Love the father you’re with…

“And if you can’t be with the one you love

Well, then, love the one you’re with…”

Stephen Stills (of Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills and Nash) wrote the song. It was considered a risky lyric back in 1970, but it caught the world’s imagination and became a best-seller. An occurrence on Sunday (Father’s day) made me smile and think of it, again.

We were walking near Glenlivet in the Highlands of North-East Scotland. It was the third day of the Silent Unicorn weekend, and the event was due to come to a close that afternoon. One of our attenders had travelled by train up from London for the weekend. She had packed light – just a rucksack…. and, in the unseasonal weather, she had looked cold.

As the father of two boys, I got used to their enthusiasm being greater than their ‘coatage’ as we used to call it. Many’s the time that my car boot has been raided for the array of older but ‘spare’ coats that they knew I kept in there.

My two sons generally ring me on Father’s Day. It’s appreciated when it happens. They are grown men, now, and have good careers.

Unlike Mother’s Day, which has a cultural and historic basis, Father’s Day has largely been manufactured… But it’s nice to get that phone call, or even a message.

On Father’s Day I’m usually away with the Silent Eye summer weekend, as we celebrate the approach of the solstice and the mystical ‘feast’ of St John – the polar opposite of the Christmas-time festival of St Stephen. These two key dates mark the start of a gradient of changing ‘light’ towards their opposite. The winter solstice is the shortest day – the maximum ‘darkness’. The summer solstice is the longest day – the fullest manifestation of physical and, by analogy, spiritual light.

I knew she was cold… my ‘father’s’ antennae were twitching. Gently, I approached her with the possibility. She nodded, gratefully; perhaps glad that someone had noticed. I took her to my car boot and pointed out the three spare garments that she was welcome to use… old habits die hard.

She could have known nothing about my life’s former ‘coatage’ habit for the protection of my sons….

She looked through the warm garments and quickly selected a recently-purchased Paramo fleece – lightweight and sporting an all-important hood. The next time I saw her – on the Saturday morning – she was wearing it beneath her gilet… and smiling. I smiled back, glad that the old technique of car boot spare had served someone beyond my own children.

On the Sunday morning, as we reached the dramatic site of a Neolithic mound, high above the river Spey, she approached me, wearing the fleece as the core garment in her outfit.

“You’re not my father,” she said, “but I just wanted to say happy Father’s Day…”

I took her shoulders gently, partly to hide the sudden tears, and gave her a small hug of thanks. For a second, I thought of my own children – one in Australia with their family, the other in Leeds with his wife; and this brave but warm being who had reached out to deliver that remarkable sentiment.

In such moments, we learn the real meaning of the word ‘humility’, and how magical and unexpected the actions of the world can be…

Perhaps Stephen Stills would have sung a special version that cold morning: ‘When you can’t be with the father you love, well then, love the one you’re with…’

©️Stephen Tanham

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The Golden Eye of Fiveness (3)

Figure One – the pentagram, emerging at the end of our search for perfect ‘fiveness’.

“It is highly dishonourable for a Reasonable Soul to live in so Divinely built a Mansion as the Body she resides in, altogether unacquainted with the exquisite structure of it…”

Robert Boyle

In Part One, and Part Two we looked at a the emergence of a special number, Phi, that allowed the division of any ‘whole’ – like a figure in a painting or a building – into a series of proportions that divided it, but also retained its original relationship to the overall dimensions. the original ‘parent’. The number cannot be written, exactly, because it is ‘irrational’ – really an infinite relationship whose digits never recur. But the table below shows its emergence, to three decimal places, from the Fibonacci series. See Part One for the details.

Figure Two: the Emergence of the Phi “Golden Mean” from the Fibonacci series

This magical number, often called the Golden Mean or the Golden Section, was named Phi after the Greek artist and sculptor, Phidias, best known for his design of the statue of Athena within the Parthenon in Athens and the celebrated status of Zeus at Olympus. Both works were famous for their beauty… and also a sense of ‘specialness’. The reason for the latter is less well understood, yet central to our final consideration of this essence of ‘fiveness’.

