The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.
Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made
is star-stuff too?
– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –
dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.
Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.
Friday, 21 December 2018
The Longest Night
after Li Po
The birds, with the light,
have vanished over the edge
of the sky; last shadows dissolve.
The forest gives up its daytime
rustles and whispers; waits
for nocturnes of fox and owl.
We sit together, the forest
and me; we sit together quietly
until only the forest remains.
© Roselle Angwin 2018
See also here.
Monday, 17 December 2018
Nut, mushroom and sage roast
10 sundried tomatoes (buy dry ones; soak overnight or use hot water for 30 minutes; save soaking water)
2 mugs in total of a mix of brazils, hazelnuts, almonds &/or chestnuts (tin is fine), roughly chopped
1 mug oats
1 slice wholemeal bread, torn
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
good-sized bunch of fresh sage, chopped
2 small onions (preferably red)
2/3 cloves garlic
500 gms mushrooms, sliced (a mix of types/dried wild mushrooms soaked overnight adds flavour)
1/2 can chopped plum tomatoes
2 heaped tbsps nutritional yeast flakes
oil (I use cold-pressed sunflower oil – Meridian – as I like the flavour)
Gently sauté the sliced onions, sliced mushrooms (rinsed and well-drained if soaked), until soft, in 2 tbsps of the oil. Add crushed garlic after 5 minutes.
Meantime chop the nuts roughly in a blender, then add the bread.
In a big bowl combine the above with oats, finely-chopped sage, chopped sundrieds (squeeze and reserve water) yeast flakes and sunflower seeds.
Add the soaking water from the sundrieds, the half-can of tomatoes and a good slosh of oil. Season to taste (freshly-ground black pepper is a must). The mix should be loose-ish and moist.
Pack into an oiled bread tin (2lb size) and cook at 175º (fan 160º) for an hour-plus.
I served this with an onion gravy (I cheated and bought the Essential one, which is organic, doesn’t contain palm oil, and is also gluten-free), roast cubed squash with smoked paprika, lemony greens and a fresh beetroot and red cabbage pickle.
My guess is that most of you who read this blog will already not support the purchase of cut Christmas trees. However, if it's not too late, I want to put in a plea if you are tempted.
I know it's a tradition. I know it makes all the difference to the midwinter drear (here in Britain). But.
It's said that our tradition of bringing evergreens into the house and lighting them to remind us of the cycle: that even in the darkest times the light is not far behind (you can't kill the spirit, as the old Greenham Common song goes) dates back to the druids, who would hang lights in the outdoor living evergreens at the midwinter solstice.
I'm very much in favour of this, but not of growing and logging conifers to do this. Conifers themselves as cash crops not only don't nourish the soil, but acidify it, so discouraging growth of other plants. Because they as a species are chosen to grow fast to reach a loggable height, there is no time for the mycelial network (which feeds the tree community, passes messages and is generally A Good Thing) to develop. Worse, any chance at such a network, crucial to soil and plant health, is utterly destroyed for a long period by the logging operation. And a conifer plantation will support far fewer mammal and especially bird species, as well as insects, than a broadleaf forest.
In many places, sitka spruce, the Christmas tree species, often displaces native heath- and moorland and deciduous tree-growth, and makes it increasingly inhospitable for the bird and animal species for which it is home and which are often themselves in decline: curlew, birds of prey, owls, snipe, small rodents among others, and insect species.
And then there are the insecticides which are sprayed on many of our cash crops, including some conifers, against insect damage. The insects which feed other species die, and the toxins are washed into soil and watercourses; any residues will come into our home with the tree. According to a letter from an ecologist in the Guardian on Saturday, often Christmas trees are sprayed with anti-freeze – anti-freeze! – it can kill a cat, and is a carcinogen – to help against needle-fall.
And of course a plastic one is just as bad: hardly a symbol of the evergreen nature of the life-death-life cycle, as we all know plastic is not only a fossil-fuel derivative but doesn't break down for literally 100s of years.
