The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.
Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made
is star-stuff too?
– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –
dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.
Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.
Monday, 30 April 2012
Home. Blossom, green lushness, bluebells. Big winds. Much rain – a shock after two weeks of bright sunny weather, mostly, in Scotland. Floods of all the rivers, in almost all the fields (seagull and waterfowl parties, pissed-off sheep and cattle) bordering the railway line, from Trent south to Totnes.
Zigzagging across the country from the Hebrides (boat, bus, boat) to the mainland (Oban), train to Glasgow, train to Carlisle, train along the lovely Tyne valley below Hadrian's Wall in Northumbria – how I love borderlands – to Stocksfield, from where, via two nights with my very dear friends and a fabulous oud-and-percussion concert by Palestinian, Iraqi* and Italian musicians at the Sage concert hall in Gateshead – I took the train again yesterday morning for what should have been a seven-and-a-half-hour journey direct to Totnes.
I think I love the English. A little bit of weather – and you'd think we'd be used to it here in the wet southwest – and all is shambolic panic. The train was stuck at Exeter, after 7 hours – so near! So far! – for quite a long time, with a couple of other trains, while they tried to track down various drivers from various 'wrong' trains in the disruption caused by trees on the line and flooding. I accidentally started a little exodus from our very empty train to another, for similar destinations, nearby, but having dragged my various and heavy bags across to it and finding it stuffed full of people, I dragged my bags off it again – after some indecisiveness, but again followed by the little crowd who seemed to be under the impression I was In The Know – just as the tannoy once again insinuated that this one too was looking for a driver. (The good, if surprising, smells of French cooking and the French accents of the staff had nearly swung it, in terms of my staying anyway, but not quite.) Just as we climbed aboard the first one again the French-maybe one took off... And we were there for a chunk more time. Never mistake impatience for insider knowledge, guys...
'Doing the right thing for the wrong reasons is catastrophic', came through on my twitterfeed this morning. I'm thinking too that doing the wrong thing for the right reasons is equally dodgy. I'm talking about my Posh Car. (I'm an inverted snob, I admit it; and one thing I'm invertedly-snobbish about is posh cars. Give me old, interesting, quirky, stylish rather than state-of-the-art, any day. I've driven a number of interesting cars in my past; and due to the rarity of their parts and their age they've also normally been quite stress-making when they've gone wrong [not infrequently].)
The last one, in reaction to interesting-but-stressful, wasn't either interesting or posh, but it went and kept going for quite a long time, and it was a good colour. Oh and a decent workhorse that ran on recycled chip oil. And apart from the time it caught fire it was almost stress-free. However, it has to be said that it also issued, latterly, rather a lot of blue smoke – which undid all the good I was doing in running on nearly-zero-emissions chip oil, especially since it required almost as much engine oil as fuel oil. My garage shook its head – well, the garage prop did – at the last service, in regard to whether it would get me to the islands – about a week before I was due to leave. Seemed to me that I needed to buy something trustworthy as a matter of urgency, breaking into my small savings to do so. What I didn't need was more stress.
Seemed to me a new car would work. (Well, ten years old is new to me.) And it's smart. And it's well-engineered ('vorpsrung durch technik'). OK it's Cool Graphite; not my natural choice of colour. (Perhaps if I'd bought a blue or green car things would have been OK?) It's a small engine capacity so economical. Of course I went through the 'shouldn't own a car at all but can't live in the sticks and earn a living without one'/'if diesel I can run on chip oil, but it will blow the seals so then I'll be running on diesel again, with a better mpg than petrol but worse for the planet' dilemmas... (You should see me buying dog food; and yes I know how many Golfs it costs the planet each year for me to keep a dog, but actually I make some and now we have a freezer intend to make a lot more of her grain and veg-based food, with a bit of local free range meat/fish/egg.)
Yellow light on dash that came on 60 miles into my ownership (car bought without warranty) has cost me a few hundred pounds with no diagnosis. At least with the old car with no proper electronic dashboard there were no extra lights to come on and worry me!
