As I spent some months away from my house this summer, to fix the cabin, there was a bit of repair work to do when I got back.
I say ‘a bit’ here in the most British sense of the word, as there had been a leak in part of the roof and unusually warm and wet weather where it stood, leading to extensive water damage.
A major difference between living in a house I build myself, rather than a house belonging to someone else, or a bank, is that I’m always faced with the choice of whether to keep rebuilding or not.
On the plus side, I can make the changes I want, when and how I want. I don’t need to wait around for someone else to do things, and it costs a fraction of what a similar repair would be on a typical house.
On the heavier side, I do need to keep making that decision. The question is always there, not only if I should give up, but if it’s worth taking other matter, trees, water, space to keep making this. Does it really need to keep existing?
I find myself more and more adverse to buying materials, it has become frightfully apparent in this process that these materials are corpses of trees, and often healthy habitats have been destroyed to make way for plantations of fast growing woodland. And I don’t think I can convince myself that my house is worth sacrificing all these lives for.
Everything feeds off something else, not only is it inevitable, it’s the only way of keeping life going, the only way of reintroducing matter. If life is to even exist, things need to consume other things and by that not only keep alive themselves, but make sure matter is being brought back properly.
But a dream is not actually needed to live, no matter what popular stories will tell you. And a house is always a dream of some sort. And dreams tend to loose their connection to reality. Not in the sense of whether or not what you want is possible, but in the sense of making that constant choice and the realization that every little bit of reality you take, you take from something else. And sooner or later, all dreams will become monsters if you don’t stop. Sooner or later, everything you have borrowed, will be taken back by the spiral. At some point, your dream, your visions, your life, will take more than it can ever return. And then it’s a monster.
My solution so far is to make use of repurposed materials as much as possible, or use trees that have fallen in storms or been cut down and left. Even then, I’m interfering in some way, keeping a part of the great spiral locked in a form. That choice, I have to keep making and keep considering and hope I’m connected enough to give up before it becomes a travesty.
Eventually, of course, I will also die, and hopefully be quickly taken up in the spiral, and as this summer has showed, it won’t take very long for my house to be reclaimed by nature either, for the most part.
These last few years has also changed how I look at beauty. Where I used to consider things like proportions and integrity, I now also consider the beauty of a thing or creature as linked to the balance of integrity and how easily it will be for nature to reclaim.
In this light, the great Rot in the picture, is the most beautiful creature I have met this summer. It’s origin is a large tree that has fallen in the woods and been let long enough for life to sprout around it, birds to nest it it’s branches, fungi to form neural links to water and other plants and life forms, green vines to bloom at its heart. It lives now in a between state of life and non-life, of decay and growth, of returning and preserving and it can evoke awe in anyone who looks upon it in the forest. This in other words, is now a god.
I didn’t just set out living in a small, self-made cabin on wheels with no running water or electricity entirely on a whim. The cabin where I spent a lot of time as a kid and where I’m now staying forms much of the ideas for and practice for my current house.
The cabin is on a peninsula by a fjord, so there’s no fresh water, no electricity or other so-called modern facilities. There is, or was, peace and quiet, living creatures and weird things in the woods.
The cabin is not by any sane standards ‘primitive’, it’s quite full of comfortable solutions, like a cooling cabinet dug close to the rock that will keep drinks chilled and most not-terribly perishable foods, like eggs and cheese, preserved. Most of these ideas I’ve grown up with and could in various ways adapt to my wagon.
I really believe spending so much time here made me better prepared for a life on the road, for finding solutions to a lifestyle on the edge of society. There are so many small things that needs to be learned, or better, internalized as a way of being, of moving. As an adult, I probably would have had a harder time getting used to little tings like not throwing out the water you boiled your morning eggs in purely on reflex, or collecting rain water for washing.
There is a lot (well, not a lot, not as much as it should be, but more than a while ago) of talk about adapting to climate change and system collapse. A growing number of people are starting to doubt that their current lives are going to continue along the same lines. And very often, we are presented with a bunch of ‘smart’ solutions. That we can buy. For a price. But the key to adapting is really quite simple. You look, and you listen.
