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

Monday 30 November 2015

ragbag: water & la foret; meat & climate change

le gouffre

6 weeks ago today I broke my arm. After a spell of disorientation, dismay and adaptation, I began to continue with the book I am here to write, and am now well on the way to completion: 40,000 words in, so that’s perhaps two-thirds; and half of that typed with one finger of my left hand.

I’m here to uncover some stories behind the stories, in part. 


Where the River Argent flows beside the other side of the main road (the D769a) is a small but dramatic cascade known as Le Gouffre (chasm); in character not unlike parts of the River Lyd in its gorge on the north-eastern edge of Dartmoor.

After days and nights of storm, today dawned pinkly clear – briefly – and we walked down to the Gouffre with the weak sun striking light from all the raindrops in the beech and conifer twigs.    

One of the wonderful things about the Forest is its wealth of tracks – grassy rides, hidden stony descents, or leaf-laden winding paths.

The steps down to the Gouffre are steep, narrow, granite-cut, and this time of year slippery with leaves; like some of the more precipitous tracks, they’re ‘interesting’ when you’ve a broken arm that can’t be jolted. However, there’s a railing: a suburban something I rather object to when able-bodied; probably for me today an arm-saver.

The river boiling and pelting through the narrow pass between boulders and plunging over the lip of the drop was in full noisy spate today; one of those elemental events that surrounds you so fully with its voice that it drives out thought, somewhat exhilaratingly. Leaning on one of the rocks, gazing at the power of the thick braid of the cascade, you can’t help but exist only in the present moment.

mare aux fées
You’d be forgiven for wondering why the river is called la Rivière d’Argent, when its colour is so blatantly gold that it should surely be la Rivière d’Or (or perhaps ‘copper’ would be more approximate). (It’s actually, and prosaically, named thus because of the silver mine for which it was diverted into canals.)

In the seduction of the ‘main’ part of the Forest with its diversity of geological, natural, historical, mythological and cultural sites and sights of interest, I forget how beautiful, similar but different, this part across the road is too. We wander down the narrow rocky path with its (relatively) small Chaos of huge mossy boulders, its verdure, its contortions of intermeshed rock and root, to the Mare aux Fées, the Fairy Pool. 

This area has a presence all of its own, and one can well see why legends spring up in such places. I’m writing the book in part about these stories, and how they grow up from a specific place and human relationship to that spot; how they carry enchantment and mystery in tantalising fragments.

I realise that part of why I love this forest so is because of the pervasive presence of water. You’re rarely far from a brook, the river, a spring, a pool, a small waterfall. Then there’s the lake, which ‘makes’ Huelgoat for me.

Over the last year or so, with my heart parched from too much grief and too many stresses over a long period, I have found myself heading every day towards the little Devon brook which winds past our home, simply to stand in it. I can, and do, psychoanalyse this; but actually I don’t need to. It heals me; something important drop by drop is being restored. It’s that simple. And here in the forest I head each day for water. It’s winter and I have a leaking welly, so I don’t always stand in it; being by it, hearing and sensing it thundering through my cells is enough.

Water’s not just essential for physical life; it’s crucial too for the life of the psyche, whether that’s individual or collective. (Of which more in the book.) 

We so need to look after the planet’s water courses.


And water is one of the features of climate change: for some, too much; for others, too little; for many, too polluted. There is so much to say about all this; much has been said and written, and I won’t add to that here.

But today 183 global heads of State are gathered in Paris for the climate change summit.

One of the most massive contributions to carbon emissions and global warming – not to mention inefficient land use and pollution – is intensive animal-farming. There is evidence that this is a more significant driver of climate change than the whole transport sector (see links below).

It’s also barely acknowledged or mentioned, and I assume that’s because most people don’t want to hear about it. I know this is hard; makes us feel confronted and uncomfortable. But if we profess to be animal-lovers, and if we care about climate change, if we want to reduce human and animal suffering, we have to do something about this, and probably many people simply feel that’s too big a challenge, and might mean overthrowing their whole way of life.

In the cultures rooted in meat and dairy consumption, I imagine it’s too big an ask for people to completely change their eating habits; especially since most people fear that becoming veggie, or preferably vegan, will mean that they feel deprived, imagine that they won’t have a nutritious enough diet, or will have to put up with bland meals consisting basically of what they eat now but minus the interesting bits.

None of this has to be the case, and in future blogs I’ll address some of these concerns. However, if enough people had just one day a week that was meat, fish and dairy free, that would make such a difference. It’s something we can do.

But right now I want to flag up two things. 

One is that, globally, meat-eaters consume 57 billion animals each year – that’s 57 thousand million. Given that each of those animals will experience at the least a great deal of fear, a deal of routine maltreatment, and commonly a great deal of pain in the rearing/killing processes, that is one hell of a lot of suffering we have on our consciences for the sake of our appetites. 

And another one trillion (a million million) aquatic animals are eaten per annum.

