from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday 8 June 2011

The compass of the heart

Something lovely's beginning to happen here. I have been blogging for a few months now, and am aware that real people are actually reading this blog – it's very humbling to see on my map of audience that people from all over the world are finding it, though goodness knows how! Some of you I know, and it's heartening to know that you will be reading my words; and some of you write to let me know. Some of you I don't know, and that's intriguing. But as the words in the Comments box below the blog build up I have a real sense of companionship on the journey, this cyber-camino; and it touches me. Thank you.

And I hear from the editor of MsLexia that some of you have also written to her bewailing, as she put it, the loss of my regular column from the magazine. Whoever you are, thank you so much for that too. Not that I think it will change her redesigning-the-mag mind! – but still.

And a third round of thanks to Beatrice Grundbacher, who sent me this scallop from France, a photo she took while staying last year near the French camino.


I think a lot, and have for many years now, about the kinds of places and people with whom we each resonate. It also seems to me that we each have our own geology, too – I suspect, for instance, that my natural resonance is with granite, coming as my family does seemingly forever from the far west of the UK, the granite tip of Land's End, and having lived on or near the granite mass of Dartmoor for almost all my adult life. The places I'm deeply drawn to are usually granite places. Granite is durable, micaceous, hard to cut and work, formed in fire I believe (is it metamorphic or igneous? Can't remember; but both involve fire, and one involves intense pressure.). It's not porous. It's also radioactive in the fissures.

How different would it be to be a limestone person – all that erosion, the drip of water, the underground caverns; or a millstone grit, or clay, person? We may disbelieve it in these scientifically rigorous days but it seems to me that as well as the psychic resonance with a particular place or places that we each have there is also a psychic correlate with the bedrock of that landscape (are you reading this, sis, oh you of the rocks and erratics?? – runs in my family, this obsession with rock! My father used to speak of it too, and another sister married a geologist/mineralogist. I wonder if it's the Cornish mining heritage in our history? Did you know that all the Cornish mines in the far West were located by dowsing? And a great grandfather of ours was dowser for Cornwall County Council.).

So different bedrocks... I have to say that the sand- and clay-type soil of East Sussex, where for many years I led poetry workshops at Emerson College at Forest Row in the summer, offered me a depth of relaxation and soothing that I don't find on granite. I slept so well there; slowed right down. But at the end of a week I couldn't write. My naturally granite-sympathetic nature needs the uplift and charge (for of course there is an electrical current conducted in granite, through the crystals which both receive and transmit – she says as a non-scientist: the piezo effect) of this rock and its landscape for inspiration, even though it also keeps me slightly edgy.

And my compass is definitely west (or maybe westsouwest). The joy of travelling by train as a student down from the flatlands of Cambridgeshire to where the land around Reading started to push up into thoughts of hills; the delight when somewhere around the Wiltshire border if I was hitching a lift, or later driving, homewards on the M4 the sign 'The West' first appeared. I still feel that bubble of delight.

And for me west was pretty much always southwest, whether here in the UK (mainland and Eire) or Europe: the Atlantic coast of Brittany, France and Spain has always drawn me, and indeed before and in the early days of my marriage, and after the birth of my daughter, my (now ex-) husband and I and later Eloise too with us travelled in our camper van along these coasts in the winter, living simply, often off the land (nuts, berries, mushrooms, shellfish for husband and daughter), picking fruit or taking other casual labour for income as needed, following the surf and the pull of the compass.

And it took meeting my friend fellow poet and author and Celt Ken Steven to teach me the possibility of northwest being as important. As a Scot, Ken's compass is north, and he spends quite a lot of each year in Scandinavia. For nine years he and I co-led a retreat on the northwesterly Isle of Iona, another partly-granite place (and also made of some of the oldest stone on the planet, Lewisian gneiss), and we used to banter about our differing compasses ('Why on earth would anyone want to go southwest when they might go further north?' 'Well why would anyone want those long dark cold winters when they might go southwest?')

These days, though, I have to say I know for certain (and it did start actually way back in my twenties) that the northwest places of Scotland (and I'm sure Ireland, should I make it) offer a heart home for me as much as the southwest.

Uhoh once again not a short post. Hope you're still with me. That was all intended to introduce the book I'm reading at the moment: WEST – a journey through the landscape of loss by Jim Perrin. So far it's a beautiful, moving and erudite account of Perrin's coming to terms, partly through landscape, with the death of his wife and his son. It's also erudite, literary and eclectic in its range. Perrin has a depth of knowledge about the natural world, and appears still to live, as far as the book shows, as close to wildness as is possible in the UK; an exemplar of the non-insulated kind of simplicity I was speaking of yesterday. It's also about love; because even the loss of love is still of course about love. And he's very wise.

And what's more in reading him I'm reintroduced to some words of Thoreau's:

'...There is a subtle magnetism is nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright. It is not indifferent to us which way we walk. There is a right way... which is perfectly symbolical of the path which we love to travel in the interior and ideal world... My needle is slow to settle, varies a few degrees... but it always settles between west and southwest.'


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