from BARDO

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.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

and YES to the mist and rain (or solar and lunar principles)

I love the sun. I love being out in it, and the instant uplift all those bright photons bring. I've been finding excuses to get out into the sun as much as I can. And along with most other people in Britain I've bemoaned the fact that we've had so little of it, comparative to rain and wind, the last few summers. I've also been pissed off to lose so much of our veg crop to those rainbathers, the slugs and snails.

And yet... I loved stepping out, this morning, into the sweet misty damp in this corner of Devon; the soft scents of rosemary and lavender and geranium; the way the new spiders' webs caught and returned the light as so many sequins; the way mist had eclipsed the sharp outlines of things, dissolving boundaries; the way the oaks and ashes in the lane loosened fat raindrops into my uncovered hair. The sound of the branches sighing; the sound of the dog's wet paws on the twiggy lane surface.

The sun can at times be too demanding: the call is always there to be outside, to be active, to 'do' while the light is there, before the winter comes. The inner world needs, though, the penumbral; not just in the winter, but also, in my experience, daily, to balance the harsher, clearer penetration of solar energy. It needs to rest in shadowy places, to meander through a river valley, to sit and gaze, or to simply turn inwards, in quiet, with no purpose except to be inward.

We could say that spirit, the 'masculine' pole, is symbolised by this sharp-edged sword of the solar quality of energy: piercing the dark places with spears of light, bringing action, clarity, certainty, focus, objectivity, accuracy, intellect, the impersonal, the abstract, and a quality of 'outwardness' into the human world. It's drawn to space, sky, breadth and ascent. We could say that these are characteristics of the masculine principle abroad in the world, along with the rational and analytical mind that wants to unravel and understand all that it encounters.

But soul, the 'feminine' pole of this axis, is misty, inward, feeling-toned, moist, muse-ful, opaque, lunar, dreamy, lateral, receptive, instinctual, subjective, relational, imaginative and mysterious. Soul likes specific place, the personal, depth, darkness, descent.

The solar principle wants to penetrate mystery, understand it, explain it, conquer it, shake its meaning free, shape it. It wants to dispel shadow and confusion.

The lunar principle wants to enter mystery, be immersed in it, experience it, be entered by it, become it. It knows that light needs shadow, and order needs the breaking-down of apparent chaos and confusion before new life can be born. And it knows, too, that from these shadows life will emerge again, over and on, into the light. The law of continuing.

Monday, 29 July 2013

'The Perfect Tense' (poem)

In the summer of 2004 I found myself brokenhearted after a brief but beautiful and profound love affair. I needed a change of scene, and to do something completely different, and creative. On impulse I applied for a six-month residency at Sherborne Boys' School, in Dorset.

You have to understand that my politics are oriented to State education; and a private right-wing leaning all-boys school might not have seemed the obvious direction to take. I was deeply ambivalent, to put it mildly, about becoming part, even temporarily, of the public-school system.

I was interviewed by the Second Master, and the Head of English, both of whom were utterly charming, widely intelligent, interesting and engaging as well as socially-engaged men (I have to admit to having been party to certain stereotyping prejudices about the politics of teachers at English public schools). I was won over already.

My fate was sealed when I mentioned that I had dogs in the car, and the Head of English offered to show me the ancient holloway which formed part of the school's cross-country course where I could give the dogs a run. I fell in love with the landscape, and HoE and I talked non-stop of poetry. I realised with some chagrin that I then had to be presented to the Master; by that time I was muddy from head to toe, and the interview was to take place in the beautiful clean silent mediaeval library. The Head looked me up and down, smiled, and said 'You'll fit the bill. Your brief will be to introduce creativity into every aspect of the curriculum, in whatever way you see fit.'

And they found for me a wonderful little dog-friendly cottage with a walled garden in a small and utterly unspoilt village where, as it happens, the writer Thomas Hardy spent some time, writing it into his books, as his grandparents lived there.

That turned out to be one of the most rewarding and happy six-month periods of my life. In addition to working with creatuve writing in every department (which included posting electronic poems between the cadet-force and rugby fixtures on the digital displayboards around the place) I completed two books.

