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.
Friday, 1 January 2016
ragbag blog January 1 2016
Yesterday morning early a barn owl flew up over our heads just yards away from my herb-and-bee garden; I had a ringside seat of each of her snowy feathers. It felt auspicious; a privileged glimpse into a secret life. Two days before I'd seen a small bird less than a yard away on a verge also in full clarity: the bright chestnut-rust black-tipped tail fanned like an open hand. I realise I have no idea what it was. It wasn't a British kestrel (looked more like an American one); nor a snipe, jack snipe, woodcock... anyone?
'There were the simple miracles called birds' wrote Octavio Paz in one of my favourite poems, 'Fable'.
Birds somehow save me from myself, as poetry does. And how good it is to immerse myself in poetry again, after a dry year. Paz (in El arco y la lira, The Bow and the Lyre) wrote: 'Poetry is knowledge, salvation, power, abandonment. An operation capable of changing the world, poetic activity is revolutionary by nature; a spiritual exercise, it is a means of interior liberation.' The website for this quote continues: 'According to Paz, poetry is a form of transcendence, removing the self from history and offering in its place a vision of pure or essential being and time. Poetry is sacred, providing salvation in a secular world.'
So there you are.
Tomorrow is 'perihelion': when the earth is at its closest annual point to the sun. Thought you might like to know that. It's symbolic of something-or-other.
My arm is mending well. The French consultant had suggested I request 15 'séances' (isn't that great? – 'sessions') of physio from the NHS, a request that I somehow suspected might be unmet. The physio at my first appointment the other day was so pleased with the strength and movement I have back that she thinks just one more plus exercises will do it. How good to be driving again, though the big old campervan takes some hauling in slow manoeuvres in small spaces. The worst bit though was reaching behind me to pull the seatbelt, or winding the window up. The driving was fine.
And I now have 50,000 words of my new book, 'creative non-fiction', as they say, on place, story, identity and belonging, written; 30,000 of those typed with one finger of my left hand. It was good to have that solo slow time in the forest writing, reading, walking and sleeping; it also helped a lot that my daughter was close by, and we cunningly managed to instill positive reinforcement for my endless hospital trips with the fact that the best patisserie in France is right opposite the hospital.
On wider matters: I have enjoyed the short conversation in the Comments below my Syria post of early December. (I love it when you comment.) Of course things have moved on, though the questions remain.
What is 'right action', 'right response' from all of us to and in the current Middle Eastern situation?
How can I possibly know? The situation is complex. I've been pleased to catch up with the many searching and thought-provoking articles that The New Statesman provides on this and related matters. The 4-10 December issue had a number of very good articles.
But I'm also struck how, with the focus on the fear generated by Daesh, it's easy to overlook other things happening. One column in that edition, by Helen Lewis, reminds us how very inhumane the Assad regime is; she details, graphically, some of the atrocities. Isn't it easy, now, almost to think of Assad as a 'good guy' in comparison with 'the terrorists'?
I also notice, on a totally different tack, how the Government has given the go-ahead for fracking in British National Parks (does the flooding change this?); and also how the badger cull will be rolled out in 9 counties now with none of the time limits of the pilot culls – despite scientific evidence that culling badgers will not make the necessary difference in bovine TB.
It's as if, with the 'war on terror' headlining, apparently lesser subjects with enormous implications are slipped under the wire with relatively minor public attention. My father used to speak of how the Government would deliberately draw our focus on one subject to detract attention from other erosions of freedoms, human and otherwise; I thought he was being paranoid.
Speaking of erosions on freedoms (or perhaps rights), I've been a lacto-veggie for 40 years. Until a few months ago, I was vegan for 4 of those 40 years; an inevitable progression, I think, ethically.
In France, however, like various other things, it went out of the window a bit and I've eaten a lot of cheese/cream/butter lately.