Car made, I realise now, dammit, for urban driving, of which I do almost none – so low-slung that it bottomed out continuously on the rough tracks on the Isle of Mull. Hadn't allowed for that. Also strong brake smell all the way up the M6. Since my daughter was bringing it back alone with dogs aboard my stress levels would have been better with the old Peugeot – at least I knew that it would probably just need a few gallons of engine oil on deck...
But I'm happy to say daughter made it safely home – a week before me (intentional, not due to my train delays!).
Am perhaps looking for a different vehicle.
I've just come across this little stream-of-consciousness passage in my journal from Iona. I have no idea when I wrote it, or what it was about – perhaps it was middle-of-the-night automatic writing?
I'm old enough to know now that loss and fear of loss strike as strong a connection as resonance, warmth and love – and that there is a way, too, to make a home in loss. Making it our own can also paradoxically free us. And so I slip this holey limpet – almost more hole than shell – onto my finger – I am married of course also to what's gone, as much as to what's present – and here, now, is a shucked-off husk of the sea, partaker of its tides, its song, its minerals – and a reminder that we need to inhabit the gaps as well as what's solid...
Saturday, 28 April 2012
The experience of Iona is simply too huge to write about in retrospect – I only manage to articulate the magic of the intense week if I write a little at a time at the time. This year, laptop aloft, I haunted the lounges and corridors and counters of the Argyll Hotel hunting a bar of wifi to no avail. (I reminded myself of the Hungry Ghosts of the Tibetan Buddhist bardo realms – the ones who have big empty bellies and tiny little mouths – too small to receive nourishment; in this case, the dubious but undoubtedly stimulating food of the worldwideweb.) I rather wish I'd stayed with my usual first impulse – to remain gadget-free during this retreat week. It's a very different impulse; and for me it's increasingly crucial to have that kind of fasting-time built into my life.
So this year, after the event, from Northumbria and full wifi, here are a couple of little poems and a couple of photos for you:
The last ferry clangs in
people descend then silence
out in the garden
a thrush tugs a worm
nearby three girls
laugh softly together
the sea sighs
its long outbreath
evening is a page
waiting to be read
those wavelets in the Sound
how we want them to be
dolphins, or seals –
how we crave
these encounters with wild
with the fingertips
of the gods
when you have done your travelling
remember how the sea
swayed under you
held you up
breathed its long slow note –
now now now
~ Roselle Angwin
Friday, 20 April 2012
If the wifi here is powerful enough, instead I'll upload another photo or two. Either way, you can imagine another day full of shifting sealight, birds of prey, wheatears and warblers, miniature windflowers, celandines, red deer keeping watch on dog and human below from their upland plateaux, bars of white sand, raised beaches and ruined mediaeval hamlets and graveyards, and intense intense blue...
|treshnish to traigh calgaraidh|
Wednesday, 18 April 2012
Storm. Dusk stretches and stretches here in the islands even in April. We light the fire, don't close the blinds, watch clouds steal Coll, Ardnamurchan, Rhum, Cuillins, the ocean, the thin white crescent of sand. Our horizon: tumble of blackhouse boulders – mossy raiment of greens golds rusts, hem of new nettles. Cattle come down to the lee from the uplands, black calves bounding and jostling. Skylarks fall silent, rain batters, night dissolves, dehumanises. We stop holding on, loosen boundaries to windmusic, let the dark come, allow what's real out there to merge with what's real in our heads, allow sleep.
Monday, 16 April 2012
I can feel something brittle, something taut, inside me, habitually over-wound after these several years of adrenalin-inducing crises, begin to loosen in small spasms, the way a cramped muscle grips and releases, grips and releases. This is why I've come 600+ miles – a crazy distance – with the M6 and M74 stuffed with congestion, accidents, 'incidents', with lights on my 'new' car's dashboard flashing alerts, with a strong rear brake smell, with a sick dog, with utter exhaustion – this is why.
