Musings from a winter afternoon

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.”

 

 

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Charlie’s cleaning station

I haven’t had my dog Charlie for very long, but one thing I have learnt is that he can get very dirty very quickly; and on a mostly white dog – it shows! It probably has something to do with the fact he has shortish legs, and is quite happy running through long wet grass, boggy puddles, and muddy ditches, especially if he is chasing his ball! Consequently, in my garden I have created ‘Charlie’s cleaning station’. Nothing complicated, just a large paving slab at the edge of a raised flower bed near the back door, and within reach of the garden hose. I don’t think he likes it very much – cold water being sprayed down his legs and under his tummy, and then a brisk rub with a towel – but without it I couldn’t let him back in the house! While I was cleaning Charlie off last week after a very wet and muddy woodland walk (or in Charlie’s case a very wet and muddy woodland run), I got to thinking, like I often do. We can sometimes be a bit like Charlie, picking up dirt as we walk through our daily lives. Dirt and grime like negativity, dissatisfaction, irritation, and other unhelpful attitudes seem to rub off on us so easily. We get cross because the car heater is broken and the part is out of stock. Then we have a bad nights sleep, and crawl miserably through the whole of the next day. Just when we think things can’t get any worse, we step out of the supermarket door with a trolley load of food, and it starts to rain. Then to cap it all, when we’re already stuck in traffic on the way home, that big posh car cuts us up at the roundabout! Grouch grouch, grumble grumble, ** ** ! And the only person that bad mood really hurts is ourselves, and maybe our families. It’s at that point – or maybe before we get to that point – we need to pull into ‘God’s cleaning station’, and get all the dirt and grime cleaned off. We need to admit our failures, acknowledge we need His help in washing off the unpleasant things we’ve picked up, and ask Him to make us clean again. Sometimes it’s not a nice experience, but it’s always worthwhile.

Charlies cleaning station

I’m back again

I’m back again; not that I’ve truly been away, but ‘life’ has happened, as it so often does, and I’ve been away from my blog for far too long. Now I’m back again, no doubt over the next few posts I’ll put into words some of the things that have happened over the last couple of months.

In the meantime, autumn has come and gone. Winter is here, and what a strange winter it has been so far. Over shadowing, depressing greyness, rain by the sky-full, very wet, very muddy, and unseasonably warm. Before Christmas I spotted an urban roundabout completely covered with confused daffodils that usually don’t flower until well into February; had anyone told them they were a full two months early? I’ve spotted snowdrops and hellebores – not quite so seasonally out of kilter. And I have a sprinkling of pale purple anemones splattered across the sunnier borders in my garden.
Last week we had hail, like ice marbles, clattering and bouncing on roofs and pathways, enough to almost bury the patio. Then we had a couple of mild frosts, that have taken us by surprise, and unaccustomed as we are to the cold this year, made us feel that we’d been dropped into the Arctic! Then finally this morning, we awoke to a world dusted with an inch or so of snow – the first snow of a very peculiar winter. It’s almost completely gone now, and who knows if there will be any more.
At this time of year I would usually be looking forward to spring, and eagerly watching out for signs of growth, but this year I really feel that we haven’t truly had any winter yet. So over the next few days I’m hoping for some cold, frosty mornings, with a crackle underfoot, a bite and a sparkle in the air, and with bright clear blue skies; then I can start looking forward to spring properly. Anemones

The Old Walled Town of Dubrovnik

DubrovnikThe last time I visited Dubrovnik was more than thirty years ago, when it was a part of Yugoslavia. Now it is in Croatia, but it is still the same quaint walled town. Tradition says that Dubrovnik, built as a maritime trading city and once known as Ragusa, was founded in the 7th century on a rocky island named Laus, but another theory says it was established by Greek sailors. Whichever is true, Dubrovnik has certainly had a chequered history. It has been under the protection of the Byzantine Empire, under Venetian sovereignty, and from the 14th to 17th centuries it was a free state, but an earthquake in 1667 destroyed many of its renaissance buildings. For a short time it was under French rule, then Austrian, and during WW2 it was a Nazi – puppet state in the Independent state of Croatia. In 1991 Croatia and Slovenia declared independence, and in October 1991 Dubrovnik was attacked by the JNA or Yugoslav People’s Army, leading to a seven month siege. 114 civilians were killed, many more were wounded, and the old walled town came under heavy artillery fire, with 56% of the buildings suffering some damage. The siege was lifted in May 1992, but sudden attacks from JNA continued for three more years. After the war ended, shell damage to the old town was repaired in the original style, and most was completed by 1999.

