If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.
It’s a funny time of year; neither here nor there, if you like. Recent early morning temperatures have been all over the place. Over the weekend, crossing the rocks in the dark was utterly treacherous, requiring slow, deliberate and precise footwork, especially for Kemo Sabe who is two-legs-down on the rest of us and has Uncle NuNu on the lead (for reasons which will be obvious to readers of this blog). But on those icy days, crisp and clear, it was wonderfully bright daylight all the way from Bamburgh.
By contrast, this morning and last the leaden sky and drizzly darkness before grudging dawn were back again and, by midday, mist had swamped us. After lunch, the sea became increasingly tempestuous and had begun to swell, sending a beautiful red ball on to the sand where – being muzzled – I could do nothing about it. I guarded it as long as I could in the hope that Kemo Sabe would help me to add it to our collection but, for some reason, there was nothing for it but run to catch up the others. One of her regular kindnesses is to put these strange treasures in her pocket so we can play with them later at home; our favourite thing about storms is that in the aftermath we find the beach strewn with the lost and discarded playthings of so many dogs, but there are also other, greater wonders, like this lovely, sunny star whose remarkability, you might say, leads us on through the gloom to something out of reach.
Here we are on the second day of February, the Feast of Candlemas, which marks the formal end of the celebration of the birth of Christ, in the ordinary time leading up to the next big penitential season. This is the day which commemorates the meeting of the old and the new in the Temple of Jerusalem long, long ago. Today we stood before dawn at the foot of the sand-martins’ cliff, the rising tide pushing us against the rocks beneath their empty and cheerless holes. Empty and cheerless – for now. We – who have lost another member of our human family this week but are shortly to welcome little Frederick on his first visit here – are blessed that the routine days stretch before us in this ordinary time as we watch and wait, live and breathe. And, if you seek some comfort, wherever you are reading this consider the weather on this day and then consider the proverbial words above.
For further reassurance at this ordinary time of year, here is ‘The Charm’ by Rudyard Kipling:
Take of English earth as much
As either hand may rightly clutch.
In the taking of it breathe
Prayer for all who lie beneath.
Not the great nor well-bespoke,
But the mere uncounted folk
Of whose life and death is none
Report or lamentation.
Lay that earth upon thy heart,
And thy sickness shall depart!
It shall sweeten and make whole
Fevered breath and festered soul.
It shall mightily restrain
Over-busied hand and brain.
It shall ease thy mortal strife
‘Gainst the immortal woe of life,
Till thyself, restored, shall prove
By what grace the Heavens do move.
Take of English flowers these —
Spring’s full-faced primroses,
Summer’s wild wide-hearted rose,
Autumn’s wall-flower of the close,
And, thy darkness to illume,
Winter’s bee-thronged ivy-bloom.
Seek and serve them where they bide
From Candlemas to Christmas-tide,
For these simples, used aright,
Can restore a failing sight.
These shall cleanse and purify
Webbed and inward-turning eye;
These shall show thee treasure hid,
Thy familiar fields amid;
And reveal (which is thy need)
Every man a King indeed!