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.
Wednesday, 11 July 2018
This year’s Ways With Words litfest must be the best yet. I’ve gorged on a handful of excellent events, and now I've had to close my purse and open my computer, though there are plenty of great-sounding talks, and a whole poetry day, yet to come.
Once upon a time, I was a surfer (though I rarely managed to stand up on the board, wipeouts being more my natural style). In that fairy tale, we (being my Italian ex-, now late-husband, and down the line our daughter as well), worked the summers in GB making stuff (him beautiful leather bags and belts, I plant-dyed handspun knitwear to my own designs, which meant that my daughter spent many of the first few months of her life slung from my chest while I gathered plants from the North Devon coasts, woods and fields), and spent the winters in our campervan following good surfbreaks down the Atlantic coast of France into northern Spain.
So my nostalgia for the surfing life was well-tended by the first talk I went to, one by Iain Gateley who spends much of his life, even now after a hip op, checking surfbreaks from the southwest of Britain to Galicia. Can I say it was gratifying to see his clips of so many other surfers also suffering wipeouts? And the final one of a tube (which is when you surf parallel to shore INSIDE the great curl of a breaking wave’s green tunnel towards the light) conveyed something of the ecstasy and almost-transcendence of catching a wave (though I never managed a tube).
Barry Cunliffe, that great historian, speaking on prehistoric sea-travel was his usual knowledgeable self, though TM and I were both disappointed that he stopped, more or less, before covering the western Atlantic seaboard of GB. I wanted to know more about the most recent findings in relation to the Phoenicians and their connection with the early tin trade in Cornwall.
In between these two sea-speakers I read my long Dartmoor water-poem River Suite, and – being broke as all freelance poets almost always are unless they achieve (usually posthumous) fame – was delighted to sell 6 copies of the limited edition artists’ book – that’s 250-ish sold now out of 300. (I would link to the video clip of my reading that Dartington made and posted, but a) I can’t stand listening to my own voice and b) I’m not sure who that fat old imposter reading in the clip is.)
Canon Mark Oakley delivered a passionate, erudite and eloquent talk on the continuing significance and essential role of poetry in an age of literalism. (I’d give you selected excerpts except it would mean transcribing the whole thing.) He also managed to convey deep soul, while only mentioning God twice (he is after all a canon). Oakley spoke quite a lot about wisdom, and as his next job will be Dean of St John’s College Cambridge I wanted to offer him ex-Dominican Matthew Fox’s words: ‘Looking for wisdom in a university is like looking for chastity in a brothel.’
Surfing links Iain Gately and Martin Dorey, whose new book Take the Slow Road Scotland (in a campervan) formed the story behind his talk. Predictably I loved it; the more so because I kept catching sight of what looked remarkably like my daughter’s van in his photos of the Outer Hebrides. (How I wish that TM loved the islands as much as I do. Good job we both like Brittany and France.) As the book was £20 I resisted buying it, but did buy his simultaneously-published No. More. Plastic. (I have to say that I – and probably many of us – do all this already, but still, it offers a focus.) Martin is behind the #2minutebeachclean initiative, which has persuaded a great many people that they can, in fact, help save the oceans (or verges, streets, lanes, fields) from more plastic. Of course, cleaning it up is stable doors: better by far not to buy it in the first place.
I’m on a big drive to reduce the (already-minimal) amount of plastic that comes into our home. Since TM is veggie but not vegan, but has voluntarily limited the amount of dairy products such as butter in his diet, my next venture is to try making (‘healthy’) margarine and keeping it in a Kilner jar in the fridge rather than buying all those plastic tubs. I already make our face creams and ointments – have done forever – so am hoping the emulsification principle is similar. If any of you has any idea, please let me know. I personally love olive oil congealed (in a Kilner jar) in the fridge as a spread, but it seems I’m on my own with that. Meridian does a good almond butter, but – it’s in plastic. (And yes, I know there are issues with almonds; I try and source them from Europe.) And – can I still write with a fountain pen? (Could I ever??) That would save binning a lot of plastic gel pens.
Raynor Winn’s new book The Salt Path is her account of the walk she and her husband did along the 630 miles of the Southwest Coastpath just after a devastating diagnosis for her husband, and their being made homeless simultaneously. Her talk was entertaining and honest; her book will be my reading matter in Brittany next week (also my sister’s, perhaps, as she’s coming too - hooray! - and for a few years her work involved walking and writing up circular stretches of the coastpath for the SWCP association, resulting in a series of little books).
