I love autumn. I love the changes that go on, as the weather wildens, the river swells and bursts its banks, trees shower us with vibrant colours, storms delight us from behind closed doors. Summer is of course lovely, but towards the end of the season things start to look jaded, the river drying at the edges, leaves dull with lack of rain, and a kind of foot tapping goes on inside me as I anticipate the adrenalin rush of autumn. It came on cue, as we visited Cornwall, enjoying amazingly warm and balmy days as the night winds howled and rain lashed the windows.
Reflecting on what to write about, the most memorable recent events revolve around my first sighting of seal pups. Last year I saw seals in Cornwall for the first time, from a cliff top walk close to Lands End. A year later, to my extreme delight I came across seal pups for the first time, in south Devon. A year ago I wouldn’t have known seals were to be seen in Devon, and certainly hadn’t a clue that this is the season for new births. Not the easiest of time for them, as the seas start to rage, 50% will die in their first year. But they manage to find safe passage into this world in caves and on beaches.
We first went to a cove in S Devon in September, where I was pleased to espy a female seal hauling out onto the beach. A few weeks later returning to the same place, we found 2 pups on the beach, one with its mother, the same female we had seen before looking for a good place to give birth. And more recently a phone call alerted us to a weaned pup on another Devon beach. This encounter was magical, being able to see the pup close up, standing at a safe distance with Selkie, as it lumbered towards us snarling and snorting. Seals look so cute, they are fierce beasts to be respected.
As I write I return in my thoughts to the story that launched me into this phase of my life, almost 15 years ago: a common story in cold northern sea-climes called “The Seal Maiden” or “The Selkie Story”. In her version “Sealskin, Soulskin” Clarissa Pinkola Estes says “ In the story, the old seal rises out of its own element to begin the call. It is a profound feature of the wild psyche that if we do not come on our own, the Old One will come for us, calling and calling until something in us responds. This feature of tales and myths encourages us to follow the call, even when we’ve no idea if where to go, in what direction, or for how long. So maybe we stumble around in the dark for a while, trying to find what calls us, but because we have managed not to talk ourselves out of being summoned by the wild one, we invariably stumble over our soulskin. When we breathe up that “soul-state” we automatically enter the feeling state of “This is right. I know what I need”.
She goes on to say, “The vehicles through and by which we reach “home” are many: music, art, forest, ocean, sunrise, solitude. These take us home to a nutritive inner world of ideas, order, and sustenance of its own…. time to contemplate, to learn, and uncover the forgotten, the disused and the buried. There we can imagine the future and also pore over the scar maps of the psyche, learning what led to what, and where we will go next
A retreat can be just the right time and place to enable our own particular “sealskin, soulskin” awakening. Another magical encounter.