Take Time while Time doth Last

It’s a common complaint that comes with age – time seems to speed up and the days, months and years pass with alarming rapidity. The sixteenth century composer John Farmer, a key figure in the English Madrigal School set to music these words:

Take time, while time doth last
Mark how fair fadeth fast
Beware if envy reign:
Take heed of proud disdain;
Hold fast, now in thy youth
Regard thy vowed truth;
Lest when thou waxeth old
Friends fail and love grow cold

The verse makes us aware of the dangers of taking time for granted, of continually chasing after the next exciting thing without appreciating what is happening in the present. Farmer expresses what has become a modern cry – we all need to slow down and enjoy the present moment.

An egg timer reminds us that time is always chasing us
Time always seems to be chasing us…

For life to function effectively we have had to find ways of measuring time. In his article ‘The Benefits of Taking Your Time’ Barry Boyce writes:

‘The clock, the calendar, the days of the week—it’s easy to forget that these are all human inventions. It’s also very hard to imagine a world without them, which is clearly why they were invented and why they’ve served the world so well. It certainly makes it easier to make an appointment to meet up for coffee in two weeks.’
An alarm clock keeps us on time
Make time work rather than dictate

But we also need to to manage time effectively…otherwise we can become overwhelmed.

Too many demands on time can lead to burn-out.
The danger that time can overwhelm us…

The COVID-19 pandemic threw our regular routines into chaos. But suddenly we were treating time differently. Some found more time for leisure – an isolated walk in the fresh air; time to bake a loaf of sourdough bread; time to decorate a room or read a book…

With extra time during lockdown many folk wee able to bake their own bread.
Baking the perfect loaf takes time.

Others found increased pressure – working from home in cramped conditions; the lack of social interaction; challenges of simply getting the groceries or caring for loved ones. Time played strange tricks on what had become straightforward routines and schedules. With the end of lockdown some suffered from burnout whilst others found difficulty adjusting to a return to work.

The COVID19 lock-down brought confusion and stress to many.
Lock-down caused a lot of mental anguish

Midwife Nancy Bardacke, in her work with expectant couples, introduced them to the idea of ‘horticultural time’ which follows nature’s clocks: all the different timescales that govern the natural world. Keen gardeners will be familiar with this. You cannot will a plant to grow faster. It grows at the rate it grows. I have a paeony growing in my garden that has not flowered in the fifteen years since it was first planted. Every year I threaten to dig it up. But then – oh joy! This spring it shows signs of displaying one glorious, fragrant bloom.

A paeony flowers after a long wait.
After fifteen years this paeony bloomed at last!

There are stories of thatched cottages which, when the thatch is replaced, shed seeds that have lain dormant for years. Scattered into the earth at last it’s as though they are kick-started into growth. Completely unexpected plants germinate, flourish and produce an abundance of unexpected blooms. The seeds provide fruit when they’re ready.

Long-dormant seeds provide flowers eventually...
Patience rewarded with unexpected blooms

It’s similar with babies: They come when they’re ready. ‘And just the same,’ Nancy comments, ‘once the baby is born, it will wreak havoc with clock time. It’s hungry when it’s hungry. It’s sleepy when it’s sleepy.’ New parents soon learn that they need to accept and go along with the rhythms of horticultural time. Ultimately it serves both parents and baby well.

Babies have their own timescale...
Sleeping baby: relieved parent

So we need to be careful how we handle time. We cannot stop the clock but we can learn to manage our time, to enjoy it and to benefit from the unexpected benefits it can bestow.

Time managed well can bring peace, prosperity and happiness.
Happy Hour!

The Light of Spring

As spring really (honestly – it’s truly here!) gets underway we can take time to see how the light has shifted since mid-winter. Suddenly it seems clearer, more vibrant. Colours have greater depth – they shine through and bring a sense of joy and hope. The hedgerows are full of fresh, young green leaf and often foam with the frothy white blossom of hawthorn.

A brilliant hedge of hawthorn against an azure sky
Spring light brings sharper focus and brighter colours

Primroses peep and pose – shyly and boldly. It seems that nothing can restrain their exuberance once they really get going.

The first primroses of spring demand attention
Peeping or posing – primroses make a bold show

The garden sees a sudden spurt in growth – the grass grows apace and shrubs that seemed dormant wake up and display fresh buds and the promise of glorious blooms. Bees and insects buzz and the birds are frantic with the urgent business of nest-building and gathering food for their young.