There's much to say about it all, but here that's merely an intro to this poem, which I wrote driving back from my interview (I pulled over into a layby maybe half a dozen times to jot this in fragments):

The Perfect Tense

Those young faces, smooth, unknown; their perfect limbs and white

                                                                                    whites of eyes -

            the way the world - here at least in England -

has not made holes in them; barely skims their shoulders,

barely pressing. No edges

                                    to host shadows.

            I think of my daughter, her face

unnavigated by more than a couple of decades. She is

            a windflower in a dusky wood.

                        Impossible to imagine that these collections of atoms

            could have so come together; will one day drift apart. Impossible

to want to imagine.

    Our children: they do not know how smooth their flesh is; are not aware

that the perfect tense is

                        here   now   always;

            and how easily it’s unmade.

Life, be unbruising; lend them lightness to outweigh

the shadows, lend them

            the perpetual motion of hope.


Late afternoon: wind seizes the trees with a madness; the puppy

            skips after fat leaves of hazel, oak, chestnut.

                        Clouds piled like grubby pillows in a laundry.

                        Later, back home in the field, on a flat stone

a little posse of glow-worms wait for the darkness to step by

            and light them up.

Across the hedges Shetland mares stand with their new young folded into creases

            among timothy grass            and buttercups.

                        Moths graze the air.

Now, dusk is slipstreaming calm

                                                and Venus

pokes through from the other world.


‘I don’t fear death,’ said Peter today,

            ‘only the dying.’

I am now, I realise, one of the initiates who know

             the truth: that death is an inescapable promise;

                                    a truth that will overtake me, too.

The light through water,

                                    under the cloud canopy,

is beautiful now, and frail -

                        it says it will not last;

and it promises, while it does, that it will loose something

in us

to wander towards the horizon

                        and go on wandering.

If you tune everything else out the silence you hear is the white noise

            of the singing spheres: the voice of the universe.

                        You can never get to its edge

                                    and yet

you could fit millions of universes on the already-crowded head

            of that pin, with all those minute-particle-angels.

            Come back, Giordano Bruno; they wouldn’t burn you

now. Your heresies are old-hat orthodoxy.

                                    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 totally disappear -

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

            Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.


The year

                        falls away from the zenith

            and the rowanberries are rouging up.

The hands tick round.

What will I salvage of this calendar?

            The throwing-away process has begun.

                        Between now and Allhallows falls the equinox:

the opposites poised in perfect creative tension

before the tumble into darkness.


            November 1, a new beginning for me

and the Celtic New Year.

            Remaking my life.



Now, dusk; all the available light -

            yellow, cyan, magenta -

inhaled and re-emitted by cranesbill, loosestrife, muskmallow.

My hand, making these words.


 © Roselle Angwin, in Looking For Icarus, 2005

Friday, 26 July 2013

'to be one more stone' – Pablo Neruda

The last few days fragments of a poem by the Chilean writer and dissident Pablo Neruda (immortalised, as they say, in the film Il Postino) have been insinuating their way into the gaps in my consciousness. The fragments have been: 'Earth, give me back your pure gifts, / the towers of silence which rose / from the solemnity of their roots/' and '...being one stone more, the dark stone / the pure stone which the river bears away.'

I know these words by heart. These scraps have been living beings in my inner world since I first came to this poem (in translation) when I was around 19 or 20.

My introduction to this poet (as with my intro to another great poet, also a politico from the Hispanic Americas, Octavio Paz), came in the form of the gift of a book of his poems, Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. Both poets have shaped my thinking and my writing; and several decades on I'm as inspired as I ever was by their work.

There is something very distinctly Latin American in both poets' work: a richness, a rawness, a depth that characterises, it seems to me, Latin American consciousness, and epitomised in, for instance, Gabriel Garcia Marquez' One Hundred Years of Solitude. Somehow, it seems to spring from a deep awareness of the continuing creative tension of solitude and community (even when that community might just be the one other of a love affair).