What to do to celebrate the turning year?
I can think of three options, all of which I use.
One is to rear a little conifer in a pot, as we have done. It's not so brilliant for any tree to be raised in solitary confinement where its roots can't intermingle, but conifers apparently are better at it than many species.
Two is to bring in boughs of holly, trails of ivy, and/or some small conifer branches.
Three is to find a shed dead branch, and peel it. You can of course spray it silver, which is beautiful, but the paint will probably also be not right-on. (Driftwood?) Either way it does look amazing dressed with some white fairylights and some glass baubles.
My daughter and I have had a tradition for the last 20+ years of buying each other a beautiful Christmas tree ornament; we now each have a collection of handpainted wooden, straw, glass, paper and metal small tree-baubles, often handmade, sometimes simply gathered, like cones. This is sustainable tree decoration, and the tree really is a centrepiece.
If you already do anything like this, or are inspired to do so, I'd love to see your photos. though sometimes Blogger won't let people contact me through the Comments; I'm sorry, but you could find my contact details through the websites to the right.
And if you only read one book next year, and if you haven't yet read it, do find the most inspiring book I've been absorbed in in years: Peter Wohlleben's The Hidden Life of Trees (wonderful translation from the German by Jane Billinghurst).
On Thursday I'm sending out the first modules of my new yearlong moon-month tree course, Tongues in Trees. There is still time, just, to sign up for the self-study option, on which I have space (also one space for the tutored course).
Tuesday, 11 December 2018
Sitting in the osteopath's waiting room leafing through a copy of BBC Gardeners' World magazine is not the most obvious place for a brief reminder (if such a thing were possible) of some of the fundamental teachings of Zen, even in an article by Monty Don. Don, who once upon a time, I learn, practised Zen, was writing in relation, of course, to planting; with a view to being aware of the space between things.
As a follower of a Celtic spiritual path who has also practised Zen meditation for more than 4 decades, I still meditate (most days). However, since my teacher Ken Jones died a few years ago, I've not been on retreat, and feel myself apart from the sangha – community – associated with Ken, the Network of Engaged Buddhists. (It is also true that my sangha is the whole world, human and other-than-human – this vast network in which I too have a tiny part to play. I remember this in my morning practice.)
An outcome, though, is that I have become lazy in my studying and discussion of Zen teachings (not the praxis, as I do genuinely bring, or try to bring, most of my presence, most of the time, to whatever I'm doing – the now-trendy practice of mindfulness, originally a Zen practice). But it's hard to stay inspired and committed to study without others who share that path.
So the article woke me up. Thank you, Mr Don.
Mu in Zen Buddhism ('Wu' in the Chinese Chan teachings, Chan being the forerunner of Zen) like most concepts in Zen, is not easily defined by what it is; not even by what it's not; more, somehow, by eliding the two. Paradox is central to Buddhism, and can often be a problem to the Western dualistic mode of thinking. Traditionally, Mu tends to be translated as 'nonbeing' which might best be explained by the analogy of non-attachment, another Buddhist concept, which is not the same as detachment. However, in English 'nonbeing' doesn't quite capture the fertile sense, as I see it, of 'the creative void'.
Mu is often translated as meaning 'emptiness', but that's not the entire picture. We could also call it 'not fullness', in the sense of an absence of the clutter of things, actions, thoughts that constitute much of our daily lives in the West. But it's also being and not-being; form and formlessness in a continual interplay, like the dance between particle and wave in quantum physics.
For myself, I tend to think of Mu as 'the creative void': not a 'dead' emptiness, but more where everything is held in potentia, yet to emerge into form; a container for the not-yet-manifest, from which things emerge and into which they dissolve, if you like simultaneously; in a continuum. The teaching in which we first find written (I believe) the concept of Mu is called 'The Gateless Gate', which conveys well the 'both/and' path of Zen.
