As the Northern Hemisphere celebrates Beltane, we out here are in the autumn and aware of worlds thinning. It is Samhain and the time of bonfires and divination. I have a bowl of apples and nuts on the kitchen table and a collage of red and yellow leaves over the mantel. Birds’ feathers — goshawk, turtle dove, red-eyed pigeon, blacksmith plover — waft into the garden. The strelitzia are throwing up spikes that will open into a glorious bird-of-paradise flower.
It is a time for speaking with the ancestors as the theme of return blurs boundaries between past and present. My ancestors on my mother’s side are a rough harsh crew and I have no desire to speak with them — pioneering stock who emigrated out here to the Overberg in the 1820s or 1840s before heading up north to follow Cecil John Rhodes into Matabeleland. Gold prospectors, land-grabbers, cattle thieves.
Only recently did I find out anything about my father’s mother, Jean Hamilton, from Lanarkshire in Scotland, widowed young and bringing her children up in Edinburgh through the Depression years and World War II. Her children went their own ways — to Canada and to Africa. My father broke off all contact with her as a young man. I don’t know why. I assume she is dead but I have no idea when or how. I do not know if she ever heard of my existence, ever wondered about me.
If she should care to visit I would welcome any contact and connection. As I get older, that Scottish and Celtic aspect grows stronger within me. I know very little about my ancestors and have had no contact so far, nor sought any. A Scottish grandmother may well turn out to be a mixed blessing but the desire for contact is interesting in itself. Descendants of fucked-up expatriate families tend to scatter from the family bosom as soon as they are able.
When I was in Wales, what puzzled me was the fierce sense of belonging, of being there in order to find out something about that belonging. I wanted to visit Scotland but it was not possible. Yet the voices and connections kept coming to me all through that rainy spring and summer.
So tonight I shall light my bonfire and stare into the blue flames of the pine cones, peel my apples and stay with divinatory practices,watching and waiting by owl light. Noting the autumn chill and the halo around a waxing moon, the galaxies about me so strange-eyed and powerful. Staring through walls of time and place. Imaginging cattle being driven between two bonfires and a crone with her walking stick reading the peelings of the apples, the messages hidden in scored nuts and the runes scribbled on tombstones: hoping to glimpse the daughters and mothers and grandmothers circling the graves to mourn and celebrate.