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

Monday, 16 October 2017

four stories about birds

After my father's funeral three years ago, the close family walked at dusk on Saunton Sands, the beach close to my childhood home and where my father (and the rest of us) loved to walk. As we, at the lacy edge of the very low tide, gazed out to the horizon 3 wild geese arrowed over our heads, from west towards where the newborn sun would rise next dawn.

The world is full of symbols, if we want to look. Those geese gave me comfort.

Last Wednesday we said goodbye to the much-loved husband of my sister, father of her boys; brother-in-law to three of us, uncle to my daughter.

Driving from South Devon towards the town in North Devon for the funeral, the first murmuration of starlings that I've seen this year split into two interconnecting sine waves just over our heads as we pulled in to the crematorium. 

Afterwards, at the wake, another sister happened to mention that as she drove in the opposite direction from us to the crematorium, for the first time in years in her local area she saw a ball of hundreds of starlings cartwheeling in front of her. 


Wikimedia Commons; Tony Hisgett, Birmingham UK

On Friday morning I opened the front door, and immediately an acorn landed at my feet. A micro-second later there was a second small plop-thump, and a twig from the same oak landed beside the acorn – with a goldfinch still attached, eyes and claws tightly clenched shut but wings splayed. Like a small Icarus it lay immobile in a shower of red, gold and black at my feet.

I'd been about to walk my daughter's dog, but instead, picked the finch up and with said daughter's help gently unclenched its feet and removed the twig, then tucked the bird into my T-shirt.
Its small shivers were tiny electric currents passing through us both. Having not yet meditated that morning, I sat by the open French door by the lamp and did so.

Thirty minutes later, I lifted and opened my hands, and the goldfinch sped out and over the hedge, with one backward trill.


I'm at an outdoor retreat centre having a meeting with the director. In one of the meadows they've built a stone circle.

Within the stone circle they've acquired a small circular oak grove. The director tells me that he had no idea how this had happened, until one winter in the circle he saw a jay digging up an acorn it had presumably planted previously. 


Yesterday a friend told us this story:

The hummingbird has no prey, and no predator. Its joy is nectar, and in the feeding on nectar from flowers it also pollinates the plant.

The hummingbird – tiny as it is – migrates from Guatemala to Alaska annually.

How does it do this? 

It does this by not thinking it's impossible.

Is this a true story? It might be. It might not be. It might be both. That doesn't matter.

Monday, 9 October 2017

from the ragbag: hunting and guns; badgers; transience, sanity & poetry & stuff

I forget. That's a lovely thing about changing seasons: I forget the strings of geese of autumn. I forget the jewels of honeysuckle and bryony lighting damp Devon hedgerows. I forget the families of larks over the fields, the pigeons and rooks gleaning the last of the barley grains and the invertebrates respectively. I forget the autumn cyclamen bursting through the flopping grasses, so I can be delighted all over again.

And today in the lanes I catch a tang of fresh fox, fresh badger. I'm especially heartened and delighted by this, though it's a bit like visiting death row: the fox hunt was out on Saturday (yes it's illegal), and it's been a while since I've seen 'our' fox who sits in his pillar of sunlight in the field next door – or did.

If you are a National Trust member and, like me, are opposed to hunting, there's an opportunity for you to help change NT policy by voting here. It's astonishing to me that the NT allows hunting on 79 of its properties; per se, but particularly as hunting with hounds is illegal. 'Trail hunting'? How do you think the hounds know the difference?

The badger is even more poignant. Within the next few weeks, up to 33,000 could be culled – because of bad science, because farmers and landowners need appeasing, because as a species we like to demonise. We know that it won't be effective. And heartbreakingly it will still go ahead.

You can see why it won't work here.

We have – had - badger setts on our land. I used to curse the badgers goodhumouredly for digging latrines all over one quarter of the field – each just the size to twist your ankle in, and smelly your foot would have been too. I would give a lot to have the opportunity to twist my ankle and smell again. There's been no sign of badger activity for nearly a year now; sadly, the badger runs took in the neighbouring field, too – the only one in the immediate area belonging to someone who supports the cull.


We have had another death in the family. Such a long decade of deaths and losses. Another opportunity to face head-on the reality of being here on this planet. As Clarissa Pinkola Estes counsels, wisdom lies in the acceptance of the death aspect of the life-death-life cycle of everything.

And as I write at the very top of my blog, wherever we go we can never truly disappear, merely dispersing into all that is, beyond the needy dogmatic insistence of the ego on preserving its identity. And yes it's still a hard passage for those of us who are left.