Figure Three: Reproduction of the Olympian Zeus in the sculptured antique art of Quatremère de Quincy (1815) Source Wikipedia. Public Domain. The original statue was 43 feet tall.

Phidias, or the school he belonged to, had discovered that the human body followed ‘divine proportions’ – all based on the magical number of Phi – approximated as 1.618.

In the human form, the primary unit of this ‘divided divinity’ was the vertical distance between the brow of the face (the top of the eye, as in ‘eyebrow’) and the tip of the nose. Taking this as a base, the the vertical distance from the brow to the crown of the head is Phi times the base unit -the brow to tip of nose.

Moving the other way, the Phi ratio applies between the nose tip to the base of the neck. Travelling down the body, the same ratio applies – but with increasing lengths – from the neck to the armpit, then the navel, to the reach of the fingertips, and, finally from the fingertips to the soles of the feet. Using this analysis, there are seven harmonic sections to the human body.

Phidias used these proportions to create his breathtaking art. His approach was copied by many throughout history, including Leonardo Da Vinci, who had also inherited a love of another symbol that encapsulated the uniqueness of this magical proportion – the pentagram.

Figure Four: The pentagram, the embodiment of the perfection of Phi in its human form.

The origin of the pentagram is lost in ancient history, but was known as an astronomical symbol around 6,000 years BC in the land that became Sumer – possibly to represent the visible planets: Jupiter, Mercury, Marks, Saturn and Venus.

Its rise in Western history is due to the adoption by the School of Pythagoras (approx 500 BC), who shaped so much of our philosophical thought. The Pythagoreans knew the mathematical properties of the Golden Ratio and its relationship to the pentagram. Pythagoras was said to keep his own small pentagram with him at all times.

To conclude this series of three posts. Let’s examine the pentagram in the light of what we have learned about the Golden Section –

This five-sided ‘star’ can stand alone, or can sit within either a pentagon or a circle. The simple iPad geometry app I’ve used to create these diagrams (Geometry Pad) allowed only one measurement to be shown while the snapshots were being taken. We need to combine the measurements shown in Figure Four and Figure Five.

Figure Five: the Phi ratio runs through the entire geometry of the pentagram.

Look at the line running from G to I. It has three divisions caused by the intersections with the other vertices. From Figure Four we see that the distance from G to the first intersection is 5 units. Figure five shows us that the next section is of length 3.095 units. Allowing for the slight inaccuracy of the graphics we can divide the smaller by the larger and get 1.618, which is the value of Phi – the Golden Section.

This is only one instance. The pentagram is entirely constructed from Phi and Phi squared. As we have seen, it is truly the glyph of the human, and its Phi-based symmetry is too closely allied to our proportions to be considered an accidental result.

The Vesica Piscis – birthing place of all sacred geometry

It is beyond the scope of this post but the pentagram first emerges – graphically – from the interaction of two circles, as above. First comes the point, then the line, then the triangle, then the square – then the pentagram. It occupies a very special place in Creation…

I believe we will go on discovering further depths to the pentagram in the years to come.

Other posts in this series:

One Two This is Three

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The Golden Eye of Fiveness (2)

Sunflower florets are arranged in a natural spiral having a Fibonacci sequence, with different values for clockwise and anticlockwise rotation. Image Wiki CC by SA 2.5 L. Shyamal – Own work.

In Part One, we looked at a very simple sequence of numbers that ‘orbited’ or homed-in on a certain value. Now we need to examine that value and look at the sheer magic of what it represents.

The ‘planet’ which has captured our spaceship emerges in the third line of black numbers from the Fibonacci sequence.

This new number was 1.618. It’s derivation is summarised in the diagram above, and described in the previous post. Simply: (red numbers) we add the two previous numbers to get the next. Next: (green numbers) we offset the first line of numbers one place to the right and, using a calculator to three decimal places, we treat the offset numbers of fractions, one number above the other. The third (black) line gives the calculator results, which stabilise at 1.618.

The ‘series’ that generates it – known as the Fibonacci series – came into existence at the time the world was abandoning the old and (by then) clumsy Roman notation (I, II, IV etc) and moving to the Arab-derived numerals that we use today.