Ma is related, but is more to do with the space between things once they have taken form. When I attended a painting retreat in the Brecon Beacons many years ago, we spent much of the week practising what is known in the art world as 'negative space': noticing, and painting, the gaps between the struts and seat and back of a chair; the space between leaves; the shapes between people –
where the bird
Ma is all about relationship: the interval between notes; the line-breaks and stanza-breaks in a poem; the relationship between robin and twig, between me and you. The pauses, the silences, the moments-between-moments, the breathing-places where things that are in form, or events that have happened, or the brief hiatus between systole and diastole are what contain and, significantly, shape our experience of them.
In poetry, I encourage people to look at the shape of a poem on the page: to use consciously the white space of a page, to make careful decisions about where they break a line, or a stanza, to choose how they use punctuation (or to choose not to) with an awareness of the impact of these choices on the imagination and experience of the reader (or audience). Contained within Ma, as I understand it, is also the idea of 'less is more' (viz the haiku): so often more is delivered to a reader by what is not said than by what is.
And then there are relationships between people: you will remember what Kahlil Gibran famously says about marriage (my paraphrase, from memory): 'And let there be spaces in your togetherness / Let the winds of the heavens dance between you... For the oak tree and the cypress dwell not in each other's shade / And the pillars of the temple stand together / But not too close together'.
And Rilke, too: 'Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest humans infinite distances exist, a wonderful growing side-by-side can occur, if they succeed in loving the distance between them that allows each to see the other whole and against a wide sky.'
Here, in West Cornwall on the Atlantic, I'm loving listening to the wild wind, and am gazing out at the dusky sea below me. The ocean seems a good metaphor for formless form – shape and no-shape, ceaselessly moving, impossible to capture in words, bounded by land and yet utterly uncontainable too.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/rainer_maria_rilke_106524
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/rainer_maria_rilke_106524
Tuesday, 4 December 2018
Let it be enough some mornings
High tide, a wild morning, wild and stormy,
and you take the leaf-deep stony path
above seal-grey waters
where the geese are dragged
through the sodden air like ripped-away prayer flags
in a crazy disordered dance, and the waves
slap hard on the mudflats’ flanks,
and for once questions like
what use is poetry, if you’re starving, or a refugee
squeezed between torture and war, or bleeding alone
in some dark alley
have momentarily flown, though left you unguarded;
but bent low over the creek the damson tree
drops unremarked a cargo of fruit
on the waters --
mornings like this
grey and green with straggled leaves
and the rain storming the opaque sky
let it be enough now to hear this one curlew keen,
to have one last bedraggled swallow skim the thick air
over your head, see the inkcaps’ effortless
to witness one small flower --
samphire, or a late marsh marigold --
struggling through black mud on its journey upwards
against gravity, pointing the way --
let each day be a small triumph, let it be
two fingers to death.
© Roselle Angwin, in Looking for Icarus
Friday, 16 November 2018
If you don't believe, look at September, look at October –
The golden leaves falling to fill both river and mountain!
(from The Zenrin)
How the trees have filled our eyes this autumn, in the northern hemisphere. Astonishing colours; almost too much to speak of. The more I find out about trees, the more astounded I am at their intelligence (yes, intelligence). (We'll be exploring this more in my Tongues in Trees course kicking off at the winter solstice.)
And their fruits. If each of us committed to taking a pocketful of acorns, hazelnuts, beech mast and so on out when we walked, and a stick to make holes, imagine what a company of trees we could plant. And this may be one of the few things we can do as individuals in this crazy careering-towards-climate-emergency world of ours.
On Sunday last, Remembrance Day, I led a contemplative walking workshop in the beautiful grounds of Dartington Great Hall at the invitation of my friend Sam Wernham, the visionary founder of River Dart Wild Church. We met at the great yew, and nine of us spent a few hours together with poetry, silence and celebration after we'd processed to the newly-rediscovered wellpool. (This may happen again, should you be local and interested.)
We remembered those lost at our hands, in conflicts (human), and I also wanted to remember those killed as our prey or 'collateral' victims of our greed (animals). We also remembered those whom we love, who are no longer with us.