What I love about both poets is their deep passion, their duende: their ability to live with and juxtapose in their writings, too, both hope and despair, love and loss, the brutality of war and the gentler fruits of peace, birth and death, without covering up or anodysing the one or over-sugaring the other in compensation. Look, they say: this is how it is, and I'm not afraid to witness and record the heights and the depths of our humanness.

Ultimately, their work is something about how we have to make our own freedoms from what we are given; from what there is. This is the same for the person as for the poet, and I'd say is an inescapable conclusion of attempting to live life consciously.

Both of them bring an awareness of the cycles of relationship and silence; and how a life craves both, and makes something of their union (also something I think about a lot). And implicit in their work is the responsibility we have, we all have, poet or not, for the language we use and how it affects the world, its audience.

'Against silence and noise I invent the Word,' says Paz, 'freedom that invents itself and invents me every day.'

Another thing that I value in the Neruda poem from which those fragments come is his subtle and successful rendering of that ancient human need: to slip the boundaries of the constricting ego enough as dissolve, find union with, all that is. How may we move beyond a sense of separateness? This is one of my own preoccupations visible in my own poetry, too, I think. Mystics call it seeking divine union. Christians name the separative state in which we live The Fall. You could see our journey here on the material plane as a movement towards the enlarging of consciousness to the point at which it encompasses everything: other humans, other beings, the whole natural world; this is our task, perhaps, to move towards the wholeness that doesn't separate self from other.

I barely speak Spanish, but I can stumble through enough on the page as to be able, largely, to make my own translation of the Spanish alongside an English version. Sometimes this helps me figure whose translation works the best, to my ear, both as an accurate setting-down of the poet's intentions, and as a new poetic entity being given form. I've read a number of translations of the poem from which my opening fragments come, and this one, based on the translation by Alastair Read from Neruda's Isla Negra and collected into Nathaniel Tarn's Selected Poems of Pablo Neruda (Penguin) moves me enormously. I've taken the liberty of basing my own version on Read's, so what is below contains my tweaking of some of his words and punctuations to satisfy my own ear and eye.

Oh tierra, esperame (Oh, Earth, Wait for Me)

Return me, oh sun,
to my wild destiny,
rain of the ancient woods.
Bring me back its aroma, and the swords
that fall from the sky;
the solitary peace of pasture and rock,
the damp at the river margins,
the smell of the larch tree,
the wind alive like a beating heart
in the crowded restlessness 

of the towering araucaria.

Earth, give me back your pure gifts,
towers of silence which rose 

from the solemnity of their roots.
I want to go back to being what I haven’t been,
to learn to return from such depths
that among all natural things
I may live, or not live.  It doesn't matter 

if I'm just one more stone, the dark stone,
the pure stone that the river bears away.

Pablo Neruda

Monday, 22 July 2013

lushness, sun, storms and top bar beehives

You know how it can be that, no matter how much you love the sun, it can be a wee bit demanding if it's continuous, maybe? Respite is needed, if only for an hour or two. So this heatwave has been extraordinarily wonderful (and it's kept the slugs away from our veg), but the brief downpour last night was a kind of catharsis. We had dramatic lightning above us, and immediately on its heels huge thunderbolts. TM suspects lightning hit the roof – there was an internal flash in his study's steep pitched ceiling and all the lights went out briefly. Exciting, and no damage.

I love electric storms. In the high Pyrenees this time of year there's often an hour of an electric storm in the afternoon: the sky goes green, everything drops into attendant silence (even the goats stop meeehhhing), and then the lightning comes. After, there's a brief deluge; when it stops you can hear the creaks of the ground and trees soaking it up. Then, in the oak and chestnut woods where I was, in the Ariege, the yellow and black salamanders (I think they're properly called axolotl) creep out and claim all the paths. (I use this clear memory in a key scene in my timeslip novel Imago, partly set in the Pyrenees.)

