'By badger light and lantern's sigh, and lonely flies the vixen's cry...'
Oct. 9, 2022

Living in Rehoboam's land


For many, these are not easy days in which to live and our futures can appear so uncertain. How do we live through such times? Join us tonight as we listen to some deeper wisdom offered by a magpie and an alder tree. 

Journal entry:

7th October, Friday

“Day off.
 First a few jobs around the boat in the gold of autumn sunshine.
 The alders are beginning to drop their leaves
 I kick them up as I walk through them
 Their sound reminds me of when I was young
 Conker hunting
 By the A41
 In huge drifts of whispering leaves.”

Episode Information:

You can read an account of King Rehoboam’s reign in 1 Kings 12.

In this episode I read a short extract from the Anglo-Saxon poem ‘Deor’ and talk about the Old English phrase ‘þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg’ (‘that passed over… so may this’). There is a beautiful recitation of this poem in its original form (with subtitles) performed by John Farrell: Deor: The Anglo-Saxon Poem.  

I make a passing reference to the final lines of Mary Oliver's 'The Summer Day' and end with a reading from her poem, ‘Whelks’.

We look at more Anglo-Saxon poetry in episode 58: 'Winter Wisdom (Wintrum Frod)'.

For more information about Nighttime on Still Waters

You can find more information and photographs about the podcasts and life aboard the Erica on our website at noswpod.com. It will also allow you to become more a part of the podcast and you can leave comments, offer suggestions, and reviews. You can even, if you want, leave me a voice mail by clicking on the microphone icon. 

General Details

In the intro and the outro, Saint-Saen's The Swan is performed by Karr and Bernstein (1961) and available on CC at archive.org.

Two-stroke narrowboat engine recorded by 'James2nd' on the River Weaver, Cheshire. Uploaded to Freesound.org on 23rd June 2018. Creative Commons Licence. 

Piano and keyboard interludes composed and performed by Helen Ingram.

All other audio recorded on site. 

Contact
For pictures of Erica and images related to the podcasts or to contact me, follow me on:

I would love to hear from you. You can email me at nighttimeonstillwaters@gmail.com or drop me a line by going to the nowspod website and using either the contact form or, if you prefer, record your message using the voicemail facility by clicking on the microphone icon. 

Transcript

JOURNAL ENTRY

7th October, Friday

Day off.
First a few jobs around the boat in the gold of autumn sunshine.
The alders are beginning to drop their leaves
I kick them up as I walk through them
Their sound reminds me of when I was young
Conker hunting
By the A41
In huge drifts of whispering leaves.

[MUSIC]

WELCOME

This is NB Erica narrowcasting to you across the dark skies.

The Hunter's moon, rich and heavy with light is the consort of Jupiter, tonight. Hanging low in the south, swimming in Piscean light, painting silver the watery road, the sky belongs to her and the silent ghost of the owl, and the water rush of the by-wash, where the pike sleeps with unblinking eye.

The boat is warm, the kettle hot. The biscuit barrel is full. I am really glad you could make it. Come inside and welcome aboard.

[MUSIC]

NEWS FROM THE MOORINGS  

The slow wheel of the seasons has brought some spectacular sunrises and even more spectacular sunsets. The skyscapes carved with geese and crow wings. A few days ago, from the top of a hill, starlings were clustering. Not quite a murmuration, but the makings of one. The distinct sinuous flow of movement - almost aquatic in form. A little trail shoaling and smoky across the fields, dipping below the treeline and then rising into the air again. I've not noticed murmurations in the area before, but given a bit more time, we may be having some this year.

At the moment, we are sitting in the still point between two weather systems coming in from the Atlantic. The next is about to hit us tomorrow.

Temperature have been fairly warm during the day, around the high teens to twenty, or so (around the 60s Fahrenheit). But the air frequently has a chillier edge to it - especially in the wind. And we've had a lot of wind lately! There's a stand of alders near us at the moment. In the summer, the wind sang through their leaves with the sounding roar of faraway foaming breakers. Now, their drying leaves rustle in the way I have always imagined crinolines of old did. In strong breezes, it sounds like waves racing up a shingle bank.

For the first time since late spring, the towpaths have become a little tacky to walk on thanks to some heavy rain squalls. They're not muddy, just a little claggy underfoot. The by-wash by the lock just down from us is running. It's a welcome indication that the canal levels, in this region at least, are back to normal.

The hawthorns particularly is resplendent in their autumnal dress - fiery golds and reds and oranges. Although the alders and willows are beginning to drop their leaves, the ash and the oaks are holding their summer colours for a little while longer. 

There appears to have been a slight change with the swans this past couple of weeks. I've noted before how the two juveniles have been becoming more independent from their parents. Recently, I have noticed that there has been a distinct distancing even between them. There's been no aggression or signs of being deliberately pushed away. From time to time, they are all together or one of the youngsters forage the bank or swims with Mum. It is just that they're spending more time on their own. Particularly, one of them. It might be that one is male or female. I don't know enough about them yet. I've noticed that one seems to prefer to take their rests from feeding alone. There is a little part of me that worries it may be avian flu. Although it has long since dropped out of the news, it is still rife and on the swan networks there's regular reports of it. Nonetheless, in every other respect the cygnet seems to be fit and well. As Donna says, it just might be that because this is the second year for the parents, the parents might simply be exhibiting the more laid-back ‘second-child syndrome’!