The afternoon was gently powerful, with some truly beautiful contributions from participants.
Sam had invited me because she knows of my nearly-lifelong passion for holy wells, sacred sources, and their literal and also metaphorical life-saving qualities – for which of us can live without water, and its archetypal significance, the moistness and feeling-nature qualities of soul?
As you will know if you follow my work, the Grail legends and their associated earlier Celtic stories from, for instance, Y Mabinogi, have been my special subject of interest for decades, personally and professionally. I find them astonishingly prescient, and several decades later they are still giving up their meaning to me as a living source of wisdom and inspiration.
In the Grail myths there’s a little addendum to the Parsifal story that's usually known as The Elucidation. In it there are stories of the well-maidens, keepers of the waters, being raped. A consequence was either floods or drought. This is the Waste Land that inspired T S E’s poem of that name in which he speaks of ‘voices singing out of empty cisterns and exhausted wells’.
After a brief introduction from me about the relevance of stories recorded nearly 1000 years ago from earlier oral sources in relation to the 'feminine' principle and the heart-nature in our psyches, how if we ignore it we create a waste land, and their relationship to holy wells and sacred springs, we slowly walked the grounds. (My latest article on this, 'Sacred Feminine, Sacred Masculine', has just appeared in the ever-inspiring Green Spirit magazine.)
I had been slightly disappointed to realise, when I first visited this wellpool a couple of years ago, to find no thorn tree nearby. Almost always, it's a thorn that is guardian to a holy well. I was delighted, then, when Sam identified the little white plants growing in the wellpool as the blossoms of water hawthorn!
Before we walked, I read this little poem of mine. When I lead The Land's Wild Magic in West Cornwall each year, we visit many of the Bronze Age stone circles, iron age forts, dolmens and holy wells of the area. One of our visits is to Carn Euny Iron Age courtyard village. For years I've known there is another well close to the main St Euny well, but...
The Lost Well
is always closer than you imagine,
simpler. All these years. So here
a step into belief is all it takes –
the hidden is only the secluded to the seeker.
Part the thicket of yellow irises, step
gently through foxgloves, and there – a drift
of shingle, tumble of ancient stones, and
her water of course the purer for being lost.
© Roselle Angwin 2018
I have finally finished the seventh draft of the book I've been writing (and rewriting!) since 2015. It's been such hard work. Since I can no longer see the wood for the trees (that is actually a very good pun on the subject matter!) I have simply been sending it out over the last week; and have done what I insist my students do: made a list of likely agents and publishers and sent it out immediately it's come back with a rejection. (So grateful that everyone who's received it has been so swift.)
I only began the process just over a week ago. Result: first agent really liked it but wanted a rewrite as it's difficult to pitch. No. Second agent didn't think it was right for her. Third submission but first direct to a publisher: yes, would like to read the whole thing but it might be two or three years before it appeared in print. (Am considering what next - this is a small indie publisher but would fit my book very well. However they'll have almost no marketing budget. Hmmm.)
And now? I find myself, without actually meaning to, beginning to compile a plant-based cookbook-plus – AND I'm enjoying the focus on something as simple, as basic, as good healthy suffering-free food that is also delicious.
This may seem utterly irrelevant to the state of the world, but actually, it's not, as meat consumption (quite apart from the enormous levels of suffering involved) is a major driver of climate change. A report came out the other day that said that if, in the UK alone, we could cut our meat consumption by 50%, we could actually meet our own climate targets.
If we ate plant-based meals, and grew, bought locally or foraged for seasonal food, things could change, perhaps.
The book began from the fact that, as you will know, we grow a lot of our own fruit and veg here in our garden, and I'm forever having to create new recipes for, for instance, yet more black kale, or butternut squash, or apples (since it's been a bumper crop here in Avalon, as my sister calls our little orchard).
I'm planning for this to be more than another vegan cookbook. It will be perhaps what they describe as a 'lifestyle book', and I have various creative ideas.