Too much electricity in the air? It was a hard week last week, starting with a couple of shocks one after the other, right at the beginning, and not getting much better as it went on. However, it was also a huge and momentous week in other ways: finally I've rented a harp, having promised myself since I was in my teens I'd learn to play it one day. Also I used a little of my inherited runaway money (every woman should have some) to buy myself an old VW campervan. That's something else I've been longing for since I had to let one go in my early 30s as I couldn't afford to run it any more. And – crazy though it might sound – this is the only home I'll have ever owned, just me. I shan't live in it fulltime, of course – doesn't fit with a smallholding lifestyle – but I do intend to adventure and write in it.

And finally, too, we've had our beehive made. It's a beauty, made by a friend locally, out of larch and oak:

Top-bar hives are more bee-friendly than the commercial ones. Although of course it would be great to take off some honey, that isn't a priority for us (especially since I learned that a little worker bee who collects the pollen for the hive only lives for 8 or 9 weeks, and in that time makes just one teaspoon of honey). We've got it because our land is bee-friendly, bees need all the help they can get, and we have a lot of fruit trees and veg to be pollinated! We've sited it near my comfrey bed, and close to the beech trees at the woodland margin. All we need now is a colony! Yesterday we 'primed' the top horizontal transverse 'bars' that give it is name with beeswax and a little honeycomb, and dabbed just a smidge of lemongrass around the holes to attract any scout bees in the area who might be looking to help a swarm find a new home (if it's not too late already in the year). Failing that – if you know anyone in the Westcountry who could sell us a queen/some bees, I'd love to know!

I extended my herb and artichoke bed this year to include a wildflower bee-garden (also as above). The borage is going over now, and the papillon lavender ditto, but it has been lush and riotous and beautiful, and covered with a mass of bumblebees and some honeybees. I recommend a mix of some packets of native British wildflowers, and something called the beemat

Meantime, at long long last, the veg garden is actually producing and we've been able to stop the Riverford organic veg box delivery. It's taken forever this year (and those of you who have polytunnels will I know be laughing at this!).


An excellent outcome of TM's reading George Monbiot's inspiring, scholarly and poetic book Feral – searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding is that Monbiot achieved in four or five pages what I haven't achieved in four or five years: persuading TM to leave the meadow beyond the veg garden and orchard as meadow, wildlife habitat, instead of mowing it. HOORAY!

If you look closely, you might see in the middle foreground four big raised veg beds; and a blue smudge at the right is the hammock, with which I am enjoying becoming a little acquainted.

And now, with my neighbour away, I'm away myself to look after her 6 horses. Below is the lovely young Thea: had things panned out differently at New Year she'd have perhaps come to live with me... So an evening walk with her tonight, and Dog.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

moving beyond being a woman who 'loves too much'

Edgar Rubin's goblet/two faces
In my early 30s I purchased a book that I, snob that I am, wanted to hide in plain paper covers. Hardcore you-know-what? No. The Bible? No. It was a little book called Women Who Love Too Much ('WWLTM') and had one of those horrible cheap mass-market covers that has shiny raised lettering, suggesting that it might be in the lower echelons of touchy-feely New Age self-help feel-good writing.

That book, by psychologist Robin Norwood, was a hugely important find for me, and should perhaps be up there in the list of essential books for living your life; at least, if you're a woman. It's a deeply intelligent and highly relevant read to redress some of the imbalances that we have inherited, culturally and socially.

What's wrong with loving? you might cry. Can one love too much? you might also reasonably ask. The answers are 'nothing', and 'no', respectively, obviously.

The issue is indulging needy dysfunctional behaviour, one's own and another's, and calling it love.

While none of us, biologically and psychically, is entirely male or entirely female, certainly there appears to be a socio-cultural bias that reinforces whatever is predominant in our biology.

It's also, I believe, an important insight that we each have a trans-gender aspect. Usually, and almost inevitably, our unconscious inner-gender-opposite manifests itself in the falling-in-love bit of a romantic relationship, projected on another of the opposite gender (generally) – one who most nearly fits the screen of our life-story and beliefs. We typically fall out of love when we notice Other no longer quite fits the picture, and we typically blame it on him or her.