Prof Raymond Tallis, philosopher and neuroscientist (Logos: The Mystery of How We Make Sense of the World – also at £25 too expensive for me at the moment) offered a rich and heady cocktail of ideas, though I didn’t always agree with his conclusions. When I posited, though, that while philosophy and science can help us make sense and/or meaning, they are currently generally set in opposition to myth, story and poetry (logos and mythos, which occur as a duo in many of my blogs here from the last 8 years), and that the latter are also very much about making sense and meaning of our history and our experience of being human and of the world, and should be brought together, he nodded in delight and said that that is also his conclusion. There are people working hard to cross divides, to bring false binaries back into harmony, in every discipline.
The environmental ‘debate’ between Guy Singh-Watson, founder of Riverford Organics and hot from Desert Island Discs (and yet another surfer), Natalie Bennett, ex-leader of the Green Party, and Philip Lymbery, author of Farmageddon and Where the Wild Things Were, and CEO of Compassion in World Farming on the future for food: what is the balance between food security and food safety, and how do we feed 7.5 billion people? – was also lively and impassioned with, as you’d expect, each speaker well-informed. Of course it wasn’t actually a debate, as they all agree that factory farming is not the answer to any of the issues being discussed, and nor are pesticides or GM foods. Although they didn’t address the issue of water stress (which I think is going to be massive before too long, even though it may not feel like it here in England most of the time, if not actually right now), they all agreed that eating less meat is the only way forward. Of course.
Well, you know my views on that. And yes of course it’s hard to be vegan. I don’t miss milk in my tea – which was my feeble reason for so many decades of being lacto-veggie for not going the whole hog (so to speak); in fact now I find it disgustingly animal-fatty. Cheese is a different matter. Whereas once, in my youth, I fantasised about leaving the known world with a raggle-taggle gipsyman, now I fantasise about grilled halloumi, a Greek salad with feta, buffalo mozzarella... and resist. Mostly. (As these days I do those romantic barefoot musical wanderers.)
Finally, here’s my current most-delicious vegan recipe for you, its filling today consisting of the food-for-free nutritious and self-seeded fat hen (chenopodium album, and also a dye plant; photo at top) that is abundant in England this time of year, and that I’ve just weeded from our squash bed to use in place of spinach, and a picking from our abundance of courgettes (with their beautiful yellow flowers that the bees love).
I need to say that quantities and proportions are approximate and flexible. Experiment!
BUCKWHEAT PANCAKES WITH A SUMMER FILLING
In Brittany, the speciality is krampouez, or galettes de blé noir, which is buckwheat crêpes. Buckwheat is not a grain but the seed of a plant in the sorrel/rhubarb family, so it’s gluten-free too. I love these, and they are so easy to make. Vary the filling as you like – it's good with creamy mushrooms, ratatouille, mashed avocado with seasalt, tabasco and finely-chopped nuts and yeast flakes, or garlic-sautéed courgettes with onions – and any number of other fillings.
For the galettes for two people:
4 heaped tablespoons buckwheat flour
8-12 tablespoons water, added gradually and beaten well
half-teaspoon+ of any, or combinations of, tagine spices, turmeric, cumin seed, mustard seed
For the filling:
A big handful of spinach or chard, washed, destalked, torn up – OR fat hen! You can also use foraged orache (and it would be nice with sorrel as well, or samphire instead)
2 courgettes, sliced
bunch parsley, finely chopped
3 or 4 leaves mint, finely chopped clove garlic, finely chopped
salt and pepper
a little olive oil
juice of half a lemon
(Coyo coconut yogurt if you want to use it)
First make your pancake mix. I make mine fairly thick as they’re less likely to stick, and I use a small cast iron frying pan (about 8 inches bottom diameter in old money).
Sauté the courgettes in a dash of oil on a low heat until soft. Throw in spinach, chard, or fat hen, garlic, and herbs. Lid the pan and let it all wilt gently. Add the other ingredients, turn heat right down.
The secret to a successful pancake is a) proportions (roughly twice as much water as flour, or a little more than that), and b) the pan. Smear a heavy-bottomed pan with a very little oil and heat till smoking. Test it with a drop of the mix. If it sizzles, it’s ready. Pour a ladleful of the mix in, and immediately tilt the pan so it covers the bottom. After about a minute, turn the heat down slightly. Let it cook (but don’t burn it) for two or three minutes, until a knife slipped under the pancake will easily lift it. Then flip, and cook for another minute or two,
Hope you like it as much as I do. Let me know!
