Archive for June, 2021

Drinkwaters farm (ruin) en route to Great Hill. West Pennine Moors.

The track to the cricket field at White Coppice is a mess. Heavy Covid traffic has left it with deep potholes. The little blue car would not have made it without beaching. It’s a good job we came in the little black one. The last time I was here, in November, the car-park at the cricket field was full by eight in the morning, and the whole length of the track was parked nose to tail. Today, it’s nearly lunch-time and the place is all but deserted. We have a choice of spaces, so we park facing the lovely green sward of the cricket field, the shaggy moors rising beyond. Are things are drifting back to normal after all?

We’re forecast a gloomy one today, promise of light rain from midday. It has a steamy, sticky feel to it down here, but it’ll be cooler on the moor. The plan is a short hike to the top of Great Hill and back, eight hundred feet of ascent, and about four miles round. There’s a guy in a camo poncho, peeling off his boots. He’s beaten us to it with an early start. He’s had the worst of the rain, too, which was heavy first thing, and he looks drenched. Sweat or rain, it’s hard to tell. He wears camo pants and a camo jacket underneath – oh, and a camo hat.

It’s interesting, this creeping militarization of the Zeitgeist. Then there’s this word “tactical” infiltrating the marketing of the gear we use, like we’re all on special operations, and war – or the preparations for it – are the most natural and desired state for human beings. We miss so much of the world when all we’re seeing are potential enemies, and states of alarm.

Ignore me. I’m grumpy. It was hard to get going this morning. I fussed about with the big camera, and lenses, then left them all behind in favour of the smaller Lumix. It’s less hassle, and half the weight. It also seems to like these conditions, meaning a flat light, and not much of it. With the Lumix, you can set a fairly small aperture for depth of field, and still achieve a decent shutter speed. We get around the flat light by shooting bracketed exposures and superimposing them, which brings out textures in the gloomiest of skies. I’ve been experimenting with the method all year, and it’s added a lot of interest to my outdoor photography. It doesn’t always work, sometimes looks overblown and silly, but that’s part of the fun, and we should never stop learning, no matter how old we are.

So, we wander first up through the long abandoned quarries, looking for fresh shots. But we’ve shot this place to death, over half a century, and not much appeals today, not even the waterfalls, which can manage barely a dribble after such a long period of dry. We climb onto the moor, intersect with the main route to the hill from White Coppice, and it’s here we encounter an elderly lady, from behind, squatting in the middle of the path, performing her ablutions. I have to blink and work out exactly what it is I’m looking at, then look away and try to unsee it.

I think it’s safe to say most walkers will have answered calls of nature in the outdoors. Also, none of our posteriors are getting any better for keeping, but perhaps I am too shy in seeking at least a modicum of cover for my modesty – a tree say, well off the path, or a wall – and, actually, it matters nothing if we disturb the horses. Still, I prefer to think there are certain standards to be upheld, and the lady certainly put me off my lunch.

Great Hill from Drinkwaters farm

Anyway, it’s one of those days when the muscles are slow to warm, and the spring in the heels is lacking. Half an hour to Drinkwaters’ farm, and – yes – lunch. I try to clear the image of the lady’s bottom from my head, but to no avail. Indeed, I think I am damaged by it. Anyway, third sycamore tree from the left, and a view of the moor from Spitlers’ to the Round Loaf, then down to the plain. This is one of my favourite spots on the moor, even today when the weather is brisk and broody.

Another tell-tale of a year of heavy Covid footfall on the hill is how tame the sheep have become – well, not tame exactly – sheep are untamable, but they are intelligent creatures and not above begging scraps from one’s ruck-sack, nor indeed helping themselves, if they think they can get away with it. I’ve had this in the Lakes and the Howgills – the sheep shoving their heads in your sack before you’ve even sat down. Here, the Swaledales, several stout ewes and their lambs, at least have the manners to wait until I am comfortable. Then they approach with stealth, inch by inch, until I am surrounded. I watch them, bemused, unused to seeing them so close up. I have only a thermos of soup which does not interest them, so they settle around almost within petting distance, which is eerie. I suppose they are waiting to see if anything else appears from the sack. It doesn’t. We have a chat, and leave it at that. They were very decent about it, and good company.