Next week I'm running an intensive writing retreat on the sacred Isle of Iona, 'Islands of the Heart'. Usually I come here afterwards; this year I'm appreciating the break in the relentlessness of my recent life as a prelude to that. And the little converted 'blackhouse' (ex-fishing croft) I'm staying in has all I need, in its simplicity, and more. (No, it's a little more sophisticated than this one above, however.)
It's April. The swallows are just in from Africa, and soon the whales and basking sharks will be back in the Sound. If I want to, I can spend all day watching the sea (and have, on many occasions). Later, the red deer may appear on the skyline, and the hares will be feeding below in the meadows.
Now, early dusk, titanium sea and a strong golden pathway out from the sun over the isles of the West across the sea to me where I'm sitting on a rocky tump, with miniature primroses and dog violets blossoming, and wild flag irises down below by the cottage door, and a wheatear, and all thought suspended; and I'm home again, here in this moment, in its fullness.
The last night I sit outside
till day has bled itself west over the islands;
Coll with its crescent beaches a smudge
under the horned moon, my hand
cramped on my cooling mug,
and the sea annealed silver;
and they don’t come.
I leave the window open. Bunched shadows
of deer veer past
wary, a hare nudges
the berry-blue mass of sky.
All night I ebb and flow; I am
the rise and fall of the sea’s breathing.
A god, when it appears
smacks you awake, does not tread lightly.
cresting the waves, I’m slammed
from sleep by a great flank, dark, shining,
ploughing the thinning air
and when I swing my feet to the floor
I’m plunged chasms down in that single
sonic throb, bone-jarring –
in freefall now, and all the walls dissolving.
~ Roselle Angwin (2004), in Looking For Icarus (bluechrome 2005)
To this earth, still turning
To these bluebells, ramsons, dog's mercury
To the malachite head of the mallard on the leat
To the frosted watermeadows and the wading waterbirds
To the dog's brief breath in a shaft of misted sun
To the blossom-bent boughs of the bird cherry
To this eruption of spring
To this mouth that can speak or keep silent
To these eyes, that can speak without words
(after Thomas A Clark)
Wednesday, 11 April 2012
'Life is a Mystery. To numb our fear of the unknown we desensitize ourselves to the miracle of living. We perpetuate the nonchalant lie that we know who we are and what life is. Yet behind this preposterous bluff the Mystery remains unchanging, waiting for us to remember to wonder. It is waiting in a shaft of sunlight, in the thought of death, in the intoxication of new love, in the joy of childbirth or the shock of loss. One minute we are going about our business as if life were nothing special and the next we are face to face with profound, unfathomable, breathtaking Mystery. This is both the origin and consummation of the spiritual quest.'
~ Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy
Tuesday, 10 April 2012
|photo by Francis Jones|
'I must be losing the will to live,' I say wryly to TM. It's 7.30am and he's just picked me up from the garage where I've dropped my car off – just since posting yesterday another, different, problem has developed. My small savings are visibly dwindling. My comment is because where he's about to drop me and the dog to walk home from while he goes on to work, the hedges are lush with wild garlic – the nearest spot to us, a couple of miles away, and I have zero impulse to gather it.
More family bad news at the weekend, too. More work loose ends to tie up before I leave on Friday than seems possible.
And so it goes, this period. No doubt we'll all emerge from the tunnel stronger; and meantime, our new potatoes are showing leafy green crowns; and also meantime, in the interests of sharing with you the wild strawberries of the present moment, I'm watching the antics of the birds in the courtyard with a cup of tea (me, not the birds).
All good PC people resist hierarchies ideologically – well, I do, anyway; but it's hard to argue against natural hierarchies, and this avian one is pretty strong.
The bluetits cluster in their tens on the feeder.
The great tits arrive and see them off with a certain amount of internecine jostling themselves.
The nuthatch dives in, turns him- or herself upside down and pecks fiercely and purposefully with that long honed beak at the feeder, having displaced the great tits.
The woodpecker flies in from across the valley in underarm arcs, so to speak, and lodges in the oak tree cautiously. If it's a mature bird it'll progress quietly to the feeder, displacing in its turn the nuthatch.