If you have created any vegan recipes, or have, for instance, a poem that might be relevant, I'd be delighted to see it (you can contact me here or via my websites). I can't pay people for their contributions but I would of course fully credit you.
Meantime, barely ever having the time to put my own creative work out into the world, I was pleased to be reminded that work of mine has been accepted for two anthologies this year. A prose poem anthology is due out from Valley Press next year, and meantime a copy of this anthology below has just plopped onto our doormat:
It's edited by Deborah Gaye, and is the 4th or 5th of hers I've been invited to contribute to. My five poems are in most illustrious company; for instance, poets such as Mimi Khalvati, Lawrence Sail, Alison Brackenbury and Katrina Porteous have also contributed, along with a host of others. Flipping through I'd say, as objectively as I can, it's worth the cover price of £10.95 plus £1.50 p&p. Contact me if you might like a copy.
This is one of mine in it (for copyright reasons I can't print anyone else's), though it's more of an early-spring poem:
Wassail night has passed and winter’s
blue flames have retreated for now.
In the orchard, a thrush stabs the last
soft apple, and another calls from the tallest
tree. If you were to come by here, come
and stand by me here, I would hold
your palm to the trunk, tell you how to open
the eyes and ears of your hand so you
could feel how again the xylem and phloem
are waking, making their long slow
streaming journey between earth and star,
if you were to come here, to come by here again.
© Roselle Angwin
Tuesday, 30 October 2018
For years now, driving through Finistère, I’ve been meaning to turn off at the sign a few miles south of Roscoff, a hand-stencilled ‘DOLMEN’ sign; a dolmen I don’t know. Or didn’t, until today. Usually I’m either going for the ferry with no spare time, or disembarking from a night crossing and not inclined to stop.
But today is a beautiful day; I’ve spent 3 days working hard on the house and the garden in – mostly – sun, and I’ve finished pruning and cleaned up early.
Now I pass a fat crop of fennel. All this is in late October. The land here is lush and productive. Last time we drove this way – end of September – we passed a field bursting with little flame-red ‘potimarron’ squash, exquisite against the rich dark soil. I’ve grown potimarron successfully in Devon – an abundant crop with smallish fruit just the right size for two. We also grow delicate crisp mild Keravel Pink onions that originate just about right here, between the Penzé river and Roscoff.
To my left now, maybe just 50 metres down the lane from the main road, is a massive pile of stones and boulders, all a-jumble. I suspect (and the signboard for the dolmen confirms the possibility) that this heap was once part of a major megalithic complex, long since plundered and dug up.
And there on the right is my dolmen: Kerangouez. It’s smaller and much less dramatic than, say, Maugan-Bihan of which there's a photo in the previous (linked) blog; basically 4 or 5 uprights and a couple of capstones with parts, like the one-time 5 metre-long sepulchral chamber built at right angles to the entrance chamber, missing, and the seaward side claimed by brambles. Dating from the Neolithic, it will have been built between 5000 and 2000 BCE.
So this one is a last lost remnant.
Brittany is full of megaliths; one of the reasons I choose to spend time here. Ancestral lines (there have been links between my homeland of Cornwall, and Devon where I've lived much of my life, and Brittany for millennia) are visible here; the past walks with us.
This one in its solitary unkempt fragmentedness was still worth the visit, situated as it is with a great view one way of the channels and white sandbars of the mouth of the river, and maybe 90 degrees to the north the beautiful Baie de Morlaix, today, as so often, exquisitely blown-glass translucent blue-green (Brythonic Cornish has a word for the colour of the sea: glaz. I imagine the Breton is similar.)
So the inmates of the funerary part would have had quite a view. Despite the traffic behind me probably only 75 metres away, I can hear oystercatchers down on the shoreline several hundred metres below.
At my feet are tiny bright flowers – sheeps’ bit scabious and a small cranesbill, and ahead the ocean stretching smooth as a sarong off towards Great Britain.