You look at where you actually, physically are, and what else is there. And you listen to your surroundings. Water is not always above ground, animal paths lead ways through the forest. Because as much as I have picked up clever ways of cooling by drinks and storing water, the main thing I learnt by being largely self reliant, is that things really exist. It sounds obvious, but it’s something largely gone from our modern minds. We live on the planet as if it’s already dead and we’re the only real creatures left on in. Some delve into fantasies about living in simulations or illusions.
But things are real, even the things you can’t see. You can live outside society, but it takes a lot more room and a lot more practice than just casting the yoke and running off. And while money doesn’t grow on trees, food actually does. Unless some mad bastard has chopped them down to make money.
Lately, I’ve vacated my house, la Chouette to do maintenance work on a family cabin. Since my dad passed away, it hasn’t been much in use. My mom doesn’t drive and I have no siblings and obviously I’m not going live in a fixed place, so we’re going to sell it. I have a lot of happy memories from this place, so I’ll hate to see it go, but I can’t keep something just for the sake of keeping it.
When I was little, this is where we’d go to get away from everything. There’s no electricity, there are kerosene lamps, an old cast iron stove, an outdoor toilet and if you want fresh meat for dinner, you’ll have to go fish (you could also try hunting in the woods, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The terrain is not for people). When building my own dream home, I leaned heavily on my experiences from summers here, such as how to make water last, what I need and what’s only distractions.
It’s also a special place because my dad built it himself, and there are numerous caring details and features that gives the cabin soul and heart.
However, in the last years before his death, and as his heart condition grew worse (that’s not what killed him, ironically), my dad also fell ill with the same madness that seems to spread everywhere. The madness of expansion over maintenance. Now, starting something new is always more fun than finishing something. And especially to a creative person. But at some point, the constant starting of new things becomes pathological.
Since I was there last, two new sun deck have been built around the cabin, one more apparently planned and a boat house large enough to live in has taken the place of the quay. There is also an incomprehensible doorway in the middle of the path to the cabin that I can’t for the life of me figure what was going to do. At the same time, the woodwork in the existing structure is, while not beyond hope, clearly bearing signs of neglect, and there is a water damage in one of the bedrooms. Still pretty easy to fix, but it’s been there for some time. Little things that needed to be done regularly has clearly been set aside in favor of new and completely unnecessary projects. Also, the cabin itself has been filled with various items that probably seemed useful in the store, but has no place or use at all in the daily life in the woods by the sea. It was a well-equipped cabin with integrity, and didn’t need to be filled with cheap junk.
And it seems everyone is building pointless things and filling every available space with junk.
Right now, there is a massive building of wind turbines in Norway. I saw them mar the landscape in Denmark and Germany, and now they’re filling the coast and mountains here. Whole islands are being covered in turbines up to 150m height, killing birds and insects and making the area uninhabitable for anyone, human or other animal. Most of these turbines are built to cater to the European marked and to the lie of cheap and sustainable energy. The lie of the plenty is destroying the planet we live on.
It’s not just the turbines. Mining, logging, road construction and the very last drop of oil, all destructive and disruptive human activity is madly speeding up, while at the same time it’s more and more obvious that the kind of world that these roads and skyscrapers and cities are made for is not going to happen. The brave new plastic sci-fi world of the post ww2 era was a terrible idea and now it’s dying. Globalism is failing, all the larger states are failing, and let’s face it, humanity is failing.
It might be, at some level, that this is the same phenomenon at play. That, in addition to the usual greed and stupidity that plague the species, humans in the ‘civilized’ world might also be experiencing the same madness that came over my dad before he died. His health was deteriorating, he must have known his time was running out. And I do think most humans also know at some level that the world as we know it is dying too. Yet I think people have a belief that if you start something, death will patiently wait and let you finish it. A belief that unfinished business will keep you linked to the world for longer, but to finish something, is to die.
As an artist, I experience this too. The fear of the finished piece, the curse of the ninth. It’s always there at the back of the brain. And of course, my own house won’t ever be finished. But it does have the advantage of obvious limitations, if I want to add a new thing, something else has to go, and I have to finish what I start. The need for change and hunger for expansion is probably present in all things, but as I said, at some point it becomes pathological. Life might be expansion, but at some point the growth becomes cancerous (it was cancer that got my dad in the end, by the way).