Friday, 29 June 2018
The sun is rising at its most northeasterly point, apparently at a standstill for the three days of the solstice (‘solstitium’, ‘sun-standing’). Who knows what rituals might have been enacted here once, perhaps at the old Celtic midsummer of May 1st, Beltane, or perhaps nearer to our midsummer, celebrating the solar god at his zenith? It’s possible that the double rows here, like the processional avenues at Avebury which, some allege, can be seen to alternate longer thin stones with ‘lozenge’ stones, have carried over millennia their representation of a coming-together of man and woman, god and goddess, in ceremony, processing towards the obvious symbolism of the circle and the menhir behind it.
Wednesday, 20 June 2018
Summer solstice 2018
Today is the day of the oak-king
horned god of the greenwood at the peak
of his solar powers, at this moment
of maximum light bound to none –
(how many years ago now did we
process to the stones at sunrise?) –
sun on his longest journey northeast
to northwest in the sky (we crowned
each other then, king and queen of
midsummer) and nowhere to hide –
no shadows – yet already the year
slides back to the moon-queen’s time
(that journey you took that midwinter)
at the nadir where the holly king
guards the doorway and wrestles the old year
down (you with your crown of antlers
and how you too succumbed). And yet
nothing dies; simply lies fallow. Burdened
with the gift of our brief bright lives we could
remember this – nothing dies; everything will return.
© Roselle Angwin
Wednesday, 13 June 2018
So I'm still digesting the fact that last week's holistic writing and walking course brought as much depth, richness, delight and sheer magic as the Iona week does, albeit differently. Oh, and a lot of moving and inspiring writing.
Of course, it helped that we were back in my homeland of the far west of Cornwall, like Iona right at the rim of the world, but the southwestern rim (where, yes indeed, Poldark is both set and mostly filmed).
It helped, symbolically, that Cape Cornwall is where two seas merge to become the Atlantic Ocean (the Bristol Channel/Irish sea and the English Channel), and that the next stop west is America. (Of course, you could say that the great Atlantic splits to flow in two directions here. Either way, it's a place of transition, a threshold place.)
It helped that on the first day we spotted a pod of five dolphins leaping and playing their way around the Cape.
It helped that the participants formed a diverse, interesting and creative group of ten women, one courageous man (plus me), and that trust and intimacy arrived so swiftly.
It helped that Thelma at Boswedden provides plentiful vegetarian food, and home-made cakes.
It helped, too, that I instigated silent walking. I love this, walking together and apart simultaneously.
We walked round the coast and came up from Porth Nanven, 'my' family beach (Angwin being cognate with Nanven) through the lush and beautiful Cot Valley so beloved of painters like Kurt Jackson in St Just. Here's one of Cot Valley's gunnera:
It was also a delight to see two of our number skinnydipping in Porthchapel Cove with its turquoise waters (sorry – their photo is censored):
And we added another stone circle; like most of them in West Cornwall another one of 19 stones (perhaps marking a full metonic cycle of the moon through its 235 synodic months). This has been associated, as the early Bronze Age circles themselves have been, with the lunar Goddess of our ancestors. As far as we can tell, the druidic training was also 19 years – no coincidence.
Boskednan stone circle is up high on wild moorland overlooking the sea at Zennor, beyond Mên an Tol, the holed fertility stone, and Mên Scryfa, the inscribed stone supposedly marking the place where an important tribal leader fell and was buried after a battle with 'the invaders from the east' in around the 6th century CE, though the stone itself is a prehistoric menhir. Off to the east here is Ding Dong mine, one of the most significant of the Cornish tin mines; to the west, Carn Galva or Galver; and behind us a rather beautiful if ruined tumulus.
But maybe the highlight of the week was the final morning's visit to the most beautiful and secluded circle deep in the West Penwith countryside, site of ancient and current gorsedds, bardic and druidic ceremonial gatherings.
Apparently, this one was one of the three major stone circles in the British Isles, cited in the Welsh Triads (some of the content of which dates back to the 9th century and earlier, maybe 6th or 7th centuries CE), though I haven't yet tracked down the other two. Avebury, I would guess, would have to be one. As for the others: a circle on Anglesey, Ynys Môn, Isle of Druids? Callanish on Lewis in the Outer Hebrides? The very beautiful Castlerigg, in Cumbria (a personal favourite)? Stonehenge? (So obvious as almost not to need citing.)
Anyway, 12 writers were utterly silent for nearly two hours, writing and writing, in this circle.
And my final treat was a bowl of rock samphire, gathered from the cove on the morning we left, and wilted with lemon and olive oil.