I say this because a great deal of the growth of consciousness, the growth towards wholeness, requires looking at our own projections and reclaiming our shadow, which then also frees the Other to be who they are meant to be.

In our culture, and at the very least since early Judeo-Christian times and probably a great deal longer than that, men are expected to behave in one way, women in another.

I make this statement because our collective cultural inheritance, East and West, but reinforced in the West by noble Christian ideas about self-sacrifice and unselfishness, defines 'love' in specific and perhaps culturally-useful but individually-suspect ways that embed certain social mores.

In Europe and the West we've also inherited our ideas of love from some of the Moorish Islamic ideas on which were founded the European ideals of courtly or romantic love that emerged directly from Eleanor of Aquitaine's Courts of Love in the early part of the last millennium. This paradigm of romantic love originally had, resonating beneath it, some notions of seeing the Divine in the human Beloved in order to effect some merging with the transcendent; in a secular culture, we've adopted the model, but our hunger for the experience of meaning and maybe transcendence we tend to invest in another human, who is supposed to make us feel good.

This model reinforces apparent biological determinism on a cultural level; it tends to expect women to love by enabling a man, bearing and rearing children, and putting their own needs bottom of the list, and men to love by not showing their feelings and getting out there to do the contemporary version of warfare and hunting – providing for the helpless woman. (Obviously, I'm putting this crudely and simplistically. Yes, I know that in theory we've moved beyond that; I disbelieve that it's that easy to shed millenia of conditioning so speedily, though.)

The upshot is, generally speaking, that women in particular sometimes seem to have a hard time valuing themselves and taking proper care of themselves, and many of us tend to fall into relationships where if things are difficult we feel subliminally that it's our fault, and we need to try harder, love more, be less selfish, etc etc. (It's for that reason that the book is named as it is; not because men aren't co-creators, and some will indeed experience what Norwood speaks of themselves, but generally it seems to be women who recognise this pattern.)

What's more, many of us are 'rescuers' – usually because of our own history. Instead of looking at what we're doing, we become preoccupied with the other: their needs, their behaviour, their faults, their agenda. Our own sublimated needs drive our behaviour in this, and of course we attract partners who need us to rescue them, even if that is never overt or explicit.

To that extent, our 'loving' is predicated, unconsciously, of course, and oh-so-subtly, on 'helping' and thereby becoming indispensable to another. We're also colluding with keeping the other small and undifferentiated – 'safe', in other words, in every sense of that word. Between adults, this is co-dependency: feeling ourselves to be responsible for another, instead of for our own behaviour towards another.

It's all too easy to set up such a climate of co-dependency, where each colludes with the other to remain less-than-wholly differentiated; dysfunctional, to whatever degree, rather than each agreeing to be responsible for making sure our own basic needs are met, and giving to the other out of a spirit of generosity and choice and mutual care and well-being (which has rather a lot more to do with love).

This genuine love will, at bottom, support the other in being all they might be – even if we risk that that growth takes the other away from us.

There is a whole book to write about this (and indeed I am partway through one; and there are many others already written), but right here I want to speak of one insidious manifestation of all this in our culture, and that is the confusion in our culture of love with getting our needs met, or of expecting the other to meet our needs 'if they really love me'. This is ego speaking. As Clarissa Pinkola Estés says: 'It is not from the ever-changing ego that we love one another, but from the wild soul. It takes a heart that is willing to die and be reborn, die and be reborn, over and over again.'

I want to keep this brief so I'm not going to follow all that up except to say that, while of course we expect, and reasonably, to have some of our needs met in our relationships, the other actually isn't on this earth to do that, and it has little to do with love.

Since that book, I've come a long way (as one might hope in 25 or so years); but still I fall back into old patterns at times of stress, and of course it's an ongoing process to attempt to live and love in a healthy non-dysfunctional way (especially when much of our cultural idiom confuses co-dependency with 'real love' – whoever writes popular songs, or bestselling novels, or award-winning films, about healthy relationships, for instance?).