The second 'flag' is for the climate change implications of animal farming, see here:


And finally: Jeremy Corbyn is standing firm in his opposition to our bombing Syria. We have yet to hear what his whip line will be in relation to his Shadow Cabinet: will he require a full-party opposition (it seems most Labour voters are opposed; as am I) or will each MP be able to vote freely? This week could have some momentous outcomes.

Thursday 19 November 2015

small things: a candle of sparrows

Perhaps it’s the same for all of us: after the first impact of the shock and horror of a tragedy, whether it’s personal, familial, national or international, there is a kind of blankness creeps in; a numbing. 

Then, after that, I notice in myself a heightened awareness of, sensitivity to, even the most quotidian of experiences. So little things take on a vibrant intensity; become worthy of gratitude and celebration (as they are anyway, but we tend to forget). Simply being alive accrues extra significance.

It’s true that as a poet and someone who teaches the writing of poetry, my ‘job description’ includes the routine practice of close observation, and reminding others how to look; really look, and be aware with all their senses, including the non-physical. It’s about seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary.

In the poem from the other day I wrote about my watching the sparrows. I’m in the habit of doing this, but there is a further poignant edge of sharp pleasure in my being alive to watch them, now, nearly a week on from the terrible events in Paris. Of course, the sharpness is to do with knowing how many people as a result of worldwide horrors, as well as the simple passing of lives in their own time, can’t do this any more. It’s almost as though those of us who can, must. We’re a long time dead – probably.

So watching the sparrows brings with it a freight of delight at hope over despair. When I was a child growing up in rural Devon, house sparrows were so common as to be completely unnoticeable, in effect. Although they’re plentiful in some places in Britain still, they’re actually in sharp decline overall. Where I live now, also in rural Devon, it’s worthy of mention when I see one, or better still a couple.

We don’t entirely know why they’ve declined so sharply. As with so many other species, agrochemistry has something to do with it: herbicides affect the seeds that are the staple diet of sparrows, and for various species pesticides, habitat loss and building practices cause decline. 

But there is also a theory that the electromagnetic frequencies emitted by cordless domestic and business phones affect the ability of house sparrows to reside and breed in their traditional habitat: house eaves. Of course, it may be coincidence, but since I persuaded TM a couple of years ago to replace the cordless phone in the house with one with a cord, a pair of house sparrows now frequents the courtyard.

And what a joy to find a healthy population of house sparrows here in the little garden in Brittany. When I came in July, the male of a pair brought nine fledglings to the courtyard. They still seem to be here, intact.

In amongst the house sparrows are also a cluster of tree sparrows, alongside the little shy hedge sparrows, or dunnocks, who are in fact not sparrows at all, but members of the robin family.

Noticing little things like a thriving population of yet another endangered species is what we have; our small candles to offset the dark.

Wednesday 18 November 2015

afterwards (poem)

Saturday 14 November 2015

I’d been doing a lot of nothing – hours gazing at all 
three species of sparrow come for crumbs on the chill 
flagstones; watching the bare limbs of ash jubilate 
at the play of breeze in their topmost twigs, where 
a clump of keys does a good job of miming ‘blackbird’. 

Or I guess this is nothing; after yesterday I suspect 
it may instead be everything. I’m still alive: earth 
beneath my feet remains solid; no mesh has simply 
let me fall through as if my life doesn’t count. 

Winter broke today; winds reared above the hills
and trampled their way through the forest.
Though the morning was blue, the cold had come in.
We didn't want to stay cocooned in our Britishness 
but didn’t know where to go either. We’d wanted 

a day out, but not this way. It was a comfort, though, 
to visit that dolmen, Ti Ar Boudiged; to track the slender
tensile thread of continuing humanity back 5000 years,
to remember that we don’t have to forget. It was 
a comfort to talk to the living, Bretons and French
alike. So when we met the man at the gusty top of the hill

we spoke of everything else: the chapel, the land, 
the Breton language, the nuclear power station 
at the edge of lake and what a strange marker
it is on the earth-current alignments below us, 
of how Louis Quatorze trashed the woodland to make 
his warships. Then we were silent and I didn’t know

how to speak of what had happened because
how can you say ‘I’m sorry’ in the face of the scale
of it all? But I said it’s a hard day for France
and he smiled grimly or perhaps sadly and nodded 
and looked away, and I liked his dignity and that we 
two strangers had shared a conversation across borders.

I can’t believe it’s right to make poems from others’
misfortunes, though I know we too need release.
So this is not a poem about tragedy, but about the living. 
And it’s about how at the top of Mont St Michel, 
not the island one but the one in the Monts d’Arrée, 

where the dogs were buffeted nearly off the side 
of the slope, a storm so fierce I couldn't see 
blew us empty from the inside out. 

