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, 24 September 2014

autumn equinox poem (2014)

Autumn Equinox 2014
for my daughter

Veil over blue veil dawn rises
over crescent moon and early sun
this year conjunct, and, equinoctial
equals, day and night hold the opposites
in perfect balance, sunrise true east
sunset true west.  My solar return.

In the garden pumpkins glow like lanterns
and birds feast on cherry-sized berries.
Together we take our year’s harvests
down to the sea – the high tide, this
year’s warmest, and the homecoming
benediction of the first, the last,
the only ocean – amniotic's fluid reign.

© Roselle Angwin, September 23 2014

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

the power of vulnerability

I've been thinking about vulnerability recently, and what courage it takes; what an art it is. And how crucial it is to intimacy with self or other (whether or not that latter's sexual).

I think it might be useful to mention here that by 'vulnerability' I don't mean emotional manipulation, victimhood, martyrdom or self-indulgence. I mean simply a willingness to stand in who you are, weaknesses and strengths, and let another see you.

You have to be pretty strong in yourself to risk others seeing you as you are, no masks. More, you need to have grown beyond navigating your life according to others' approval, and whether it's offered or withheld.

You need to be living from your own centre out; and to have moved beyond the need to make ego and pride the be-all and end-all. It takes a certain depth of humility; and it takes being able and willing to carry on being vulnerable when others reject it, or kick you.

It takes being willing to keep on being 'out there' when others withhold – without demanding that they change, but knowing that you're going to keep on keeping on anyway.

After all, that's how the world gets in; and without the world getting in, how can we experience interbeing and empathy? The most rewarding experiences come from deep exchanges; deep honest authentic exchanges.

My daughter posted a shared snippet on her facebook page recently: 'It's easy to take your clothes off and have sex with someone; people do it all the time. But opening up your soul to someone, letting them into your spirit, thoughts, hopes, dreams, fears – now that's being naked.'

I know this is not a new thought, but I am reminded how often we'll let other things stand in for vulnerability and intimacy: sex, for instance. Or food, booze, shopping, heated debates, clever talk, words that sound good but convey nothing of depth. Even silence – because of course there's silence that's evasive as much as there's silence that is shared.

I wrote once: 'The connections we make with each other are as good as the connections we make with ourself'. Intimacy and vulnerability, true openness, require a willingness to know oneself first and foremost, and to keep learning about oneself and the world, and to find a way of accepting oneself, strengths, weaknesses, triumphs and fuck-ups alike.

This means facing one's deepest fears about not being, ultimately, loveable as one is.

What's brought all this to mind (not that these things are ever far from my mind) is that I've had some very profound exchanges with people recently; or perhaps I should say that I'm currently meeting a number of men, specifically, on a deeper level: men who are not afraid to be open, tender, vulnerable – and not wimps. (I don't mean in romantic or sexual engagement, I simply mean in the course of daily life/work.)

There are of course always people who are willing to challenge the mores that tell us to walk in armour and that the world's out to get you, especially when one moves in alternative circles and if one leads the kind of retreats, or goes to the kinds of workshops, talks, campaigns, poetry or eg 5 Rhythms dance events that I do. I have always had close women and men friends both who are emotionally open in that way. But suddenly, partly in relation to my work, the number of people in my life who've made a transition into this kind of strength, coming from a sure and authentic centre, seems to have increased swiftly. I guess this post is to acknowledge, honour and thank these people. You make a difference.

What is happening in all our lives, individually and collectively, percolates to the surface at certain times, perhaps, more than others. We live in extraordinary and challenging times, and I suspect this is one of those 'surges', where there's a collective shift going on, an acceleration, at the moment, in counterpoint to global brutality, violence, anger and hate – in which I include, albeit in dilution, the defence mechanism of cynicism.