Sycamore, Great Hill Farm (ruin), West Pennine Moors

On top, there is no one. It’s cooler here, and the sky, though not exactly breaking, is rippling into interesting textures. Though it’s a grey sort of day, visibility is stunning. Westwards we have a view across the Lancashire plain, down to the sea, from the Mersey to the Ribble, out as far as the wind farm and the gas field. Then, over the Fylde coast we have Blackpool, the Lake district mountains beyond that. North, we have Bowland, Pendle, the Dales. East, and closer to home is Darwen Moor. South, beyond the undulating ridge of Spitlers’ and Redmond’s edge, we have the porcupine back of Winter Hill with its array of transmitters. At just1252 feet above the sea, and like all hills, Great Hill makes a difference in lifting one’s perspective, both internally and externally. We retrace our steps to White Coppice, refreshed.

Back at the cricket field there is more camo, this time accompanied by gun-dogs and green wellies – a mixture of “tactical” and “shooting gentry”, I suppose. I leave the West Pennines to them for the day, and make a “tactical” retreat home. There I soak my feet, and peruse my photographs, see what came out and what did not.

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I want to write poetry,
just like in olden times
with a notebook, and a fountain pen,
and a book of common rhymes.

I want to watch the sunset,
across this folded dale,
with a lantern at my elbow,
as the light begins to fail,
and the sash taps out in whispers,
the ciphers of the muse,
dot-dot dash, dot-dot dash,
at the rising of the moon.

And if I pay attention,
yet resist that grasping urge
the pen might yet decipher
an authentic string of words,
a pattern in the ink strokes
on this smooth vanilla page,
a thing we can hold onto
at the fading of the age,
a string of understanding,
timeless and complete,
indelible and indifferent,
to control, and alt-delete.

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Clougha Pike, Forest of Bowland, Lancashire

I did not intend inspecting the shooting butts. The path just led away from the estate track, and I was tired of that track. As a way up Clougha Pike, it’s convenient, but probably the least interesting, that’s if you don’t count the impressive engineering and humungous cost that must have gone into laying it. The reason for laying it? Fleets of luxury four by fours, carrying unimaginably wealthy, tweeded gentlemen and their guns, from August 12th onwards.

Anyway, the path led off through the heather, and seemed to be going somewhere. But then it petered out among this line of neatly constructed bunkers. I mean, these were the Rolls-Royce of butts, dressed stone, then covered in turfs and heathers for camouflage. They even had attractively coloured gravel on the floor, so the gentlemen wouldn’t get their brogues and plus fours dirty. Believe me, those grouse wouldn’t know what had hit ’em, and with what style!

We’re in the north of Lancashire today, the Forest of Bowland, one of the wildest and most beautiful parts of England, also formerly one of the most forbidden. I grew up on tales of walkers chancing it up here, their scrapes with the keepers, outwitting the dogs sent after them, and avoiding the natives who sought feathers in their caps for grassing them up to the estate managers. It was all a bit – well – feudal. But then the Countryside and Rights of Way act (2000) opened access to certain parts of it, at least for recreation on foot. Clougha Pike’s in the access area, and so long as they’re not shooting, we’re free to roam here. Come after the glorious 12th though, and you could be disappointed.

Cairns approaching Clougha Pike

I’ve seen no one yet, and it’s been well over an hour. There were a few cars down on the little car-park, so I know there are other hikers about, but the moor has swallowed them. It’s my first time in the hills of this northern part of Bowland, so I’m not sure of the lie of the land, and none of the markers make sense yet. There were some elaborate cairns a while back, enticing us away from the track, but I wasn’t sure if they were just for fancy. The plan was to follow the track until the GPS said we were due east of the summit, then just make a bee-line for it. As for wildlife, the moors seem sterile today. No wild birds, nothing with four legs. There were sheep lower down, and all I’ve seen so far up here are grouse, and piles and piles of their droppings in every nook and cranny.

Bowland doesn’t really do tourists, or rather it kettles them into one or two little places, like Dunsop Bridge, and Slaidburn. You can still picnic along the leafy banks of the Langden Brook, but the land itself caters very little for anyone wanting access to the uplands. It’s rough country, and these are big hills. The signs in the valleys proclaim it to be an area of outstanding natural beauty, and they aren’t wrong, but they feature a Hen Harrier as a logo, which, ironically, along with all the other raptors up here, have a very hard time of it.