But death doesn’t wait any more than life does. And you can’t cheat death, because it’s not playing a game. Even if our culture is littered with stories about how cheating death is a good and brave thing, it isn’t. Perhaps the time has come now for humanity to finish their symphony and care for what they have while they can.
Life is, indeed, unpredictable. But another meaning of ‘vagus’ is to wander, or be in motion, without a particular goal in mind. Moving of the sake of movement.
Over the past months, a vast number of people have been moving differently than expected. It may be because of travel restrictions, or quarantine, or due to illness. People have been bed ridden and house bound and during this time, how we move has been brought to attention either explicit or implicit.
When you are in motion, you create a pattern. This is obvious in dance, but it’s also true for the motions of daily life.
When you move in the same manner, around the same objects, the pattern is deepened, fixated. Eventually it will become part of your mind and of your body, in the form of muscles and nerves.
To fixate and carve out a pattern can be a good thing, a strengthening thing, or it can dig you down in a hole. Repeating a pattern of something you want to enforce, a habit, a spell, a wood carving, can create something beautiful. But at some point, you have to stop repeating the pattern, or it will become a trap, and destroy what you set out to create.
For all our activity, most in western society live very monotonous lives. Motions are carried out in the same manner, in the same patterns, in the same frame of mind, even when you attempt to be ‘mindful’. For it is not the mind that moves the body, but the body that moves the mind.
To move is to change. We have been brought up to consider only the power of the mind, and that changes are made by making your mind up. But I will argue that without a change in how we move, no change is really made.
Moving in a new environment, even a new apartment, creates a from of change. This can be exhausting, and it is wonder most people feel a relief when they come home to their familiar surroundings, where they can make their coffee and bathe without giving a second thought to the physical part of preforming these tasks, because everything you need is placed where you know it will be and your body will remember how to move in these rooms. This is comfortable, for many even needed in order to rest and recharge.
But to stay in such an environment, where everything is familiar and nothing challenges your sense of motion, will also make you deteriorate over time.
While the way of the Trickster is often associated with humor, or practical jokes, at the heart of is is motion and the unpredictable. While the unpredictable certainly can make people laugh, in surprise or relief, it might as well disturb, shock, or make people feel strange.
The way of the Trickster is to be in the constant between- state, to look in all directions and choose none yet always keep moving. It is the living paradox.
And it is in the unpredictable that we find the deepest truths. And by doing something unpredictable, you might find out a lot more about yourself than any amount of pondering or meditation will show you.
Today I had a small insect bite under my left eye and I spent an hour or so being certain it would be the death of me.
Not because this was very likely, but because I was indoors. Outside, I would hardly notice
I don’t mean outside like out in the yard, but on the road, in the real.
The world inside walls is not real, because it is not connected. It’s not connected because nothing will recycle your body when you die. Well, eventually, but it will take an unnatural amount of time. There is no way to trust your instincts when you’re cut off from the cycle of life and death, it’s like having your whiskers cut off, I have no sense of proportions, indoors.
These days, a lot of people are spending a lot more time indoors than usually, because of restrictions put on very large populations in order to try to control an outbreak of an infectious disease.
I had already planned a time of seclusion to work on my book of hours, and I’m honestly not sure what I would do if I was on the road when the restrictions came into place.
I do know that the lockdown we’re experiencing globally now shows a great flaw in the system of borders and countries. A world that consists only of owned land and borders, with no or few vast spaces between, is suffocating. And it shows when there is no place to run. There are, for now, and for a few, places to hide. But only for the privileged, and you can’t hide for ever.
What is happening now show the need for human dwellings to be the exception, not the norm, of the face of the earth. There needs to be places to go, and to avoid human contact without locking yourself indoors or facing an outside with no food, no water and no functioning life.
For a very long time, human life has not been allowed to breathe, for it has been denied to know death.
Life and death are never enemies, it merely seems so because humans have been trading the life of everything around them in order to prolong their own form. Not merely to sustain it, but to keep clinging to it far beyond any reason. But life is not the temporary form of the individual.
Life does not happen after death, but in death, as death happens in life, at every moment, and at once.
Life is a song.
