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.
Thursday, 30 December 2010
Reader, I made it. I mean (if you are interested, and I'm aware how egocentric, clearly, a blog might be) I managed to get to my daughter's, in the snowy (and how snowy!) heart of Dartmoor just in time for Christmas, via six bags of rock salt, two and a half hours shovelling, a very hairy drive, a migraine and a lift at the other end in even-in-a-4-wheel-drive very dodgy conditions, courtesy of E's kind neighbour. On Boxing Day we walked/slid/trudged/waded through kneedeep and beautiful snow to walk to Merrivale (see earlier posting).
It's strange now to be sitting at the window watching a murky blueish morning dribble into the courtyard after such snowy extremes and clear skies. Now we're back to the Devon default - atmospheric mist and light skin-nourishing drizzle, trees faded-out. We still have snow heaped at the sides, but access is possible now, and we received our first mail in about 10 days yesterday.
The hunt went through the valley yesterday – illegally of course, in England now, though the coalition government will probably overturn the ban; but there's nothing one can do unless they're witnessed catching a fox/hare/otter/deer, or actually damaging land. My big silent dog rouses herself from her favourite place (bed) to bark her enormous deep bark now when she hears the hunting horn, even miles away, which at the moment is fairly frequently. This is my fault – the hounds poured onto our land a few weeks ago, and since we have fox earths and badger setts, and I'm opposed to hunting anyway, I found a voice and an anger I didn't know I had, either, and was beside myself (how apposite that phrase is) with fury and bellowing (to the amusement, it turned out later, of my neighbours, most of whom live at least half a mile away). The dog, who has never seen me so vocal with adrenalin, now takes it upon herself to warn me, hopeful of further excitement, it seems – and keep on warning me until all signs die down. I'm impressed – she's quite scary like that, unlike her usual laidback gentle and sometimes wimpish self.
I had a heartening and heartful circular letter from Sharon, who runs an idyllic retreat centre with her partner Alex in the Cevennes, in France. It's been run as a yoga and ayurvedic centre for many years, but gradually Sharon has included writing courses. If you click on Sharon's icon under 'fellow travellers' to the right (or on some browsers below) these blogs, you should find a link to her site. I'm leading an intensive poetry retreat there in June ('The Wind's Eye'). The name of the centre is Gardoussel, meaning – presumably either in Occitan or simply Old French – 'guardian of the birds'. Isn't that beautiful?
Plug time: one of the joys of the mail arriving yesterday was also the arrival of two great anthologies (apologies for the blatant self-promotion here, as I appear in both). Confluence is the first of 'my' Two Rivers group's joint publications, and I'm so proud of it. There are 16 of us showcased here, many of whom already have collections or novels in print (or plays in production). What holds us together, other than the kind of deep connection that arises in a close group working for many years in a way that feeds the soul and heart as well as mind, is this land. If you'd like to, you could buy a copy from me at £8.99 plus £1 p&p. It has a beautiful cover, designed by group member and artist Mary Gillett. More soon on my website.
The other is a fine anthology of 21 poets from around the globe, all of whom are distinguished by their commitment to eco-spirituality. Edited by Jay Ramsay, Soul of the Earth is published by Awen Publications (www.awenpublications.co.uk), and is £11.99 plus p&p.
Two books that have meant (and still mean) a lot to me, both non-fiction, are Robert MacFarlane's beautifully-written The Wild Places; his own journey through the palimpsests of land and place that 'speak' to him in Britain. A friend, fellow traveller, colleague and protége´ of the late and much-missed Roger Deakin, he has something of his enthusiastic style, but his own interpretation of land and what it means to be human within it.
A very different book, but equally celebratory, is the passionate and uncompromising Wild, by Jay Griffiths. This is unlike any other book on the wild, and WAKE UP is what she is shouting.
And here I should mention too my all-time favourite writer on wild: Barry Lopez. If you, like me, are impassioned by wild, land and our connection to it, and you don't know him, seek him out. My favourite is Crossing Open Ground. He is a quiet, profound and very humane writer on wild, and no less passionate for that.
OK. To walk and then to work (gently).
