Wednesday, 10 December 2008

The Real Middle Earth

Morning sunlight - reflecting on a crow
The Road goes ever on
Down from the door where it began
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
I must follow if I can.
Pursuing it with eager feet
Until it joins some larger way
And whither then ? I cannot say
(Professor Tolkien - from Lord of the Rings)

The sun rising on a frosty winter morning - in an old hillside cemetery
I have recently started reading a fascinating book called The Real Middle Earth - Magic and Mystery of the Dark Ages, by Brian Bates. Though I have still much of it left to read, Professor Bates has started me on a journey of discovery with which I felt an instant affinity. He talks about how the Anglo-Saxons and Norse peoples settled our islands after the Romans left - apparently avoiding the deserted villas and towns built by the Romans. It seems the people of the historical Middle-earth preferred to live closely to trees, streams and wild animals - their lives were rural and their homes built of wood. Perhaps there is an element of shamanism in Professor Bates book and it is all the more enjoyable for that.
Some time ago I started my blog Hidden Swindon (linked to this blog) and The Real Middle Earth is quite close to 'the spirit of the land' I was trying to capture. The morning sunlight in winter casting long shadows across the frost covered grass. Today, on my way to work, I took a detour through a the small hillside cemetery behind my house. Now a designated local nature reserve, it is a haven of quiet tranquility, astonishingly close to the town centre. It is the place I watch the seasons change, today autumn leaves still lay crisply frozen along the path. In January the first snowdrops can be seen there, heralding the spring, followed by wild primroses, celandines, daffodils and bluebells. The birds are always present, from crow, woodpecker, bluetit, wren; along with squirrels, badgers, foxes - and probably a few rats in the undergrowth, they have their place too. In summer the swallows and bats come back.
The words from Tolkien at the start of this post "The road goes ever on ..... " were sent to me in a card by the first man I ever fell in love with; he posted them from the other side of the planet. Back then, I didn't know where the words had come from, or how prophetic they would turn out to be - here I am contemplating them once more, so many years later. The young man, striding out into the world without looking back, is gone - and can never return. The girl left behind to stare wistfully at the moon is still here (in spirit anyway) very much older, hopefully wiser and still gazing at the moon - no longer wistfully but in ever increasing wonder at our beautiful fragile Middle Earth.
"And whither then? I cannot say."