Winter Heliotrope

We’re on the edge here, we old people. The sea is all around us; it has been all our lives. Close, a few paces away. In the harbour tonight it is a dark, infinite presence. At other times it glows, light green and blue in a golden dawn. Sometimes the light is diffused by a transparent, white mist.

For a time we’ll look back to the land, enter the glow of a pub. Drink, laugh. Sing. Outside the wild wind  throws  up waves. The air is salty. Even to ignore its closeness is an act of courage, while, in the bar, the piano hammers out the old songs: ‘Ma, I miss your apple pie’, ‘The white cliffs of Dover.’ What we hold on to now is the warmth, friendship and optimism of this moment. Tomorrow many friends of mine, from that world, will be celebrating a Christmas lunch, in just that spirit. For a few moments there’ll be a joyful anarchy, a merry cacophony, as expiring balloons whizz and screech around the ceiling and crackers explode

We have journeyed through all our years to know this place, which in fact has never been far from us. In reaching that knowledge we have gained understanding of ourselves. With that has come great  sadness, rejoicing, regrets, a comprehension of darkness past, a prayer for healing for ills inflicted and received, and a steady gaze at what has still to be encountered. We will embark and sail on that sea soon.

We will take with us the songs and hope and defiance of the night which, however puny, has left us undefeated.We’ll trust that we’ll arrive at a new dawn.

I’ve written often of my love of the deep lanes of South Devon, of the primroses in its hedges at Easter and of the almond scented winter heliotrope which abounds in December by the waysides.

And, of course, the sea is very near.

It came back to me yesterday when, in Waitrose car park, I found a brick planter full of winter heliotrope. It’s regarded as a pernicious weed in the wrong place.

Among its lush green leaves a few pink flowers blossomed. I leant forward to take their scent. Sweet, drenched winter lanes, and the scent of almonds. It flowers in midwinter.

Thoughts of the sea. The plant’s name, as I suddenly realise, derives from its leaning towards the sun.  Perhaps I dare take it a step forward and add ‘The Son.’

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