A song starts and ends. It has a form, but you cannot take one note and say that this is the truth of the song. A song must change, but it changes after a pattern. It is a temporary harmonious meeting of a myriad of notes, of cells and microbes, and tiny organisms in and around you, the heartbeat and the lyrics.
There is a lot of high talk about ‘winning’ over diseases of all kinds, and of beating it at all costs. But it’s presented as if there is a government who pay the price and it isn’t, it’s nature.
Whenever the question of the cost of a life arises, it’s only ever talked about monetary costs, never about actual costs. Nowhere do you see an account of how many rivers are dried up, swamps drained, moors burned or forests chopped down to build hospitals, pharmaceutical factories or windmills for electricity for life-prolonging machines.
This is not a question of attacking the weak and the ill, not a question of survival of the more adapted, but of humans accepting their mortality.
Everything living already have a life, it’s never a question of fighting for a life, it’s a question of prolonging what is already there.
Death is not the enemy of life, but the beginning and the end of it. it is a very long stretch from maintaining a life to destroying everything in your wake to expand it. To survive at any cost at some point stops being brave and becomes greedy.
I certainly don’t want to die, and I’ll gladly feed on other life. But I hardly think it’s worth destroying entire ecosystems simply to prolong my existence a bit.
Otherwise, after all, you’ll have nowhere to go after you die. Nothing for your biomass or soul to be reabsorbed in.
So when I get panic attacks and anxiety from minor things indoors, it’s being disconnected I fear, death in the form of stagnation. The true death.
Not all of it, just a part, showing the advantage of building in individual sections rather than a whole fixed structure. It was easy enough to fix and luckily it happened while I was resting at a stellplatz in Germany and not while driving on the autobahn. Because that would have been unfortunate.
It has been a stormy few weeks in Europe, in many ways. And driving across the continent felt like driving with a thunderstorm on my tracks. Creatures who live close to the elements will have noticed that there is a relentlessness to the weather now, the wind and the rain is harder and it doesn’t take breaks like before.
To drive a house on wheels in near gale and heavy rain is at every turn an adventure and truly uncharted territory. I had originally planned to go through Denmark, but because of family reasons I needed to make my way to Norway fairly quick. I ended up taking the ferry from Kiel to Göteborg, planning to place my house near the border and take the car the rest of the way to Bergen. Because while I might get my house to Bergen, I’m not all that sure of getting it out again. I have to admit, I have also been a bit nervous about getting stuck on a ferry with People if one of the passengers should have become infected with the new virus. So I took the ferry to Göteborg. Which is not a very long drive from the border. Usually.
The wind, barely noticeable at sea for some reason, swept in over the road and I had to drive at a third of my normal speed to feel safe. At one point, I was considering stopping overnight and driving on in the morning. On one hand, I was getting tired, but on the other hand, the weather report for the next few days didn’t look much better. And then I got to the Uddevalla bridge.
The Uddevalla bridge spans the Sunninge strait and is ranked on the top ten of scary bridges of the world due to the intense gusts of wind coming in from the sea. I’m honestly not sure if I would have been mad enough to cross it under those circumstances or not, but I never got to choose, because it was closed. Luckily, there was a winter open camping ground near by, where I could spend a, rather shaky, night.
The next morning, the house was still standing, and had all of the bits on, and I was able to take the old road the rest of the way. It’s longer, but it runs through a valley and is protected from the costal weather. It was a nice drive, though. Sunny and few other cars. And not a customs officer in sight as I crossed the border.
And it’s not just the weather, the roads washed out or blocked by debris, not just the growing restrictions on travel from novel corona, the demonstrations and the strikes and the emptying shelves at supermarkets, it’s an overall mood like when the last of the water drains form a sink. The spiral speeds up as things vanish.
I still don’t know how this all will effect my movements in the foreseeable future. It may be difficult to get around for a while. And then it may be necessary to move more often and further. For now, my house and I are both safe in harbor. But I need to plan my next step carefully.