I've had a useful lesson recently, though, in the fact that others don't always want your vulnerability, or are threatened by it. What I'm learning at the moment is how to stand firm and let myself be vulnerable without forcing that on someone who, for reasons of their own, doesn't want it; how to keep one's counsel and hold still while not closing down oneself. An overtly (so to speak) open person can perhaps be just as much a threat to the wellbeing of a more reserved person as vice versa: it's not helpful to make judgements here, only to notice, and respond accordingly. (The image that comes to mind is the incongruity of a nun in a habit on a naturist beach – or a talkative nudist in a silent-order convent! I've been trying to avoid this obvious and seemingly value-laden analogy, but it keeps impressing itself. Neither's 'wrong'; they both just value different things.)

And of course the world, and our 'significant others', will continue to challenge us. That's how we grow; not in solitude on a mountainside in the Himalayas (though learning to love solitude is a prerequisite for all sorts of other strengths), but in active relationship.

This morning my 'Tricycle Daily Dharma' dropped this into my inbox:

'Relationships work to open us up to ourselves. But first we have to admit how much we don'’t want that to happen, because that means opening ourselves to vulnerability. Only then will we begin the true practice of letting ourselves experience all those feelings of vulnerability that we first came to [Buddhist] practice to escape.' ~ Barry Magid, “No Gain”

Here's to the strength to remain soft and open on the outside, and firm, clear and strong on the inside.


Saturday, 13 September 2014


Motor topped up with water. Mist burning off fields; fullish moon westwards, rising sun eastwards. Season of mellow fruitfulness, etc.

8am Thursday morning. We're at the VW garage (again) in Perigueux. Monsieur le Francais hasn't yet arrived. Luckily, though, the hose for the waterworks has. 

When he gets there, he's all charm and proffered coffee. Hour and a half, he thinks.

Which comes and goes, as does Monsieur. He comes back, and gives me the good news – hose is fitted. Then solicitously he leans forward. There's more. 'The bad news?' I ask. 'You need a new waterpump and thermostat.' We're due to catch the boat tomorrow, via something I want to see in Brittany, several hundred miles away. I must have looked a little despairing, as he says 'We have them in stock.' I'm disconcerted by his niceness, his attentiveness, his nothing's-too-much-trouble-ness. (I don't think it's just my cleavage, though I have finally changed out of the sleeveless dress I've been wearing for days in the heat, for a lighter slightly cleaner camisole-over-camisole combo. I also don't think it's just the fact that he's about to relieve me of a large chunk of my recent earnings.)

Another hour or two.

We finally leave at around midday. It's disquieting not to have to look under the van for the fuites every time we stop. Although we know it's been fixed, the fact that the temp gauge sits at 3/4 isn't very reassuring, though it is still extremely hot outside and we are motoring fast. I've promised TM a swim in the Atlantic in the sun and I don't think we're going to make it.

We arrive at Locmariaquer, at the heart of the tremendous megalithic complex of Carnac and its surrounds, a favourite place of mine, just in time to catch the sun going down (just out of the frame in the pic below, on the right in the far dunes, are Les Pierres Plates – a huge barrow cromlech with astonishing prehistoric engravings reminiscent of some of the carvings at Newgrange in style):

and we are so tired now that, even though the sea is warm, all we want is to eat and sleep. We park up amongst other vans in the camping municipal (yes, again! I must be losing my edge) next to the beach, air jasmine-scented and a small breeze in the pines accompanying the hush of the sea; and my big rich salad in the simple bar more than makes up for yesterday's salad disaster, and at half the price.

An early walk:

and we're off; next stop northern Brittany, where a tree-embraced meadow that we stop in briefly turns out, once again and like, apparently, the cathedral at Perigueux, to be on the French Camino. That's just about everywhere we've stopped this trip, apart perhaps from the VW garage.

Take notice of your dreams, I think. The universe offers itself for our attention.

The universe offers itself.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

la fuite d'eau & arsy men

Another stunning mediaeval hilltop town. Another impossibly beautiful shabby château. Another covetable old mas (farmstead), not quite ruiné, and no doubt going for an arpeggio. (Acquaintances of mine went that route – buying a cheap and gorgeous French château. He continued to work 3 days a week in England; she took up with local mayor. Marriage broken, château sold, return to England.)

