I'm exhausted: two back-to-back intensive retreat weeks on the Isle of Iona, 630 miles' drive back home in a day, then hitting the ground at a gallop to try and scoop up all the undone and very overdue work immediately. In the last 12 days I've had little sleep. This means that the last thing I feel like on a Bank Holiday Monday, after just one day off, is another workshop.
But as soon as the 15 participants arrive and join the circle of chairs in our sunny and currently-unusually-neat courtyard, everything changes. I'm alert, excited, and delighted to be offering, once again, the work about which I'm so passionate: finding a way that words might help us explore, re-vision and express the experience of our connectedness with – well, All That Is.
And we begin with the silence of the singing bowl, and then a gentle attention to the many ways in which the world insinuates itself into our beings through the senses.
Immediately I drop into a calm, still, wakeful place from which I can give my best.
It's at this point that the tamest of the four local robins, who's been perching in the hydrangea immediately behind my head, skims my shoulder and lands on the boot of one of the participants. This seems to settle an extra grace on our work.
'All Our Relations' is an outdoor workshop; my favourite kind. I'm offering it to celebrate 10 years of Transition Town Totnes (the TT movement began here).
TM and I are fortunate enough as to be custodians to 2 acres of meadow, apple orchard, deciduous woodland and a big veg garden, plus some little herb and soft fruit beds (I say 'fortunate', but much of this is down to his building and planting before I arrived in his life).
Today, I'm guiding these people in a deepening of their felt and imaginal experience of the land and the rest of the natural world in this secluded spot, where buzzards tilt, hare leap, roe deer graze, a fox appears from time to time, and nuthatches and sometimes woodpeckers come to my call at the feeders.
When I originally conceived this workshop, I'd hoped that these creatures might also figure. It didn't take long, though, to realise that none of them was likely to remain still enough as to be observed and met at length. So – trees. Trees are very much in my consciousness; more particularly at the moment when the book I've been working on focuses on forest.
Trees love to be met, and encourage a kind of deep-time experience. And so, with various promptings from me, the participants meet and create relationship with one particular tree on 'our' land: the knobby oak shading the courtyard; the big holly intertwined with other species growing from an ancient Devon bank up by the holloway; a spindle; an ash; a sweet chestnut and a horse chestnut; bird cherries; and the apples, just now breaking into a foam of blossom. Then they write to and for 'their tree'.
It's beautiful for me to gently stroll around and see people in various positions: back against, bare feet upon, arms around the various trees who had, they felt, chosen them; to feel the deep repose and quiet. (Yes, OK, tree-huggers. There are worse things.)
An hour, it appeared, was far too short to be in silent conversation with a tree. A day would be better. That's good to know, as I'm planning my TONGUES IN TREES course in Brittany this autumn right now.
And then we made our contribution of words via an interwoven long poem created from everyone's lines to the 'Earth Stories' evening of Transition Town Totnes celebration on Friday last; a moving and rich time of spoken words, poetry and story, songs of wild geese and salmon, offerings made to the fire-candle altar of writings on leaves, and a final very beautiful round of 4-part chanting on Chief Seattle's 'the earth does not belong to us; we belong to the earth'.
The courtyard's thick with birdsong. Over across the brook, hillsides blaze with gorse. The lanes now are almost at their cusp of fullness. We've the deep mauve of dog violet, periwinkle and early purple orchid; the ultraviolet of bluebells; dark pink and pale pink campion; white wild strawberry flowers, the stitchworts, Queen Anne's lace, jack-by-the-hedge and wild garlic in abundance; and of course the gold embroiderers: dandelion and buttercup, against the buttermilk of primroses.
Since February wild garlic has loomed large in our cooking, accompanying the last of our leeks in various dishes, added to salads with our rocket, chopped into leek, potato and nettle soup.
So here's a vegan sort-of pesto sauce for you:
1 large handful of wild garlic leaves, washed well
Half that amount of rocket
1 handful of nettle tips, picked young, stripped from the stalk and wilted for 1-2 minutes in boiling water
Whizz up together with a generous gloop of olive oil and a couple of tablespoons of pine nuts.
I added the juice from one lemon; or to taste
If you can find it, 3 tbsps of Coyo – vegan yoghurt made from coconuts – completely transforms this.
Pour onto hot or cold vegetables, or stir into pasta; dip fresh warm bread into it.