The special number 1.618 is known by many names, such a the Golden Ratio and the Golden Mean. It is a number that shows us how we can divide something to protect its ‘wholeness’ in a harmonic way. By doing this, the divided figure will always exhibit pleasing proportions when placed next to (or within) the ‘parent’ figure. For example, Leonardo Da Vinci used it, extensively, in his most famous pictures.

But there are much deeper implications to this than something that looks or feels good, important though that is.

The materialist sees the world as having numbers by virtue of an ‘accident’ that they fit how we see and describe things. The mystic looks for the experience of ‘oneness’ with the processes that created the universe. You can’t find that experience unless you look for it. The universe owes us no debt of making it happen in our minds and hearts – the search must be ours… then the doors of perception will be opened.

Imagine that we have a strip of paper that we are going to divide by cutting with scissors. Let’s say the length of the initial strip is represented by the letter ‘A’. When we cut the strip we will have three values: the initial length (A); and the lengths of the two pieces we produce. We can name the two ‘child’ pieces (a) – the longest, and (b) – the shortest.

Under all circumstances, the original length (A) would be equal to the sum of the two children (a+b) . We can write this A=b+c, the most simple kind of ‘equation’ we could every want to see.

The miraculous Fibonacci number (given the name Phi in the 20th century) gives us the means to divide the original strip of paper such that the longer of the two child pieces bears the same relationship (ratio) to the original strip, as the larger child does to the smaller…

We can keep on doing this – cutting each successive larger portion – with smaller and smaller divisions of the original strip of paper. The whole ‘creation’ will be in harmonic proportions. This generation of smaller and smaller ‘harmonic’ children is called self-similarity.

Nature uses ‘Phi’ all the time. The recent science of Fractals shows how essential self-similar division is for nature to achieve its purposes. A tree is a fractal, for example, as are our lungs. Our blood vessels can carry oxygen to our cells because they follow fractal rules of becoming smaller and smaller within the finite space of our bodies. Only by using such structures can incredibly large processes fit into small spaces. The generation of Phi is not a fractal process, but it perfectly illustrates the marvel of the related fractal structures in nature.

Examples of this in nature include the petals of flowers, such as the sunflower, and the spirals of nautilus sea shells… But there are innumerable examples.

So, how would we actually work out the Phi-derived point of where to cut our twenty-unit strip of paper? We can arrange the self-similar formula so that we have a quadratic equation to solve, but where’s the fun in that!

Instead, we can look at the workings of the older graphical method carried out with the use of compass and straight edge. This brings home the inclusive and ‘connective’ nature of working by hand and is illustrated below:

The horizontal line A-B is the length of paper we wish to divide into the harmonic proportions given by the Fibonacci-derived Phi number 1.618. In this example, the length is 20 units.

To begin, we imagine we have turned the base line (A-B) into a square of four sides and select its right-hand vertical halfway point.

To shorten this, I have simply created point C at the correct half-value (10). The compass is placed on point C and set to the distance of C-B. We begin to draw an upward arc from B to the intersection with the hypotenuse A-C. We then set the compass to a base at the origin – A, and extend its pencil to the previous intersection with the hypotenuse. This time we draw downwards until the curve intersects with the original length A-B. The point of crossing is the length of the largest ‘child’ as above.

The length value, the golden ratio, gives us a new ‘longest child’ length of 12.36 units. We could cut at this point. The relationship of the larger child to the smaller is the same relationship as the original full length to the largest child.

This process could be repeated to infinity using the successive larger pieces. The entire family of larger pieces would inherit the divine proportions of the ‘mother’ length.

In the final post, next week, we will examine how the pentagram combines all the above properties into a single figure of dynamic value to mankind.

Other posts in this series:

One This is Two.

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The Golden Eye of Fiveness (1)

In the dream the Hermit was speaking. “I am the eye of fiveness,” he said.

I listened… dreams are not always this lucid.

“In the beginning was the division, not the multiplication; and the division contained what divided it, but in another form…”

I was listening, intently. The figure of the Hermit promised great insight…

No-thing can be a principle. It does not have to be nothing…” He paused, smiling. “But it does have to be a ghost…”

I wondered if you could blink in a dream… apparently not. He placed a dot in the centre of the sky. Then extended his arms into the shape of a draughtsman’s compass and drew, black on azure, a circle.