Megaliths mostly convey a sense of tranquility: their slow durability catching hold of our accelerated lives. You can step out of time at such places, and for an unmappable moment my world stops turning too.
I don't quite know how it happened but it appears my blog site has been colonised by background foliage. What do you think? To keep or to lose?
Monday, 22 October 2018
|Image by kind permission of Adam Batchelor|
Home. Water to water to air to water.
Celts know Salmon as the oldest being. Salmon lives now in the Sacred Pool, eating the nuts of inspiration from the nine hazel trees, the poets' trees. Salmon is wise; knows how to live in three worlds, knows when it's time to return. Salmon now is charged with keeping counsel for those who are ready to seek it out, who are ready to give away their old life for the sake of the new.
Those who approach Salmon at the right time in the right manner will be given the ability to see through the veils between this world and the other.
Those, on the other hand, who arrive too young, too unformed, or who have hungered for the wrong thing or grown fat on that which belongs to others will not make it up the falls; not this time. Or if they do, they will find their fingers burned – so close, so far away; the itch of the search for wisdom never quite assuaged.
Like calls to like and the woman hears the call.
The woman has been travelling a long time. All her life, in fact. All her life she has struggled against the current, feeling in her blood the pull of the Sacred Pool. Her long skirts are ripped, her hair dishevelled, her feet torn and muddy. She is alone, apart from the old grey mare with whom she has travelled so far.
The woman is no longer young. Like calls to like. The woman is no longer beautiful to the eye. The woman does not care for adoration. Now, at last, she is free. She can glide through the shadows without being noticed. She can watch, she can learn.
She knows what it is to be betrayed by those she trusted. She has had her words and her dreams stolen, the lifelong work of her heart. She knows what it is to be loved, then to be cut off for not fulfilling another's dream.
She no longer cares about about false friends, false promises. She does not care. What she cares about is the pull of the Well, the Sacred Pool. She knows the songs of the birds, she can speak with trees and plants and animals. She knows how the planets move and the way the tide sings just so on the shore.
And she knows what it is to be loved; deeply loved. More, she knows how to love; and the cost of an open heart. She knows this is all.
She is no one's servant, though she will serve the true of heart. The pony mare is her sister; the morning mist her friend; dusk a cloak she can wrap around her. Rain does not trouble her, nor hunger of the ordinary sort.
Like calls to like, and she can be true to the calling, only to the calling, which means she is true to herself, to everything and nothing. In her freedom she can smile into everybody's eyes, through to their core.
Salmon has been waiting all winter, feasting on the fat of the hazel nuts. Visitors are few.
The woman kneels in the rushes and mud at the edge of the pond. A breeze whispers in the willows. The woman maybe sheds one tear. It's been a long hard journey. She can barely breathe for the shock and joy of arriving here at the heart of the world.
Salmon swims slowly over. She is huge, magnificent, a queen of all waters.
The woman kneels, asks permission of the waters' guardian to be here.
Salmon disgorges a nut, soaked in inspiration: Awen, the eternal fire in the head.
The woman lifts the nut from the water, holds it as if it were gold, gazes into Salmon's eyes.
In that moment she learns what will finally change her life: there is a current beneath the current; a reverse current that will always take her, without struggle, to where she needs to be. All she need do is nose it out. All she need do is surrender, relinquish control. Water will find her, take her.
Then she will have brought her life into balance: the perfect tension between the path of least resistance and the path of the will; the path that will take her beyond need, beyond striving, to the heart at the heart of it all, which is Love.
© Roselle Angwin, October 2018
NB: The insight about the reverse current is thanks to Philip & Stephanie Carr-Gomm
Thursday, 27 September 2018
Outside the kitchen window the single hollyhock, like Jack’s beanstalk, has reached the eaves and turned back towards the ground. It’s been flowering for two or three months now, and among the hard round seedheads there are still flowers up the main stem and on the tip.
