Friday, November 08, 2013

Friday Ramble - Shelter

Shelter's a word dear to a cronish heart in November when icy north winds blow, twilight, and Lady Winter is peering over the hill.

Daylight hours grow shorter, and one can become insular, retreating to stacks and shelves of books, beeswax candles, mugs of tea and a Morris chair by the hearth, pulling her draperies closed and trying to tune out the world beyond the windows.  In these weeks before Yule, I find myself turning inward and thinking about the tiny flame at the heart of things, its tender bloom promising warmth, sunlight and longer days somewhere up the trail, if we can only hang on.  Alas, these are merely November's middling pages, and there are several weeks to go before the light turns.

The etymology of shelter is obscure, but the word has been with us since the late sixteenth century, finding its origins perhaps in the much earlier Old English scieldtruma, scield meaning shield + truma meaning a unit of fighting men or warriors. Synonyms include: aerie, anchorage, apartment, asylum, cave, cove, cover, covert, crib, defense, den, digs, dwelling, guard, guardian, harbor, haven, hermitage, hide, hideaway, hideout, hole in the wall, home, house, housing, hut, lodge, lodging, nest, oasis, port, preserve, protector, quarters, rack, refuge, retirement, retreat, roof, roost, safety, sanctuary, screen, security, shack, shade, shadow, shed, shield, tent, tower, turf, umbrella.

By modern definition, a shelter is a structure or enclosure of some sort, a cabin or a cave, an embracing tree or thicket, a harbor shielded by guardian hills and out of the sea wind. Notions of rest, hibernation and sanctuary are central to all such things, and the poet priest Gerard Manley Hopkins described the fundamentals of shelter perfectly in his marvelous poem, Heaven/Haven:

I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
And a few lilies blow.

And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.

All beings have their shelters and sanctuaries, and the trappings are highly personal, enfolding that which denotes nurture and safety.  For deer and wild turkeys, it's the protection and nourishment afforded by woodland cedar groves in winter.  For hibernating bears, it's secluded leaf-strewn dens where they can sleep away winter.  For rabbits and hares, it's snug burrows in the earth and the overhanging branches of evergreens shielding them from icy temperatures and the rapt attention of predators. For me (for the most part), it's a fire on the hearth, a mug of Darjeeling tea and a comfortable chair out of the elements.

For the residents of the Battle River Bison farm in the Lanark Highlands, shelter is a movable feast, and they create their own wherever they happen to be, bracing themselves against the wind, lowering their lavishly maned heads into the snow and standing fast. When bison move, they move together and with assurance, facing directly into the elements rather than turning away as domestic cattle do, wild and woolly Highland cattle being the exception perhaps.

After many seasons of watching the bison herd, I've come to have a hearty respect and deep affection for the majestic creatures, and I spend hours peering into their paddock with a long lens on the camera. I could learn a thing or three from the bison, and I shall be working on that again this winter, hanging out by the fence and watching them just breathe in and out in the icy wind, facing into the elements myself and trying to stand firm and mindful as they do. There will (of course) be layers and layers of warm clothing involved, a camera and a whole bag of lenses too. Oh yes, we can do this.


Barbara Rogers said...

Here I am sitting in my personal haven, sanctuary...enjoying your most inspiring post. Thank you from my heart.

Shell said...

I love your description of being home with the beeswax candles and mug of tea.
The light will return, my friend, before we know it. It's odd to me how people consider Winter the darkest time. To me now in late Autumn is when the true darkness is.

Kameshwari said...

This is an excellent post. It is that time of year again, to look at your previous posts of lists of books to help us move to the Solstice. I think I'll gather up some of those books, and curl into a nice warm reading nook, with candles warm water and a hopeful ray of sunshine.