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.

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