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

Sunday 27 May 2018

planting out the squash

I'm up early, digging and raking the squash bed, turning over the clods of kelp we gathered so backbreakingly back when it was winter and then hauling the 60 big sacks up the steep slope to our raised beds (built by TM and also very often requiring the transportation of 100s and 100s of sacks of compost, manure etc by hand).

It's been a long time since I felt I had the energy and desire to head up there for a spell of hard physical work so early in the morning. And I loved it. So far, I've kept my resolution to do a whole lot more gardening and spend a whole lot less time on the screen. It feels good, though I still don't know how I'm to address the ongoing pressing issue of fiscal poverty with the work I do. I'm planting intentions to change that with each squash and courgette I nudge into the warm soil. 

The broad beans, sown directly into the soil in April (they should have over-wintered by being sown in October) are doing well, and so far all the other beans, many of which we grow to freeze for winter protein, are thriving. The garlic is plumping out. 

This year the hawthorn, sacred to the month of May and the goddess/May Queen in the old calendar, is pink again. I still haven't found out why that happens some years: a combination of weather-conditions and mineral content of soil is my vague impression.

There's a great spotted woodpecker on the feeder, and a (small) charm of goldfinches. 'My' robin didn't appear for a day or so after I returned from Brittany, but when TM and I sat in the sunny courtyard with a cup of tea the other morning he – for it is a he, and feeding fledglings with his mate – heard my voice and flew over to perch on my hand. This means almost as much to me as publishing a new book. (Perhaps this is why I'm not making any money. Priorities.)

Also early in the morning a roe deer and a yearling head into our margin of woodland. I've seen a  cuckoo twice. By such things are the mornings blessed.


Last evening, I stood out in the rain shower, the first for weeks, pictured the beans and new squash plants soaking it up, breathed in the scent released from all the plants and flowers, listened to the blackbird in the oak – the rain song is quite different.  

Later, I loved being inside and hearing the thunder in the duskiness.


Next week, I'm heading off to my homeland of West Cornwall to take writers out to the ancient and sacred sites of this land.

The Land's Wild Magic is happening at Cape Cornwall; a venue where I hope to be offering both my Wellkeepers autumn course and a new one in September (still tba), focusing on memoir and nature-writing. 

If you are interested in writing that encompasses both mindfulness practice and time out on the land relating to the other-than-human, you might be interested in two more one-day workshops in the Devon lands. You can read more here.

I'm also delighted to announce an autumn writing retreat on Iona next year, in addition to the two spring ones. I've already had some bookings come in. Might I tempt you to join us? People come from all over the world.


How we relate to the other-than-human is more than a matter of pressing concern. For me, it's now the main focus of my life and work (inextricably intertwined, which is how I like it).

While it's not news, I was heartbroken the other day to read the report in the Guardian giving us specific data on our terrible powers of destruction as a species.

Did you know (well, you will if you've read the article by Damian Carrington) that only 4% of all land mammals are wild? Yes, 4%. 

36% of land mammals are humans. 

And the other 60%? Our prey, the livestock largely of course factory-farmed in appalling conditions, prisoners of our appetites and ignorance. 

And of birds, 70% are poultry, mainly chicken, also farmed for our appetites.

I know everyone's banging on about reducing meat-eating. As a vegan, obviously I'm in favour of it. More, though, this is something we can do that will allow us to make positive changes, not just for our species but for other species and the planet too. And it's not enough just to know it; we need to do something. This is what will empower us to feel something other than hopeless and helpless in the face of all the environmental horrors.

My mum used to talk of four categories of risk: the ones we can afford to take; the ones we can't afford to take; the ones we can afford not to take; the ones we can't afford not to take (with me??). Cutting our meat consumption is without doubt in the 4th category – we can't afford to carry on as we are. OK, if we disappear as a species, that's our doing. What's not justifiable morally is taking every other species down with us.
The professor carrying out the research that underpinned the Guardian article said (unnecessarily but I guess it bears repeating): 'Our dietary choices have a vast effect on habitats of animals and other organisms.' Well, yes. And not just on the habitats but on the animals we eat themselves. He has himself decided to reduce the amount of meat he's eating.

This, it seems to me, is the least we can do. How about making a life change that will have an enormous impact?

1-star is cutting out meat, fish, dairy, a day a week. Even this will make a huge difference, and I recognise that we all do what we can from our own starting point. 

2-star is going vegetarian. This will help a lot too, though there is still plenty of suffering and death associated with producing dairy and eggs, albeit a lot less than a carnivorous diet.

3-star is vegan. It's not an easy option, but yes, you can live a perfectly healthy life as a vegan – some would say more healthy, as meat and dairy consumption have both been linked with higher incidences of some cancers and heart disease. For nutritional info, see here. And there's no need to sacrifice taste and pleasure: have a look at this website. More and more food outlets are catering for this nowadays.