Clougha Pike Summit, Bowland, Lancashire

Okay, the summit. A short walk across the heather now and,… well. We have a collection of wind-shelters, informally put together from rocks lying about, and the trig-point. And the stunning view: Fylde Coast, Glasson, Lake District, Yorkshire Dales. There’s a path of sorts too. It follows the line of the ridge, looks like it came from as far over as Ward’s Stone. It’ll take us off I think – and looks more interesting than the way we came up.

What drove those walkers to do it? To trespass, I mean. Was it defiance? I suppose that’s one reason, without getting all political and Kinder Scout about it. The guys I knew were working men, unionized, with industrial jobs, but they didn’t wear their socialism on their lapels. Freedom to roam was more the thing. Not all the hills in Bowland have romantic profiles, but some do, and to any walker with the fire in his blood, a hill is there to be experienced, its summit to be gained. Anyone saying you can’t go up there is like a red rag to a bull.

They had the look of dugouts on the Somme, those butts – I mean Hollywood style, ridiculously tidy, where the killing involves no blood, or dismemberment, or evisceration, and where the shooters carry elaborately decorated arms. Upwards of half a million grouse are farmed and killed every year in places like this. When they’re not shooting birds, these gentlemen are out in Africa killing lions. It’s striking, what the really, really rich have in common, is their love of killing.

With that many grouse shot, you’d think it was a national dish or something, but these unfortunate creatures are essentially live “clays” and shot for fun. Rearing so many has a serious impact on the landscape, indeed it shapes the land. The moors as we see them here, wild, desolate, are entirely unnatural, managed specifically for the rearing of this non-native species, at the expense of native creatures, in particular the raptors who barely get a look in and, though protected in law, tend not to thrive in places like this at all – trapped, shot, poisoned.

On Clougha Pike, Bowland, Lancashire

I wonder what the land would be like, if we just gave it back to nature. How long would it take to transform this managed wilderness into something more diverse? What breathtaking diversity of species would return then? Pine Martin? Wild Cat? Merlin? Hell, even a fox or two would be a start! But that’s not going to happen any time soon, of course. It took a hundred years of campaigning against the money and the privilege, just for the privilege of my sitting where I’m sitting now. The sun will have burned out long before we’re anywhere near re-wilding the Forest of Bowland, or anywhere else in England for that matter. And all the clever men – not the money men – are telling us time is running out.

I think we’ll drive home through the Trough. It’s ages since we did that, and I’ve yet to do it in the little blue car – one of the finest drives I know.

Trough of Bowland, Lancashire

Thanks for listening.

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The Brandywine? Ribble Valley, Lancashire

It’s Galadriel who points out the sand martins, nesting in holes in the sandy banks, where the Calder meets the Ribble. The adults are scooping insects up from over the river and delivering them to their young. This is exhilarating for the watcher, but it’s clearly no fun being a bird. Being a bird, she says, is evolution cut to the bone. Only men and elves have evolved the time and the luxury to write poetry. Elven poetry of course is far superior, she adds, and it would be bad form for me to disagree.

There used to be a ferry here, a rowing boat across the Ribble. She tells me it was possibly the inspiration behind the ferry the hobbits used to escape their ghoulish pursuers in the opening trilogy of J R R Tolkien’s epic, The Lord of the Rings. It’s also said by those in search of Middle Earth, the confluence of the rivers, the Hodder and the Calder, feeding into the Ribble matches the confluence of the Brandywine, Withywindle and the Shirebourn – the three rivers of Tokien’s mythical Shire. Personally, I think that’s a bit of a stretch, since the Hodder feeds in about a kilometre upstream from here. But okay, let’s say the Ribble Valley might have inspired the work, along with many other parts of the English countryside, but does Lancashire make too much of its place in Tolkien lore? Oh, very much so, she says. But such is life, and the way of celebrity. We agree the man himself would have been nonplussed to have a walk named after him. For a guide to all the landscapes that might have inspired Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Galadriel says to click here.

The Hodder

When I first came this way, it was not called the Tolkien Trail. I’m not sure when that happened. She suspects it was to do with the movie trilogy, and certain enterprising publicans in Hurst Green. As for actual Tolkien scholars, she doubts we’re much on the radar. Tolkien lived in and around Stonyhurst college for a time, when his son was studying for the priesthood. That period coincided with his writing of the Lord of the Rings, which took him from 1937 to 1949. That it only appeared in print in 1955 is suggestive of some of the problems he had with his publishers.

