Friday, 1 January 2010

Happy New Year

New Year's Day in Aberdeenshire, and the snow is deep on the ground. I've never been to Scotland in winter until now, and it's astonishing for a Londoner like me to see the Highlands at this time of year. Icicles hanging from the rooftops, drifts of snow up to my waist when I tried to go for a walk in the woods (which look like Narnia), and last night, the most eerie moonlight at midnight. It was a full moon on New Year's Eve, and as we peered out into the darkness, it turned out not to be dark at all. At first, I thought perhaps I was seeing the Northern Lights -- for the first time ever -- but it looked more like Moominland, with the snowy peaks of Morven clearly visible in a strange green light. We could see all the way into the distance, beyond Morven, to the far hills that would usually be shrouded in velvety black. In such powerful moonlight, you could imagine werewolves coming down from the mountain, through the trees and into the garden; fortunately, the only creature that made itself heard was a chocolate brown cocker spaniel called Bill, who was snoring gently on his sheepskin rug.
It's snowing again now, but I am warm inside, and about to light a fire and eat some Bendick's Bitter Mints (particularly good on New Year's Day, I think, because they give the illusion of being refreshing.)
Here's a New Year thought from a local minister, who preached in these parts over a century ago, and he in turn provides an appropriate introduction to Lord Byron, who once walked the hills that I now gaze upon, all pristine and covered in snow. Byron wrote the poem in 1807, inspired by crags of Morven, as well as the curves of a female form. It's a bit gloomy in parts (well, Byronic, as to be expected), but less melancholy, I decided, than posting Thomas Hardy's 'The Darkling Thrush', which the poet dated December 31st 1900, striking a memorably bleak note for the new century.

"For the improvement of the human being himself much has been attempted, and it is to be hoped, something accomplished. In the departments of education and sanitation we have seen quite a revolution. Amid all these changes we trust there is one respect in which we have remained unimpaired – in the love of our kindred and love of our country. May the day be distant when the materialism of this cosmopolitan age shall so blunt the sensibilities of the youth reared under the shadow of Morven that wherever they roam their hearts should fail to be warmed by the strains of the youthful Byron, who sang so sweetly: –

Rev. John G. Michie, History of Logie-Coldstone and Braes of Cromar, 1896

When I rov’d a young Highlander o’er the dark heath,
And climb’d thy steep summit, oh Morven of snow!
To gaze on the torrent that thunder’d beneath,
Or the mist of the tempest that gather’d below;
Untutor’d by science, a stranger to fear,
And rude as the rocks, where my infancy grew,
No feeling, save one, to my bosom was dear;
Need I say, my sweet Mary, ’twas centred in you?

Yet it could not be Love, for I knew not the name, –
What passion can dwell in the heart of a child?
But, still, I perceive an emotion the same
As I felt, when a boy, on the crag-cover’d wild:
One image, alone, on my bosom impress’d,
I lov’d my bleak regions, nor panted for new;
And few were my wants, for my wishes were bless’d,
And pure were my thoughts, for my soul was with you.

I arose with the dawn, with my dog as my guide,
From mountain to mountain I bounded along;
I breasted the billows of Dee’s rushing tide,
And heard at a distance the Highlander’s song:
At eve, on my heath-cover’d couch of repose.
No dreams, save of Mary, were spread to my view;
And warm to the skies my devotions arose,
For the first of my prayers was a blessing on you.

I left my bleak home, and my visions are gone;
The mountains are vanish’d, my youth is no more;
As the last of my race, I must wither alone,
And delight but in days, I have witness’d before:
Ah! splendour has rais’d, but embitter’d my lot;
More dear were the scenes which my infancy knew:
Though my hopes may have fail’d, yet they are not forgot,
Though cold is my heart, still it lingers with you.

When I see some dark hill point its crest to the sky,
I think of the rocks that o’ershadow Colbleen;
When I see the soft blue of a love-speaking eye,
I think of those eyes that endear’d the rude scene;
When, haply, some light-waving locks I behold,
That faintly resemble my Mary’s in hue,
I think on the long flowing ringlets of gold,
The locks that were sacred to beauty, and you.

Yet the day may arrive, when the mountains once more
Shall rise to my sight, in their mantles of snow;
But while these soar above me, unchang’d as before,
Will Mary be there to receive me? – ah, no!
Adieu, then, ye hills, where my childhood was bred!
Thou sweet flowing Dee, to thy waters adieu!
No home in the forest shall shelter my head, –
Ah! Mary, what home could be mine, but with you?