My own consolations, my sanity-saving gifts, in times of trouble have always been the same.

The first is getting out into the rest of nature, surrounded by the nourishment of trees and plants and animals and birds; the elements, the seasons, the wild ocean, the untamed woodlands. Since I was very young this has always been my instinctive response to pain, and it has never failed me yet.

The second is poetry. Adrienne Rich said that poetry can save your life, and so many people relate to that. Increasingly for me it is the work of poetry itself as much as the 'product' that is the lifesaver: whether that's the process of writing it myself or in my case sharing inspiration and ideas within the group of poets with whom I work; a group I've been leading for well over 20 years now, 'Two Rivers'. 

When you work in the way that we do, in a closed group of people who have become a very particular band of friends, with a great deal of trust, empathy and intimacy, this becomes soulwork of the deepest and most rewarding kind. Poetry is the induction and conduit – as well of course as being the starting point and outcome. 

After they've left and I'm sitting alone in my study in the barn in the garden, the fire dying down and the smell of poetry in the air, it's like sitting in a cathedral with those hundreds of years of the sacred saturating the walls and the air and the light. I'm bathed in something I can't start to name or describe, but can't imagine being absent from my life.

It's a way of offsetting the horrors of our world: the massacres, the refugee crises, the ethnic cleansing, the loss of 50% of our species in 40 years, the fact that every fifteen minutes an elephant loses its face, for its tusks, and our Prime Minister is not yet prepared to outlaw ivory, despite her assurances that she would. It's the climate deniers; it's the displaced peoples; it's the Orange Man making statements that could take us into a 3rd world war (the Today programme this morning mentioned a description of the White House as being like a playgroup without enough staff); it's the outrageousness of the US refusing to challenge the gun laws – I don't need to go on, you know it all.

May we (the earth) always have trees and birdsong; may we have an earth that keeps on giving her abundance – and enough people who care to offset those who don't.

On that note, how privileged I am to live among the other-than-human; and also to be able to take people out into it. So tomorrow morning I'll be working with a local school in the gardens at Greenway, where we can celebrate the abundance of the natural world with stories and poems about it. Tomorrow afternoon, we'll be celebrating the land, nature and place with a series of readings for adults. Small flames.

Oak tree's lost chances –
lazy full-bellied river
pregnant with acorns


Here's a little thing that disproportionately cheered me. I've written before here of my amazing experience of visiting the painted Pech Merle caves, in southwest France, for the first time: how seeing the horses and the handprints in particular blew me away; and the fact that they were made thousands of years ago. Each time I visit, the effect is the same – it's transcendent.

The assumption is generally that such paintings were done by men. Twitter today tells me that a large proportion were done by women (the handprints are small); and here's a report, should you be interested. 

This part-poem, below, ties all sorts of things I've just written of together, so rather than going on, I'll leave you with it. It's the end of the title poem of my 2012 collection All the Missing Names of Love, about Pech-Merle caves:

And something glimpsed in those oxide
hands, the bear’s face and horses
half a mile under the limestone, 25,000
years ago drawn with love and deep

knowing as if pets, as if yesterday,
their carbon and manganese fixed, though
the artist has long since meshed atoms
with everything there is...

Roselle Angwin

Friday, 29 September 2017

a way of being free*

Words are powerful. The Nazis burnt books. It's said too that the Christian monks arriving on Iona burnt the druids' books. Words can change nations, can inspire optimism and activism (think of Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream') or terror (think of Trump's tweets).

Words can be used to soothe and love just as they can be used to stir up racial hatred or guerilla acts of brutality.

Words cast spells, in the most literal sense.

'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the word was God.'

Words can change lives.

And here, in the UK, we are privileged to have what should be that most universal right: freedom of speech. Let's not take that for granted.

And words can set you free.

Yesterday, in a day where I switched from poetry in the morning to teaching novel-writing in the afternoon, I was reminded of the power of language.

I'm currently writer-in-residence at Greenway, as you will know if you're a regular visitor to my blog. Yesterday, for National Poetry Day, I was on hand to accost visitors to the property to encourage them to write some lines on a poetry postcard.

The morning was flatout busy, and it was very good to exchange poems and ideas on poems with some of the visitors who were well-informed about poetry already – I've felt 'dry' in relation to poetry as a way of life and thought lately, so it helped re-immerse me.