If he was looking for a few hours walk, a quick squint at the map would have yielded a likely route. That’s how I pieced it together, and others before me. Maybe he did the same. It’s impossible to say, but that’s what they call it now: The Tolkien Trail. Weekdays, says Galadriel, one can still enjoy the tranquillity of it, but come weekend, it’s getting hammered, and in places the stress is showing.

Arriving earlier in Hurst Green, we were assailed by notices warning us not to park stupidly. There was plenty of space on the village hall car-park, with its honesty box. But I’m guessing of a weekend you’ll need to come crack of dawn-ish, or not at all.

We had a murky start, with a heavy, moody overcast, and a humid stickiness. By degrees, though, the day freshened, and the trees began to move. The camera was on the last bar of charge, but I had a spare battery, so I wasn’t bothered, until I realized I’d left the battery in the car. By now we were a mile out, and I wasn’t for turning back. I’d have to be sparing with the shots, and anyway, she reminded me, you’ve seen it all before, and the best bits you can’t take pictures of anyway. You just have to feel them.

We skirted the college, came down to the Hodder through Over Hacking wood, then followed the river downstream. The river was low and moving sleepy-slow. From a distance, it has the look of stewed tea, but up close there are attractive shades of green as it reflects the trees. We met a few walkers along the way, exchanged greetings. None noticed Galadriel. Elven folk can be like that – invisible to all but those they allow to see them.

It was mostly tranquil. There was just the one incident where a dog leaped a fence and set an entire meadow of sheep running for their lives, and the man chasing the dog seeming only to make matters worse. Each to their own, she mused, but wondered why people did not adopt small children instead. They’re much less trouble, can be taught to behave without having to tie them to you all the time. Also, the payback is immense. I tell her people are strange creatures and can rarely be fathomed rationally. She agrees.

Just before the Hodder enters the Ribble, we arrive at the busy B6243 and Cromwell’s Bridge, or so called – a romantic ruin spanning the river. It features large on Instagram. There were more warnings here about parking stupidly. I didn’t bother with a photograph. You can’t get a good one anyway without trespassing, and I wanted to save the battery. Here’s one I took earlier.

So then we come to the Ribble, and the sand-martins nesting in its banks, and we watch them for a while. Then she points out this lone fisherman, mid-stream casting his fly into the turbulence where the waters meet. I ask if I should cook up a haiku about him, but she says not to bother. He’s looking strangely at us. Perhaps he doesn’t like the way we’ve come down off the path to get a better view of the sand-martins. The river bank here bristles with the Anglefolk’s proprietary warnings. It’s his loss, she says.

The Winkley Oak

I read Tolkien’s books when I was in my twenties. There’s a lot in them. Indeed, they contain the life scholarship of a very clever man. It’s also where I first met Galadriel. The movies are a significant achievement, given that, for such a long time, the story was considered un-filmable. But, good as they are, they lack the literary depth of the novels, obviously. The novels can sustain several re-readings, and always a fresh discovery at a mythic or an archetypal level.

Tolkien was about so much more than elves and wizards, goblins, and trees that talk. But I guess that’s all he’ll be remembered for. It’s interesting how the Lord of the Rings and its prequel, The Hobbit, enjoyed by so many readers, young and old, have also been banned from conservative Christian homes, and institutions for their “irreligious” themes. Galadriel wrinkles her nose at that one, but agrees the stories touch a nerve at many levels.

We leave the fisherman to it, make our way back to Hurst Green. The path climbs from the river valley, the lower reaches of it washing away now with erosion from a heavy footfall. It will be challenging in the wet, and needs some restoration work. Finally, it’s across a meadow of lazy, sunbathing sheep, to emerge at the back of the Shireburn Arms.

“Fancy a drink?” I ask, though I’m not sure if this is the proper etiquette when dealing with Elven royalty.

She pulls a face. “No, let’s just paste it home, and have a cup of tea in the back garden, shall we?”

Sounds good to me. But of course, long before I’ve hit the M6, I turn to her, a question on my lips, and she’s gone. Elves are like that.