I was never a perfect vegan: I still wear leather footwear at the moment (the alternatives are to bin lovely footwear for which an animal has already died, and to buy petrochemical fabrics that don't biodegrade), though I'm going to change that. I also ate eggs – no justification, except that if I stopped I would probably have succumbed to occasional hits of dairy because – well, I do miss cheese so much. If I was out and someone had made me a dairy-based meal, I'd eat it with pleasure.
But Ms Virtuous has raised her head again. It's about congruence. One of the truly distressing things about Western culture, and writ large in my face in Brittany, is the intensive farming of animals – suffering on a massive scale hidden away from our view. Of course I/we all know it happens, and passing cattle trucks fill me with a profound upset. But in Brittany the lush fields are empty, and intensive units of pigs and veal calves are everywhere.
Having a veal farm that I passed frequently where I was kind of leaked the suffering into my (no doubt over-porous) psyche on a continuing basis. I was constantly aware of the presence of so much quiet suffering. These poor little sods are taken from their mothers often at a few days old, kept in crates in the near-dark, and shipped off to have their throats slit at a few weeks of age. Stories abound of their attempting to suckle at the fingers of the slaughtermen in the abattoir.
This is a direct by-product of the dairy industry. I cannot be part of this. For a long time, like many others, I'm sure, I have felt helpless to do anything at all about the cruelty of all this, other than clean up my own larder and wardrobe, so to speak.
I can't let them out; I can't tackle the farmer; I can't save all the suffering animals (and humans) in the world; probably no one except myself.
What I can do, though, I have now decided, is to revert to veganism and also to set up a kind of 'going vegan' website/blog for this new year. I shan't be preaching or proselytising – each person's path and karma takes them where it does, so it's more somewhere to go for info if you feel you want to change things.
I want just to put the info out there via my own trials and lapses and hypocrisies; plus what eating meat and dairy entails for animal suffering (OK you can eat organic, where here in GB the Soil Association monitors animal welfare, but you're still supporting the suffering of pigs, sheep, poultry, cows and the production of calves for the meat industry) and the climate.
I want to examine why we don't need meat, and why we could feed ten times more people on a plant-based diet.
I want to look at the alternatives and their implications; offer nutritional info; maybe delicious recipes (because they can be utterly wonderful).
I want it to include others' thoughts and contributions; I want it to be well-informed, compassionate, not overly-sentimental despite the deeply emotive aspects of all this. A kind of clearing-house.
This is my commitment to the other-than-human.
And another commitment, as many of you know and many of you share, is to the life of the imagination, without which, as Lindsay Clarke says, empathy is not possible. And to soul, and its nurturing.
I'm excited about my this year's programme of courses, most of which now are week-long retreats in wonderful and wildish places: Iona, the Cévennes, Cornwall, Brittany.
I'm utterly delighted to be offering a day workshop on Dartmoor in the vein of my old 'Ground of Being' workshops on a shamanic course at Schumacher College – more soon.
And then there is Horse Medicine as a weekend on Exmoor.
Oh and a possible new poetry group in North Cornwall.
Meantime, there are still two residential places left on my 'IMBOLC: The Inward Flame' retreat weekend here in Devon, mentioned in the last post of last year, at the Celtic fire festival at the very end of January; one of the 'waystations' of the turning year, and a time for renewal, creative inspiration and deep restoration. As part of that is the self-contained THRESHOLDS day workshop: 'this wild & precious life', a chance to reflect on your life, what's working for you and what's not; and whether inner and outer lives work fruitfully together.
Can I tempt you?
One last thing (really!): is there somewhere – anywhere – you might plant a tree this year? If we all did, what a revolution that would be.
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- Guest poem (Vere Smyth)
- of sea & earth (+ recipe)
- working in the arts
- dwelling in the house of poetry (again)
- at the heart of... (+ recipe)
- 'stand in the light' (guest poem)
- Camino (guest blog by Robert Wilkinson)
- fire in the head & the wild ways: calendar 2016
- made of rain
- ragbag blog January 1 2016
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