Fledglings demand food
Hungry mouths clamour to be fed

Step into the fresh air first thing in the morning and the air is fragrant with the green smell of grass and new foliage. As the sun gently warms trees, plants and flowers that fragrance becomes heady with sweet perfume.

Fragrance-filled air speaks of the joy of spring
The heady fragrance of spring flowers tuns heads with joy…

A walk in the countryside delivers familiar sights in all the brilliance of spring illumination. Choose a walk by sea or lake and it reveals water in all its moods. The scene sparkles in early morning light and then goes on shifting and changing as the day wears on. Restless and in constant motion the water fidgets and changes; an ever-transforming kaleidoscope of shade, colour and mood.

Calm, reflective sea…
…or wild, restless sea

Words from Alfred, Lord Tennyson describe it thus:

The splendour falls on castle walls
            And snowy summits old in story ;
        The long light shakes across the lakes,
            And the wild cataract leaps in glory.
A wild waterfall cascades and tumbles in exuberance
A cataract tumbles and leaps – almost for sheer joy

In reaction, our hearts, too, leap in glory as spring takes a firm hold; the winter seems far behind.

The Vernal Equinox pulls us into Spring

The Vernal Equinox ushers in a joyful time of growth, rebirth and renewal. With luck, the weather will be turning. The cold gloom of winter will be a memory. Thoughts will turn to the fresh new green foliage bursting forth on the hedgerows and there’ll be a real sense of warmth in the sunlight.

Spring sun arrives at last, bringing light and warmth
The arrival of spring light brings warmth at last

This year, Easter peeps around the corner. Beautiful hellebores seem to have a foot in both winter and spring; their alternative names are Christmas Rose or Lenten Rose, perhaps because they flower copiously throughout both seasons. Olive trees now put on fresh vigorous growth. Once it was a tree that could only be grown with tender care in our fickle climate but now they seem to thrive, even if their fruit is not always evident.

The leaves of an olive tree wave gently in the breeze
Silvery grey leaves of an olive tree wave in the breeze

The Hellebore gets its name from the Greek and a literal translation gives us ‘injures food.’ The Greeks used the plant as a poison – in food, and by adding it to a besieged city’s water supply. It holds a shadowy place in the flower world – half in spring, half in winter. Legend suggests that it sprang from the tears of a young girl who visited the Christ child at his birth but who had no gift to offer. As her tears fell, these beautiful white flowers sprang into being.

White petals resemble tears from a young girl who found she had no gift to offer the Christ child
The white petals resemble tears shed by a young girl who found she had no gift to offer the Christ child at his birth

Another legend claims that witches used the hellebore for flying and making themselves invisible. They would grind the flower into a powder, walk in it – and disappear! An ointment created from hellebore and fat, rubbed into the skin, would enable a witch to fly… or, at least, to believe that they might do so.

A broomstick leaning against a wall awaits its passenger
A broomstick awaits its passenger…

But the hellebore also stands for hope. It blooms in the dark of winter to remind us that spring will come and no matter how tough life might be there is something stronger pushing back.

The beauty of hellebores stand for hope
Hellebores: eternal symbols of hope

Olive trees are just as fascinating. Fossil evidence suggests that the olive has existed on our planet for between twenty and forty million years. Many ancient specimens exist – indeed it’s quite possible that some of the gnarled old trees in Gethsemane would have witnessed the agony of Christ in the garden just before his trial and crucifixion. The Hebrew word gatshmanim means ‘oil press’ and the name ‘Gethsemane’ means ‘garden with the olive press.’ Olive oil was used for cooking, for providing light and for anointing – it has long been held sacred and of great value.

A glass flask containing a quantity of precious olive oli
A flask holding a precious quantity of olive oil

It was an olive twig that the dove brought to Noah at the end of the great flood – ever since sprigs of this beautiful tree have been emblems of peace and reconciliation.

A twig from an olive tree symbolises peace and reconciliation
Symbol of peace and reconciliation

One guidebook for the Holy Land describes an olive orchard like this:

The lightest breeze crowns the olive trees with a silver halo that moves like a wave of light over the trees as the wind inverts the leaves. The underside of each olive leaf is covered with tiny whitish scales, while its upper side is green. When the wind rustles the leaves of the olive tree, this contrast of shades produces a unique silvery sheen. The light of the olive tree itself, together with the clear white flame produced by burning olive oil, made the olive the symbol of ‘light of the world,’ a symbol that helps explain Zechariah’s vision of the menorah.’
A family gather around a menorah
The Menorah – a sacred light

Look around you as spring advances and delight in all the signs of fresh growth and new life.