It is human nature to rebel against the encroachment of winter. At the Steiner School in the late afternoon, the rain cleared, and Darkness stepped coolly towards us.
The air was alive with chirping children’s voices. ‘I know where he’s gone,’ said a young boy. ‘He’s gone to the bamboo forest.’ Pranks were played, naughtiness frolicked amongst the trees, and all the time the lanterns began to appear. As Darkness threw her cloak over the end of day, more and more lights twinkled from the trees.
Then circles formed in the classrooms as the children were called inside. Their bellies were full and warm with tai chicken curry, dahl on rice, and hot tomato or buttercup soup. Our little one is in Class One, and we waited outside in the dark, wondering what would come next.
And then they began to emerge, little processions from each room.
Each one had its own style of lantern, depending on the age of the children and what they could manage.
Gradually they formed their lines, until all the classes were gathered. Silence. Waiting. Then the bagpipes began to play. A violin followed.
After an invocation to Matariki (the Pleiades), which is soon to return and mark the Maori new year, the children began to sing – Maori, Scottish, English songs and rounds, ringing out beautifully in the shivering air. Music drifting over the cloak of Darkness, while lanterns blinked and winked—and my cheeks softened, wet with tears.
Time collapsed and rolled into a ball, in which centuries past and this very day here and now all folded around one another, and by the time the hooded senior pupils came on with their flaming torches to banish the darkness, I no longer knew which era I was born into.
Asserting ‘enough!’ Turning the sun around. Banishing the dark of the dark. I tumble and roll back forty years or so, remembering these words of Thomas Hardy in ‘The Return of the Native’ as he described bonfires being lit on the hilltops of Wessex:
‘. . . to light a fire is the instructive and resistant act of man [sic] when, at the winter ingress, the curfew is sounded throughout Nature.’
‘It indicates a spontaneous Promethean rebelliousness against the fiat that this current season shall bring foul times, cold darkness, misery and death.
Black chaos comes, and the fettered gods of the earth say, Let there be light.’
Time rolls around again, and I am a young child, returning to drink up a sense of wonder and ceremony that I didn’t have at school. It is never too late to receive what was missing. And to rejoice that my granddaughter is having it all now.