I smiled, understanding something, at last. “Ah, yes,” I said. “The dot is no-thing, but has existence – if only as a position. The dot is zero.” I paused, aware that my thinking was waking me up… I had to get to a point of…. memory or I would lose it all…

“The circle is everything and everywhere,” I said. “The circle – One – is the arena of existence!”

The way the Hermit faded indicated he was pleased. And then, like the Cheshire cat that left only a smile, he was gone…

That dream was many years ago. I was studying the pentagram and the way it was used in a magical school of the soul. I knew that the geometry – and hence the numeric basis – was closely linked to the organic life we all share.

But I wanted something deeper… and had asked for it.

I consider that my attitudes are roughly half ‘science’ and half mystical. That way, I avoid the worst excesses of both, such as mysticism’s inclination to be fluffy, and to espouse the most complex ‘magical’ theories, even if they are twice as forced as the simplest scientific truths.

Equally, science’s dogmatic adoption of the ‘we are the only truth‘ attitude is to be avoided. Consciousness is not rooted in numbers, but the human mechanism – the body and how it works – is.

So, if you’d like to join in, let’s go in search of what’s at the heart of the pentagram: ‘fiveness’. Stand up and take yourself into a different mental and emotional ‘space’. Tell yourself that you’re not doing something trivial, but something that’s a living key to how you are, or were, before the layers of civilisation, work and family walled us all in numbness.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. Source: Wikki, Public Domain

Stretch out your arms and legs so you look like Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous picture of the ‘Vitruvian Man’. Each hand’s five fingers and each foot’s five toes make up four of the five points of your human pentagram. Your head – the controller, communications receiver and maker of your organic ‘me’ – forms the other. We may reasonably ask what is the fiveness of the head? The question may already have triggered an answer in your mind….

If you’ve never encountered the Fibonacci series, stay with me and I’ll do my best to explain it – very simply. It’s worth the few minutes it will take to understand it.

Fibonacci: Begin on the (Red) First Row by simply adding the previous two numbers to get the next in the sequence.

We begin with zero, then one, because the whole of metaphysics is based on their relationship. Zero is the potential for all numbers to exist. One is symbolically the ‘monad’ – the complete everything from which we come and to which we will return; but One is also the first number, so is doubly useful in this example. We could say that, in Nature, everything is a fraction, yet Nature knows no fractions… Mankind sees only fractions, yet contains the seed of that which caused that division in the first place.

From zero and one, the next term in the series of Fibonacci numbers is generated by adding the two previous numbers. So, (from 0+1) we get another 1. At this point the series starts to take shape, growing quickly as each new number emerges from the sum of the previous two.

The row of green numbers is exactly the same line of numbers as the red ones above. But they have all been shifted one place to the right. What we’re going to do now is to create a fraction (don’t panic – I’ll do the calculations!) from each of the sets of two numbers; one above the other. So the first one would be 1/0 which is an invalid number, since we cannot divide by zero in ordinary mathematics. The next one is 1/1, which is just 1. The next one is 2/1, which is 2. We can see from this that we are swaying from one ‘extreme’ to the other; between the numbers 1 and 2.

Let’s continue to work these numbers to see what it is that we are swaying around… This is a bit like finding you’re a spaceship being pulled into the orbit of an unknown planet… but this planet holds one of the fundamental keys to the Universe…

The ‘planet’ which has captured our spaceship emerges in the third line of black numbers from the Fibonacci sequence.

It takes only ten ‘terms’ of the fractions from the Fibonacci series to produce the hidden planet to which our spaceship is being drawn. If you have a calculator you can check the fractions which lead to it; 5 divided by 3, 8 divided by 5, etc. Each of these divisions gets closer to a number that emerges in the greyed out boxes of term ten, above. From there onwards, the number 1.618 is present in all the results, which continue to ‘sway’ around finer and finer divisions of this mysterious destination.

In fact, we can never get at the final answer, since it is what maths calls an ‘irrational’ number – one that isn’t really a number at all, but is only defined by (in this case) an infinite (never-ending) convergence towards smaller and smaller units.

