Regardless of your set of beliefs or metaphysical disposition, it is undeniable that the winter solstice period is a time to pause, take stock, and reflect on one's life, as well as look forward to what might be in store for the new year. These past few days I have been able to do just this, spending time with those members of my family who could be here with us, while connecting with those who could not. The time for reflection is not necessarily happy, but more contemplative, slightly melancholic, and at the same time, energising. The intentional shutting down of work related activity, focus on family, and rediscovery of things I really enjoy (magic, music, reading fiction, and long walks) brings new attention to things that have either been neglected or have gone unnoticed for far too long.
The solstice has allowed me to re-engage with the local area and appreciate the sheer beauty of the English countryside. There is a calmness, serenity and a strong sense of permanence that comes from the deep history of this marvellous country. I have always felt very much at home from the moment I arrived over 20 years ago. My family roots are partly in Europe, as my father came from the Netherlands and only moved to the United States in 1955. Coming to England has always felt like a journey home, unfinished perhaps, but a move in the right direction.
The wintery sunsets behind trees are indeed quite magical and leave one in quiet contemplation as the cold bite sets in for the night. These silhouettes are reminders of nature's power and the cycle of the seasons. Our beautiful old trees line pathways through the landscape with well-trodden routes, and each day's walk never fails to bring new surprises through sights, sounds, and small discoveries. The birdlife is rich, and if I am really lucky I see the occasional deer. My feet are comforted by the soft ground beneath them as I traverse the fields and breathe in the crisp wintery air.
I learned about the local area by riding my bicycle through the lanes and following the churches. Each village has a stone church in a prominent position like cairns leading me across the green and rolling terrain. Our area has been home to Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General and when walking the fields, I imagine him riding from town to town and village to village collecting rent on the apprehension and transportation of suspected witches. The 'cunning folk' from our village were lucky enough to avoid his capture, but the suspected witches were tried through torturous means and imprisoned on the basis of the most illogically obtained 'evidence'. Their burden is here with me as I wander through the village.
More than 200 years before Matthew Hopkins, our village and the surrounding towns of Hadleigh and Ipswich were home to some of the Marian Persecutions. The 'Martyrs of Suffolk' were devout Protestants who were hung, drawn, and quartered by orders of Queen Mary for the brief return of the Roman Catholic Church as the official Church in England. Across the road from St Mary's Church (now Church of England) is the site of a Catholic monastery, which has been there since the publication of the first Doomesday book in 1086. Protestants and Catholics living and praying across from one another for hundreds of years. Now, the monastery is a shared community that was set up in the 1970s. Walking through the Churchyard and noting the gravestones (there is one for the famous painter John Constable) I am once again humbled by the long history on display before my eyes, while the tower from the monastery watches over its rival with a staid look and cool silence.
Beyond all this history, mystery and intrigue, our village is a welcoming place with many generations living alongside one another. I leave you with a beautiful image of the shopkeeper's house. His shop is the centre of our community with all one needs to make it through a gentle weekend and a natural place for villagers to congregate. Every year, the shopkeeper decorates his house for Christmas, and after a quick stop the other day, I took this picture. The air was cold, the village was quiet, and the serenity of the lights was another touching reminder of why I love it here so much.
As 2014 approaches, I hope that many of you have also had the chance to take time out and appreciate the little things that make life so worth living. I realise that I am fortunate living in such a charming place, but I also know that so many of my friends and colleagues live in equally charming places. Regardless of where we are, however, this time of year is a special one. In one week, the pressures of work and professional life will return, but for now, I breathe deep, keep still, and enjoy this current phase of life's rich tapestry.
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