In case it's useful to any other woman who doesn't know WWLTM, and struggles with these issues at times, here's Norwood's list of characteristics of a woman who's moved beyond this co-dependent tug and is operating as a healthy fully-functioning individual who is therefore genuinely able to give and receive love.

1 She accepts herself fully, even while wanting to change parts of herself. There is a basic self-love and self-regard, which she carefully nurtures and purposely expands.

2 She accepts others as they are, without trying to change them to meet her needs.

3 She is in touch with her feelings and attitudes about every aspect of her life, including her sexuality.

4 She cherishes every aspect of herself: her personality, her appearance, her beliefs and values, her body, her interests and accomplishments. She validates herself, rather than searching for a relationship to give her a sense of self-worth.

5 Her self-esteem is great enough that she can enjoy being with others, especially men, who are fine just as they are. She does not need to be needed in order to feel worthy.

6 She allows herself to be open and trusting with appropriate people. She is not afraid to be known at a deeply personal level, but she also does not expose herself to the exploitation of those who are not interested in her wellbeing.

7 She questions: 'Is this relationship good for me? Does it enable me to grow into all I'm capable of being?'

8 When a relationship is destructive, she is able to let go of it without experiencing disabling depression. She has a circle of supportive friends and healthy interests to see her through crises.

9 She values her own serenity above all else. All the struggles, drama and chaos of the past have lost their appeal. She is protective of herself, her health and her wellbeing.

10 She knows that a relationship, in order to work, must be between partners who share similar values, interests and goals, and who each have a capacity for intimacy. She also knows that she is worthy of the best that life has to offer.


I believe that the path of conscious personal relationship is as valid a sacred path as any other, dedicated as it is to wholeness. From time-to-time, under the Fire in the Head programme, I run courses and/or offer mentoring in this and related aspects of psychospiritual growth. If you are not on my mailing list and would like to hear about this or other of my courses, please use the contact form to the right.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

there is just this

Last night, driving through paradise, across the moor in the late dusk, each tor and hill behind me wearing a thinner veil of pink: Mis Tor, Staple Tor, the hill bordering the Tavy, then the first hill in Cornwall by the Tamar, then tor after tor of Bodmin (Rough Tor, Brown Willy) until they have paled to a blur of land and sky over the coast, terrestrial and celestial indistinguishable; air so thick and rich with summer even my clothes through the open windows surely scented with it. Behind me, my father's fading like the light; but still we can laugh, still we can walk in the garden.

I remember that other July, after my father's stroke, my mum's diagnosis, when consolation came in the dawn beach-walks, the crosscountry drive back West at dusk by haymeadows, cornfields; the blue body of the moor rising from the green and gold seas.

I sit out under the night with its small appearances – the scuffle in the bank, the first pipistrelle, moths like stars – and watch how the darkening sky draws everything to it, and then I am part of night in a way I can't be part of day, try as I might.

Then this morning, the horses nose-to-tail under the hedgerows' lattice of fly-loud light and the good warm smell of horse, and my feet on the hayfield stubble bare and massaged. I lie back on the short growth of grass, clover, thistle, stubblestalks of dock, dog sprawled close; I make a five-point star under the blue, and the buzzloud thoughts drop away. Gone my losses and pain, my anxieties for our poor degraded world, poor doomed species, my fear, my striving.

There is just this: me and the good earth, my cells pressed to her pulse, my first and most enduring relationship. I am part of her, she of me. I lie here and know that despite everything life is good, life is blessed, I am home.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

the god of fear and the god of profit

Hard to know what to make of the Trayvon Martin vs George Zimmerman case, as it stirs up so many complex and conflicting issues.

I haven't followed all the ins and outs of this case, I have to admit, but is there a whiff of Business as Usual in the acquittal of a white/Hispanic armed man accused of killing an unarmed black teenager? And is it a surprise that 5 out of the 6 jurors were white?

