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

Saturday, 18 January 2014

the rain it raineth; thrushes; dreams

...on and on. The rivers are brimming. Yesterday, I walked on my childhood beach in wild rain and hail and wind, light glittering in a smear of gilt in front of the coast at Clovelly, and the sand washed clean from the full moon high tides.

Shock to see how far back the recent storm surges have cut into the sand-dunes, and the strange little building just down from the car park seems like an isolated islet, with an excavation of probably more than a metre extra carved around its brick and concrete plinth. The old concrete part-bunker, pillbox, left over from the war, was ripped and tossed close by. A deep broad swathe of big pebbles was strewn at the foot of the dunes for maybe close on a mile: not obvious whether it had been deliberately dumped here as an emergency breakwater, or whether the sea had done the dumping.

The art deco long white hotel on the cliffs overlooking the sea is now sporting a landslip just below it. The sandstone cliffs have slipped, too, a little further along the coast. Like the hotel, the scatter of houses above the landslips are OK – for the moment.

It's easy to forget the cost to wildlife, as we concern ourselves with the durability of our human-made structures. R4 spoke yesterday evening of the loss of animal life on the North Norfolk coasts over the last few days: a number of seal pups, greylag/pinkfoot geese, even a hare were all caught out by surges of seawater breaching banks. There's further damage to insect, fish and wetland species by the newly-saline water in their freshwater habitat; this will affect not only their own lives but that of other species which depend on them in the food-chain. The rare marsh harrier, for instance, may be affected by loss of life of its prey in marshland now flooded and salty.

And yet, as the days lengthen, hope runs like a small underground stream as the earth goes about its business anyway.

In the lanes, wild strawberry flowers still hold up their faces. Tattered red campion and starry periwinkle still flutter, and the new primrose and borage leaves are thrusting through. Already, the snowdrops in the garden resemble green-stemmed cotton buds, ready to erupt into flower any day now.

As I pass the fruit, flower and herb beds I'm transported to the coast on a gale of kelp-scent from the seaweed collected last weekend to feed the garden.

A pair of mallard duck are back on the little brook in the valley, where I see small trout darting into the weeds at my shadowfall. The buzzard calls in its soaring flight in breaks between rain-surges. Despite the rain I see an occasional thrush calling its spring mating song on a high twig at the top of an ash tree in the field margins – both song thrush and the amber-listed mistle thrush, or stormcock. 

If you are in the UK, do take an hour out next weekend, 24/25 January, to note down the birds you see in your garden or a local park, to help the RSPB monitor species' numbers:

Mistle Thrush: wikimedia commons, photo T.Voekler

Joy of joys: Jeremy Irons reading probably my Desert Island poem, T S Eliot's Four Quartets, in its entirety, just now on R4. One whole hour of a profound poetry-bath, accompanied by the melody of one thrush, throughout, voiced over the words from beyond the window.

                               Other echoes 
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow? 
Quick, said the bird, find them, find them, 
Round the corner. Through the first gate, 
Into our first world, shall we follow 
The deception of the thrush? 


A reader of this blog commented on a recent post of mine, on accessing the subconscious and using its content in poetry, thus: '...there is too much fishing around in the so called subconscious. Most people have very little of significance lurking under the surface, in the same way that dreams, mine included, are tedious piffle.'

As I am sure you can imagine, I don't agree with that diagnosis. I won't repeat my response here as you can find it for yourself (the collage-poem blog), but I wanted simply to say that, once again, my dreamlife has come to my rescue. As someone used to tracking their dreams for my whole adult life, I'm very aware that long-distance themes that give my conscious life the slip but arise through dreams, memories, visualisations, symbolic techniques with which I work, and creative writing are enormous gifts, helping me uncover issues, deal more effectively with my emotional life, and determine direction and appropriate action in my daily life as well as in the wider picture.

You may know from this blog that I arrived at burnout 15 months ago. Too many decades of working too hard for very little financial return, of being an impoverished single parent, of trying to take care of too many other seriously ill people, of trying to be too many things to too many people who weren't ill but needed things from me, of living in a precariously insecure way on too many edges all at once – all these conspired to cause my heart to weaken. My heart in many different ways was compromised and in conflict, and I also needed to work on both balance and boundaries in my personal and professional life.

I knew I had to change my life, and yet I didn't want to give up what I do – I love my work, I believe in it, it's my life-path. But the message from my wornout heart and body was that I had to revision how I do what I do.

The most useful thing for me was to take into account my limits and limitations – I habitually ignored both.

Thanks to the generosity of two friends, one in particular, and also of TM, I cut my work to half-time last year, and tried to learn how to rest. The summer, and a hammock, changed the way I prioritise, and by the end of 2013 my health was significantly better. However, on New Year's Day this year I found myself immediately and completely back in my old habits, set in my early 20s, of working every possible hour (receiving my accounts back from the year 2012/3 didn't help my sense of panic). 

The space and ease I discovered last year closed up again.

No surprise, then, that my heart has been playing up again.

Last night, I had a very clear dream in which a slender dark woman, a woman radiant with compassion and wisdom, spoke to me with conviction and clarity. What she told me was that I was once again pitting myself at a very steep mountainside and forcing myself to run up it. What I needed to do, she said, was to freewheel, even though at first it would seem as if I was dropping downhill. 'The momentum you acquire then will allow you to ascend the next hill, a gently-sloping hill, effortlessly. That's the way to arrive at where you need to be.'

Note taken, dream-woman. Thank you.

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