Within minutes, the magpie mafia arrive with great aggressive swoops and displace everyone. They patrol the courtyard officiously for minutes, and one may attempt to swing from the feeder, just to demonstrate that it can, for 30 seconds or so. Having cleared the area of all riffraff and trouble there's clearly little incentive to stay, so they parade around for a few more minutes and then flap off.
(If, though, the woodpecker is a juvenile who signals her arrival with a lot of anxious clucking, the whole process of mafia arrival is swifter.)
After all this, natural small-bird order restored, briefly, anyway, the pheasant picks its way modestly up the track, and displaces no one as it pecks around the base of the feeder, clearing up the fallen grain.
And now, my friends, to work...
Monday, 9 April 2012
Jonah Lehrer's book Imagine: How Creativity Works is published by Canongate Books on 19 April.
Saturday, 7 April 2012
Friday, 6 April 2012
Better luck in the veg garden today, where I have now planted three blackcurrant bushes, four raspberry canes from one that had self-seeded in a dwarf iris pot from wild stock in the woods on the Bere peninsula where I used to live, several salad mustard plants and some watercress, a row of rocket, a row of spring onion, two rows of leeks and two rows of leeks and carrots sown together. (I discovered last year how successful this was: the allium family repel carrot-fly and we had an amazing crop of huge fat juicy carrots, and in effect we had a successional sowing of leek, as we transplanted these as we lifted the carrots, so they came on later than the leek maincrop, and we're still eating them.) Oh and some sunflowers.
TM meanwhile, as I messed around with the girls' 'work' ('hello clouds, hello sky'), had excavated the whole massive compost bin, turned the other one, dug over two big beds and planted all the rest of our potatoes.
I also managed to avoid pulling up several dozen stunning little blue-eyed miniature forget-me-nots, instead planting round them. What is it about tiny wild things? Is it the 'cute' factor? These are barely 2cms tall, the whole plant that is: little pieces of brilliant sky fallen onto the soil.
As someone famously said, a weed is merely a plant growing in the wrong place. However, there is a question here: by leaving them where they are I have noticeably reduced my planting area. So what does one tend: the things one really needs to grow, or the things that are pretty? What one gives attention and space to is what will thrive.
This gets me to thinking about the weed equivalent in a human life – not innocent little forget-me-nots, but invasive bramble, nettle, dock – how greed, ignorance, melodrama, addiction, unhappiness, dysfunction etc are so often so much more interesting, compelling, and vigorous than other more worthy things: 'vice' is more seductive and pervasive than 'virtue' (and makes a better story).
Eventually the weeds displace the food crops.
I notice how averse I am to weeding out the distractions from my life: hours lost each week to facebook, twitter, emails when I could be spending that time writing, or seeing friends and family. And how I feed the weeds in my life which have pride of place in my identity: the 'poor exhausted me' wasteland, the 'stressed me' thicket, the me-with-a-dramatic-or-turbulent-history dark forest, and so on.
But those little blue-eyed forget-me-nots – ah, my soul needs them...
Wednesday, 4 April 2012
I can choose, of course, to a large extent how I relate to the troubles, but that doesn't mean they go away. It's one of those rather relentless periods in my life, as you might have gathered from previous posts; hence a certain lack of sparkle here on the blog (and in fact a certain lack of blog too!). Normal service will be resumed soon! And going off to the Hebrides will make a very big difference, as it always does.
The transits of the planets through the skies, and their mathematical relationships to each other and the earth, can offer symbolic insights, if one takes the view of 'as above so below'. If you are interested in astrology, then you will know that there are 'big' aspects between some of the outer or transpersonal planets and some of the personal ones at the moment, reflecting turbulence and the potential for transformation. In my own personal life, by age-point I am at the second Saturn return, with its prompt to explore internal limitations, boundaries, and that which does not serve us any more; through deconstruction and then reconstruction it offers an opportunity to finish more subtle levels of work initiated at the first Saturn return at 28-29 years (most people can relate to the idea that big changes in their life happened at that time: people often meet a significant other, get married, divorced, move house, start a new job or creative project, or have a baby at that time).
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