We arrived on the ferry at St Malo about 20 minutes before the mother of all gales unleashed herself on land and sea; the postman told me that winds in the Channel were gusting at 130kph. Driving the high-sided van inland from there was hairy. (The compensation was the way so many trees were dressed gold with mistletoe – not connected with the gale, btw. Getafix clearly hadn't visited in a while.)
And then there was sun.
I had a whole week free from e-gadgets. It took me a couple of days to stop twitching about all the work undone and emails unanswered while my computer was at the vet's and I was in Brittany; and then suddenly a glorious rush of freedom took hold and filled my sails.
Plus I didn't catch any global bad news.
I hadn't realised quite how much of my life is dominated by the mild stress of never quite feeling I'm on top of all that I should be doing workwise, and in terms of keeping up communications, let alone the sitting on a cliff-edge income-wise, as happens when you're entirely freelance in the arts, as I have been all my working life.
Then there are the greater and collective stresses of our being bombarded by all the awfulness of what humans are doing to each other and the world; for myself, I only just keep despair at that a hand's breadth away.
I can't tell you what a relief it was not to be summoned by the phone, or to open my laptop – once, that is, I'd faced my addiction to the latter and gone cold turkey. (I did miss writing blogs, though. I hope you missed me too?)
We walked. We read. We (that is I) wrote – longhand and with joy. We spent time with friends. We spent hours watching the lake with a good coffee, or a crêpe, and the wild waterfalls (without coffee and crêpes) with their brimfulness from winter storms. We looked for spring creeping towards us across the land at – what is it, 2 mph?
And I remembered slow living. I noticed that we were both lighter in spirit (being away from work too I guess).
Try it. Really. Try it. I usually switch my computer off for one day of the week at least, but I still feel harried by the phone.
And yes, we were back in the Forest of Huelgoat. TM reminded me that the first time I took photos here 150 of them were of the leat (that's one of them, the photo that permanently heads this blog), so I was hurried past that, just a little. I found another stream in compensation, though – at the top. And revisited several waterfalls, including this one which has an interesting legend attached – I'm writing about that at the moment, so watch this space (for the book), as they say.
Just above this fall, Le Gouffre, is a viewpoint called Le (La?) Belvedere, 'belle vue'. I only just clocked that all the many Westcountry seaside hotels called that too are because they have 'beautiful views', etymologically speaking.
Anyway, we climbed the narrow, steep path up to where a memorial stone has been set on the spot where poet and naval doctor Victor Segalen was found dead nearly 100 years ago, a copy of Hamlet beside him. (Gives extra poignancy to some of the most famous words in that play, doesn't it?)
And we found another beautiful path back into Huelgoat (though not the one below).
So back here in Devon, normal stress levels have kicked back in. In fact abnormal stress levels, to do with the sheer quantity of emails that have arrived, and the fact that I've spent so much time and energy the last few weeks promoting a course which I might have to accept will not run (with all the ramifications of loss of income, loss of work time, and the fact that I passionately want this course to happen).
Not for the first time, I wonder why I want to be self-employed, and why I haven't yet learned the lesson of knowing when to stop. I blame it on being brought up with the injunction that 'There's no such word as can't' – but when does it become energy-draining at best, pathological at worst, to keep knocking and knocking at a door that simply won't open? When does one cut one's losses and turn to greener fields? I guess the answer is different for everyone.
Things seem to have been out of kilter, off-balance, for many people lately, with interpersonal conflict and difficult decisions to be made, close to the surface. It's not, I've discovered, just me. I say this tongue-in-cheek, but only slightly tongue-in-cheek: there are very challenging planetary alignments and transits 'up there' in the skies right now; the symbolic implications in an interrelated universe need very careful handling in our individual lives, with an eye kept on the internal pressure cooker.
Let's hope the upcoming equinox, when I'll be taking a group of shamanic students out onto the moor, will bring some balance.
Speaking of the skies, after a tough day yesterday I received in the post this morning a complimentary copy of Rosie Jackson's wonderful new poetry collection The Light Box. This lifted me. Her profound, lightly-handled and luminous poems really touch me; something that happens only too rarely with poetry these days.
There are so many I could quote to you, but here's one:
We never thought to learn the names of stars.
They were just places light once found a home.
But now you're gone I need to know
which one you've become. Are you
hidden in Lupus, Orion, Cassiopeia?
Perched like an egret on the back of Pegasus?
Flying to Pyxis? Equuleus? Kissing the Seven Sisters?
Is it their love you're coaxing into being now?
Tell me, so I can aim my telescope.
There is so much dark.
There's another fine poem by Rosie on Josephine Corcoran's poetry blog: http://andotherpoems.com/2015/12/11/the-light-box-by-rosie-jackson/
Tomorrow is the last day for earlybird bookings on my course Poetry, Place & Pilgrimage in my 'homeland' of West Penwith, at the Land's End tip of Cornwall. This 5-day retreat among the holy wells, stone circles and stunning cliffs is a time for falling in love with the land and one's life again, slowly, walking and writing. I'm so looking forward to sharing this place, with words and silence, with anyone who cares to join me.
You can, of course, sign up at a later date, but for those of you who like slipping under the wire by the seat of your pants (is that an unfortunate mixing of metaphors visually?), you've until Sunday night to get your name to me for me to honour the discount (use the Contact page on the website).
You can see from the photo below why this area was used for filming Poldark (and in fact had I been younger and single I'd have easily been seduced by a gypsy-looking extra from the second lot of filming playing his violin on the cliffs just above the little cove above, early one September morning last year).
Perhaps you've had a surfeit of pretty images now. Here's a wordy invitation: I asked my poetry group the other week what book was most inspiring them right now (it didn't have to be poetry).
If you'd like to answer that q for me, with brief details of the book (author, title, publisher, a line or two about the content, and why it's inspiring), in the Comments section below the blog, or by email if you have my email address, I'd like to compile a short blog including a few of them. Any book is good: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, something more experimental and unclassifiable; whatever you like.
As I type this, and only about 20 minutes after I typed the relevant word in Rosie's poem, a little egret has come up the valley and pitched down in the oak by the brook. We used to have a pair of them who alighted there all winter every winter, but this is the first time I've seen one there since the winter of 2013. That's good news.
And regarding good news and birds, if you haven't seen this piece, do visit it: http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2016/mar/10/penguin-swims-5000-miles-each-year-to-man-who-saved-its-life-video