I’m particularly proud of this one. Unlike the ones I’ve planted with so much care and attention so often, this one has thrived in poor, or even practically no, soil. It’s emerged from the single seed I dropped into the gravel lining the dampcourse; a seed collected from a stray plant by a small bridge near the River Lot in southwest France in 2011. It’s a delicate pale peach with crimson centre.
At the bottom of the garden the rosa rugosa have matured and evidently, from the number of fat spherical round hips, had a great flowering season, with plenty of pink and white fragrant blooms still opening.
When the garden and hedge were destroyed for the legally-required replacement of the septic tank last year, my little garden gate and fence into the back private garden also disappeared. We erected a wooden arch, and I planted jasmine and a perfumed white climbing rose given me by a friend. The latter has rampaged over the top of the arch and down the other side, with the jasmine filling in the gaps.
Unfortunately, the arch now frames the view of the washing whirligig. So I’ve brought in a reconstituted stone Buddha to draw the eye. It was so difficult to find a Buddha with the ‘right’ face, and this one is not perfect*, but I can live with it. Although my own spiritual practice is eclectic, my Zen meditation has underpinned it for more than 40 years. So the little Buddha, rather than being merely a garden ornament, is a focal point for me: an instant reminder to drop my concerns, my habitual anxieties, my judgements – just to drop my shoulders, drop into my feet, be present to this moment. (*This judgement has no place in a Zen philosophy but then, I’m not perfect either! Or at least, we’re both perfect in our imperfections.)
The willow outside the bedroom window is going to have to be topped. Nonetheless, I’m grateful for it: in the past it’s so often been a particular tree in the garden of a house I've been looking at with a view to renting that has sealed where I’m going to live next. Without going into details here, a willow tree insisted itself into my awareness at a time of shamanic enquiry into tree consciousness many years ago now, so I take notice, and this tree certainly added to my sense of 'rightness' about the cottage. I’m so grateful too for its cargo of small songbirds, warblers – yes, willow warblers – included.
September is beautiful in the Forest. There are fewer tourists, the Forest seems to be breathing out, and we’ve had a small heatwave until today’s pre-equinoctial gales, so that the woods have been full of spilled soft light. We seem to encounter dragonflies and herons wherever we go this time. I find a new-to-me little fontaine in the Forest, and its genius loci or tutelary deity was a bright and beautiful young yellow dragonfly.
What a joy to walk through the woods – and another joy is the 2nd-hand English and French bookshop.
Today I took TM to Mougau-Bihan – the magnificent late-Neolithic allée couverte I mentioned in a previous blog ('allée couverte' generally translates as ‘passage grave’, though in fact it might never have been constructed as a burial site; there’s still so much we don’t know about the megaliths). This one has some carvings in one end: two pairs of breasts, presumably a gesture to the Mother Goddess who was probably significant in that era, and some axes or swords (that could just as easily be phalluses).
We had a coffee in the shabby-chic little café-restaurant by the Lac du Drennec – checking out its potential for swimming for TM (verdict: good), and then walked the 7 kms around its wooded perimeter (along with many French/Bretons doing the same thing, if they weren’t on or in the water or having one of those extended Sunday lunches en famille at a picnic bench that the French do so well).
It’s an artificial lake created by damming the River Elorn, but it still manages to be beautiful, with plenty of wildfowl and, apparently, otters. (Nearby is an area where a colony of beavers thrives.)
On the way back I stopped to show TM the Fontaine de St Jean, also mentioned in the previous post, a beautiful restored and tended holy well plus lavoir (often they are both; a comfortable rubbing-shoulder of the sacred and secular, which pleases me).
I long to be the kind of person who would have organised a sumptuous picnic – and I long for TM to be the kind of man who would have really liked to sit and eat and converse in a languorous way for a couple of hours on a Sunday lunchtime; but hey, we are not.
I was nervous at first. This is the first and only place I have ever 'owned’ (I'm not sure one can ever 'own' land), and since I bought it with a legacy from my dad I feel precious about it, and am careful with whom I share it. However, I've always wanted it to be used and to contribute to the local economy, and in fact it’s been enriching and deepening for me too as an experience for others to come and share the tranquillity.