Trayvon Martin was walking home in rain in February 2012, after shopping for tea and chocolate, which he was carrying back to his father's fiancées house. He had the hood of his sweatshirt up. He was 17. Zimmerman, a volunteer on neighbourhood watch, who incidentally had come to the attention of police before, and in fact had considered signing up to train in the police force, was sitting in his vehicle, legally armed with a gun. He is recorded as having said, on calling the police, that there was a guy coming towards him acting suspiciously, who 'looks like he's up to no good or he's on drugs'. Minutes later, there was a scuffle of some sort and Zimmerman, who'd got out of the vehicle to pursue Martin, had shot the teenager dead.

At least 33 US States have laws that allow someone to use, if necessary, fatal force to protect him- or herself in self-defence. It used to be that the person who fired a fatal shot was under the burden of proving that it was crucial in self-defence; now it's the case, in Florida, anyway, where the situation played out, that it's up to the prosecuting authorities to prove that it wasn't.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of this case, the black teenager cannot defend himself, and there seem to have been no witnesses to clearly corroborate or otherwise Zimmerman's story that he felt himself to be under deadly threat from this young guy (who, remember, was not armed). It has been said that aspects of Zimmerman's story do not stack up, or contradict each other. Some critics have said he was not being truthful.

Critics also say that the laws make it much harder for authorities to prosecute violent crimes, as they establish a presumption of self-defence that is very difficult for authorities and prosecutors to disprove.

Three things are especially heartbreaking. One is that Martin is dead, and his family have to live with that, and have had to watch his killer walk free. Equally, Zimmerman is now in a tragic situation: he will have to live with the knowledge of what he has done, and the rage against him by people who have had to witness, too often, black families screwed. He's received death-threats.

That's a lot of lives wrecked, and more racial hatred stirred up.

The second is that the mostly-white jury were all women. Women. Mothers. This was a child who was shot. What's going on here? Is it that they have bought into a system of 'justice' created by men, and are willing to turn a blind eye to the feeling aspects of a situation if instructed to do so? Is it that the cultural mistrust of blacks in a mostly-white society gives whites an inbuilt bias, regardless of what they know intellectually to be right? In being instructed to consider only the evidence, which was in effect Zimmerman's words, did they have to suppress, ignore, neglect the other ways in which we know something to be true: our intuition, our sense of when something is deeply wrong or someone is not telling the truth, our sense of injustice at an armed man killing an unarmed teenager, our empathic hearts? Was it that they were willing to believe what the defence offered because they were naive and trusting, as many women are? Or is it an inevitable result of a legal system where it's not about 'the whole truth and nothing but the truth'; but more about what can or cannot be taken as evidence, can or cannot be verified?

Of course, I'm not saying that our judicial system should be based on emotional reactions and gut instincts. There's arguably too much of that apparent in the brutality in our societies in the first place. But I am saying there's something badly wrong if our noses for what isn't quite right, our sense that if an unarmed solo teenager really presented a lethal threat to an armed man something's out of kilter, the fact that the evidence is inconclusive as to what actually happened but the fact remains that a teenager was shot dead – if these things don't all give us much pause for thought, aren't allowed to colour our final conclusions, there is something adrift.

And finally, guns are for killing. Let's not lose sight of this – that's their only purpose. Of course, incidents such as this bring a two-fold public, media and legal reaction: on the one hand, we need to tighten the gun laws. On the other, it goes, maybe more people should be armed, 'for safety'.

But ultimately concern gives way to capitalism and our base instincts. Gun manufacture serves two big gods: the god of fear and the god of profit. How can anyone believe that more and more weapons, less and less concern about more and more weapons, slacker and slacker gun-laws as a result of all this accelerating fear, can bring anything other than more tragedy?

But, worse, and more distressing, is the fact that people are killed by other people, and the gun is merely an agent. It's this that seems intractable, and Zimmerman's trial and verdict hasn't so far seemed to help, although who knows what people-power through protest might yet achieve.

But 'An eye for an eye is a terrible way to blind the world,' said Gandhi.

Sunday, 14 July 2013


Soul finds itself in place, in the particular, in relationship; in the specific locations, things, creatures and people it loves. The high lane where I walk most days with the dog, where I have a glimpse of my beloved moor, is a way of reconnecting, for me; checking-in with an aspect of soul.

