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When the day does not yet belong to man

Part of my daily spiritual practice is going walking in nature, particularly in the morning. I’ve always been a morning walker – from childhood we had to leave the house early to make sure our furry friend Henry got a walk before school. Since COVID lockdown and the demise of my daily commute, the hours between waking and working have become my time. And I’m in good company. Writing a letter to her future mother-in-law in 1911 Mary Webb describes an excursion she’s gone on with her mother early one morning. I then wrote it into my fictional diary of Mary Webb I wrote for my PhD:

May 8th, 1911

Mother and I woke up early to go birds’ nesting and shared a rare and peaceful morning together. Just to look in the nests, not to take anything of course.

They look out at us with curiosity, not fear, a swallow’s nest hydra-headed with young. I love being out when the birds have not yet been awake long enough to get shy and frightened. The day does not yet belong to man.

One of the aspects of Mary Webb I particularly love is a sliver of biographical writing I found, hidden away inside her book, Gone to Earth. In it, the heroine of the book is so eager to get out into nature early in the morning, that she doesn’t have the patience to button up her dress, and instead fastens it with a safety pin. I think Mary Webb was describing herself – she’s very often snuck in biographical details to her novels. Finding them is like unearthing treasure.

This morning (it’s Christmas Day) at the luxury of a slower start than normal. This meant coffee and reading in bed while the sun made a tardy appearance.

My home backs onto a woodland area. At night, I can hear tawny owls calling to each other across the valley. This morning I was awakened by the most beautiful orange sunrise which called me out onto the High Moor. Thankfully modern clothes designs do away with the need for safety pins. When I got there, I was not the only one. There is a viewing point just at the top of the first hill, and this morning it was teaming with people who like me had been called out by the sunrise. As you drive across the hills you are then treated to sunrise after sunrise - each valley you drive down takes you back into the civil twilight, each hill you top gives you the gift of sunrise once again.

We may not all be pagan, we may not all find a spiritual path that is grounded in the nature that is around us, but on some primal level, many of us do hear the call of nature. She is there waiting for us, and on the crisp winter mornings when the water is bitey and fresh, I am reminded of one of my favourite blessing prayers (written by Francesca de la Grandis)- ‘I know the laws of Nature are you, Lady. Keep me mindful that I step upon your body, with your feet’.


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