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Sea Pink, Lancashire coastal way, Glasson

The plan was to climb Ingleborough. But it’s a popular hill, and we realized at the last minute it was the half-term holiday. We’d be lucky to get near it or, once on it, we’d be trampled underfoot by herds of stampeding three-peakers. So we diverted to the Lancashire coast, and to Glasson. I wasn’t up to a sweaty climb anyway, felt tired after sleeping a bit funny. The little blue car felt jittery, and it had a bouncy clutch.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“It’s not me,” it said. “It’s you. Stop driving like you’re half asleep.”

So, nine a.m., the M6 is running thick and fast, just like in the old days. It’s been decided by a consensus that the pandemic is now over. Except it’s not. I had the second AZ jab last week, so I’m as immune as it gets, at least to the known variants. But there are mutations arising everywhere, and no certainty over how infectious, or dangerous they are, vaccinated or not. The World Health Organisation says we’re just going to have to live with it. But on the bright-side, the forecast is good, so everyone’s bound for Blackpool, or the Lakes. The sun shines, we forget our troubles, and make hay.

We sneak off at Junction 32, Broughton Bridge, and pick up the A6, north, pausing briefly here to drop the top and let some sunshine in. It’s cool to start, but the morning warms as we travel the rural lanes, to the coast at Cockerham. After rather a cold and wet May, the season seems to have come upon us suddenly, the hedgerows bursting with growth and colour, as if making up for lost time. Suddenly, it’s summer.

Glasson Harbour

Ten in the morning, and Glasson Harbour is quiet. It’ll fill up with visitors later, but most go no further than the harbour basin to picnic and catch some sun. We’ll be heading south to the marsh at Cockerham, then back along the coastal way. I’ve done this walk every year since 2014, usually on the last Friday of February, and for no particular reason. But early summer is as fine a time as any to be here. The paths, always heavy with mud, mid-winter, are now dust-dry, and the hedgerows are head high in waving white clouds of cow parsley.

I’ve got the big camera today and a couple of lenses, a wide one and a long one. I’m looking for wide shots of bright meadows, those summer heavy hedgerows, and puffy-cloud skies, as we trace the paths to Cockerham Marsh. Then I want some long ones when we circle back along the coastal way, in particular of the Plover Scar light.

The sheep are out on the marsh, sleepy in the sun, thousands of them, seeking shade or splashing in the tidal creeks. And there’s a profusion of sea pink in the rocks, and along the defences by the abbey. It makes a fine display, and is one of the unexpected highlights of the day.

Thursland Hill

The walk is about seven miles round, so two and a bit hours, and dead flat. The tide is far out, but the air is sea-scented, and heat-shaky, and there are oystercatchers and curlews on the mud-flats. Glasson is sweltering on our return, and bustling. We enjoy coffee and chips at the Lock Keeper’s Rest, before driving home. Top down, summer-scented hedgerows, blue skies and a sense of unhurried motion. It’s why I bought the car. I’m feeling great now, and the car feels super, super normal.

“See,” it says. “I told you it wasn’t me.”

Crook End Farm, Glasson

The M6 southbound is solid, but fast, and we flow with it. Northbound is solid and stationary from Broughton to beyond Leyland, which is my exit. I wonder if everyone is still banking on a day in Blackpool, even as the day slips away to late afternoon. The car ran well, touch wood, still coming up on 95,000. We’re just not getting the same miles in we once did. I’ll wash her off tomorrow. She deserves it, even though she can get a bit grumpy with me when I’m not entirely with it.

The Plover Scar Light, Glasson

Of the photographs I took, the quiet network of paths down to the marsh yielded the best results. They spoke of a balmy English summer, without the cynicism. Those scenes will never look quite the same again, or as fine, as they did today. I’ll use the one looking back to Thursland Hill as background on my laptop. It’ll keep me cosy throughout next winter.

None of the shots of the Plover Scar light really did it justice. I think you need the golden hour for that one. You need a long lens, a tripod to steady it, and the patience to find a leading line, with the tide in the right place to add a mirror for the flaming sky. I can picture it my head, but I’ll leave that one for the locals to pick their evening. I’m sure you’re not stuck for fine sunsets out here.

I don’t know what it was like on Ingleborough. We’ll save that one for later in the year, and an early start, but it couldn’t have been any better than the coast around Glasson.