In practical terms this doesn’t matter. The three decimal places of 1.618 will do us fine. To go beyond this would involve us worrying about one ten-thousandth of a unit, which would be needed in only the most specialised engineering application, such as space travel!

But enough of the maths! We’ve landed on planet Phi… This mysterious number is so important that, like its cousin Pi, it has its own name. Phi is also known as the Golden Mean, the Golden Ratio… and a host of other historic names. It has been with us for a long time.. and very few people know its full significance.

In the next post we’ll examine what it Phi really means; and why it makes the Pentagram and Pentagon such important geometric figures in any world where harmony is important… which is just about everywhere. We’ll also consider why Phi is truly the ghost in the machine

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The Bedouin

Image by Cuyahoga from Pixabay

It is said we learn most from those we would wish to emulate. Not copy, perhaps, but take from them an essence of thought, of action. If we are younger, of style, even…

There must have been a thousand people in the room. The university hall was full. When he stood up to speak, his movements were relaxed. His body language gentle, open.

What was it, that air? It wasn’t bravado…. just a sense of being at home, there.

Before him, there had been a speaker giving lots of do’s and don’ts – mainly don’ts. The celebratory mood with which we had all gathered had been blunted. The new speaker looked around the room to encompass the space – as though drawing in all the negative energy and using it as raw material for something very different – like crushed stones in roadbuilding. That act, alone, taught me so much; that you can always ‘dance on’ negativity and treat it as a foundation layer, thereby giving it a home, rather than resisting it. Therein is true magic…

He looked around, drawing in breath to begin. Then smiled…. just that; a silent smile. I swear that all of us leaned forward when he did that, waiting for him to fill the pause: the not-thing, the empty glass he had just created. Instead of words, he filled it with gesture. There was a hush as everyone realised that they were not smiling and addressed it accordingly.

We smiled….

“Good morning,” he said, not looking or sounding like anyone should after a recent transatlantic flight.

Everyone responded, some twice and more loudly the second time. Laughing, good-natured. So far all he had done was to speak those three words; yet most of those watching were already with him, already a joyous part of what was being created.

And that was when I had the mind-picture of drifting sand; sand making lazy, curling and twisting patterns in the hot breeze…

“So the question is…” He spoke fluently, breathing and talking in measured beats, letting the rounded language sink in before moving to the next idea in what he was building. The rise and fall reminded me of a wave… and then I saw where the wave and the tumbling sand were headed. And I saw the dune – a vast wind-blown barchan, set in the middle of a hot desert, with a beautiful blue sky. A savage place to be, perhaps, but not in this projected mental space.

“I need a couple of people to help me?”

My raised hand was too far back to be noticed. His playful eyes ranged over the first few rows, picking out a man and a woman. They rose from their chairs as assured as I was that they would form part of something wonderful – that they needed to have no apprehension, let alone fear, in the spiritual composition to come.

He gave them each a simple prop and asked them to describe it, moving with the microphone to stand alongside them – not across – as they spoke. He nodded at the answers, taking what he needed from each.

“So what happens when we combine any two of these?” he asked.

As in a dance, he moved the two of them around the small stage, being playful but purposeful. At each key angle of his imagined circle, he stopped to check the arrangement and smiled. Whatever was being built grew…. there was no doubt in anyone’s mind; we could feel it. We might recognise the elements being used, and the circular pattern, but what he was creating was still a mystery.

“And now any three of them…” From his battered leather document case he produced a crescent of silver… and the beautiful desert in my mind was suddenly under faint stars and a bright moon. His two volunteers saw the pattern, and each, independently, began moving towards their host.

Three figures stood at the top of the dune. He took their hands and aligned them, stepping behind both and disappearing…

For a moment before the thunder of applause struck, the hall was full of a beauty that could never be rehearsed. Then the wind blew and the beautiful grains of desert sand dispersed into the imagined night…

I never forgot the Bedouin… and I have carried his lesson with me ever since.

