Johnny Clegg's Stone

  • Friday, August 30, 2019
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And we are the scatterlings of Africa
On a journey to the stars
Far below, we leave forever
Dreams of what we were.

There is a heatwave in my garden. There is no breeze unless you count the great rising thermals of hot air snagging beneath the brim of my torn sombrero and pushing the butterflies upwards in erratic flight. High above a buzzard is circling, a lone sentinel maintaining an aerial reconnaissance of the far below while I sit surrounded by flowers of orange and yellow, bending beneath the weight of the bees, my bare feet pushed into the cool grass and a tall spinach smoothie frosting by my hand.
This is where I start and end my runs.
Most of the summer I’ve run with the words and the tune of John Denver singing sunshine on my shoulders repeating in my heart for the people I love and have loved, most of whom I’ve known and a few I’ve never met, people I take with me in spirit, my only companions in a summer of running solitude.

If I had a day that I could give you
 I’d give to you the day just like today
If I had a song that I could sing for you
I'd sing a song to make you feel this way,

A simple song by an simple man, appreciating the blessings of love and the profundity of a simple life.
Yesterday I ran with the ghost of Johnny Clegg, a complex man and iconoclast who gave us unique music and the humanity and courage to look for holes in the fences that divide people. In one hand he carried a Zulu fighting stick and I could hear him singing with the poetic cadence that only the truly passionate possess and that relegates the rest of us to positions of mere mortals and cultural serfdom,

O Siyeza, o siyeza , sizofika webaba noma
(we are coming, we are coming, we will arrive soon)
O siyeza, o siyeza, siyagudle lomhlaba
(we are coming, we are coming, we are moving across this earth)
Siyawela lapheshaya lulezontaba ezimnyama
(we are crossing over those dark mountains)
Lapha sobheka phansi konke ukhulupheka
(where we will lay down our troubles)

I was carrying a stone of blue and grey which I had inscribed with the lyrics of a song. I stopped at the river flowing clear and bright over the brown pebbles as the evening breeze riffled the surface into Venetian ripples of silver and black. Squatting in the stream I scooped up handfuls of cold pebbles into a small island and placed my stone there because rivers rise, flow and empty to be absorbed into the vastness at their journeys end. It was another fragment of my life gone like the sparks thrown skyward by a bonfire that burn momentarily bright, die and disappear forever, just the memory remains, vivid and bright and imbued with meaning that exceeds our understanding. I stood for a moment absorbed by the tranquility of the shadows flickering like ciphers across my face before scrambling up the bank to continue my run alone, the spaces around me empty of apparitions and the songs silent, all that remained were the other things that sustain and motivate my run, the sound of my feet on the earth, the rasp of the breath in my chest and running hard to keep the smile from sliding off the side of my face.
 Johnny Clegg, June 1953-July 2019
Lyrics from the song, The Crossing


I must harvest the Sun

  • Tuesday, April 30, 2019
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He aint gettin' nowhere and he's losin' his share, He must have gone crazy out there. 
(Michael Burton, Night Riders Lament)

It is Spring in England. This is always a time of significance for me, it is the end of the arduous and hated Winter and the aperitif to Summer. It is the time of year when I have run into the woods to listen for and hear the Woodpeckers and watch for the lengthening of the days. Spring ushers in the months where I must harvest the Sun, storing it in my skin and my bones, allowing me to replenish and renew what was leached away by the long dark. Spring brings the flowers too. The Japanese have an ancient tradition called Hanami which celebrates the blooming of the Cherry Blossoms, they sit under the trees and enjoy the transient beauty of the flowers while they last, acknowledging the idea of mono no aware - nothing is forever. My other Spring rite is running for the Bluebells which like the Cherry Blossom arrive in Spring and quickly bloom, dressing the woods in a garment of brilliant colour and then quickly disappear. Every year at this time I set off on Hanami runs to search out and enjoy these beautiful and intense flowers while I can, it is a habit of joy that binds it's hands with those of the sun to plant the perennial seeds of life in my soul. I absolutely need this.
I have also been reading a book.
It is a standard size paperback by Johann Hari called Lost Connections. The book is about depression, it's possible causes and the antidote to these causes. In the pages Johann muses about medication, the possibility that the effect of anti depressants has been given to much credence and puts forward the view that depression is not caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. Johann argues that it is the lost connections of humanity that have allowed depression to take root in peoples lives. Some examples of these lost connections are things such as the disconnection from community, childhood trauma, lack of meaningful purpose and losing touch with nature.
While I believe that medication can play a role and be beneficial there is a lot in the book that makes sense to me.
Reading it reminded me of a quote by Ivan Illich, the Austrian philosopher priest who said that, "Traditional society was more like a set of concentric circles of meaningful structures, while modern man must learn how to find meaning in many structures to which he is only marginally related. In the village, language and architecture and religion and work and family customs were consistent with one another, mutually explanatory and reinforcing. To grow into one implied a growth into others."
These are wise and prophetic words that seem to confirm Hari's thinking.
The connections Illich refers to have great power and many of them have broken down in contemporary society. I believe that depression and anxiety are rising to epidemic levels especially in young people and the breakdown of traditional connections could be a big part of the cause.
Watching the sunrise in silence, Buzzards stretching their wings above a rising thermal or running amongst the Bluebells tell me that we are connected, threads in the same fabric. The door is open. Somewhere lies healing.
Ah but they've never seen the Northern Lights 
They've never seen a hawk on the wing 
They've never spent spring on the Great Divide 
And they've never heard ole' camp cookie sing