My programmes of courses seem to facilitate change in people: a deepening of the way they live their lives, an enhanced sense of creativity, transformation, even.
How lovely, then, that I might help facilitate change and creativity in a different way, with the co-operation of this place. When someone ‘gets it’ here, the gift that was my father’s inheritance to me carries on round, circulates.
Wednesday, 5 September 2018
Early morning walk. Little yellow globes of crab apples in the lanes (I can't find the photo so this above is younger green crab apples in Brittany two months ago). A few still-healthy elm leaves.
A lump rising in my throat as 50, 60 swallows gather on the wires – so many more than I knew were in the locality. The skies have been so empty this year and I don't know if I'm grieving for that, for the imminent loss of the swallows to their winter home, for the danger of their journey (some of them without even pointy tails yet), or for the sheer joy of seeing them. I say a few words to the bird-gods and goddesses to keep them safe, return them to us.
A rough lick of my hand from a black-tongue bullock.
And then the field and our veg plot, bare feet in dew: a dozen butternut squashes quietly swelling; a new two dozen tomatoes; a few courgettes; exuberances of nasturtiums; the scent of mint.
A young buzzard's plaintive mew. A charm – two charms – of goldfinches. A family of jays gathering or burying acorns rising up as I approach (I read that a jay can gather and bury several thousand acorns in a day, doing its bit for reforesting, as it can't eat that many any day). The high peep of some bullfinches.
The orchard laden.
Wild windfall plums - bullaces (or mazzards as we call them in Devon) – for breakfast.
Writing is my day-job. Unfortunately, it hardly earns me any money. Gardening is my evening-and-weekend-job. That earns me nothing at all – though of course we're saving on food costs. In between, I walk, and read, neither of them for money; and on occasion remember I need to Get A Life, and phone a friend – or even see one.
My paintbrushes are cobwebby and stiff; but you never know. One day soon. Maybe.
Gardening is a bit forefront at the moment And what a bumper summer. There are bucketloads and bucketloads of pea beans to pod and freeze for the winter. These are substantial tasty beans that we use in anything from pâtés to soups to burgers – excellent vegan protein.
We have a fabulous triffidy courgette and squash bed. There are at least a dozen fat butternut squash swelling quietly in among the leaves. This is quite a coup, as it's normally too damp down here for a good – or indeed any – butternut harvest, and this is just from two plants. At the risk of sounding like a playschool leader, perhaps you can spot a few in here?
On the other hand, the green-outside orange-fleshed squash that a friend gave me has not been quite so prolific in fruit, although it does quite well in foliage. Here's a runner making a break for the woodland:
– and this is the first of its fruits:
This is its second fruit:
– which is a beauty, albeit not ripe. Don't break it off, I said to TM, it's not ripe yet. Can you just lift it gently, while I prop it on a slate, or a slug collar (the green thing in the photo above) to stop it from rotting on the ground. TM broke it off. I don't think he actually meant to.*
And this is the third and as far as I can see final fruit. It's a squeezed squash. You can see our dilemma. I'd propped it on a slug collar and had forgotten it, and it grew into the collar. TM tried kicking it around a few times to release it, until I stopped him. It needs a chainsaw but we are a bit loath to trash one of our (100-odd) slug collars – precious and expensive commodities that they are, being at least 50% effective. Mostly.
* The problem is, TM doesn't know his own strength.
On the other hand, he did save my life the other day – I do mean that literally – when I had a very close encounter with death; shockingly close. He gave me the Heimlich manoeuvre, which is why I am here to write about encounters with squashes and squeezes. But I do now have some cracked ribs. And what's a cracked rib or two in the face of a near-death experience?
And I live to continue to write, and to garden. So the question now is is it day-job time or evening-job time, or time for a cup of tea and to sit in the courtyard listening to the screech of the young jays or the very-close-by yaffle of a young green woodpecker?
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