Next year's THE LAND'S WILD MAGIC will happen again in June.
It's been a long time since I led a 'writing from life' retreat, though I used to lead them regularly. As a good excuse to go back to Cape Cornwall, I'm offering a short course there in just that in early September this year (3 days, 4 nights). An added extra is writing from nature, in the style of the 'new' nature writing. You can read more about 'IN HARVEST TIME' here, and there's an earlybird discount.
Sunday, 27 May 2018
I'm up early, digging and raking the squash bed, turning over the clods of kelp we gathered so backbreakingly back when it was winter and then hauling the 60 big sacks up the steep slope to our raised beds (built by TM and also very often requiring the transportation of 100s and 100s of sacks of compost, manure etc by hand).
It's been a long time since I felt I had the energy and desire to head up there for a spell of hard physical work so early in the morning. And I loved it. So far, I've kept my resolution to do a whole lot more gardening and spend a whole lot less time on the screen. It feels good, though I still don't know how I'm to address the ongoing pressing issue of fiscal poverty with the work I do. I'm planting intentions to change that with each squash and courgette I nudge into the warm soil.
The broad beans, sown directly into the soil in April (they should have over-wintered by being sown in October) are doing well, and so far all the other beans, many of which we grow to freeze for winter protein, are thriving. The garlic is plumping out.
This year the hawthorn, sacred to the month of May and the goddess/May Queen in the old calendar, is pink again. I still haven't found out why that happens some years: a combination of weather-conditions and mineral content of soil is my vague impression.
There's a great spotted woodpecker on the feeder, and a (small) charm of goldfinches. 'My' robin didn't appear for a day or so after I returned from Brittany, but when TM and I sat in the sunny courtyard with a cup of tea the other morning he – for it is a he, and feeding fledglings with his mate – heard my voice and flew over to perch on my hand. This means almost as much to me as publishing a new book. (Perhaps this is why I'm not making any money. Priorities.)
Also early in the morning a roe deer and a yearling head into our margin of woodland. I've seen a cuckoo twice. By such things are the mornings blessed.
Last evening, I stood out in the rain shower, the first for weeks, pictured the beans and new squash plants soaking it up, breathed in the scent released from all the plants and flowers, listened to the blackbird in the oak – the rain song is quite different.
Later, I loved being inside and hearing the thunder in the duskiness.
Next week, I'm heading off to my homeland of West Cornwall to take writers out to the ancient and sacred sites of this land.
The Land's Wild Magic is happening at Cape Cornwall; a venue where I hope to be offering both my Wellkeepers autumn course and a new one in September (still tba), focusing on memoir and nature-writing.
If you are interested in writing that encompasses both mindfulness practice and time out on the land relating to the other-than-human, you might be interested in two more one-day workshops in the Devon lands. You can read more here.
I'm also delighted to announce an autumn writing retreat on Iona next year, in addition to the two spring ones. I've already had some bookings come in. Might I tempt you to join us? People come from all over the world.
How we relate to the other-than-human is more than a matter of pressing concern. For me, it's now the main focus of my life and work (inextricably intertwined, which is how I like it).
While it's not news, I was heartbroken the other day to read the report in the Guardian giving us specific data on our terrible powers of destruction as a species.
Did you know (well, you will if you've read the article by Damian Carrington) that only 4% of all land mammals are wild? Yes, 4%.
36% of land mammals are humans.
And the other 60%? Our prey, the livestock largely of course factory-farmed in appalling conditions, prisoners of our appetites and ignorance.
And of birds, 70% are poultry, mainly chicken, also farmed for our appetites.
I know everyone's banging on about reducing meat-eating. As a vegan, obviously I'm in favour of it. More, though, this is something we can do that will allow us to make positive changes, not just for our species but for other species and the planet too. And it's not enough just to know it; we need to do something. This is what will empower us to feel something other than hopeless and helpless in the face of all the environmental horrors.
My mum used to talk of four categories of risk: the ones we can afford to take; the ones we can't afford to take; the ones we can afford not to take; the ones we can't afford not to take (with me??). Cutting our meat consumption is without doubt in the 4th category – we can't afford to carry on as we are. OK, if we disappear as a species, that's our doing. What's not justifiable morally is taking every other species down with us.
The professor carrying out the research that underpinned the Guardian article said (unnecessarily but I guess it bears repeating): 'Our dietary choices have a vast effect on habitats of animals and other organisms.' Well, yes. And not just on the habitats but on the animals we eat themselves. He has himself decided to reduce the amount of meat he's eating.