It was also so good to see the enthusiasm with which the more intrepid visitors allowed words to pour onto the postcard, and I was reminded once again of poetry as a means of connection and reconnection – with the wider world, of course, but also to the inner life. I gathered a fat handful of postcards, which will be exhibited in the house at the end of November.

After a quick lunch break I had to shift my mindset (although only a little) to offer the first of three sessions on writing the novel.

I always prepare my sessions, but sometimes find I can bin, or at the very least take detours from, my prepared material.

So I found myself talking a bit about 'essential nature' and 'prevailing' or 'conditioned' nature (can't quite remember the context but it was to do with creating characters and their part in driving the plot).

It reminded me that one of the gifts of writing is finding out the essence of who we are, how the world is, where we might belong; finding ways to cut through, even shake off, others' and our cultures' mores, expectations, demands, to find out what we truly believe and value.

No matter what we write, in some ways it shows us what we really think, are engaged by, love, or maybe even fear, about the world, what our beliefs and expectations are. Also no matter what we write we uncover themes, if we're looking for them, that arrive from the deep subconscious, personal or collective, and in some form or another can show us where the work of growth in our own psyche might be best needed.

For I believe, like many others before me, one of whom is C G Jung, that our 'mission' here is to do with wholeness; becoming wholer.

And this is perhaps one of the biggest gifts of the writing process: to discover, uncover, recover 'stuff' that, reincorporated into and thereby enlarging our conscious mind, can add our small flame that is now burning just a little brighter to the bigger collective fires of healing and wholeness we so need in our fractured world.

* the title is the title of one of Ben Okri's books; a very inspiring read (but not part of this blog).

Sunday, 24 September 2017

autumn equinox (alban elfed) 2017


The Wheel of the Year which I celebrate cycles through the quarter dates of: 

  • the winter solstice in the north, where the fire of spirit and intuition glimmers like a distant belt of stars, not yet brought into being but poised on the cusp of bringing new light at this solar standstill before its return towards the sun;
  • the spring equinox, dawn, and its element of air, new ideas, the thinking faculty, and birth, in the east
  • the summer solstice with its earthy warmth and sunniness, the waystation in the south for the physical body, earthly harvests, things coming to full ripening; 
  • and the autumn equinox, the mysterious west, the twilight station of water, the feeling nature, the ancestors and the harvesting and dissolution of what we know and are, before the move back to north for the cycle to begin again.
It has to be said that there's not consistent agreement with the directions and human characteristics in their placing on the Wheel of the Year. Some Medicine Wheels, especially the First Nation ones in America, place earth and body in the north. This doesn't feel right to me, but it might to you.

In between are the cross-quarter dates at exactly halfway between solstice and equinox: imbolc, beltane, lughnasadh, samhain. These too I celebrate.

These solar turning-points, waymarkers, or stations, are useful times to pause and reflect on the meeting-places and relationships between light and dark, day and night, birth and death, masculine and feminine, sowing intentions and harvesting manifestations. 

I like to look back from the autumn equinox* to the quarter just gone via the cross-quarter date of lughnasadh or lammas, sitting as it does between the zenith of fecund summer and the harvests, inner and outer, that have resulted. I also find it useful to look back over the whole cycle of the four seasons at each of these turning points.

* 'Equilux', I'm told it should be called; though whether you emphasise equal night (‘nox’) or equal light you're still buying in to one or the other, when at this time of equipoise maybe neither should be the 'default' title.

Unlike the solstices, which are fixed points in space/time, the equinoxes 'wander'. (This is due to the earth's wobble on its axis.) They can take place any time between 20th of the month and 23rd.

Technically this year the autumn equinox, alban elfed, was on 22nd, late in the evening here in the northern hemisphere. Still, I always mark the autumn equinox on my birthday, the 23rd September (my mum’s was 23rd March, on the spring equinox or alban eilir).

The Dreamtime's approaching now with its inwardness and reflection; its gathering-in of all the harvests of this summer and the turning solar twelvemonths, or thirteen moon-months.

For many years my Ground of Being quarter-day workshops took place outdoors on Dartmoor on the Sundays closest to the equinoxes and solstices throughout the year. Up at the megalithic site of Merrivale on Dartmoor we would each ask the questions of ourselves, and in relationship to the land, that would provoke reflection, creativity, depth, connection. This is a way of creating sacred space, time out from our driven lives in a materialistic culture.