Thursday, 23 December 2010
The migrating blackbirds that normally hang out up in the woodland margins feasting on berries are gathering in the courtyard, increasingly less shy, and feasting on the pulp left from some of our apples that we juiced before they went over.
Two news items: a neanderthal family has just been discovered in a cave in I believe northern Spain – Basque country? – from 69,000 years ago... and this morning I hear of a massive skull of a pleiosaur – is that the correct spelling? Can't get out of this blog page to check – oh hang on, could use an actual dictionary, a real book – no, Longman doesn't have it and my Chambers is out in my arctic study in the garden – so that spelling will stand for the moment – found in Dorset, that fossil-county. This reminds me of a fabulous novel: Tracy Chevalier's latest, Remarkable Creatures – the life of Victorian fossilist Mary Anning. No, it's not at all a dry read.
Just had a call from one of my neighbours – yet again the sheep are out (seems to have been happening to several of my smallholding neighbours lately; poor animals looking for food), and he has to go and set up stall in the Christmas market (he sells Palestinian olive oil). So I'll collect the dog and go sheep-hunting.
And there are other books I forgot to mention. One of them, if you're an eco-freak and into Celtic spirituality, is Jason Kirkey's wonderful and erudite The Salmon in the Spring. From Kirkey's Hiraeth Press has just come the solstice launch issue of 'Written Rivers' – at the moment in e-journal form – of ecopoetry. I'm hoping it'll come out as hard copy. It's very beautifully produced (stunning photos) and Kirkey's intro would serve as a mission statement for those of us working in the field of ecopoetry/eco-awareness/ecopsychology/ecospirituality.
And I'm stuck into this book from David Loy: Money, Sex, War and Karma – notes for a buddhist revolution. Clear, penetrating, insightful, economically written.
More about books and writing soon. Now, off to stalk sheep.
Wednesday, 22 December 2010
This is a time of disintegration; necessary before new growth can happen. Time to clean out our lives, let go of what no longer serves us, and feast. Or fast.
Thank you, Ruth, for the word 'selenehelion' (see certainhush.blogspot.com) - Selene being, of course, the moon goddess and Helios the solar god. I didn't know that that was the word for a lunar eclipse (of the full moon) taking place on the solstice. The BBC and the Grauniad apparently got it wrong: we were told that the last time this happened was in 1638. Apparently, according to NASA, it was 632 years ago. I THINK that makes it 1378, yes? What was happening in the wider world then? Is there an echo now?
If 'as above so below', then cosmic patterns appear repeated in every aspect of the macro- and microcosm - as quantum physics has also shown. So there are reflections of the outer events on an inner level too; the solstice, like an eclipse and indeed a full moon, also symbolises a point where a cycle has gone as far as it can go, and an ending needs to occur before a new cycle can begin. Certainly I was aware of a process of fragmentation and letting go in my own life yesterday.
The snow hides what is normally visible
and lays bare the hidden lives of others –
animals and birds, I mean – their secret
meetings and conversations for the reading.
The badger sett low in the banks of Simon’s
field, under the frosted catkins, at its mouth
has melted a narrow aureole back to grass,
upright and alive, defying the foot-thick coverlet
of snow to the four directions, and it seems
to me that love’s like this: a curl of breath,
faint but distinct, steadily streaming upwards,
and a circle cast of warmer air against
the encroaching arctic depths of night.
Roselle Angwin, December 22 2010
Sunday, 19 December 2010
the veil of midwinter
snow upon snow
the moor's white winter grasses
at the threshold
of the greater silence
one unseen bird
calls us to the wild and hidden edges
of this world
– Roselle Angwin
Today I was due to lead my pre-solstice Dartmoor workshop for the turning year, but, to my immense frustration, here in the gentle South Hams I find myself utterly snowed-in, our lanes impassable to cars (though I'm appreciating the hush, and the quiet solo walking nonetheless). So the next adventure will be for the vernal equinox, on March 20th.
I'm touched and honoured that two of the would-be participants braved it and went out anyway to our beautiful site of Merrivale. (Thank you, Brian and Robbie. Robbie came - what, 80 miles? - and over the snowy Bodmin Moor to make it.) It's a constant joy to me that one lights a touchpaper in some way and it rips into flame; so my 'Ground of Being - re-imagining the world' days have taken on a life of their own.
