavily on the grass. Long thin contrails criss-cross the expanse of watery blue sky, while streaks of clouds meander way up high, like tattered curtains.
Everything is still, there is no breeze to stir the last remaining leaves clinging to the old oak tree. Through the frosty air comes the sound of birds chattering excitedly. Do they know that Christmas is coming? Do they feel a tremor of hope in the air?
After weeks of grey skies, or so it seems, we have finally had a few bright days, when the sun has warmed the cold earth, and encouraged some early flowers to open at last. I was beginning to wonder where the snowdrops were, when a couple of days ago I realised that they were hidden under drifts of autumns leaves. Now I have brushed some of the old leaves away from the borders, clumps of snowdrops have opened to the sun, along with a sprinkling of yellow crocuses and a pink blushed hellebore. And this afternoon I was surprised and heartened to see a solitary miniature iris, its vibrant blue petals flung wide like arms to greet the sun.
Spring is on its way.