This, it seems to me, is the least we can do. How about making a life change that will have an enormous impact?
1-star is cutting out meat, fish, dairy, a day a week. Even this will make a huge difference, and I recognise that we all do what we can from our own starting point.
2-star is going vegetarian. This will help a lot too, though there is still plenty of suffering and death associated with producing dairy and eggs, albeit a lot less than a carnivorous diet.
3-star is vegan. It's not an easy option, but yes, you can live a perfectly healthy life as a vegan – some would say more healthy, as meat and dairy consumption have both been linked with higher incidences of some cancers and heart disease. For nutritional info, see here. And there's no need to sacrifice taste and pleasure: have a look at this website. More and more food outlets are catering for this nowadays.
And know what? I actually can't stand the taste of milk in tea any more; it was giving up that selfish little pleasure that stopped me being vegan for decades: the idea of drinking milkless tea seemed unthinkable (in a minor trivial way). What's more surprising is that nor can TM, a dedicated lacto-veggie. He still eats some cheese although we share the cooking and he cooks vegan, but out of choice goes for soya milk now (I don't, as it's not good for menopausal women, but I love almond milk – sourced from Europe, btw, if like me you're a food-miles stickler and also concerned about the bee-racket in California).
And it feels so good to actually do something rather than moan and despair at the state of the world.
Friday, 18 May 2018
Should you be interested, I've been thinking about how we can ease our passage here, on the earth – for ourselves, each other, and the other-than-human, and be happier, too.
It has to be said that the below is a list of quick thoughts while outdoors listening to a cuckoo this morning (avoiding my 'real work'). I don't pretend it's comprehensive or even perfectly articulated. But I'm keen to resume the blogger habit, and encouraged by those of you who responded to my previous post.
So, in no particular order, here are some thoughts. I'd positively welcome your additions in comments below! (And NB I've tried to stay away from too much proselytising, but there is still some eco-worthiness, of course.) At the risk of being a Pollyanna:
1 Remember that our peace and security lie in accepting that everything's uncertain and transient – that's just how it is on this plane of being
2 At the end of the day, take a few minutes to revisit your day in your memory, and the gifts in everything that arose for you today, even the hard bits
3 Take time out every day to feast your eyes on green, to listen to birdsong, wind in trees, a river – even five minutes, even in a city
4 This one comes from Michael Ventura (who co-authored, with Jungian James Hillman, We’ve Had One Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World’s Getting Worse, Harper San Francisco, 1992 – but this doesn't come from that but from an endpage article in Resurgence decades ago): No matter how busy your schedule, take a few minutes in the morning with your beloved to be quiet ('beloved' might mean partner, of course; but it might also mean family, dog, garden)
5 Practise listening, really listening, to others. Harder than we all think
6 Practise generosity. When a criticism of someone springs to your lips, see if you can find, instead, something positive to say (or just think) about someone. How much nicer to hear 'So glad you did the dishes while I was drinking tea in bed' than 'Why do you always leave the pots and pans?' or 'I really enjoyed your last poem' rather than 'That reading went on too long'
7 Stop criticising yourself
8 Go barefoot sometimes, even if only for a minute or two. Walking in dew is exquisite!
9 Tell those whom you love that you love them. Often
10 It's not what you accumulate or achieve that counts, it's the people you love, your attitude to them and all living beings, and the depth and richness of your experiences – and what you make of them – that make an authentic life
11 Live lightly on the earth. Be mindful of the effects of your choices and actions on others, no matter how trivial the actions or invisible the other
12 This follows on: change your consumption and shopping habits. Bin the supermarkets (yes I know they're cheap, but not so much once you've succumbed to the promos and offers – and if I ever enter one I know I buy more than I need, my eyes being bigger than my belly). They benefit no one except the multinationals. Take your own bags and go to a farm shop, market, small local store – and buy less if you have to and use it mindfully. Refuse plastic. Don't buy Wetwipes or bottled water etc etc. Try cutting back on animals and animal products in your diet if you haven't already*; incorporate more organic; think foodmiles and seasonality; shop locally as much as you can. You'll feel better for it (and in markets, small shops etc there's actual person-to-person interaction); you'll reduce the world's suffering; you'll help the planet and you'll benefit local small businesses. Learn to forage!
