Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tales from distant lands

I stand on the front step of my house on a windless morning and the air contains a rumour of spring, like a whisper of revolution muttered in the morning song of birds. It is in our senses, hinted at in smell and sound and the feel of sun on skin. I accept that there will be many days yet of wind and rain and the darkness that seems to linger too long. What I smell this morning is a suggestion that spring may be possible; that the seasons will change as they always must.
On the land, however, all is wet. I walk across fields empty of sheep in these dark days of winter; fields broken by the traces of old hedgerows which poke from the earth like ribs seen beneath the skin. I pass through a gate into the lane and listen to the suck of my wellingtons drawing out of the wet mud, an expressive slutch sound which is felt as much as heard. Everywhere is mud; the winter of incessant rain has turned every gateway and footpath into a wet pool of dun-coloured soup which is neither solid nor liquid, but exists in some inbetween state

I have been fascinated recently by the legend of the Golem, the half-human creation from Jewish mythology, forged from inanimate matter, shaped from the mud of the river banks. The Golem will serve humans as their protector, but only within limits. In most versions of the tale, the Golem turns against his creators, killing innocently and spreading fear amongst the people. It is, of course, one of the many sources of the Frankenstein story, but it also feeds a much darker sense within humans who lived with a close connection to the land; a sense that we can shape the wild world to our will, but with that will comes a huge responsibility, a burden that is like the huge, terrifying fear we feel at becoming a parent, a sense that we strive to do enough, perhaps to fail.
As I walk across these winter fields, the sky to the west changing with the shifting bands of weather, I picture weather systems massing over the north Atlantic, like the contour patterns of distant, un-named hills. I think of the unpredictable ways in which the weather can turn against us, the ice and snow of recent winters, the wind and rain of this one. I sense the Golem of our modern living rising from the soft, wet mud, a reminder that the ways in which we shape the world are not without limits, a muddy hand on our shoulders, gentle at first.

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