So four times a year I walked out on the moor with others who wanted to share these turning points with me with words and silence in an ancient place. At the autumn equinox, the time of balance, of the creative tension of complementary poles where sun and moon hold steady, as it were, symbolically, as day and night are of equal length, we would focus on harvests, on what we might need to bring something of balance to each area of our lives, and what we might need to let go of from summer, before the tumble on with dark now in the ascendant towards the winter solstice and its longest night.

Here at the equinox balance and harmony are the keys: the bringing-together of all the pairs of opposites. At this time, day and night are of equal length; such a powerful symbol, to be poised here at the gateway between inner and outer, dark and light, night and day, summer and winter, masculine and feminine.

The sign of Libra the Balance begins here, and all whose natal sun occurs in Libra will know how this is the essential struggle: to hold the opposites in balance whilst sustaining the tension that incurs, making of it something creative rather than letting it break us. For instance, how do we each contain and express a need for fixity and a need for fluidity; a need for solitude and a need for intimacy; a need for travel and a need for home? We all, of course, have to resolve these questions; but Librans seem to feel these apparent paradoxes keenly; it’s said that their (our) esoteric task is to find harmony through conflict (and this is as much inner as anything else). 

And to resolve the opposites, we first have to experience and recognise them.

For me, it manifests as a kind of restlessness: as we approach the autumn equinox part of me remains turned outwards, wanting to walk towards the horizon, part thinks of moving inwards, towards lighting fires – whether the one in my study or the ones of new creative projects, the inner fires of the imagination.

Autumn is a poet's season. I can't pretend I don't love the melancholy, the wistfulness, the dreaminess, the inwardness trailing in autumn's slipstream. The quality of nostalgia and yearning are also friends to the Celtic soul. And I love times of transition, borderlands, thresholds, cusps. Times of ambiguity and paradox; of misty blurring of edges.

So here are some of my autumn equinox poems.


At dawn the air is dense with contrails almost not-there,
yet meadow, hedge and sky are all a-glitter: the time of year
when small migrating spiders launch their bodies into space
on less than a breath, and mesh the light. They can’t know
where they’re landing or even if they’ll arrive; but autumn’s
glow is richer and the day brighter for their risk. Microscopic,
their trust in life is one that we can’t have, with our
knowingness, the way we lumber through our years;
and oh what I’d give to rest this body on space and sky
like that, not caring where I’m going, if my fragile tensile arc
will lasso the future, if I’ll ever get there, or who comes with me.

© Roselle Angwin, 2014 



Leaves, falling
Later, in the mist, rowanberries glimmer like fireflies;
up here at Four Winds I am unstrung,
the beads of me scattered to all directions.

The equinox, my birthday and a full moon
bringing, at last, a closure to the turbulence
of this solar cycle. In this high rush of air

the ancient beech shivers off her leaves,
and, heedless of motorbikes, trucks on the road,
the yellow house, the currency of thought,

the moon lifts her owl-bone-white rim
over the moor’s horizon where we sip
at the autumn dusk, let it all remake us.


The full moon hangs in the pale sky like a revelation
awaiting its time. There are times when I know that
love might mean beginning over and over

and again. And how I’ll do that.


Near Merrivale
Once, in the future, I knew my way back.


The light beyond the forest
On the hill, dusk is the colour of violets.

© Roselle Angwin 2010

Thursday, 21 September 2017

september is hers

Louis MacNeice in his wonderful Autumn Journal writes:

'September has come, it is hers
   Whose vitality leaps in the autumn,
Whose nature prefers
   Trees without leaves and a fire in the fire-place...' 

Being a September equinox person I love that passage about 'my' month.

One thing about posting blogs so rarely is that I have far too much to say when I do arrive here; and nothing at all, simultaneously. My apologies to those of you who read this for my sparsity of entries; there are many reasons for this, one being simply immersion in redrafting my current book of narrative non-fiction (what a treat to edit longhand, on the typescript – also useful for picking up errors and repetitions I don't see so easily on the screen) in the gaps between all the courses I lead and mentoring I offer, and all the associated admin.

We're not long back from a fortnight in Brittany – where it rained and rained on all bar the first afternoon.

But it wasn't so different here. September, it seems, threw a switch weather-wise, and autumn is here. The robin's song has changed, some of the swallows and martins have left, and the lanes now wear toadflax, bedstraw and St John's Wort flowers, with a few honeysuckle, but the bright flowers of summer have gone.