More sun. Another Monet glimpse of languorous river. Crossing the Dordogne, pulling up to buy veg, the cashier bored and uncommunicative. Crossing back to the car park – and below Clarissa, the trusty sturdy campervan, a veritable flood of water from her ancient hoses. It’s hot; in the 30s (high 80s, and today 90s, in old money). The cashier couldn’t be more helpful – finding a local garage, ringing them, directing us. We top up the water and drive.

The prop and his chief mechanic cast a sly or maybe wry smile at each other, shake their heads, whistle a bit through their teeth, say it looks like several perforations, and that they can’t help. We need the VW garage in Perigueux, 30kms away. It's 5.15pm. We have till 6pm, apparently.

We have no directions, no GPS, no internet access. It’s rush hour and we follow a lorry uphill for what seems like miles, stopping to top up water a couple of times. We drive round and round the outskirts of Perigueux, snarled up in traffic, watching the temp gauge climb (shades of travelling back from the Hebrides in April). I ask a couple of people the whereabouts of a VW garage, and try to take in impossibly complicated directions. 

We get there, van and occupants steaming, at 5.50pm. The boss shrugs laconically, Gallically, unsmilingly. ‘Too late’, he says in French. ‘Come back at 8 tomorrow morning. And don’t drive anywhere.’ You mean – sleep in the van here, on an industrial estate, several miles out of town and away from fields, river, etc?

The only campsite we can find (for of course we do drive, a bit) is a 400-place-strong Dutch-owned holiday camp. It’s burgers or burgers for supper; but we find a tiny hidden corner under a pine tree away from the hubbub to watch the moon come up and listen to owls, and supper is instead an eclectic van-made salad.

So we slalom back down the hill and through the rush hour traffic this morning, watching the gauge, etc.

Arsy French bloke at Reception for VW garage – don’t get me wrong: I really like the French, and I think French men are sexy, but he was one of the arrogant kind – ignores us for a few minutes. Impeccable in his silver silk suit, (pointed) shirt cuffs immaculately aligned 1cm beyond jacket cuffs, all raised eyebrows and deliberate language, his unsmiling and supercilious-seeming incomprehension of my not-bad French means that suddenly all my grasp of said language eludes me. ‘Mais Madame,’ he keeps saying, telling me everything that’s wrong with my grasp of how French garages work, my ancient van in amongst all the glossy top-of-the-range VeeDubs (and where screenwash would cost me 5 euros; should I have leather seats – as if! – then I could pay 30 or 40 euros for polish for them), my disorganised paperwork, the fact that it takes me a minute to find the series number for the vehicle, my camping-hair (actually that’s my own inference). When he beckons us to drive forward he tells us off very firmly for closing the bonnet, despite the fact that with it open it blocks the entire screen and view, so we are in danger of eliminating all the above glossy VWS.

He sees the water under the van. ‘C’est un torrent,’ he says. ‘Une fuite’ – such a romantic word: I picture lovers fleeing, mermaids eloping, etc.

Then he suddenly cracks a joke – which I understand – and all is well. Except. Of course. He can’t possibly do anything today, and tomorrow we are due in Brittany.

Eh bien. Think of us at 8am tomorrow, when the whole saga is due for a re-run, hopefully this time with a hose to replace our single perished one.

Meantime, Perigueux is not a bad mediaeval city in which to spend a day (since we can’t really drive anywhere, except – against all advice from garage – back to the same holiday camp). We visit the cathedral with its statues of Joan of Arc, St Theresa the Little Flower, and St Anthony; and inform ourselves about the Madeleinian* period of prehistory, peaking at about 16,000 years ago, relevant to significant archaeological finds in the Dordogne area, in the Musée. (There’s much evidence too of the much older periods of human occupation, dating to around 400,000 years ago; and what might be the oldest rock art in the world has come from here; plus suggestions in relation to the brown bear that they were perhaps seen as creatures of veneration and ritual.)