(*some nutritional advice is offered on my site; and the best vegan recipes in the world are here)
13 Remember that other beings, human or not, and the planet herself have not been put here for our use and benefit. One of the worst words applied to the rest of the natural world is 'resource'. As George Monbiot has said many times including in his latest post, we tend to muddle monetary value with intrinsic value. How can we view the world as 'capital', morally speaking? Similarly, we so often seem to think, albeit unconsciously, that other humans too are here to help or serve us, to fulfill our needs and desires, one way or another. Of course, that's also the general attitude to animals
14 You are responsible for your actions and words. Assuming you've acted in good heart, you are not responsible for others' reactions to them. Watch out for the guilt trips – your own or others'
15 Do you really need to switch on that phone/computer/TV? (OK, sometimes you do. But does the phone need to accompany every conversation, gleaming away on the table at your side?)
16 Regain the slow lane. Take refuge in the slow lane. Slooooow. There. Doesn't that feel good?
17 Consider learning a meditation practice. Just 10 minutes a day can open up space in your life
18 Next thing you do, do it with your whole attention, as if nothing else matters. Indeed, for that moment, nothing else does
19 The biggest mistake we tend to make in the West is to identify our 'self' with our emotions (of which the baseline one is fear). Step outside them – they're generally reactions to insecurity –and see the bigger picture
20 The happiest people tend to be those who dedicate themselves to something bigger than simply their own ego, whether that is a metaphysical belief system, work that benefits the greater good, or a community or environmental project, for instance. It doesn't have to be big or worldshaking; merely something that, hopefully regularly, takes you beyond 'I, me, mine'
21 Give back. I love the old principle of titheing – passing on a tenth of one's gains. I try and practise it, though a tenth is tricky on my income unless I think in non-monetary terms, so I try to think beyond money. There are many ways of titheing after all. (We certainly do it with the wild predators in our vegetable plot, albeit rather involuntarily and grumpily)
22 See number 1.
© Roselle Angwin, May 2018
Wednesday, 16 May 2018
and the forest here in Brittany is big enough to get lost in, though TM doesn't do 'lost', so I suppose I mean take an unscheduled scenic tour, arriving back accidentally at the remote and beautiful little woodcutter's cottage (also originally an unscheduled visit) deep in the heart of the forest after quite a long trek, followed then by an undignified scramble through scrub in approximately the desired direction, according to the now-lowering sun.
I spent quite a long time trying to find the 'ancienne fontaine' marked on the map, hoping that it was one of the old holy wells. And it probably was, once. Now it's a rather sad rounded structure, completely blocked in, against which has been built a hunting lodge. Sometimes at night I hear the wild boar; send up some thoughts for their continued survival.
It's possible to walk from here and almost never repeat the walk. I love that. I love too the tall old trees; though many are new-growth after the tempests in 1987 and 1997 that took down so many broadleaves, there are still plenty older ones, jostling among the massive boulders, or growing through the cracks with an etiolated trunk that suddenly swells into something elephantine, or like an as-yet-undigested animal in the torso of a boa constrictor (do snakes have torsoes? Aren't they all torso?) once it arrives beyond the grip of the stone.
You may have noticed an absence of blogposts. I have noticed a reluctance on my part to sit at the computer. Lately – that is, until Iona in early April – I have acquired the habit of sitting at my computer all day. All day. I didn't choose the impoverished creative life to spend it sitting at a screen, and it's made me feel ill. I love communicating and working with people, and of course I'm also a writer, but something has to change.
What has changed, since my retreats on Iona (which were wonderful, and I hope I speak for all the participants in the temporary family we create together: profound, exciting, stimulating and very creative*) is that I'm spending a great deal more time outside, hands in and feet on the soil. It feels SO good to be back among growing things.
Author Neil Gaiman reputedly said something along the lines of: 'Once I was a professional writer. Now I'm a professional email-answerer.' That. Please don't let that put you off writing to me! – but Ms Usuallyultraconscientious is likely outdoors somewhere and probably won't answer immediately.
And when I am on the computer I need to spend more time actually writing – which is what I'm supposed to be doing this afternoon: an article for Green Spirit magazine on 'Sacred Feminine, Sacred Masculine' – the focus of my 'Wellkeepers' course in Cornwall in November.
Speaking of courses, there's a new week coming up, indoors and out-, probably in September or October, probably in Cornwall. More anon.
And before that, two outdoor half-day workshops near Totnes in Devon: 'Presence – mindfulness, haiku and haibun' on Sunday June 24th in the South Hams, and 'Tongues in Trees' in beautiful woodland on the edge of Dartmoor on Sunday July 8th. If you'd like to come, I need you to sign up soon.