[MUSIC]

CABIN CHAT

[MUSIC]

LIVING IN REHOBOAM’S LAND

Tucked, high up, under the guttering, under the eaves – if modern buildings have eaves – a magpie sits. I don’t know whether the bird is a male or female. Let’s call her a ‘her’. Neither do I know if she is an adult or a juvenile. There is something about the roundness of her head, the slightly plumper profile of her body that makes me think she is a juvenile on the edge of adulthood. Whatever the case, there she is; a magpie among a thousand million other magpies. But she doesn’t know that. This is her world and she is the centre of it. And the rain beats down from sky that almost buckles with its heavy, leaden clouds.

It's a deluge. The world bubbles and seethes under the pluvial onslaught from the skies. Beside her head, the gutters are inundated, overflowing; water gushes, gurgles, pours, in streaming, crystal curtains and arcing spouts. It is as if this building block were fitted with spitting gargoyles that spurt water onto the concrete pathways below. And all the while, the magpie perches under the eaves, looking out into the deluge and lifting her voice in clear laughing rattles. From time to time, she shifts position slightly, as if try to get a better look at this saturated world unfolded below her. She looks from side to side, catching movement below her. Then lifting her head, the rolling rattle of her song drifts to earth with the falling rain.    

It's a sight that transfixes me. Even though, I have no coat and the rain soon seeps through my shirt and flows in trickling runnels down my neck. I am conscious of the wet, and that the pavement on which I stand, is slick with running water. I need to go on, but somehow, I can’t. There is something about this scene that holds me, even though I know that later, I will feel the discomforting chill of wet clothes and shoes. This is rain unbounded and in it, there is a life unbounded.

It's not the rain or a bird sheltering in a rain storm. It is a magpie in the rain, and not just any magpie, it is this particular one. I want to join with her in her sharp, discordant song.

You do not know that you are so derided, do you? You do not know, the distaste and the slanders it has evoked in us throughout the centuries. The devil’s bird. The pariah bird. The bird of ill omen. You do not know how, at your sight, men have reached for their guns, and their stones and their vicious traps to end your life. Has there ever been a bird more persecuted? More loathed? More reviled? Even many of my birding friends who fiercely protect and advocate for birds, draw the line and turn their backs on you. Disease ridden, egg stealers, chick killers. Vermin.  

Did you know that tradition recalls how you refused entry into the ark at the flood, preferring to perch on the roof and laugh your rattling call, in mockery as the world drowned?

But you don’t know that, do you? You lifting your head with such grace, such passion, such beauty, to fill the world with your presence in song. You do not know you are a magpie, just that you are alive and that you are as glorious as an eagle and your song, to you, is as sweet and as fluid as a blackbird’s. That’s why, undaunted, in a drowning world you puff out your chest and sing out the songs of your soul. And who am I to judge that or decry it?

Sing your songs, my eagle-hearted friend. Preen your beautiful feathers, make the blues and black shine – you have the advantage on us, you do not know your shape or form. We do and have become obsessed by it and held captive to it. We know we are not eagles and our songs are not those of thrush or nightingale. And now, we feel we have no place or part in the home which birthed us. Puff out your chest again and let this rain ring with the song-presence of your “one wild and precious life.”

And that line from Mary Oliver circles back to me, right now. For I am cast adrift in Rehoboam’s land and my home is no longer mine. For this land does not make life feel wild or particularly precious. The skies remain as grey as those above the magpie sitting under the eaves of a building block in Birmingham on a late August day, but there is no heart of an eagle in me that would lift the jarring rattle of my cry as if it were a blackbird’s trilling song. And the future… well what future is there when the winds are set to blow so cold and drear?

There’s a pyracantha at work. It’s spiky and uncompromising. It makes no apology for its presence. It is just there, even though it is not particularly attractive, a bit rangy, unkempt, wind-blown litter has a habit of becoming entrapped in its foliage. A sprawling bush of thorny-fire that is not burned – and if the angel of the Lord lives within it, his voice is mute as students blindly pass and police helicopters circle overhead. And there is no Moses to stand barefooted before it. The scarlet of fire of berries confetti the ground and then stick to the soles of your shoes and next thing, you are leaving trials down the corridors and in the office. But, for all that, right now, it is this burning bush that I need. It is colourful, brash and bold. I need that, at this time.

Because of it, I have learnt to treasure its presence for all its untidy, awkward, spikiness.