The weather affects us more than we'd like to think, or are maybe even conscious of, despite the fact that we're a nation which seems fixated on weather. (Is it because we're an island [or islands]? And temperate?) – I love that it changes fast, and in fact I love all the weathers, though I'd like more sun than we have here in the southwest. (And we have had three days of sun – what bliss to eat lunch outside.) Our default here though is brooding moodiness and mist; but early this morning the rain with its westerly breeze was invigorating when I walked out in it.

I'm speaking of such things because I'm not speaking of the awfulness of other things – the dire situations globally, whether with climate-change-related events, earthquakes, Trumpisms or massacres; and also because in our family we're facing yet another potential bereavement after a long decade of losses, serious illnesses and deaths.

And life is fragile; and so precious. So precious. How easy to moan, to dally, to fritter it away. 'The way you live your day is the way you live your life,' says Annie Dillard (I think).

I have been reading Michael Cunningham's novel By Nightfall (he wrote, you might remember, The Hours). He's an extraordinarily sensitive writer when it comes to human situations and dilemmas, and I can so relate to the protagonist Peter's interior monologue and musings – I guess some people might find them annoyingly slow and navel-gazing but I'm glad to have this sense of connectedness from a novel.

So Peter holds simultaneously his sense of personal privilege and relative safety (if some ennui), and an ever-threatening sense of despair and distress at the sadness and horrors in the world that could so easily overwhelm him: 'You could panic in the face of it all – your brother dead at twenty-two (he'd be forty-seven now), along with his erstwhile boyfriend and every other friend he'd had; slaughters in other countries that might give pause to Attila the Hun; children killing their teachers with guns their fathers left lying around; and by the way, do you think it will be another building next time, or will it be a subway or a bridge?'

Some of the questions the novel addresses, albeit obliquely: What is the place of beauty in a life? How do we find it amongst the horrors? Can it somehow redeem us?

Novels – story, poetry – are at their best when they connect us somehow to a shared ground of being. Music, and art too. So here he is again: 'Isn't this part of what you keep looking for in art – rescue from solitude and subjectivity; the sense of company in history and the greater world; the human mystery simultaneously illuminated and deepened...?'

Can art ever save us?

So look, here, in this green pool is a statue of Kwan Yin, the Buddhist goddess of Compassion. If only this principle could guide our life; all our lives.

And life is precious and I am privileged. In sun, in beautiful September sun, I was graced by being able to do what I love so much: lead an outdoor writing workshop in stunning gardens (all these photos come from there). AND be paid for it.

My three-month residency at Agatha Christie's former holiday home on the banks of the Dart near Paignton in South Devon has begun. This was my first workshop.

In late summer sun, in a beautiful woodland garden, something of the permanent and enduring glides in and for a moment, an hour, displaces even as it co-habits with the transience of it all. This is the task of poetry, to mark this. I can't – don't want to – name it, but it is of the same order of being as the redemptive qualities of art. Everything changes and something still remains.

I shall be there to assist the poem-making process in a drop-in workshop for National Poetry Day on Thursday 28th. That same day I'm offering the first of three sessions intended to sketch out a novel, for those who long to write one; and then there's another writing walk in the grounds. You can see them all (there are several more) here.

As always, I will be aware of how privileged I am, we are, to be able to take part in such life-enhancing things as creativity and beauty in a tranquil place.

As always, in the background, will be the shadows of the troubles and sadness of the world. We're creatures that inhabit the light and the dark both; arguably, our task is to hold them together and be grateful for this life in all its twisting ways.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Brexit: downturn for animals?

We've come a long way in the last few decades in our awareness of animal rights. Of course there's plenty of cruelty still – that's a given; but in 2015 the number of vegetarians in the world, for instance, was estimated at 375 million; a great many of those out of choice (rather than e.g. that their habitation doesn't offer animal protein, or they can't afford it).

Meantime, the number of vegans is increasing hugely: in the States, the last 10 years the number of vegans has grown by 350%. More than 3% of US citizens identify themselves as vegan. Here in the UK, our rise is 360% in the 10 years to 2016, with half a million people identifying themselves as vegan. China has a higher percentage than anywhere.

Can you imagine how few people would even have been aware of the concept of veganism 100 years ago?

For many people, this is a lifestyle/health choice. (There is a growing number of vegan athletes, for instance.)

For many others, though, including lacto-vegetarians or even fish and meat eaters, reducing or cutting out animal products is also driven by a greater awareness of the gross cruelties visited routinely on animals bred for – let's face it – our predation.

