I notice at the moment that I have a physical response to words like 'quiet', 'stillness', 'space', 'solitude'. In my 'Poetry, Nature & Mindfulness' retreats, or at least the Soundcloud recording that goes with them, I emphasise the need to take space, even a few moments, daily: 'Can we carve out just a few seconds' space to really experience spaciousness when everything about our lives is screaming that we need to get on and do, right now, before our world falls apart?'
It seems to me that integrity means 'walking your talk', as they say. I have always valued those quiet moments in my life, and even though much of my adult working-freelance-in-the-arts-single-parent life hasn't left anything much in the way of space, I've always managed to find some for meditation, dreaming, reflecting, strolling on the moor, in the woods or by the sea, free-writing in my notebook, reading – all those essential ingredients for wellbeing.
Well, it's true that I did carve out those moments myself during the first week's retreat, back in early August. Other than that, I have to confess that I have been running ever faster, stressed and rather burned-out, during this whole period of lockdown, in which so many other people have found a sense of spaciousness amid the worry. Partly, I have had to find new ways of generating an already-precarious income. Partly, we have a huge vegetable garden, and this year we've expanded it further – and it's now harvest time. Partly, we have two young and vigorous dogs, hounds and therefore hunters by inclination, not fully trained yet, who need a lot of stimulus, walking and watchfulness. Then there's family; and a certain amount of environmental activism.
Result? Pretty full on from 7am till 8pm+ every single day with barely a break, and lunch standing up. NOT how I want to live my life, and not a healthy way for anyone to live. No wonder even my body registers the absence of what is needed so badly.
And then. My daughter, who is a weaver, had just finished a commission from a client in Australia, and needed to photograph it by the sea; in fact on her childhood beach not far from us. On the spur of the moment, ditching all the work undone, I decided to go with her, and (knowing how long she takes for everything) OH! The bliss of a whole afternoon with no structure, no expectations from anyone, human or otherwise, no demands, just me and the sea and the rocks in September sun while my daughter wriggled around by the waves on her belly getting numerous shots to send to her client. You can see her blanket on the link above. In addition to her prone form, these were my views:
A certain equanimity was restored just in one afternoon. Maybe I'll do that again some time in the next year...
The year, of course, is turning. I've been distressed, as I've written here before, at the absence of house martins and swallows. It's an event to hear even one or two overhead, even here, where the land is left pretty much to its own devices in our little hidden valley, and no neighbours use chemicals. There are many reasons for their decline, though I've heard today of hundreds of hirundines elsewhere in Britain, despite. However, the lanes and our hillside have been full of other wildlife. Just now a heron flapped over; buzzards and sparrowhawks nest in the woodland margins at the top of the field; we had a roe deer grazing at close quarters in our meadow when we were working in the veg garden the other day. Charm after charm of goldfinches fill the valley with song. Yesterday, I nearly trod on a beautiful mature grass snake at the bottom of the track. So there are things to be grateful for.
Are you also, like me, experiencing that we are coming to an end of a cycle, or series of cycles? As the year is in transition, so my life feels as if it is; and somehow the larger world too. Who knows where we'll land, if we'll collectively make the choices we need to make? – What uncertain times; and yet all times are uncertain in their own way, and the knack is to be OK with this.
But there is also a haunting going on, for me; a fear to which we're probably all prone to one degree or another, right now. Will we make the choices we need collectively, in time? So many aspects that it's overwhelming. (Did you see the horrors of extinction as detailed by David Attenborough on BBC1 the other day?) It's almost too big to comprehend, the turnaround we need.
On a more personal note, I have just, as I've been writing this, sold my beautiful VW campervan that has seen me through a number of personal transitions. I was extraordinarily attached to her, the more so because I bought her, 'Clarissa', as my first-ever own-home with a legacy from my mum. But circumstances change, and she has not recently had the use she deserves. Plus I'm decluttering.
As the year turns, in Celtic mythology we are at the peak season of fecundity of the Mother aspect of the Triple Goddess. Already, as trees let go of leaves, berries and nuts ripen, piles of spilled golden straw hug the lane edges, and bird migrations are well underway, we're moving towards the time of the Wise Elderwoman, the Crone or Cailleach, She Who Knows. Her time begins truly at Samhain, the time of the ancestors on 1st November, but as soon as the elderberries ripen in the hedges, the pumpkin harvest begins, we feel her first breath.
As I come up for a birthday at the equinox, and really can't deny the ageing process any longer, I reflect on how to let go, with grace and dignity, of this long phase of mothering in my own life. Of course, in so many ways it never ends: even if you don't have children, the Mother and the Maiden are part of your inner life. And if you do, even if your daughter is 40, it doesn't end. Sometimes it's a little galling: as my own daughter explains the negatives of neoliberal capitalism (as if I haven't known about and resisted this all my adult life) and the intricacies of Marxist thought (to one, me, who adopted Marxist philosophy for a while at university), I try and remember that this is the natural order of things – it's her turn to take the stage and shine, and while I might not choose to retreat to the shadows, the Cailleach has her own very particular and more inward power, and so I practise nodding and smiling rather than taking umbrage at being patronised. Oh and actually there's something quite seductive at slipping along unseen in the shadows – especially if you know, as I have always known, how to make yourself invisible to others when you wish to.
And meantime so many harvests, and so many more vegan recipes to develop. While I think of it, I'd love a recipe for vegan biscuits – those simultaneously chewy and crunchy cookies that I can't make (mine are tasty but crumbly) to include into this vegan book wot I ain't yet writ but am compiling – anyone?
And to finish, here's my current soup:
Ruby Harvest Soup
- 1 red onion
- 1 small butternut squash or approx half an orange one
- 1 beetroot, peeled
- 2 carrots
- 3 cloves garlic
- 8 fresh tomatoes or 1/2 cans
Chop all these except the garlic into smallish cubes (does anyone ever do cubes?? - 'Smallish chunks') and sauté in olive oil for 10 minutes.
- 3 handfuls red lentils
- the chopped garlic
- 1 can coconut milk
Stir and add enough stock to cover the lentils with a couple of cms to spare
- 1 generous sprig thyme if you have it fresh
- 1 heaped teaspoon each gr cumin, turmeric, smoked paprika.
Simmer for 40 – 50 minutes.
I blend half of it.