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

Sunday, 25 May 2014

from the ragbag: branscombe mandala, talking feet, dartmoor, renewables & dog

Been a while. Sorry. Been all over the Westcountry the last week, beginning with the Branscombe Day I lead from time to time with my dear friend visual and sound artist Michael Fairfax. Nine of us met up and walked the footpath down by the stream winding through meadows to the lovely Branscombe Mouth on the East Devon coast – we walk down gently together in silence, to give us an opportunity to gather ourselves and immerse ourselves completely in the experience. I'd warned everyone to bring all-weather gear and extra layers – didn't occur to me to say 'and sunhats, sunscreen, shorts' – what a stunning, hot day we had. 

TM, meantime, was walking 22 miles on one of the most severe sections of the South West Coastpath: I dropped him at Sidmouth in the morning and picked him up at Lyme Regis after the workshop. His time was about 4 hours better than we managed when we did it together a few years ago; but then, I have a different style from his throwing-himself-at-the-sheer-cliff-at-top-speed 'walking'.

My day couldn't have been more different, given that we were in the same area.

I led the morning session (much writing was done by all, and we did an ad hoc interweaving of lines out loud) and Michael had us create a group mandala from found objects in the afternoon, each of us creating one of the eight sections.

Michael, of course, was conductor, composer and critic of the mandala-making, and reminded us that our sections would also be in dialogue with the others, and we needed to be aware of the boundaries and how or even whether they would merge, and if so how we would negotiate this. I have my own agenda in relation to that at the moment, as my own emotional boundaries are sometimes too fluid and permeable, so my own challenge was to stay with my space and choices and not be swayed if I didn't want to be, but at the same time to allow my work to be inclusive of the outside world. 

Then on Wednesday I led the inaugural daylong session of a new writing group near Lanhydrock in Cornwall. It was bliss for me being back in my homeland, and we worked in a sunroom just off the beautiful woodland garden sanctuary that my friend Carrie has created.

One of the joys for me is that so many people come to my courses over and over. This was true of both days, and it gives me a real sense of a continuing creative community. It is of course also always lovely to welcome new people, too, so that the work ripples outwards.

This new group, 'Talking Feet' (long story), will be meeting monthly as a peer group, and I will be facilitating four day sessions a year, one for each of the seasons. (Contact me if you live in Cornwall and would be interested in attending – there's space for a couple more people. It's a general writing group, and it's not frightening or high-powered: supportive and imaginative.)

Walking Carrie's water meadows with Dog afterwards, with the tors of Bodmin rising up to the West, in sunshine again, with a creative day behind me and the lushness of spring flowers and birdsong surrounding me I remembered, as I do every day, how lucky I am to live in paradise, doing work I love and believe in with such good people.

I'm also both amazed and delighted that Iona 2015, my annual Islands of the Heart retreat in April, now has its full complement of 16 people, before I've even had chance to put the word out.


Dartmoor on Friday, and a wilder stormier day. These changeable days suit the moor, cloudshadow and lightplay on the flanks of the hills, a swiftly-changing sky with its banks of cumulo-nimbus (I think) and the pewter hems to the clouds. Whole hillsides are swagged in bluebells, and in one carpeted area a small herd of purebred Dartmoor mares and foals were grazing. This is rare: most of the ponies on the moor are crossbreeds, the hardy little Shetland ponies being brought in a few generations back to work in the quarrying and mining trades.

Tavistock, as I drop down off the moor, is at its best as all the trees just reach full leaf – a hundred shades of green, complemented with the aubergine copper beeches.


Dog, after six weeks of barely eating – I mean at all – is back to her normal self. Thank goodness. It's been a time of stress, strategy and deviousness for me, punctuated with some despair and at times impatience. She's suffered from a combination of post-anaesthetic weakness; campylobacter infection which gave her a nasty stomach illness, brought on, probably, from the raw organic chicken carcass I gave her in early April; and separation anxiety after nearly three weeks in the Hebrides sleeping mostly with The Pack – self, daughter and daughter's dog; but now we're back home she sleeps in the lobby. (Fine balancing act, keeping Dog and TM both happy!) – Plus no doubt I was infecting her with my anxiety. 