Right now, July, the lane is at its lushest: the flowers at their zenith. The number of species here suggests that the hedges are truly ancient. It's almost overwhelming, the sheer exuberance of summer: the glorious fizz of multi-species blossoming, and all the now-flying fledglings – the larks and sparrows, finches, tits and yellowhammers. 

I was lucky enough as to be brought up in a rural Cornish family where both sides loved and paid attention to wildlife; consequently, recognising the Westcountry flora and fauna, their names and habits and gifts, is second nature to me. As someone who has a deep suspicion, too, of aspects of modern medicine, I've also always preferred to use herbal medicines for myself, family and animals. I feel they have more potency if they grow and are collected locally to the patient. 

Unlike separated active-ingredient derivatives, or synthesised pharmaceutical equivalents, it's also the case that on the whole herbs work better, if more slowly, than the drug-industry medicines through our using their alkaloids in the naturally-occurring combination. They then work in synergy together, and in harmony in the body, without most of the toxic side-effects that so many allopathic medicines create (obviously there are occasions where modern pharmaceuticals are life-savers – I don't mean to suggest otherwise; I'm talking about more daily minor illnesses).

Such joy, then, to see herbs in abundance in the hedgerows – so many species in a matter of yards. Here are some of them. (And if perchance you want to be a good bard in the ancient Celtic tradition, you need to know about plants – as well as the state of moon and tide at any given moment, the latter at any given point on the seacoast of your land...) 

A note of caution: many of these herbs are benign. Some though are toxic in certain doses, so shouldn't be used without consultation with a medical herbalist.

Agrimony is a liver-tonic. Like many herbs, this one shouldn't be used unless you know what you're doing. Thirty-odd years ago I helped a friend in France who was travelling with us in the campervan with this plant – he'd had hepatitis.

 One of the bedstraws. There's a yellow bedstraw that can be used in dyeing wool, but this one, delicately perfumed, is good for drying and adding to lingerie drawers or linen-chests/airing cupboards. It used to be strewn on medieval floors to help disguise smells from unwashed bodies, dogs who'd rolled in fox-shit, dead rats, mouldy crusts &c...

 ... not to be confused with cleavers, or goose-grass – the one kids (and some adults) love to chuck at the back of the person in front because it sticks (hence its name). This is a major herb in the medicine chest: I give it to any of the animals who needs a bit of a boost, as it helps cleanse the blood and ups the immune system. Ditto for myself; I might stir a little into a wild-garlic-and-nettle soup in spring.

 The lovely foxglove, of course. Its active ingredient is digitalis, from which the pharmas extract/make Digoxin, a major heart-medicine (THIS IS POISONOUS).

 Rosebay willowherb. I don't know of any healing properties associated with this plant, but it's a tonic to look at.

The little wild St John's Wort, from which comes an anti-anxiety medicine. It's best not to use this, too, unless you know what you're doing; or look it up. The little five-petalled faces (yes, as I've said before, five-petalled flowers are dedicated to the Goddess) are just as pretty but less showy than in its garden cultivar, the Rose of Sharon.

Meadowsweet. Some countryfolk still call it 'love and marriage': it smells sweet till you get up close, then you notice a bitter, cloying undercurrent! It's excellent for headaches, and can help joint pains; like willow, its active ingredient is salicylic acid, which is the active ingredient in aspirin. You can make a brew of leaves, stems, roots of this without fear of toxicity.

Rose-petal tea uplifts the heart. I put this one in for my little companion, Hessary, who died three years ago to the day I took these photos, on Friday. The dog rose (rosa canina) is a big favourite of mine; in combination with honeysuckle at the moment its scent drifts on the breeze our way, in the early evening.

Rosa Canina

Rain, milky with mist, has gently
erased the moorland distances.

Lanes are at their heartbreaking
fullest: buttercup, bluebell, campion,
Queen Anne’s lace, buds of dog rose.

And this is also an act of love:
to see another over a threshold.

© Roselle Angwin, 2010; in All the Missing Names of Love (IDP 2012)

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