For the benefit of the curious, I thought I’d share my field notes from the road. I set out northbound a week ago, after some consideration on going further south for winter or starting on the northbound journey for spring. Since winter has been cancelled due to unstable climate (or probably it’ll hit in July) I’m going north now. A storm, or several storms have been raging on the European continent lately, and here are my notes from the following, harrowing week:
Started out. Sunny, but windy. After about 60-70km it became clear that some of the reconstructive work on the wagon were not suitable for heavier weather. Bits started to come loose. Stopped at a rest stop for the night to get my bearings.
Picked kindling from the forest by the rest stop, got bitten by something. Probably bird fleas.
It’s dark and stormy and there are cops everywhere. Three patrol cars and about six motorbikes. I know they’re probably much more interested in the suspicious lorry drivers than little old me, but the presence of people who think themselves authorities makes me nervous. Much more nervous than any suspicious lorry driver ever did. After a few miles, more cops showed up along the road. Decided to stop at the next rest stop and see if they would go away. Needed lunch anyway. Managed to back my trailer into a road sign due to complete lack of sight in the heavy rain and smashed one tail light. Decided not to go out again with broken tail light on roads filled with cops.
Headed out early, on the lookout for a garage or well-stocked gas station for light bulb. French roads are generally quite good, both the highway and the country roads. The downside of the highway, apart from being highways, is that there are a lot of toll booths and huge road taxes (which of course helps with keeping the roads in shape, but with a large trailer it can be very expensive). The smaller roads are also in good shape, and go through a lot of charming villages. The problem here is that the road really goes right through the charming old villages, often from the middle ages, and with a road system meant for horse drawn wagons and meant to confusing viking invaders, such as myself.
It was nearly dark as I weaved my way to the district of Chablis and found a motor home stop. There was nobody else in sight and I let myself in via the eerie automatic system thingy. No rain tonight, only wind.
Took an evening stroll to stretch my legs. There are three shops and a huge monastery, looming over the river and gleaming in white under the drifting clouds and fluttering glimpses of the full moon.
Went out for fruit and cheese and came back with a case of Chablis. Not sure how this happened.
There is an old mill by the parking lot. There are geese and cats playing among the ponds and bamboo and tea rose bushes, and a portly man selling wine from a tiny shop.
I think it’s ok to have a small drink before driving in France.
Set out northbound again.
As i said, the smaller roads in France are pretty good. But another problem with taking these roads is that a lot of other people, and especially trailers do too, probably also to avoid road taxes. And the speed limit is not much slower, and nobody heeds it anyway. And having huge trailers zooming by on a highway is bad enough, but it’s much worse on the smaller roads where there are only two lanes, and only a few inches between you and the thundering trucks coming right at you. The air impact of one of these alone is equivalent to a full storm. And you’ll have dozens in a non stop streak. Nerves in shreds. Weather today calmer, though.
Arrived Chalons en Champagne in the afternoon and parked myself at a champagne house in one of the little surrounding villages. Went straight for the tasting room. I now have a lot of champagne.
The district is paced with wine houses. In later years, a lot of the vineyards that used to deliver to the larger houses has gone indie, and now there are hundreds (it seems) smaller houses. The streets in every village here are lined with champagne houses. Not much else, though.
Spent a quiet night under the pine tree at the parking yards with an owl for a neighbour.
As I got ready to go, my car informed me that I needed to check the cooler liquid level. Towing a house with insufficient cooler liquid is never a good idea, so I decided to let the house stay put while a found a gas station. I did not find a gas station. There is petrol available at a lot of the supermarkeds, but they didn’t have any other car products. Decided not to try to use champagne instead. Finally found a supermarked that stocked carstuff, but the clerk (who had the rubberball perkyness of a race car enthusiast himself) advised me to go to a garage in the next village to make sure I got the right type. Took his advice and had both cooler liquid added, motor oil filled up, and a touch up on the hydraulic liquid, plus a check on air pressure in the tires.
As I got back, a new storm center swept by. Decided to have lunch and wait it out.
A few hours later, the weather cleared, the sun shone over the fields, and I drove the 20km or so to the next champagne house that allowed overnight parking. Only got a little bit lost in what must be the only steep hill and the smallest village in the area. Got help from a little old lady who also had a champagne house, and whose neighbours’ grandson was the guy I was heading for. After a little while, he came in his car to guide me the last bit to the vineyard.
Drank quite a bit of champagne. Bought some more. Stormy night.