For various reasons that I don't need to mention here, I've been feeling quite anxious. Purely selfishly, I was heartened to be reminded by George Monbiot in a post of his how to deal with such states. George has recently had an op for prostate cancer, the ramifications of which could have been horrendous (fortunately, his new blogpost suggests that it's essentially a positive prognosis).
In case it's of use to you, here are the 3 principle that he considers essential to happiness:
'... imagine how much worse it could be, rather than how much better; change what you can change, accept what you can’t; and do not let fear rule your life.'
On that note, I'm out for a walk before – yes, truly – sitting down to begin the article.
* – though extremely full-on, and not without incident, the major one being someone breaking her leg in the second group. I also had a challenging drive back: they moved the M5 intersection at Birmingham which resulted in me, squeezed between far more motorway lanes than is decent, ending up having to do a detour via Oxford, thus adding a couple of hundred extra miles and five hours to my already-very-long journey.
NB there is a place for a returner on the first April group, and just one place available on the second. I'm in discussion about a 3rd week on Iona, in late September or early October.
Monday, 30 April 2018
An apology from me that you are rereading last Beltane's post. Too much going on.
However, I'm celebrating Beltane, that old Midsummer fire festival ('midsummer'??) by recharging myself from two extremely intensive ISLANDS OF THE HEART retreats on the Hebrides (next year's weeks are already nearly full): 5 Rhythms dancing this morning; digging the garden for my (very late) broad beans this afternoon; and with TM round the firepit in our 'horseshoe' veg plot, near the blossoming apple trees, this evening. And cooking up some new residential workshops...
Wherever you are, I wish you a joyous Beltane/May Day, and may the fires of inspiration burn brightly for you this summer.
Unite and unite, oh, let us all unite –
For summer is a-coming today
And whither we are going we will all unite
In the merry morning of May.
So begins the ancient May Day song of my childhood, for the equally ancient rites of 'Obby 'Oss in Padstow, north Cornwall, as the Old Oss, a fearsome snapping black and red ‘stallion’ of winter meets his death at the hands of incoming summer on May Day evening, welcomed in today.
The Obby Oss* is led on by a dancing ‘Teaser’, who prods him – he is of course in effect a pantomime horse – with a padded stick, or wand. Behind the teaser are the drums and accordions, and the crowds – these days many thousands – sing the traditional songs. All the time the Oss makes dives into the crowd to snatch a girl or a woman to drag under his cape, in a symbolic and laughing reflection of the old fertility rites of Beltane, for some say that this ritual dates back four thousand years (others say it’s more recent).
The whole event which, in true Celtic style, begins at midnight of April 30, involves much drumming, dancing, laughing, singing and general merriment, and even though the days when it was merely an event for the locals, as when I was a child, have long gone, the general excitement and fizz of its original power still remain. The town is decorated with flowers and a maypole – phallic symbol – and in addition to the Old Oss there is now a more recent ‘Blue Oss’, as well as a ‘Children’s Oss’.
In the old calendar, the year begins at Samhain, November 1st. Beltane, in honour of Bel, the ancient sun-god, six months on, is seen as the beginning of true summer.
Traditionally, fires would be lit on the beacon hilltops, and younger people would jump over or through them to ensure fertility. Sometimes pairs of fires were lit, and cattle would be driven between them, for the same reason. (This was also traditionally the time when cattle would be turned out onto summer pasture.)
It’s hawthorn day, that heart-balancer, whose five-petalled blossom represents the Goddess.
At Sancreed Holy Well
And you, solitary waykeeper hunched by this stile
and then again standing proud by the cloutie-well,
one among multitudes, and yet to each of you
your own song, here on this granite peninsula
at the land’s edge where you lean to the northeast
in a slant sweep, your compactness
like the people of this land, surrendering
to wind, to seafret and rainfall, to the deep
lodestones of the ores beneath your roots.
Midsummer, and your spilt five-petalled blooms
a bouquet for Her, sparks of milky light
harvested from sun, from cloud, from the misty
rains that stroll these ancient downlands.
To you, then, hawthorn, the secrets of guardianship
of this land, the protection of her sacred
waters, the wisdom of yielding to the elements
without giving up the one place
where your roots are nourished into blossom.
(RLA Sancreed, 2016)
It would be now that the May Queen, she of the hawthorn, may blossom, as chosen representative of the Goddess of Sovereignty, the Goddess of the Land, in early times would lie with her consort, Cernunnos, the Horned One of the Greenwood. This was in order to bestow kingship, sovereignty, on him that he might make a true servant of the land.