It was raining heavily when we arrived in Dubrovnik, the smooth marble pavements gleaming and slippery. Striped awnings dripped over the pavement cafes, and the smell of pizza and pasta wafted across the bustling side-walks.

Despite the rain, Dubrovnik was full of people milling about, wearing ponchos and waterproof jackets, and carrying dangerous umbrellas in tight spaces! Because of the driving rain we decided not to walk around the 2 km (1.24 miles) of white stone walls and towers that surround the city, and have protected its citizens for centuries. These defensive walls are 4 – 6 metres thick on the landward side, and 1.5 –  5 metres thick on the seaward side, and in the shape of an irregular parallelogram, with 4 fortresses and 4 gates, 2 by the harbour, and 2 with drawbridges to the mainland. The city was remarkably intact, as if the war for independence had never occurred. Despite the rain however, we were able to make our way through the maze of narrow passageways, under arches, over bridges, round towers, up and down narrow steps and wide stairways, and admire the architecture, the sculptured facades and gargoyles, and the intricate stone carvings. There are many old buildings, courtyards, towers, harbour, and fine sea views. This beautiful walled city, known as the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’ was just as I remembered it.

A soft rain, or a thin drizzle?

I awoke the other morning to quiet grey skies. I looked outside. The colours of the newly opened leaves were muted, and there was a soft rain falling. There were no strident bird calls, drips fell gently into the undergrowth, and everything seemed subdued. It was as though the rain had smoothed away all the hard edges.
A little later on in the day, I looked out again. The clouds and the rain were the same, and it was still quiet, but this time the phrase that popped into my head was that a thin drizzle was falling. To me a thin drizzle is cold, and I felt my spirit sink, and my energy drain away.
I was struck by the difference in perspective between a ‘soft rain’ and a ‘thin drizzle’. It wasn’t the rain that had changed, but how I perceived it. And isn’t that the same sometimes in our lives? We all have difficulties and problems to deal with, but it’s not the problems themselves that affect us so much, but the way we look at them. So is there a thin drizzle falling in your life at the moment? Then change your perspective, look at it with new eyes, and see that it is actually a soft rain.

soft rain

Crocuses

Have you seen the size of the crocuses this year? They are simply huge. Beautiful sunshine yellow, deep regal purple, pure snowy white, purple streaked with white; all closely clumped together in the grass and standing tall. Hidden in the soil, they’ve lived through dark dreary times this winter, with weeks of grey skies and exceptionally wet, stormy weather; but the crocuses seem to have responded by growing so much bigger and brighter than usual.
Sometimes I think we can be a bit like that. We all go through really hard dark times, but if we let them, these difficult life experiences can change us for the better. And then, when we come out into the sunlight at the other end, we will be bigger people.

yellow crocus

Grey

Today has again been wet and windy, with wall to wall grey cloud. Cold needles of persistent rain pummel the huge stretches of surface water, each raindrop merging into a great expanse which no longer drains away into the over-soaked ground. The standing water seems to swell and seeth with malicious intent, drenching passers-by with each vehicle that passes. Layers of low cloud scud across the sky, trailing dark wind-blown tendrils, and releasing yet more rain. There was a brief respite an hour or so ago, when I ventured out for a quick walk with the dog. But as I returned home, so the rain started again. The cold damp greyness seems to have seeped into my bones and into my soul, and I feel as melancholy as the weather. Under this steel grey blanket it’s hard to believe, but somewhere up there the sun is still shining.