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

Thursday, 9 October 2014

the white lady

Of all her finery, wild storminess suits the moor best. She wears it stately as a dark queen.

I'm driving back across the moor with Tavistock behind me, and behind the town the valleys of the Tavy and the Tamar; behind those, in turn, the hills and tors of Bodmin in their shades of slate and grey. Brown Willy, Bronn Wennili ('hill of swallows' in the Cornish tongue), one of the higher tors of Bodmin Moor, is visible in my rear view mirror as a larger ripple under the sheet of sooty pewter that is the sky in the West.

Ahead of me, eastwards, huge thunderheads in every shade of bruise tower upwards. From behind me, curtained shafts of late-afternoon sun pick out flakes of gold, splinters of neon-green from the moorland shoulders. 

As I look at them, something new comes on the radio: the space forecast. This is I believe the first ever, just ahead of the 6 o'clock news, and the contents will become, surely, as iconic as the shipping forecast (which TM has reluctantly had to give up as I flatly refuse to be woken, much as I too love it, half an hour earlier than I otherwise need to be, at 5.15am).

My imagination immediately goes into overdrive at the list: coronal mass ejections, solar flares, geomagnetic activity (and 'aurora borealis sightings: few'). A poem, surely?

Or maybe a rap:

'outa / in tha / sola / system /' ... or maybe not.

I'm coming back, via my ailing father who is at least out of hospital now, from the exuberance of a walk in this wild wet elemental weather down to Lydford Gorge, and the dramatic White Lady waterfall.

One of the things I'm loving about getting older is how much joy I find in the extraordinary fact of the existence, the being, of small, ordinary things. Once, it would have been adventure, or travel, or a passionate love affair that triggered this kind of wild joy. Now, it's simply the world: this weather, that leaf-fall, this river, this buzzard's mew, that charm of goldfinches, this sound of rooks and jackdaws playing with the wind, this precious time with a friend, the fact that Dog, elderly, a little arthritic, and slower now, has still managed a couple of steep miles in heavy rain with delight. As soon as I step outdoors these days I'm struck with a kind of minor ecstasy: to be here! To be alive! To have (the rest of) the natural world wrapped around me!

And, what's more, being self-employed, to be free too to take time out during the working week; though it is also, after all, for me the writer and my friend Anne the artist, not just 'time out' but also inspiration. We also choose to make the walk in a kind of meditational silence, followed by a much noisier lunch.

Undeniably, this is sharpened by the poignancy of knowing how very fortunate I am, in this England, to be here, free from jihad, or air-strikes, or abduction, or torture. I imagine many of us find that we are accompanied much if not most of the time by the images from newspapers, TV or radio of the terrible events unfolding all the time elsewhere. 

And there's the environmental downward spiral, with the actuality of climate change, with the reality of animal cruelty, with the devastating news that we've lots 52% of our wildlife, due to human agency, since 1970 (I think I wrote about that the other day). 

And what is the 'right' response to all this? What response can there be? How do we live with despair and hope, what actions can make a difference, no matter how tiny, how do we not give up? This question has arisen in groups I'm involved in, or friends I talk with, over and over recently. I'm not sure there is an answer, but we do keep needing to ask the questions.

In amongst the welter of disaster and horror, one thing I keep reminding myself of is gratitude; the practice of gratitude in the midst of a sense of hopelessness and helplessness. How blessed we are here, how blessed. At the risk of sounding a Pollyanna, whatever else we can or can't do, we can remember this. It could be otherwise.

In honour of the White Lady, here's a poem. I'm not sure if I posted this before (blogger is still not letting me use the search function); I wrote it about exactly this walk a few years ago.

Lydford Gorge
for Anne Jackson

coinage of ash leaf,
hazel, oak – lilting
to the pool’s clear breath

lichened beech twigs
like an accumulation
of small acts of kindness

my friend says:
you go for months
without an epiphany
then six come along
at once

the cuckoo calls twice
and is silent

this white lady
pours her dragon-self
her hair
like white fire
through the forest gorge

long after we leave
her dark moist places
her thunder
roars through my cells

Greta said last night
the connection between mime
and poetry
might be silence

this might be true too
of love – I mean that silence
is the lodestone

he writes to me
of the wood
the cabin he’s built
the green air

he speaks of
my absence

I want a dress
like moonshine and water
I want to slip through the crack
between this world
and the other

you can never step in the same
river twice, say the teachings

all my rivers
are inside

© Roselle Angwin, from Bardo (Shearsman)


  1. I love everything about this posting, Roselle, especially your poem which I have in my copy of Bardo. I'm always inspired by your nature writing, having struggled so often to find new words for clouds and weather. (I can even see your face shining from the waterfall, long flaxen hair merging with the White Lady's! – if that isn't too disturbing an image.) And the great thing is that far from being intimidated by your wonderful use of words, I feel inspired to keep going at my own, enthused and hopeful that I'll find them in time as long as I don't try too hard and just listen and look. It's why I keep walking, despite it being so laborious now; I can't imagine not being part of that golden world out there, this autumn day (Friday) in Worcestershire.
    Thanks as always,
    Miriam xx

  2. Miriam, I'm touched as always by your generous words, and believe me your own writing is worthy of admiration, as I know from reading TWR.

    And Miriam that's a wonderful image - my intention i to merge with everything, eventually!

    Yes, isn't the secret not to strive too hard? In writing, in life, in walking? And I'm glad you're still managing the latter.

    Hoping it's all flowing for you; and love to both


  3. I read this with such great empathy. I also greet each day with that sense of wonder and privilege at being able to connect with the beauty of nature in the freedom of this Island: this 'preious jewel, set in a silver sea'. Gassho, Roselle: 'Buddha bows to Buddha'.

  4. Thank you, oh eloquent anonymous one! I love the reminder that we are not alone... _/|\_


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