And then there's the fact that really she much preferred nibbling tasty (expensive) treats from my fingers accompanied by much fuss and attention, to being left simply to get on with eating a normal meal from her normal bowl... The upshot has been one neurotic dog: she who is SO quiet turned into a barky whiny dog, which hardly endeared her to Himself, who only really tolerates dogs, no more (I've always said that people are either cat-people or dog-people; rarely both – tongue in cheek, false dualism, etc, but there's a difference in the way we relate to the world nonetheless!).

What I did? (Should you be interested.) First thing was to ignore her neurotic barking in the middle of the night (she's never done that before, and the idea is that you don't 'reward' such behaviour even by yelling 'bad dog!' or 'shut the hell up!'). Took some doing to convince TM to trust my judgement on that and give it a couple of nights.

Then I got her an essential oil diffuser, and Pet Remedy, the main active ingredient of which is the calming valerian (in the picture above, alongside red campion – not to be confused with garden valerian, the more in-your-face and common one, NOT the same thing, as I discovered as an angsty adolescent – gave me a nasty headache, brewing up the roots of that). I kept her near me as much as I could, but not all the time. I played her soothing music (thank you Chloe and the Iona group) – and – don't laugh – gave her a Tibetan singing bowl 'gong bath' at bedtime – very healing for both her and me! (Thank you Bea for reminding me.) (TM thought I'd really lost it.) But she's well, and playing like a puppy. And quiet. And EATING.


This tree came down in storms in February. Can you see the new young oak, middle top, growing out of its dereliction?

Life renews itself – 'the law of continuing'. 

And speaking of renewal, Keith Barnham has written a book making the case for the fact that we are, contrary to much expert opinion and governmental head-in-the-sand scepticism, perfectly capable here in Britain of producing sufficient renewable energy to meet our needs. At a time when my hero George Monbiot has added his voice to James Lovelock's in telling us that the only option now is nuclear, unless we want the worse alternative of coal, it's heartening to read Barnham's views, backed up by solid science. 

He's a researcher into and developer of solar cells, so of course that figures in his proposals, but he suggests a raft of measures: solar, onshore wind, biogas (methane) produced from food-waste, and ground-source heat pumps. Peter Forbes, reviewing this book in yesterday's Guardian, tells us that in Sweden more than 90% of all new homes include ground source heat pumps; that Norway is close to 100% renewables with hydroelectric and Iceland ditto with geothermal (ground source heat pumps). 

There are two issues: one is developing biofuels from CO2 emissions: using carbon capture to reduce CO2, but finding a way to put it to use instead of burying it. 'To do this we have to learn what every leaf knows,' says Forbes; 'how to turn sunlight, CO2 and water into biomass.'

The bigger issue, perhaps, is persuading GB and the US, both of whom are dragging their heels on renewables, instead promoting the nuclear option, and in this country fracking, to spend the money on taking these initiatives forward instead.

What I don't understand is why we are not installing photovoltaics on every warehouse and factory roof in the country?

(The Burning Answer: A User's Guide to the Solar Revolution, Keith Barnham, Weidenfeld & Nicolson)


  1. Oh, Roselle, what a rewarding week!!! Reading all that makes me wish I’d live just this little bit closer to GB in order to take part!
    And Ash’s pic – I LOVE it! - just proves how happy she is again – thank goodness for that!!! And actually I think you ARE right about either dog or cat people – despite dualism!
    With love B xx

  2. Thank you, Bea - it has been lovely, and inspiring - though I'm tired and two acres of land that has rocketed skywards with spring rain and sun is demanding attention now! - As is new book :-).

    Yes, I wish you lived closer, too...