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The light between the railway carriages

The light between the railway carriages…

It was one of the best analogies I ever had given to me; yet it took me years to grasp its fullness. Like any true seed of ‘spiritual’ insight, it was strong enough to lie on the rock till a little pocket of earth developed beneath – a receptive place into which it could extend its roots.

We all grow up thinking, without question, that ‘thought’ is continuous, and the basis for our ‘in-here’ existence. It may take a lifetime to see that the thought-machine that fronts our world is our own creation and coloured with our thinking and emotional history. This colouration paints ‘the’ world, making it our world, familiar in its likes and dislikes, fears and moments of courage – many of them unobserved, except by that mysterious watcher within us.

The world we inhabit is therefore the sum total of our reactions to everything that has happened to us. Many of these reactions protect us – like knowing not to put our hands onto something burningly hot; others fill us with prejudice against threats that are not present in our moment.

The ocean in which this history exists is the internal ‘field’ of our thoughts.

‘Look, there’s a cherry-blossom tree!’ We cry, imposing the history-carrying words over the raw and beautiful experience of the reality. Names are useful, but they also pre-program our seeing. Knowing this, we can work backwards if we choose, and repeatedly use the word so that it temporarily loses its meaning. We may then find ourselves on the edge of a kind of fear. Have we damaged our brain’s memory of what a cherry-blossom tree is?

Of course not… but staying within that uncertainty may teach us something.

Just seeing how the mind takes that defensive stance is instructive. If, instead of allowing that fear, we carry on with the exercise and spend a ‘mute’ few minutes next to the ever-changing perfection of the tree, we may experience the gap – the light – between the railway carriages of the train of consciousness thundering by on its eternal and dominating journey.

In those precious moments, we may see that there is a landscape beyond the noisy and flashing train, one that comes slowly into focus and reveals itself as a very different place, yet one to which we are, most certainly, closely related – since we and it are now still… gazing upon each other in a new way.

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Reelig Tall Trees

The tallest trees in Britain are to be found in Scotland, a short distance from Inverness in a quiet valley that links the Moray Firth with the north-east shores of Loch Ness.

Centred on a local peak called ‘The Aird’, the locally- celebrated ‘Tall Trees’ have been threaded with a series of walks of varying lengths. My wife, Bernie, is an horticulturalist by training, but neither of us had heard of the Reelig tall trees. It was about forty miles from where we were staying and too good an opportunity to miss…

We were spending a few winter days in this wild and beautiful part of Scotland in preparation for the Silent Eye’s ‘Macbeth’ weekend (The Silent Unicorn) in June, and came across a notice board that referenced the Aird estate.

Upon arrival we noticed that there are a number of paths through the forest. We wanted to do several things in the day, so chose the shortest one that still included all the most famous of these venerable trees.

This most popular path has recently been extended with an elevated section that forms a ‘switch-back’ to one side of the forest. The river Moniack winds through the park. A new bridge has been added – though the remains of the old one have been beautifully incorporated into the riverbanks.

The effect of the new section of path is wonderful. The original formed an ‘S’ shape through the vast trees. The extension crosses the river and climbs, steeply, curving back on a higher level towards the start of the walk and allowing the sheer vertical scale of the forest to be seen from different perspectives.

Many of the tallest of the Reelig trees have information ‘wings’ that fold out from slots in vertical posts.

The Reelig woodlands comprise a mixture of broad leaves trees and old conifers. The main group are giant Douglas Firs, many of which are over a hundred years old, and have reached over 170 feet.

In the year 2000, the then tallest tree – named Big Douglas – was measured at just over 200 feet. It was declared the tallest tree in Britain. A different Douglas fir in the Reelig forest has now been measured at nearly 218 ft, and is confirmed as Britain’s tallest, and is also the tallest conifer in Europe.

It was late March, and the photographs show that the landscape was still a winter one. We look forward to returning in the brightness of summer.