I have noticed on Twitter, a number of people I follow have been posting photographs of buds forming on trees and shrubs. The promise, not of the coming winter, but a new Spring, a new Summer. In these times, it’s good to be reminded of the cycles and the dance of time. Next spring’s flowers and next summer’s fruits are already here – held in the gnarled and bony trust of denuded branch limbs. I like that. It is exactly what I do when my future feels insecure, unsure. I can remember one year, a number of years back, going early every morning, with Penny to the three horse chestnut trees and an oak that stood at the end of a nearby field. The mornings were invariable cold with a damp chill, and wreathed in winter mists. Everything felt so uncertain, the future as opaque as the banks of fog that rolled down Sunrising. Life had turned to winter and there seemed to be no end to it. One morning, I noticed the robust, thick, buds, their sticky sheaves glowing with mist-breath, at the end of each branch. ‘Don’t worry’ they seemed to promise, ‘Even though the cold winds may buffet me today, and the cold chill the soil to my roots, there is a part of me that is already living in the spring that is to come – and I can do no other.’

And so, every morning, Penny and I went up to each tree, to remind myself, that spring lives even in the depths of winter.

I do it almost without thinking now. Looking for buds in the dusk of the year.

Somehow, we need this. To find those harbours and coves of comfort when we find that Rehoboam has once more taken his throne and inclined his ear to his young advisors – and we have felt the chill of fear across the land because of it.

We need the assurance that there are those who stand alongside us hearing not the call of winter darkness, but song of summer suns – who flow to the deeper rhythms of their beings, and unconcerned by the knife-blade of our presents. To be reminded that alongside the rapid flip-book pages of our world – the dart of the sparrow flying through King Edwin’s mead-hall – there are others who live theirs to a different time, ribboned with rook song and rooted deep in the soil.

They are our companions of consistency, silently partnering us in the unravelling tapestries that we sew. They are the dependable friends that seem to lower their branches their branches to us and say, ‘Your hope seems so fragile. Here, share mine.”

There’s an Old English phrase:
þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg – that passed over… so may this.

It’s perhaps a precursor of the mediaeval Sufi phrase “This too shall pass.”

The Anglo-Saxon song of Deor voices the pain of its bardic author – unjustly cast out of the court with all its security and luxurious comfort – and exiled to wander the wild wastelands. There’s that theme of exile, wandering, and homelessness, that emerges time and time again in Anglo Saxon poetry that we explored last year in the episode ‘Winter Wisdom (Wintrum frod)’.

In this poem the poet Deor describes moments of great trauma or anguish. Some communal, so individual. After each vignette come the words, “þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg” – that passed over… so may this.

One verse describes life under the oppressive rule of Ermanrich, a king who ruled the Ostrogoths, dying in around 375.  

'We heard Ermanaric's wolfish thought;
he ruled widely the people
of the kingdom of the Goths -
That was a grim king!

Many a warrior sat,
bound up by cares,
woes in mind,
wished constantly
that the kingdom
were overcome.

Þæs ofereode,  þisses swa mæg.'            

 

There is some comfort in that. To take the long view, empires and tyrants will always topple and fall and the trees will outlive them. It is good to be reminded of it.

Why are our minds set up in such a way that, when good things happen, they constantly tell us “This can’t last, something horrible is going to happen”, and yet, when we experience difficult and fearful times those same minds tell us that ‘This is the natural state of things. Nothing will ever change”?!

Perhaps not everyone thinks like that, but I can’t be the only one!

 

However, even so, there is a part of my mind that also rebels. Yes, almost for certain, this too will at some time pass. Rehoboam’s reign did come to its inglorious end. But what then? What if I am at a stage in my life that I am aware the end of the road is coming? What then? What then, if the damage done, like those of Rehoboam’s rule, is too great to heal? Where is the consolation then?

This is a harder question, and to be honest, one for which I have no answer. I am uncomfortable in stock phrases or distraction techniques to turn my gaze to more pleasant things.

þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg does give me comfort. And I warm to its more ambiguous ‘this MAY too’ – as opposed the more emphatic ‘this too SHALL pass’. It hints at a realism creeping in to temper the optimism - so characteristic of the darker worldview of the early English writers informed by their Norse cousins.   

No, the long view, does help. But not entirely.

An awareness of change helps, but it is the sense of permanence – or, at least the constant that gives me comfort and strength. The lives lived parallel to mine, to older rhythms and more well-proven logic. The catkins and cones already showing on the waterside alders, even as their leaves drop. All the magpies who lift their cracked and jarring voices and proudly sing as if they were nightingales, with the hearts of eagles.

It is only then that my life begins to feel, if not totally, at least moving towards, something wild and something precious. And because it does, I know that this is the key. The signal of transcendence. The spark that makes the pyracantha blaze; my guide. 

So, I will not leave you with the words of Deor on our lips - as helpful as they may be. I'll get the final words to Mary Oliver

[Whelks READING]

And in the darkening skies, there are geese flying west to the setting sun. I think, perhaps, after all things, they might be leading us back home.

SIGNING OFF

This is the narrowboat Erica signing off for the night. 

Wishing you a very restful, peaceful, night. Good night. Sleep well.   

WEATHER LOG