There is a great deal I could write on this; and there is much already written on many very good vegan or vegetarian sites (including a small contribution on my own site,

But right now what I want to draw your attention to is the fact that the hard-won victory for animals in 1997, in which they were given legal status and protected rights as sentient beings – yes, it took that long – could now, just 20 short years on, be overturned if Michael Gove, DEFRA Secretary of State, continues with the intention not to honour this status.

When EU law has been converted into UK law, DEFRA has said they are likely to ignore Article 13 of the EU Treaty – which serves to acknowledge that animals can feel pain, suffer and experience joy (in other words, are sentient beings):

'This obligation will not be preserved by the EU (Withdrawal Bill); which delivers our promise to end the supremacy of EU law in the UK.' (DEFRA Under-Secretary of State, Lord Gardiner, August 2017)

If future British governments do not legally need to consider animal sentience, not only is this an enormously regressive step after such a struggle to have their rights recognised even minimally in law, but it could also let in further abuses. The idea that in 2017 it might be that we don't even recognise animals, legally, as being anything other than machines for our appetites or entertainment is beyond grotesque.

If you feel you could help, there's a petition to be signed, and a small donation to Compassion In World Farming would be very welcome. And, of course, you could cut animal products out of your diet; or if you can't imagine this step, you can reduce your meat intake and ensure that whatever you do eat comes from a more humane rearing method than factory farming (2 out of every 3 food animals are factory-farmed). Remember, however, that transportation and abattoir deaths will inevitably involve fear, cruelty and suffering.

Incidentally, Jeremy Corbyn is a vegetarian, and is (cautiously) possibly heading towards veganism (can you imagine Ms May being animal-free inclined?). The Guardian reporting on this gave a nod to the virtues of veganism. You can read a little more on this on one of the best vegan sites, One Green Planet.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

a sense of wonder

It seems to me that a sense of wonder is a critical faculty in humans. I suspect it's especially crucial to keep that alive as we age: wonder is connected with vitality, imagination, creativity, meaning, and I believe wellbeing, too. And, of course, youthfulness.

It's harder to keep that flame alive in an age and a society that is immersed in scientific materialism with its bias towards the reductive and analytical; not to say cynical.

As it happens, I find much scientific discovery extremely inspiring – of my imagination and of wonder both – but we live in an age where reason and analytical understanding are valued above all else, and a sense of wonder is too often trashed as naïve superstition.

For me, a sense of wonder is sufficiently important to my inner life and its outward expression (often in my writing) to carry a separate small notebook around with me for catching those 'bright moments' that inspire wonder; whether that is the exact observation of the flickering of light on water, the fledgling swallows above the valley, a phrase I hear, an unexpected smile, an artefact like the ceramic camel from the Tang dynasty (1st millenium AD) which was the object on which I had to create a workshop for my interview for the Greenway residency, or, yesterday, a day lily appearing from the mass of greenery which I thought had smothered them all.

There's much to say about this, but since I have a chapter (and more) in my book WRITING THE BRIGHT MOMENT – inspiration & guidance for writers * on this subject, I'll leave that there.

What reminded me of the importance of a sense of wonder is how many of us went out, I see from my Twitter and Facebook feeds, to watch the Perseid shower the other night (in August we pass through the Perseid belt, which means many shooting stars enter our atmosphere). New information: I'm told that the Perseid showers happen when Earth hits a belt of debris left behind by a comet, the so-called Swift-Tuttle, on its 133-year elongated orbit around the sun.

I remember a night when my dad and I walked on my child hood beach one August; we counted 21 meteors in less than an hour.

I remember another night when my daughter and I were on the Land's End peninsula, and stopped the car to get out and lie on the roof falling upwards into the vastness of sky as stars streamed towards and around us. 

Magical moments, as was last Sunday evening as we, having eaten a late supper outside and caught by surprise as we'd forgotten the meteor showers, craned our heads back to watch the cosmic firework show – such vastness we're all part of.


The Lion stretches paws to the edges of the land, roars towards Orion. I so want to be drenched in starlight; imagine finding the timeless in the realm of time.

Must have been August, full moon, one night in Penwith we took the road that joins shore to moorland and drove through that downpour of falling stars – their lucence against the midnight blue a kind of covenant, a promise. Stop the car, you said, and we climbed and lay on its roof, toes towards the ocean, in a shower of light, shivered into brightness.

Those were the days before the dying started. There are benisons of pain as well as joy. 

I think how easily we forget to look up, remember where we come from, where home lies.