©Stephen Tanham

Sound of the Primeval

cruise new zealand fjords - 1 (1)

The grey dawn was breaking around the huge ship. It’s not a boat, Captain Thassos had explained. A ship is much bigger than a boat… you can fit several boats into a ship. Later on in the cruise he would provide a wonderful illustration of this. For now we were about to have an experience of a lifetime, and it was ironic that the very landscape dawning around us was very similar to the one on the other side of the planet that we were supposed to have visited…

cruise new zealand fjords - 4

Two years prior, we had booked our first ever cruise as an experimental holiday. We love landscapes – especially dramatic ones – and thought that a week’s trip to see the Norwegian fjords (from the inside) would be a wonderful holiday. We had never been cruising, and, frankly, I was doubtful that being kept prisoner on even a well-fed ship was going to be my cup of tea. With a week to go, our cruise was cancelled – due to overbooking. At first we were enraged; but the compensation package offered by Celebrity Cruises was so good that we accepted their sincere apology and, banking the voucher for a free cruise of the same value (plus our money back and all expenses), we looked at the forward calendar…. and wondered…

cruise new zealand fjords - 6

My eldest son and our daughter-in-law; plus our two grandchildren, live in Australia. Once every two years, we try to get out to see them. So, we thought, why not combine the two and spend November – one of the dreariest English months – having a combined Australia/New Zealand trip, with the replacement cruise being the first part of the experience. We are retired from a long life in IT, and happily, we can do this sort of thing –  but not too often, as cruising of any form is expensive.

cruise new zealand fjords - 16

We had left Sydney two days before. It was such a beautiful experience that I blogged about it at the time – from my iPhone. But Milford Sound, the most primeval landscape on the whole of New Zealand’s South Island, was now up ahead, and Captain Thassos was waking the whole ship, early, to allow us time to get ready for this very special experience. ‘Once in a lifetime experience’ is overused but in this case we had reason to believe it would be so. Much depends on the weather… You can travel to this, one of the most southerly places on the planet, and see nothing because of the mist. New Zealand is a beautifully misty place…

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But, as our luck with the Norwegian cruise had been bad, so this was was good – more than good, because, as my first sprint to the upper deck showed, we had the perfect combination of wispy mist and a clear morning – not always present in Milford Sound.

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It was still before seven in the morning, yet just about every able-bodied person was on one of the upper decks. The Solstice is one of the largest vessels on the seas. It dwarfed the other tourist boats going past us, as can be seen from the above photographs.

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Milford Sound is a misnomer. A sound is an outlet to the sea formed by a river system. Milford was created by a glacial system – the mountains all around give the clue. Because of this the ‘lip’ of Milford Sound is quite shallow; something that would have produced problems for large vessels until the latest generation of low-draught ships (such as the Solstice) came into service.

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The highlight of the experience came when we had penetrated Milford Sound to the end of its navigable depth. The Solstice is equipped with twin giant propellors that can be rotated through 360 degrees. This enables complete turns to be made within the length of the ship: the vessel simply rotates in the water on its horizontal axis. Captain Thassos made a point of stressing how much control it gave the crew in tight or difficult situations.

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The ‘doughnut’ turn complete, it was time to visit the last of the vast waterfalls that tumble from the highland peaks into Milford Sound. Then we made one last turn before heading back into the open waters of the ocean. There were two more locations to visit on the ‘Fjord Coast’ of New Zealand’s South Island, but none compared to Milford Sound. Visitors from inland face a difficult car journey or many days on foot to get there. We had arrived in the comfort of the huge Solstice, which also offered us her height from which to see the whole of glacial landscape.

The captain took care to explain that the apparent fumes given off by the Solstice-class boats are not polluting. The engines have catalytic processes that convert what would be diesel smoke to harmless vapour – that is what is seen emerging from the giant funnels.

The trip of a lifetime? It most certainly was. There were many other stopping points on our ten-day cruise around New Zealand. I will be writing about the best of them in posts to come.

©️Stephen Tanham


Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

 

 

The love of Winter trees

Returning home after a long trip, I am always taken by the sheer ‘energy’ in a British landscape. It may be adversarial with cold and rain, but it shakes the soul into a different kind of wakefulness.

The leaf-stripped trees are the most potent symbol of this for me. There, framed in total contrast, are living symbols of growth, of organic process, of four dimensions seen as one emotional rendering.

They will endure the Winter. Reduced to their raw being, they await the greening.

Everyone seems to love trees, and I love it that we do…

©Stephen Tanham