One of the roof plates has been knocked out of position by either the storms or the oncoming trucks or the maneuvering around on hills or all of the above. Rain comes in through a gap. All of the rain. Fixed it as best as I could, but will need larger repair later. Unsure if I should continue, but decided to go as this is a nice spot to visit, but not to stay if you need to do anything else apart from drinking champagne. Sadly, sometimes you do.
Drove straight through Belgium. The roads were bumpy and there was mud everywhere. Strange, rusty piles of cliffs, like caked blood. There’s probably a beautiful country somewhere beyond the main roads, but I’m in no condition to explore. The radio had the insight to play ‘In the hall of the Mountain King’ as I crossed the border.
Stopped only for lunch at a gas station and crossed over to Germany in the late afternoon. Nearly dark as I ambled my way in to the nearest little village straight across the border and to the nearest stellplatz. No rain today, fortunately.
Headed to a home depot to get things to fix my roof and trailer and such. On the way back there was an horrible sploshing sound from the passenger side. It turns out the water tank, that I keep in the car while driving, has sprung a leak and several liters of water has found it’s way under the seat. Checked to see if I could remove the seat to drain out the water, but the car is to new for that. All the garages are closed over the weekend, so I have to wait until Monday morning to get someone to look at it. Hopefully the electronics won’t be completely screwed, or the rust gotten too bad.
There are about fifty thousand bath houses and spas in the area, so at least I’ll have something to do while I wait for my car to be fixed.
Huge bloody storm at night, luckily I has the foresight to put up an extra tarpaulin over the part of the roof where the damage was.
It has been a quiet autumn, and a fairly quiet start of the year. Mostly because I have been parked in one spot, and spent my time on alterations and repairs, but also on trying to get to know the landscape I’m in. For me, this rolling farmland in the southern parts of France is quite different from where I grew up and also from most places that I lived for any longer periods of time. To get acquainted with a new type of land, the weather, soil, animals and plants has been an interesting time.
One thing that differs greatly from both colder climates and urban life, is how much faster the cycle of life and death is in the warmer and more humid climate. It’s good to see that so little goes to waste, that what dies gets picked up again in the cycle. It has had an impact on my understanding of ‘waste’ also. While I for some time had the notion that ‘waste’ is what the flora and fauna of a place can’t make use of to grow, I see it more clearly and on a day to day basis here.
On the downside, the maintenance of the house also requires more attention. Nothing can be left for very long before something else moves in, or before the mold starts to appear. It might seem like a placid sort of place, but in a way it’s even more hectic than any city I’ve lived in in terms of constant movement and the need to pay attention.
The difference between land and landscape is also increasingly clear. The landscape is farmland, the land, is a forest. I use, of course, the term land here to describe the formation of the rocks and earth and the general climate, and the term landscape to describe how humans use it. The formation of the land is soft, gently sloping acidic soil. It rains a great deal here, and there is a river running down in the valley that defines the area. Trees wants to grow here, particularly chestnut and oak. And it only takes a few weeks for the first saplings to start covering the ground if left alone.
It may seem obvious, the impact humans have had in forming their habitat for the last millenniums. But it’s always different to literary see things happening before your eyes than to read of them. And so many places have been altered to such a degree that you can’t even see what they were meant to be. It’s a pretty well known how humans alter their surroundings to suit them. Fortunately, the belief that this is both necessary and good is dwindling.
There is little doubt that the land would be healthier if left alone. Most of the farms have cows as their main operation. And while it should seem obvious that large amounts of huge, hoofed animals is not what you want on soft, wet land, it’s easy to think so if you only look at the surface, the open meadows, the apparently friendly surrounding. But the sheer amount of mud, the insects, the increasingly either scorched or drenched earth practically screams for more trees with deep roots, and less plondering flatfeet.
It was much more obvious, when I stayed in betonbois where the ground was all covered in giant hogweed, that the land pretty much said ‘sod off, I’m healing’. Here, it takes more time to discover that the kind looking land really isn’t very fond of visitors at all. The more ground I cover, the more I travel and the slower I move, the more explicit it becomes that humans really need to take several steps back and look at where they really are instead of striving so hard to push a fantasy onto their surroundings. And tomorrow, I’ll be on the road again.