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Some Jungian stuff today. I’m attempting to read Erich Neumann’s “Origins and History of Consciousness”. The book is beyond me, and I’m having to use a dictionary at some point on every page, which breaks the flow. In one sense it’s a technical work, aimed at the psychoanalytical community. In other ways, it’s a four-hundred-and-odd page poem about coming into being.

It’s about the development of an individual’s sense of “I”, also the psychological development of mankind, since the one reflects the other. What I don’t think is mentioned, since even Jung avoided direct talk of it, is that both are functions of an underlying metaphysics, built into the universe itself, that indeed it is the universe. Thus, psychoanalysis crosses the boundary into spirituality.

It’s heavy going, and this is my second attempt. Neumann, a student of Jung, lacks – for me at least – Jung’s ease with language. That said, it’s instructive to come at Jung from another direction, if only to rediscover old ground in a new light. What I’m reminded of today is how the metaphysical universe communicates in the language of symbols. Symbols are mental shapes given motion, and they arouse feeling. They might look like one thing, but we interpret them as something else. Symbols cloud together, so we can cross-reference, and map their meaning to something specific. Interpreted literally, the universe has no meaning, indeed appears, at times absurd. But when seen metaphorically, archetypally, the way is illumined as something else entirely

Culturally, western man thinks of the universe in physical terms, that what we see is all there is. Even what we can’t see we can glean by our ever more sophisticated instrumentation, by our science and our technology. There is nothing else. But such thinking leads to an impasse. Worse, it results in a breakdown in our natural development, because it’s not the full story. There is the universe as we see it, and then there’s the universe as it really is, and the two are not the same. Denying even the possibility of the universe as it is, we cut our selves off from our natural path and we disintegrate, as people and as a culture.

Jungian thinking posits the notion of a psychical underpinning to the universe. This is not to say the stars, the galaxies, the planets are alive and conscious of themselves. These are merely the bigger manifestations of the universe as we see it, not as it is. We don’t know how it is in itself. All we know of it is what we can perceive upon the screen of our senses. But while the rules governing material processes tend towards ever increasing states of disorder, universal consciousness tends towards greater levels of order, and it finds its greatest order, its sense of self-awareness, in each of us.

The formless aspect of the universe is a realm of archetypal pattern, whose behaviours we interpret through the language of myth. Myths are those stories which form the basis of human culture. They deal with the perplexing mysteries of where we come from, of how we should conduct ourselves while we’re here, and ultimately where we’re going. But since the individual mind is a microcosm of the universal mind, these stories can also be turned inward and used for self analysis. The world’s mythologies have more wisdom in them than any book on psychology.

And what the myths teach is that the individual life is the universe playing hide-and-seek with itself. We are born into the world, immersed in its material complexity, and having forgotten entirely who we really are. But we also have this strange kernel of longing for a greater understanding of the meaning of our lives. A life’s journey then becomes a journey to the realisation we are different versions of the same awareness, that we spring from the psychical ground of being. However, it’s one thing to be told such a thing, to be aware of it intellectually, quite another to feel it, and so to “know” it. To truly “know” it is to awaken.

To awaken, however, is a rare thing, even when you know the destination. But for the ordinary travelling souls, like me, what this also means is that if the road is of interest, we need only declare ourselves open for business, and the universe will co-operate to a degree that suits our personal limitations. It will constellate symbols around us and, if we can interpret them, they will draw us in a direction that is right for us. This is a little like confirmation bias, where we agree with those speakers who reflect best our own dispositions, and dislike those who do not.

The universe communicates by synchronicity. It leads us by coincidence to those things, events, or people that are most meaningful to us. And what is meaningful is that which will trigger the emotions we most need to address, they being of a negative, regressive variety. They cloud our vision, and muddy our minds. Whilst the goal here is not happiness, happiness becomes a more reliable companion, as a by-product of the process, while awakening remains the true goal.

The deeper we are lost in the game, the harder will our awakening be, and the more profound the lived experience. To what end, I don’t know. If I can ever get to the end of Neumann’s book, I may find out. But I’ve a feeling the universe was just having me on when it pointed him out to me, and by so doing is pointing out – symbolically – my own limitations.

And if so, then fair enough, but I remain, as ever, open for business.

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