© Roselle Angwin 2015

Friday 13 November 2015

breaks, ancestral enigmas & the universe

Yesterday my daughter, who's staying with me in her van-come-weaving studio, took me out to this menhir, which I've wanted to visit for a while. It's the menhir de Kerampeulven, bordering a hamlet. The name as far as I can make out means 'the house/town/settlement (ker) by the (am) tall stone/megalith/stone column ('peul' plus 'ven', which is 'men', as in 'menhir', 'longstone')'. As in Cornish and Welsh, in Breton 'm' mutates to 'v' or sometimes 'b' depending on the preceding word-ending. Got that??

It's a beautiful stone in a little glade, with apple trees to one side. It must be 18 or so feet tall – between 5 and 6 metres, I'd guess. There are others in Brittany that are more than twice that height: for instance, the menhir de Kerloas in Plouarzel, which is more than 11 metres tall. Brittany, of course, especially in the Morbihan area in the south, has one of the most dense concentrations of megalithic monuments in Europe. 

It will date from the Neolithic; so at least 3500/4000 years ago, probably more. Who knows what our ancestors 'meant' with these monuments: ceremonial/ritual? Astronomical/calendars for marking the year's turning points? Both? Neither?

On one side, probably much later, have been inscribed some figures: a strange cupped cross, a house-like structure, what looks like a goose (not dissimilar to the Pictish goose), and a pig with a curly tail:

Earlier, I had an impromptu Breton lesson at the organic veg stall in the market. I like to learn the Breton names for things, and an old lady next to me was telling me. As I left, I said 'Kenavo', rather proud of knowing the word for goodbye.

Ah no, she said. That is the literary form. It's softer when spoken, like this – and she said something that sounded like 'Keno am ser vachaine'. It probably wasn't quite that, but I liked muttering it under my breath for the next few minutes; the bur of it on my tongue.

Everyone was kind in the market. One guy gave me some extra of my favourite samphire in addition to what I'd bought of the other sort. Someone else gave me twice as much spinach as I paid for, deliberately. Must be my broken arm.

Of which I'm getting very tired. It's coming up for four weeks now, and as the break is at the top of my arm and basically the bone has sheered right through, it means the whole of my arm is floppy and useless, bar my fingers – which can at least now hold lightweight things, if not actually use them. My forearm is still swollen and many shades of bruise.

But it's amazing how resourceful the human body is at coping. Gradually I'm finding ways round things, and of course I can still walk – with my hazel staff, and much care on the steep stony slippery paths with their mantles of fallen leaves. And courtesy of our walks and my daughter's graft with cooking and peeling we are eating much vegan protein in the form of fallen chestnuts as big as any of the ones you find in the shops.

I wrote in a previous blog how pissed off I was at people saying 'So what is the universe telling you?' It's patronising, it's glib and it's superficial; what my friend J calls the 'fluffy' end of New Age thinking.

But this conceals the deeper truth beneath. If we live in an interconnected universe, as we do, or at least those of us who are not out-and-out Dawkinsians believe, I think, then through the principle of sympathetic resonance there is meaning, there are symbolic truths, in everything. 

I also don't believe we live in a random universe, and nor do I think there are too many random 'accidents'.

The Tao, I think, moves the universe and its inhabitants towards harmony. We humans don't always take too much notice of that – the gifts and curses of free will and reason. 

However, as I also wrote, I believe, the universe has better things to do than deliver me its personal messages; although there are messages in events, situations and relationships, it seems to me, that we would do very well to take notice of. This is a fundamental part of the evolution of consciousness.

So it's rather the other way round: when something happens in the outer world that is, or seems, significant to or for me, it's because there is a resonating harmonic being sounded in my psyche. This is significant: there is something going on in my psyche which, if I can listen deeply enough, will have something useful for me to learn when I stop being so frustrated.

Meantime, the best thing I can do is follow the Tao, or Dharma, as it seems to me to be flowing, without preconceiving what, where, how. 

Easy to know, of course.

And I am managing to type, at least; slowly and clumsily though it be.

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Snow Branches: The Karma of the Animals

From time to time, I decided ages ago, I would invite guest blogs or request permission to reblog posts I rate.

David Ashton is my first, for a long time. He's a lawyer, Zen practitioner and vegan. I enjoy his posts. This one is on a subject very close to my heart: how it is that we supposed animal lovers can also be so much in denial that we 'use' animals for our appetites, entertainment, 'sport' and pleasure, rarely thinking of the cost to them. 

As the issue of EU subsidies for bullfighting rears its head again, I'm thinking that the best, the best possible transformation we could see in the human species would be to move away from being predators to collaborators with the rest of the planet. Here's hoping.

Please do follow the link.

Snow Branches: The Karma of the Animals: If I can make you give me pleasure, even if it hurts you, why not? Oppressor and oppressed. A relationship as old as the human race...

Saturday 7 November 2015

let it be enough some mornings

This is an old poem, from a different place, but the wild November weather here, exhilarating in its way when the wind is up, is reminiscent of the winter weather back in Devon, except maybe 2 degrees warmer. This poem has come into my mind several times recently.

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
overnight arrival,
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, Looking For Icarus, bluechrome 2005/IDP 2015

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