    With love xx

  3. Having progressed with a chapter I'm allowing time before cooking to add something here. Thought about you, Roselle, reading the weekend Guardian Review of Keith Barnham. J also approves hugely – the only possibility of saving the planet and, as you say, solid science. We feel good about our air-source heat-pump but would prefer for ground-source. We're looking into solar heating too.
    And I couldn't agree more with Bea (hi there again, Bea!) about not living close enough to Cornwall to take part. I too am envious and before you say it – yes, I'm afraid it is just that bit too far from here and it makes me even consider moving!
    Roselle, expect an email from me soon and two more chapters before Friday, maybe sooner. Is that ok? And I did wonder if you noticed my response to your last blog about shepherd's huts, though it was short and didn't add anything much, just that I really liked your poem.
    With love, Miriam xx

    PS Have just heard an interesting programme on Radio 4 about Mindfulness (Beyond Belief) which reminded me of both of you and how much I've gained from your wisdom and becoming more and more fascinated with the whole subject of Buddhism, connectedness, etc. Thanks, M.

  4. PPS How could I forget to say how delighted I was to hear that Ash is so much better. And she looks it too, with her lovely muzzle and shiny-soft hair. J is very wistful, he misses having a dog, so why not? Oh don't ask, endless angst!
    M x

  5. Miriam, I so love that you, like Bea, are such a committed member of our actual and virtual creative community.

    Thank you so much for all these kind comments. The shepherd's hut one slipped through the net - so thank you for that, too. (Did I say in the blog that the shepherd's hut centre might be a possible venue, maybe even for the 'stranger than fiction' life-writing course?)

    Did you read the Sat poem in the Review? By one of my big favourites, W S Merwin (a Buddhist practitioner, though he keeps that v quiet), from his new book...

    I always enjoy Beyond Belief, when I (usually accidentally) catch it.

    Life without a dog would be empty, for me; though of course there are issues around going away. Surprising how often you can take one with you, though... Thanks for those thoughts too.

    Look forward to more chapters.

    Love to both - Rxx

  6. Roselle – yes, I saved the Elegy for a Walnut Tree as a treat for afters and now that I've read it I want to buy the whole collection. I'm certain I'd have thought of you had I read it before you mentioned it. It's wonderful, tender and very moving. For as long as I can remember I've had such reverence for trees, seeing them as creatures with almost human (the best kind of human!) qualities. When we came to this windblown, treeless acre of grassland 20 years ago, we planted over 100 saplings ourselves. Our blue-roan cocker spaniel, Sam (sadly died in 2002, aged 13) is buried beneath a scented viburnum deep in our copse. Not very doggy, I know, but at least it marks the spot and grows well. We planted a walnut which died of frost in its second winter, but everything else thrives: the poplars still shimmer and shimmy, the birches dance like Giaccometti ballerinas, the crabs blossom and berry, the orchard fills our bellies. Loads of other natives too which all seem to join hands and dance together. And the wildlife it's all brought; this is a much richer, more musical place since we've been here.

    Lovely to have a 'stranger than fiction' workshop in a shepherd's hut. I do hope there will be others as we're in Keswick that weekend in Nov you've booked for it.

    And lastly your 'actual and virtual creative community'. I was only thinking about is this morning on my 5.30 am walk, feeling so lucky and grateful to be part of it. It compensates hugely for not having quite enough of the sort of friends who can understand and empathise as much as you and Bea and all the others we meet there. As you know, I'm well and truly hooked; a very healthy addiction, I think!
    As always, Roselle – thank you and love from both, M xx

  7. Big smiles at all that, Miriam - the picture of your land (and dog) and the trees - very lyrical. V touched that you were thinking of the 'community of writers' at 5.30am (gosh!). Glad you like Merwin. The workshop, if I move it from here to Shepherd's Huts, will not be the w/end but perhaps nearby weekdays. IF it happens, and that's the one we go for. Might that work for you? I remembered you'd be in Keswick that w.end... In haste, with love, must go! Rx


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