© Roselle Angwin

This poem appeared in DARK MOUNTAIN 4)

* I have a request here. Over and over people have told me how very much they've valued my Writing the Bright Moment book. It's been selling by word of mouth. And yet there are only two reviews on Amazon. Whatever we feel about Amazon, reviews really help writers. If you've read the book, and feel you have something to say about it – even if it's only one sentence – I'd be delighted if you'd consider a review.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

garden recipes and a hint of wild boar (not to eat)

I mostly like cooking. Then there are times, especially when those times are intense, when there's not only some relief in cooking, but it can be a lifesaver – something so essential, so creative, so earthy, so non-mental, handling the creations of the soil, the rain, the compost, the sun, the magic of seeds.

When you have to create recipes too, for instance when the harvest glut is coming in – as ours is now, finally, after a long slow start – it's an interesting challenge to find a new way to cook courgettes, or green beans.

So here are some recipes for you. They're all vegan, but non-vegans will enjoy them as well; and although they mostly include beans, these are in reasonably digestible forms. Because they're vegan, I take care to include protein. (For more on supplying the nutritional essentials on a vegan diet, see here.)

Sorry there are no photos of the meals – I realise what a difference they make, but never think of it until we're halfway through eating! Here instead are some photos of our veg over the years. (I know that's not the same, but they're pretty.)

Three essential ingredients for the vegan larder/fridge:
  • Nutritional yeast flakes (Engevita); buy the one with added B12 (blue pot). I was a lacto-vegetarian for 40 years, and knew that one day I'd need to take the logical step of removing the products of animal suffering entirely from my diet, but in the four or five years I've been vegan (though I do at the moment still eat eggs from our neighbours' free range hens) I still miss cheese a lot. Yeast flakes help add that – well, yeasty nutty tang. Occasionally I will buy myself some Violife pizza 'cheese' – it's not a bad substitute; made from coconut milk, it's both processed and a bit high in food miles, though, but, you know, one can only be virtuous a certain percentage of the time without pissing oneself off with self-righteousness, as well as one's table-mates.
  • Coyo; the vegan yogurt, made from coconut milk. It's completely delicious, and the sweeter flavour can be compensated for with a shot of lemon juice (my daughter calls lemon 'the third condiment', and it really is). I'm not going to beat myself up a 2nd time for coconut-miles.

    I used to miss yogurt, too (I mean dairy yogurt) – not any more (and if you've never tasted Booja Booja non-dairy ice cream, you've a treat waiting).
  • Cashew nuts are very high in nutrients, and there is no nut (or anything non-dairy else) like them for whizzing up for sweet or savoury sauces with one or other or both of the above; plus they make a fabulous base for a very tasty vegan 'cheesecake' (yes, really). But there's the food-miles issue again; plus unless you buy Fairtrade, the trade is dirty (as of course is eg the cotton trade, unless it's organic cotton) in terms of poor pay and working conditions and some toxicity for the pickers.

    For savoury dishes, sweet chestnuts are a great alternative, and I collect them regularly, even in England, in the autumn, and collect masses to bring back if I'm in France. Not so good for sweet dishes, in my opinion, though – although they are used widely in France, Italy and Switzerland for desserts. (In fact, remembering this, I think I might have talked myself back into them.)

  • In addition, beans – canned beans – of all sorts, including the highly nutritious chickpeas, and all lentils. Of course, in season, green beans; and we grow various beans to freeze so that we don't have to buy canned: pea bean, borlotti, soissons.
  • Seeds: pumpkin seeds add an extraordinary amount of protein to any dish; try dry-toasting these, sunflower seeds and, if you're feeling rich, pine nuts too, and when they're popping throw in a dash of soy sauce and the juice of half a lemon.

1 This first one is not mine, but the invention of Meera Sodha, Guardian food columnist at The New Vegan.

It's a warm salad of samphire, potato and chickpea, with chaat spices. My version below uses green beans instead.

While I had masses of samphire in my fridge – fresh from a stone wall at Cape Cornwall after leading my Land's Wild Magic course down there in June, I had none this week, so I substituted French green beans (Cobra) from the garden. I also had no mango powder (strangely enough) but had some coconut flour (I suppose that's equally strange; it was a gift), so I mixed that with a little lemon juice. We did have our own Charlotte potatoes (tick), which didn't stay in neat tidy small cubes like Meera's in her photo, but it didn't matter as the whole dish is divine.

Because TM doesn't like hot food, I substituted half a teaspoon each of mild tagine spices and smoked paprika for the chilli.

