What sound do flames make? It’s a flubbery whipple happening beside me after the crackling and snapping of the kindling sealed down to the serious business of providing light and heat. No blue flame – we are the only ones here and I do hope at this time of the night that remains the case. It’s a common thought when I watch a fire and I’m taken to Samuel Taylor Coleridge and “Frost at Midnight” The thin blue flame was thought to indicate a pending visitor and ever since I uncovered that in an long lost English class it’s captured my imagination. Let’s digress to Samuel watching his child and hoping an outdoors rather than a city life for him. We sit outdoors and know the aspiration.
The Frost performs its secret ministry,
Unhelped by any wind. The owlet’s cry
Came loud—and hark, again! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings: save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
‘Tis calm indeed! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness. Sea, hill, and wood,
This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings-on of life,
Inaudible as dreams! the thin blue flame
Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not;
Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,
Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, every where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
And makes a toy of Thought.
But O! how oft,
How oft, at school, with most believing mind,
Presageful, have I gazed upon the bars,
To watch that fluttering stranger ! and as oft
With unclosed lids, already had I dreamt
Of my sweet birth-place, and the old church-tower,
Whose bells, the poor man’s only music, rang
From morn to evening, all the hot Fair-day,
So sweetly, that they stirred and haunted me
With a wild pleasure, falling on mine ear
Most like articulate sounds of things to come!
So gazed I, till the soothing things, I dreamt,
Lulled me to sleep, and sleep prolonged my dreams!
And so I brooded all the following morn,
Awed by the stern preceptor’s face, mine eye
Fixed with mock study on my swimming book:
Save if the door half opened, and I snatched
A hasty glance, and still my heart leaped up,
For still I hoped to see the stranger’s face,
Townsman, or aunt, or sister more beloved,
My play-mate when we both were clothed alike!
Dear Babe, that sleepest cradled by my side,
Whose gentle breathings, heard in this deep calm,
Fill up the intersperséd vacancies
And momentary pauses of the thought!
My babe so beautiful! it thrills my heart
With tender gladness, thus to look at thee,
And think that thou shalt learn far other lore,
And in far other scenes! For I was reared
In the great city, pent ‘mid cloisters dim,
And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars.
But thou, my babe! shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds,
Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
And mountain crags: so shalt thou see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.
Great universal Teacher! he shall mould
Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.
Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the night-thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.
The wind has dropped completely and we can hear the water gently licking the edge of the the estuary we are camped beside. A fish ‘plops’ to tease me no doubt. A lure had been cast into the wind earlier but the chopped up surface was not ideal fishing.
The delicate bird chorus of evensong has been handed over to the owls. One started early , no doubt encouraged by the half moon which out here is throwing full light. One hoots from the escarpment across the water while another has warmed up along the bank from us.
My hands have started to settle down after being lit on fire by some inhospitable ants who didn’t appreciate their lodgings being moved to make way for ours. Don’t they know they are in the greater Sydney area and that anything can happen to your dwelling with no notice and without any warning? They sure did let me know what they thought of the intrusion.
As day turned to night I lay on my back and watched the effect of the last zephyrs stir the tops of the casuarinas. Only the birdsong intruded and the bliss was complete. COVID lockdown limiting us to five kilometres for 106 days or 15 weeks was a light burden in truth but we sure did miss this. Living in a form of isolation in Kabul was perhaps helpful preparation for this this sort of lockdown though even there the period of being confined to barracks was never as long as 15 weeks. Of course the experience was a shared one and that makes a remarkable difference, helped by the fact that both of us have been fortunate to be able to work, study and keep busy.
COVID lockdown underscored our need to be in the bush for the benefit of our mental health. One of Kavitha’s assignments explored the mental health benefits of gardening and even of having plants in the workplace. There is a lot of published work supporting this but I didn’t; need any of those references to tell me my springs were easing as we stepped off today and were completely relaxed by the time I had reclined on my back to watch the wind moving the tops of the trees. You have to be mental to trek into here. But that’s exactly why we do it.