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Shadowdance

This is the last post on ‘landscape’ and ‘meaning’ for a bit, too much of a good thing and all that.

I wrote this last year, and this is possibly an opportune moment to post it.

All the agonizing we might do over this subject of ‘landscape’ overlooks a simple reality: light and landscape together are magical, and they move us. They can inspire us, subdue us, challenge us, even overwhelm us too. It has always been so.

And I love the fact that stories that speak of landscape are always alive; as our perception of place changes with the seasons, with time, with the weather and with our mood, so the story evolves, but never ends.

This is an attempt to give some sense of that endless tale…

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Clava Cairns lie hidden in a fold of hillside behind my house.

“The site is an exceptionally well preserved group of prehistoric burial cairns that were built about 4,000 years ago. The Bronze Age cemetery complex is made up of passage graves, ring cairns, kerb cairn, standing stones and the remains of a chapel of unknown date. They are quite remarkable, and incredibly well preserved.

It was used in two periods. Around 2000 BC a row of large cairns was built, three of which can be seen today and there may once have been two more. A thousand years later the cemetery was reused. New burials were placed in some of the existing cairns and three smaller monuments were built including a ‘kerb cairn’.

In the 1990’s a thorough survey of the upstanding remains revealed previously unnoticed connections between the colour and texture of the building materials, the architecture of the monuments and their known relationship with the rising and setting sun.”

Those are the words that the archaeologists use to describe this place. They are enlightening. But they are not light.

Light writes a different story.

Clava Cairns © John MacPherson

Clava Cairns © John MacPherson

Last night I visited, and watched as the low winter sun dipped towards the horizon.

At first shade cloaked the site. The colours muted, shadows absent.

Then slowly sunlight spilled round a cloud and angled through the surrounding woodland; the trees winterbare, their shadows rippling across the ground. And every bump and undulation came alive, their presence revealed by light and shaping shade.

Some stoneshadows ran straight and touched trees, their shadows in turn bending, quite curiously, around other smaller stones….to touch another tree, which itself issued a long complex frieze of shadow filigree fraying off to distance.

Clava Cairns © John MacPherson

Clava Cairns © John MacPherson

As the sun reached for the horizon, to pull itself towards night, the story that the light told about this landscape shifted and changed. A story read, in part, by those who built this place; but a tale not yet ended.

And as I watched, the shadowlines lengthened, longer and longer, and longer still, but always, before they reached their final chapter, the story’s end, always….stopped. By night.

Gone. To dance on only in the brightness of our imaginations.

More articles from John Macpherson

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