The gift of sovereignty was always more than the right to rule over a country and its clan. It was a divine power, bestowed by the goddess of the land in the guise of a particular living woman on the king, who thereafter acted as her representative. In his symbolic marrying of the Goddess he was also marrying the land. It was only through such a union – either a recognised marriage or ritualised sexual encounter, but always in the spirit of the Sacred Marriage – with her that the king could rule. By joining with the goddess of the land, he in turn became profoundly connected both to the land and to its people.
One such archetypal May Queen, Queen of the Land, was Gwenhwyfar, she who bestowed kingship on Arthur.
On an inner level, this is a time to celebrate the bringing-together of our own masculine and feminine aspects, or anima and animus, ying and yang; for bringing together our inner and our outer lives. It’s time, too, to close the door of winter, for now, and welcome in the building energies of the summer months.
© Roselle Angwin 2017
* for photos, see: http://greatbritishmag.co.uk/lifestyle/what-is-obby-oss (the essay is slight and not entirely accurate but the pictures are true)
Sunday, 15 April 2018
You know how it is when an experience is too profound to write about, or write about yet? – That.
My lovely first group of participants, some of whom have joined me here every year since the beginning or close to, has just left (most of them – some are harder to winkle out), and the second group will start arriving soon (no doubt equally lovely – I just don't know them all yet).
And for once I'm lost for words; steeped in a particular kind of heart-companionship, immersed utterly in the beauty of this ever-changing little island, this thin place at the edge of the earth (though in prehistory on a major sea-route), and dredged in the words of joy and grief, longing and love for the world that these people bring.
And there was the launch of my new poetry collection, A Trick of the Light, here in the Community Shop last Monday; I watched in amazement as tens of people poured in, listened with deep attention, and bought the book. In Devon, swarming with poets and writers and venues for poetry, a launch might draw a handful of people. Here we were 50 and counting: islanders, visitors, and of course the group. My dedicated publisher brought a host of nibbles from France – French toast, tapenade and confit d'oignon most appreciated by the gathering.
And that's as much as I find I can say; so here for you are some photos, and three poems from the collection. This first one, though, is a small section of a new longer poem (first draft):
yesterday a small white boat
was pulled up on the narrow strand
of Eileann Anraidh opposite where I'm standing
where I saw the seal-people basking that time
a dozen lined up, a plump-bodied family sleep-in
today a lone seal is back
the white boat gone
I lean on the rock and take root
... at Traigh na t-Suidhe (above top) wave after wave of greylag and barnacle geese overhead christened the day Spring. The flock of barnacle geese above on the ground by the Sound of Mull was a fraction of the hundreds that arrowed west; just out of sight towards the camera are many greylags.
Almost A Prayer
After we’d trudged so far to the pass at the top
of the island, rain and wind beating our faces,
rising like a single uncluttered thought
from the lochan’s dark mouth a pair of swan,
whoopers, passing through to Siberia,
their curd-white a thickening, a measure
of silence hefted against grey air,
their presence an act of grace, almost a prayer.
My life as a breaking wave
I breathe in and out
spent, I loll in my own shallows
in a kind of intertidal doldrum
a shadow of the ocean breaker
I was not so long ago
I’ve travelled the whole Atlantic
to rest on this particular shell-white strand
under an April full moon
in my lips I’ve caught mussels
and pearls, the dreamings of crabs
green and maroon wigs of weed
I’ve caught the whisperings of fish
still blue keenings of porpoise
the ghosts of herring
I’ve caught a shoal of silence
out there in the deep sea
where we’re unruffled into one long fathomless body
the sailboats and gannets wing
I breathe, in and out
no end to the cycle of tides
no end to the I that is we
our deep song
and still I break
still I break
With your burden for its heart
you are walking the labyrinth
in an easterly March chill
and your feet are bare.
I can see from here that your eyes
The tails of my waterproof snap like sails
and I’m embarrassed until I remember
that noise and loss are as much a part of life
as stasis and silence are of death.
Behind us the bay is tarnished
with sea-fret. A gull keens.
First swallow’s back. Everything
knows its place in this world
even if that place is perpetual journey.
We seem to take so long to learn this.
See the way the gulls let the east wind
almost lazily lift them languid
into air, and simply leave them there.
All poems © Roselle Angwin; also photos (all from this year's first week)
Next year's Islands of the Heart is filling fast.
- ► June (3)
- ► May (3)
- ► 2017 (68)
- ► 2016 (88)
- ► 2015 (78)
- ► 2014 (123)
- ► 2013 (157)
- ► 2012 (199)
- ► 2011 (283)