Merrivale is an utterly magical site. It consists of, primarily, two double long stone rows (and a vestigial single one off to one side), a small stone circle, a ten-foot-high menhir and various cairns and kists, probably all from the Neolithic. A little off to the north are a number of low stone walls marking later Bronze Age huts; in the days when these were erected the climate would have been gentler and the summers hotter than now for these early agriculturalists, living in cleared land in the great forest of Dartmoor.
The stone rows are aligned east-west. There are a number of theories as to their origin and purpose: a great terrestrial 'calendar', using astronomically-sophisticated stone markers to predict equinoxes and solstices (creating alignments to the most southerly point and most northerly point of the setting sun's annual journey in the west); alignments to mark the 'earth currents', 'serpent energy', or 'leylines' (Merrivale is only one of hundreds of interconnected sites in Britain, some of which supposedly mark out a great landscape giant, or zodiac constellations – according to which theory you subscribe to); or the remains of a serpent temple, like the much larger one at Avebury, in which the processional row/s of stones leading to an inner sanctum (the stone circle) were walked at certain times ceremonially.
It seems to me that none of these purposes is contradictory or mutually exclusive; quite the opposite, in fact. The leyline theory has been very well developed since Alfred Watkins first brought it to contemporary eyes in 1925 with The Old Straight Track. I could write a whole book myself on the follow-on from this, but for now let's leave it that Watkins found that many of Britain's ancient and significant megaliths and monuments, including the later siting of hilltop churches and chapels on ancient pagan sacred sites, suggested an alignment with each other and/or with the sun or a star. There are similarities with the Australian Aboriginal ideas of Songlines; and if we take an Oriental perspective on dragon-lines, we could see the leylines as being meridians of energy concentrated in specific nodal points (and measurable as electromagnetic force): the circles, menhirs and hilltop sites representing these concentrations of energy, rather like chakras.
All of these seem plausible to me; and I find the serpent temple idea a kind of synthesis of them all. Plus there's a neat and beautiful added extra in the serpent temple theory: as at Avebury, the processional rows seem to be laid out in alternating taller/thinner 'masculine' and shorter/squatter 'feminine' stones, implying its use as a symbolic ceremonial way of bringing the opposites together in order to transcend duality, perhaps at a significant time of year, such as Beltane, May 1st, with its fires – the Celtic midsummer, when earthly man and woman would also symbolically come together. I need to check this out, but it doesn't seem impossible to me that Merrivale is actually sited towards a May 1st sunrise, which might well make sense if the earlier proto-Celtic Goddess-focused Neolithic culture also centred their ceremonies on this date.
Pre-Bronze Age there is a mass of evidence to support this view that the spirituality of the time was focused on a Goddess-based culture with the earth revered as the great mother, and the serpent as one of Her sacred symbols: as in other older-than-Christian traditions, a mark of wisdom rather than something to be reviled/feared/suppressed. (I point you to the Caduceus, the healing staff of medicine, around which twine two snakes.) It seems to me that St George and his dragon-slaying has a lot to answer for, as does the notion of the 'evil' serpent in the Garden of Eden, if one assumes in both cases that the dragon (interchangeable with the serpent) is a symbol of the Old Religion, the pagan. (More another time on St George, St Michael and the dragon. Or see my book, Riding the Dragon - myth and the inner journey.)
The Neolithic peoples were acquainted with the most sophisticated principles of Pythagorean geometry – before Pythagoras. This is a bit staggering to our modern minds, which have a tendency to imagine that our ancestors lived brutish and crudely barbaric lives – though I am not wishing in any way to glamorize their time, they showed, in their monuments and artefacts, a profound understanding of cosmic principles.