Cornflower said...

Happy new year, Justine!

enid said...

Happy New Year Justine . I read somewhere that a new year wish was the hope that your hand will be put out in friendship but not in need. I quite liked that- carry on being an inspiring blogger. I feel a bit ashamed but we have been on the beach all day soaking up the sun and if I could I'd send you loads of sunshine but I do think your snowy photos are great.

kairu said...

Happy New Year, Justine! It is gray and chilly here, but I am warm inside, nursing a cup of tea and a sore tooth (but better tooth-ache than heart-ache, and my heart is full of happiness for all the wonderful people I have met - and "met" - in the past year). What wonderful books, what wonderful people, are ahead?

Sarah Standalone said...

Wishing you a happy new year Justine, and to all of your readers.

The photos of Aberdeenshire are magical, you can almost feel the cold and glimpse the sparkle.

All of our snow has melted here now, but we did take a trek out in the cold bright sunshine. As we walked back by harvested empty fields the setting sun smeared it's golden light onto the stubs of corn and the nearby tree tops. Time for pie and sloe gin!

natalka said...

Happy New Year, Justine!
Received your book Daphne (in Russian)as a present from my husband for New Year! Reading it all this snowy first day of the year... Best beginning :)
Thank you for the story and warm regards from Minsk, same full moon over here, no castles though

Karen, Surrey said...

Happy New Year. Aberdeenshire looks rather amazing, mystical and magical. In Surrey we have a fine sprinkling of "icing sugar" which at least means a clean dog after the walk. Thank you for your inspiring words keep it up in 2010.

Issy said...

Happy New Year from your friends on Scilly xxx

Knitting Out Loud said...

Happy New Year to Justine and everyone (from Maine, also snowy). And thank you for this wonderful blog.

Kentishmaid said...

The very best wishes for 2010. Wonderful you are spending this time up to your knees+in snow. Here in E Sussex we have just a dusting but very cold, I love it. Keeping winter is to be recommended. I think we all need the enforced break that this seasonal weather brings, along with the potential for reading, curling up,napping,drinking hot brews and some outdoor exercise of course!

Lazywell said...

That wasn't any old full moon, Justine; it was a Blue Moon, which almost by definition is pretty rare; certainly there hasn't been a blue moon on New Year's Eve since 1990. I'm no expert but I think it's when you get two full moons in one calendar month. Better have a look at Rick Stroud's book about the moon which I remember you wrote about last year.

Anyway, I'm not sure if it's the explanation for the eerie green light you witnessed. For a blue moon is no more green than it is blue.

There are quite a few songs where a blue moon signifies a blue heart. In the great Rodgers & Hart number, for example, the Blue Moon "saw me standing alone Without a dream in my heart Without a love of my own." But all ends happily, and “when I looked, the moon had turned to gold”. Similarly Elvis Presley, in a fine old country song, looks forward to a day "When my blue moon turns to gold again When the rainbow turns the clouds away When my blue moon turns to gold again You'll be back within my arms to stay."

I trust 2010 has dawned golden for you, Justine.

Oh, that place where you've been staying in Aberdeenshire – is it the one you wrote about in the summer with the Henry James connection? I watched “The Turn of the Screw” on the television the other night. Having never got very far with the book – his writing strikes me as inordinately convoluted – I found the production quite atmospheric. Did you see it, I wonder, and if so what did you make of it?

Justine Picardie said...

Thanks to everyone for your comments. I am warmed to the heart by your good wishes, and send you all mine in return. Very exciting that Daphne has made it to Minsk in a Russian translation (one of my grandparents came from Belarus, so they would have been proud). Very sad to hear that Kairu has a tooth-ache -- I send many commiserations, as my worst ever New Year was spent with a cracked molar, followed by root-canal work soon afterwards.
Thank you for the blue moon information. I do hope I'll see one again... In the meantime, I'm glad that the same moon shines over all of us, from Surrey to Seattle, Scotland to South Africa, Sussex and the Scilly Isles. I am raising a glass to each and every one of us in sloe gin...

oxford-reader said...

Happy new year, Justine - it looks as if you've had a wonderful time up in Scotland!

When I read your post first, there was the hugest moon I think I've ever seen (apart from an orange one in London some years back) hanging just above my house. Sadly my camera couldn't reproduce it, but it was startling in its brilliance!

I hope 2010 brings you some magical times!

Danielle said...

I really am not fond of snow (we've gotten oodles of it this year, too), but I have to say those are Gorgeous photos!! Happy New Year!