I should have realised that the advertised exhibition of contemporary paintings, which has 'jaune' in the title, was entirely of the tour de france. I didn't, until we'd paid to go in.

And cafés, of course: though I’m not much in luck, as my decaff is expensive, disgusting and instant, and though the French do gourmet food, they don’t really get vegetarians, so my salad minus the ham is a very sad salad indeed, which I further wreck by accidentally spilling a vast quantity of salt on it.

On a more positive note, as a fan of Adam Thorpe’s exquisite novels and recent book On Silbury Hill, I’m persuaded by Sharon to try a collection of his poems, Nine Lessons from the Dark. (I have Voluntary, a recent collection, but didn’t really take to it.) Nine Lessons, on the other hand makes me gasp, I mean with pleasure, as I read it over my decaff.

Listen, I say to TM, aka Phil E Stein (self-chosen moniker), and read him an excerpt. Too obscure, he says, and proceeds to give me a lecture on poetry (it needs to stir one heroically, it should have rhythm and preferably rhyme – I consider it quite a coup that he now at least qualifies ‘rhyme’ with ‘preferably’ – and it should be instantly and coherently comprehensible to the rational mind).

I stiffen. Listen, I say back, I’ve had too much of arsy men already today, and it’s only 10 o’clock.

Eh bien. Zut alors. Au revoir.

* or perhaps that's the Proustian period and cakes...

Monday, 8 September 2014

from the Languedoc

It’s a few days after my course has finished at Gardoussel (‘guardian of the birds’), and TM has arrived with his son and my campervan.

I feel fired up, if tired, after another intense and precious course, now become annual, with a group of 12 disparate and lovely people from 5 different countries. Quite apart from the imaginative and tempting food and the idyllic venue, there’s been an outpouring of inspired writing and an immediate and warming intimacy within the group. Although I don’t label the course ecowriting I find it impossible, and undesirable, to separate our awareness of and imagination in relation to the natural world in which we’re immersed from the creative aspects of the course, and mindfulness plays a central role too (I like Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition, which I paraphrase here: paying attention purposely in the present moment with all of yourself without judgement).

The market at St Jean du Gard, down the switchback mountain road alongside the river, is not to be missed. Now, with a few days’ relaxation behind us, we travel down, and from a pottery stall I buy a kilo of the delicious green figs that Chloë bought last week. The stall owner relays to me the recipe he gave Chloë: the result is wonderful, to be eaten, in our case, with grated carrot and beetroot salad, a platter of tomatoes, red onions and goat’s cheese (as I have, at least temporarily, reverted from vegan to vegetarian, for health reasons), olives, green salad and the local bread.

The recipe: halve some figs, lay them on an ovenproof dish, bake for maybe 20 minutes on a lowish heat, remove and give each a trickle of olive oil and honey, add salt, pepper and herbs, and top with a slender round of goat’s cheese. Put back in the oven for another 20 or 25 minutes, still at a low heat (about 160 degrees celsius) to melt the cheese.

TM’s son hitches off south. We spend the last day climbing the mountain behind Gardoussel: it’s dramatic and beautiful with stunning views, and I earmark it mentally for the ecosoul course I’ll be leading here next September, after the writing one has finished. There are fields sprinkled with wild autumn crocuses, and some of the chestnut trees – one of the main staples here were chestnuts and their flour (hence their local name, 'breadfruits') – are hundreds of years old.

We end the walk with a dip in the clear cool waterfall pool (which I’ve photographed so many times it’s embarrassing, so I’ll spare you another rapture); or rather TM dives and swims, and I sit on a rock watching the patterns of light in the water. A kingfisher arrows past just below my feet. To my joy, a few minutes earlier in the village square where we sat beneath the plane trees and looked up at the mountain we’d just descended, a short-toed eagle circled low over our heads.