Or; The book of hours, or Whatever Happened to 2019?
Pretty much every conversation I’ve had over the holidays have at some point converged into the following question; What Happened to 2019? Now, one might argue that my friends and I are all getting older and this is something people are expected to ask, like a conversational ritual, from a certain age (ca 21 and up). None the less, there is a general feeling that time, hours, days, years, are slipping through our fingers. Part of it, I think, has to do with the artificial way the modern day is constructed, aiming to make as much time as possible into an identical, dull mass with such tools as clocks, electric lights and paid work.
After a year or so on the road I have made acquaintance with different paths, lines, rhythms, animals and seasons and this year I have decided to summarize them in a book of hours. I want a tool to slow down and structure the day and the year in an non invasive way, a way connected to nature. And I want it to be beautiful.
For those born in recent times, a book of hours was a popular item, first with the nobility and with the invention of the printed press a wider public, for centuries in Europe, mainly from ca 1400 to mid-1600. It is essentially an individualized pocket-tome of prayers, saints and meditations. The prayer part would be dedicated to the virgin Mary and follow the liturgy hours of monastery life. Often a calendar with feasts of saints would be included, as well as personal part with the owner’s favorite saints etc. Some versions would also have a memento mori part following the hours that Jesus spent on the cross.
My version will be a small book meant to be carried like the books of hours were. The first part will be a calendar over festivals connected to nature and the turn of seasons. Then, a part with the hours of the day inspired by the Chinese animal clock. After that, a section honoring the different life forms that will reintroduce your body to nature after you’re done in this life. I will also have a personal section dedicated to my central deities.
I have found the Pagan book of hours from the Breviary of the Asphodel tradition online, and while it seems an impressive collection of festivals, rites and prayers, I need something more connected to nature itself. Also, the portable format is something that speaks to me in a time that everyone has their altar with them in the form of their phones.
Now, I just need to find a good place to work in peace and quiet…
As readers know, I do love Christmas, or Yule as it’s called where I’m from (spelled Jul nowadays). The food, the candles, the more or less gaudy representations of nisser, the constant sugar-rush and high flying emotions. Love it.
But none of these things are for me meant to ‘drive away the darkness’ as the popular phrase goes. I carve out a tiny little den, slightly less dark than the enormous darkness of the long night, and curl up and rest. Without darkness, sleep would be made quite difficult. And sleep is the most wonderful thing. Also, quite a lot of animals prefer the darkness for their activities.
Darkness has a really bad reputation in most current cultures. It is still associated with basically all the stuff humans don’t like, a sort of umbrella term for anything unpleasant or unwanted. Even by those who know intellectually that this isn’t true, and that darkness is as necessary for life as light is, the darkness has a tendency to be pushed aside into, well, the dark.
Without darkness, there would be no renewal. It’s not an opposite, but a prerequisite. Without darkness, life would be a single, unending, hectic rush towards a messy end, probably good for capitalist production values, but an absolute horror for anything else. Without darkness, humans forget that they do not own the planet or has any prior claim to it, no right to mess about with its ecosystems in an attempt of adjusting or ‘fixing’ nature. Without darkness, you will never really experience awe for nature.
For those who pay a bit of attention to the current world, it’s not the darkness that poses the biggest threat to a living earth, but the light. Or to be precise, artificial light made by humans to drive away the darkness. Electric lights, along with pesticides and other weapons you use against nature being nature, is a key factor in the ongoing insect apocalypse, the decimation of insects on earth. And without insects, most known life will struggle to exist.
The aggressive attitude towards darkness, wielded mainly by those who count themselves as ‘good’ is a reminder of the ongoing war against nature that humans have believed themselves to be fighting for some time now. Perhaps they should stop and realize that they’re only fighting themselves, and making everything else suffer in the process. A good place to start is to contemplate and celebrate the vast and important, soothing and covering, darkness.
Lighting a candle makes the darkness easier to see, It doesn’t drive it away, but brings it closer to mind.
So light a candle, or a lovely fire, tonight in praise of the darkness, who will let you go to bed early with a book and a mug of mulled wine without feeling the least bit of fomo or guilt.