I topped it with Coyo, and we had slow-cooked garlic courgettes on the side.

I was at Greenway, where I'll be leading several workshops this autumn (several more to be uploaded yet) as well as creating my own new writing, with the co-ordinator the other day. I was treated to lunch in the café, but she'd brought her own delicious-looking 'allotment soup'. Hmmm. Good idea for the glut.

Our garden can come up with the goods now. (I love the Keravel Pink onions from Brittany.) So here's my herby cream-of-garden soup (for 2):

2-3 tbsps olive oil
I onion and 3 cloves garlic, chopped
4 courgettes
double handful green beans, chopped
1 large potato cubed or diced
stock or Marigold bouillon (up to 1 litre; make it strong)
1 tsp yeast extract or 2 tsps soy sauce

1 double handful fresh sorrel leaves if you can get them – sorrel is easy to grow (wild sheep sorrel will do, but beware it might be tough by now)
1 handful fresh parsley
1/2 handful fresh marjoram
1/2 a dozen sage leaves (all chopped finely)

1/2 tsp each:

1/2 tub Coyo
juice of 1/2 lemon 

SOFTEN the onion in the oil. Add sliced courgettes and garlic, and when they're soft add the potatoes. Turn up the heat a little and cook for five minutes, stirring frequently so the potatoes don't stick, then add the beans.

Add half the stock etc; add more as needed (keep the soup thick). Throw in the spices, and leave to simmer for an hour (stir now and then).

Then add the Coyo and finely chopped herbs, stirring well, and turn off the heat.  Leave to sit for 5 to 10 minutes, and serve with crusty bread with maybe a splash of olive oil. You can sprinkle yeast flakes on top.

3 Pasta e fagioli with mushroom sauce (for 2)
When I was a romantic young student, I met an Italian in a remote part of the Catalonian Pyrenees, and eloped with him right up onto the border with Spain, where we spent a winter in a commune with no electricity, an open fire for cooking, and water collected from a spring half a kilometre away.

Once that autumn I got chased up an apple tree in an ancient abandoned orchard by a trio of wild boar who clearly considered scrumping apples to be their prerogative; but that's a different story.

Drawing by Michael Fairfax, from The Polden Pig

Later, I married him (the Italian, not a boar), and he's the father of my daughter. He died suddenly in late 2015, and in his memory I offer this recipe. He was a good cook, and pasta e fagioli (beans) was one of his staples, though the sauce here is mine. He also used to make all our bread by hand, and, as he was taught by his rural grandmother, he'd use no yeast except what he could gather by leaving a tea-towel out in a clover-field overnight to collect the dewy clover-yeast (yes, really). He was also the best gnocchi maker I've ever known.

The mushroom part
2-3 tbsps olive oil
1 big onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 dozen mushrooms, sliced
a handful of fresh herbs: oregano, parsley, a sprig of rosemary, some thyme – mix and match

Soften the onion in warm oil; add garlic, mushrooms and herbs. Sauté gently. 

Put a big pan of water on to boil.

The sauce
Blend together on a low heat:
200 gms natural Coyo
200 gms ground almonds, finely chopped cashews, or hazelnuts
3 tbsps yeast flakes
1 tsp bouillon powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp nutmeg
juice of 1/2 a lemon or to taste
salt and pepper 
(I added some leftover mashed potato)

When the water comes to the boil, throw in some pasta (I use red lentil pasta as I love it and it's full of protein), and a double handful of green beans (or to be more traditional other podded beans) chopped into roughly 2cm lengths. They're ready after 8–10 minutes. Drain and put back in pan with a dash of olive oil.

Mix the mushrooms and the sauce and stir into the pasta e fagioli.

Finally, 4: butterbean and cashew (or other nut) paté or spread 
This works well with broad beans early in the season and later podded beans like soissons or borlotti too.

Put into a whizzer (I use a handheld Braun stick thing):

1 good handful cashew
1 tin butterbeans or kidney beans (or any other bean really, but the butterbeans' mild flavour allows the nuttiness to emerge), drained and rinsed
big slosh of olive oil
handful each fresh parsley and basil
1/2 handful fresh oregano or marjoram
1 tbsp capers
few drops Tabasco (to taste)
nutritional yeast flakes 
shake of Tamari
salt and pepper
(a little chopped onion if liked).

Whizz and enjoy!

I think it might also be good with cucumber and dill weed instead of the other herbs; also sorrel.



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