Late that afternoon we pack up and head west. We’re still in the Languedoc, an area of incredible drama and beauty, and of both historical and, to me, personal significance for more reasons than I can begin to state here; suffice it to say that it’s Cathar country, and inspired my first novel, Imago (I’ve blogged about both before).

We head along the Corniche des Cévennes: the old van handles it very well. The high ridge offers more dramatic views south and north of mountain ranges in the late afternoon light.

I’m unprepared for the incredible beauty of the Gorges du Tarn; the towering limestone outcrops reminiscent, I imagine, of Utah or Arizona, but set in lush forested countryside. Here, superlatives fail me. We drive past unspoilt mediaeval hamlet after hamlet; the Tarn below is near-clear viridian.

Suddenly the sighting of a single eagle, or two or three, seems a little less significant – above the high peaks here, right above the 'aiguille', below, are about 50 eagles or maybe vultures – my binoculars are not strong enough to be sure – circling lazily in the thermals (it's still intensely hot). (Photo taken too early to show them.)

We could wild-camp here, but I haven’t yet used my electric hook-up and I could do with recharging the phone and laptop, and in this intense heat running the fridge. We find a municipal campsite – there are plenty, and the French ones are cheap, clean and pretty, with trees to park under.

Then we head west again from Aveyron into the Lot: country I know a bit.

And of course we head for Cabrerets with its mediaeval heart of castles and exquisite houses: pulled by the swimming for TM, and my addiction to visiting the prehistoric cave art of Pech Merle: shamanic depictions from 25,000 years ago in ochre, iron oxide and manganese as well as scraffito. I’ve written about this, too, I believe, before; it's inspired several poems and a series of paintings after my first visit in 2006.

We camp up again in a municipal by the river, and walk into the village. By the roadside is this building:

perhaps from the hundred years war (there are a number of such buildings from that period built into the rockfaces above the Lot and the Célé here). There’s also good potable spring water from La Source de Chevre Blanc; and high above us, parallel to the road is part of the French Pilgrim’s Way to Santiago de Compostela, the Camino.

Tonight, we're eating at Le Jardin de Cabrerets, a good vegetarian and organic restaurant with a salon de thé (that serves a selection of teas, not just the nasty Lipton's own brand habitual in France) run by a young English couple, with a tranquil garden. Excellent menu – and the home-made puddings are to die for, as they say.

Tomorrow, we’ll hire kayaks; and then after that head down off the causses West, towards the Atlantic.

Monday, 1 September 2014

from the cévennes mountains

Haibun cévenol

high high up

two snake-eagles –

incarnations of air

Where does the sky’s blue begin, and end? Is everything washed in it, simply invisible to human eyes?



            mark our way

We walk the heathery altitudes beyond where a squabble of bee-eaters flirted with the mountain this morning –


            making your life

            from a diet of fur and sting

The blossom’s a-hum with thousands of bees in the great sounding-bowl of the valley. In the resiny honey heat our walking is a kind of stillness, almost liquid – a metheglyn of movement, our flesh a blend of rock and air and heather, steeped in mountain thyme, oregano, mint.

Above us, green hedgehog husks, still ripening –

            old man chestnut

            hollow tower of trunk

            hosting a dozen saplings

We dither by the beehives on a scarp that could be Dartmoor, if bigger. Below us are meadows of wild crocus. We might be lost.

            fuck the flower-meadows

            says B when I gesture

            we laugh, carry on

Across in all directions mountains are cutouts of blue rice-paper, origami hamlets scattered like stray thoughts. I think of Robert Louis Stevenson, of the others who’ve travelled behind him, obliging donkeys in tow.

            this earthwalk –

            certainties don’t count


the lightness of your tread

the capacity of your heart

© Roselle Angwin

NB: several people have emailed me; just to say that though I can receive emails (when the Wifi connection is working), and access social media, for some reason I can't send. Apologies – I'll respond when I can.

One of the participants on the retreat I've been leading has written a lovely and moving blog about the week here.

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