And so, and so. The snow this morning brought vast numbers of little birds into the courtyard; the five territorial robins spent their time jouncing and jumping at each other while the finches and dunnocks and tits got on with the business of eating. The day seemed to call for the haunting plaintive 'white' music of Officium: the ancient plainsong of the Hilliard Ensemble woven around with the pure ethereal jazz sax of Norwegian (is he?) Jan Garbarek. I noticed again the beauty of the album cover, and of the little poetry quotes from Max Frisch, and Pound's 'Cantos'. And now this short day has wound down into the black-and-whiteness with which it started; and I shall go and check that my caramelly-fudgy-Christmas cake (thanks Dan Lepard of The Guardian) hasn't burnt while I've been thinking of things a bit further back than the two hours ago of insertion of cake into oven.
Thank you, Eloise, for the photo
Friday, 17 December 2010
Here are the books that, this year, have added something both significant and immeasurable to my life. It seems to me that what a book can set up in the imagination is something akin to a previously-unknown door to a new (though sometimes familiar) landscape; and a book that absorbs me completely enlarges permanently, even after I’ve forgotten all the details, what Manley Hopkins called the ‘inscape’ of my life.
Wednesday, 15 December 2010
OK, the kissing stone (below). Errr, it was a lateral choice - I just like it. It amuses me. I like imagining that people since megalithic times - since it appears in one of the megalithic stone rows in the Carnac area of Brittany - have also smiled to see it. It reminds me of a very happy holiday with three of my very favourite people: my daughter, plus friends Francis and Hanneke - one of those holidays that is characterised by laughter. And plus I have a bit of a thing about megalithic sites (I'm leading a Ground of Being ecobardic day workshop this Sunday at a significant megalithic site on Dartmoor, if the snow holds off long enough). And hey since I don't have a budgerigar...
And yes I promise I will write about writing soon. I just have to dig that braincell out of hibernation (it's in revolt against a truly unpleasant head-cold), flagellate it with some porridge, and promise it a walk first...
Monday, 13 December 2010
‘I shouldn’t use that title,’ said The Man.
‘Because people will misread the last bit and you might get the wrong sort of visitor. Anyway why’s the mutt got such prominence?’
‘Because it’s allusive, of course!’
‘“Two O levels and a budgerigar?”’
‘OK what about “Two Sheds Jackson”?’
‘Well, I know about “Two Jags Prescott…”’
‘“Shagged out after a long squawk” etc…? Monty Python. Allusive.’
‘Well if I don’t get it no one else will.’
Begin to doubt self, sense of humour, and memory. OK, ‘lessthanonecell’.
Plus ca change. Police behaving pretty abominably in relation to the student tuition-fee demos. I’d forgotten what it was like to be under a right-wing government. Demolition of Welfare State. Demolition of right to education. But having said plus ca change, we were never kettled on all those CND, anti-Iraq-war (x2) etc demos (though my daughter was, in Madrid, at the latter earlier this last decade). The somewhat low-key profile of the Criminal Justice Act, passed in was it about 1995? — belied its gravity: it slipped through two little clauses which have had a severe impact on our freedoms. One was supposedly to address the ‘problem’ of ‘travellers’, effectively closing up the ability to reside for a length of time – even on your own land – in anything mobile. The other was – yes – to make even peaceful demonstrations (defined – and I need to doublecheck this but from memory – as a gathering of more than ten people in any one place) illegal, though the police were to use their discretion on whether to intervene or not. Had we been paying more attention to these clauses in what was admittedly a clause-heavy Bill – hundreds – we would not have given away our rights so unknowingly (which is grammatically self-evident, Himself would point out).
December dawn. Light’s just breaking. There’s a small chorus of birds waiting by the doors into the courtyard: robins, dunnocks, chaffinches, blue- coal- and great-tits, and a few of the shy migrating blackbirds who’ve discovered some rotting windfall apples in the orchard, along with various berried trees in the woodland margins. I’ll refill the feeders in a moment; meantime a handful of oats will keep some of them happy. Soon one of the great spotted woodpeckers will appear; we’re now on the third generation, and I notice that a female is the first visitor each day (no red on head/nape); and they are beginning to pluck up the courage to come to the feeder right in the courtyard, a couple of yards from this window. I love their black/white/red livery, with its alchemical connotations. In another blog I’ll write about our right-on discoveries this summer re our mutually-effectively functioning ecosystem, pesticide-free and pest-free courtesy of the birds and other inhabitants.
Oh and I might write about writing.
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