And know what? I actually can't stand the taste of milk in tea any more; it was giving up that selfish little pleasure that stopped me being vegan for decades: the idea of drinking milkless tea seemed unthinkable (in a minor trivial way). What's more surprising is that nor can TM, a dedicated lacto-veggie. He still eats some cheese although we share the cooking and he cooks vegan, but out of choice goes for soya milk now (I don't, as it's not good for menopausal women, but I love almond milk – sourced from Europe, btw, if like me you're a food-miles stickler and also concerned about the bee-racket in California).

And it feels so good to actually do something rather than moan and despair at the state of the world.

Friday 18 May 2018

some things you might do to live more lightly (in various senses) & be happier

Should you be interested, I've been thinking about how we can ease our passage here, on the earth – for ourselves, each other, and the other-than-human, and be happier, too.

It has to be said that the below is a list of quick thoughts while outdoors listening to a cuckoo this morning (avoiding my 'real work'). I don't pretend it's comprehensive or even perfectly articulated. But I'm keen to resume the blogger habit, and encouraged by those of you who responded to my previous post.

So, in no particular order, here are some thoughts. I'd positively welcome your additions in comments below! (And NB I've tried to stay away from too much proselytising, but there is still some eco-worthiness, of course.) At the risk of being a Pollyanna:

1 Remember that our peace and security lie in accepting that everything's uncertain and transient – that's just how it is on this plane of being

2 At the end of the day, take a few minutes to revisit your day in your memory, and the gifts in everything that arose for you today, even the hard bits

3 Take time out every day to feast your eyes on green, to listen to birdsong, wind in trees, a river – even five minutes, even in a city

4 This one comes from Michael Ventura (who co-authored, with Jungian James Hillman, We’ve Had One Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World’s Getting Worse, Harper San Francisco, 1992 – but this doesn't come from that but from an endpage article in Resurgence decades ago): No matter how busy your schedule, take a few minutes in the morning with your beloved to be quiet ('beloved' might mean partner, of course; but it might also mean family, dog, garden)

5 Practise listening, really listening, to others. Harder than we all think

6 Practise generosity. When a criticism of someone springs to your lips, see if you can find, instead, something positive to say (or just think) about someone. How much nicer to hear 'So glad you did the dishes while I was drinking tea in bed' than 'Why do you always leave the pots and pans?' or 'I really enjoyed your last poem' rather than 'That reading went on too long'

7 Stop criticising yourself

8 Go barefoot sometimes, even if only for a minute or two. Walking in dew is exquisite!

9 Tell those whom you love that you love them. Often

10 It's not what you accumulate or achieve that counts, it's the people you love, your attitude to them and all living beings, and the depth and richness of your experiences – and what you make of them – that make an authentic life

11 Live lightly on the earth. Be mindful of the effects of your choices and actions on others, no matter how trivial the actions or invisible the other

12 This follows on: change your consumption and shopping habits. Bin the supermarkets (yes I know they're cheap, but not so much once you've succumbed to the promos and offers – and if I ever enter one I know I buy more than I need, my eyes being bigger than my belly). They benefit no one except the multinationals. Take your own bags and go to a farm shop, market, small local store – and buy less if you have to and use it mindfully. Refuse plastic. Don't buy Wetwipes or bottled water etc etc. Try cutting back on animals and animal products in your diet if you haven't already*; incorporate more organic; think foodmiles and seasonality; shop locally as much as you can. You'll feel better for it (and in markets, small shops etc there's actual person-to-person interaction); you'll reduce the world's suffering; you'll help the planet and you'll benefit local small businesses. Learn to forage!

(*some nutritional advice is offered on my site; and the best vegan recipes in the world are here

13 Remember that other beings, human or not, and the planet herself have not been put here for our use and benefit. One of the worst words applied to the rest of the natural world is 'resource'. As George Monbiot has said many times including in his latest post, we tend to muddle monetary value with intrinsic value. How can we view the world as 'capital', morally speaking? Similarly, we so often seem to think, albeit unconsciously, that other humans too are here to help or serve us, to fulfill our needs and desires, one way or another. Of course, that's also the general attitude to animals

14 You are responsible for your actions and words. Assuming you've acted in good heart, you are not responsible for others' reactions to them. Watch out for the guilt trips – your own or others'

15 Do you really need to switch on that phone/computer/TV? (OK, sometimes you do. But does the phone need to accompany every conversation, gleaming away on the table at your side?)

16 Regain the slow lane. Take refuge in the slow lane. Slooooow. There. Doesn't that feel good?

17 Consider learning a meditation practice. Just 10 minutes a day can open up space in your life

18 Next thing you do, do it with your whole attention, as if nothing else matters. Indeed, for that moment, nothing else does

19 The biggest mistake we tend to make in the West is to identify our 'self' with our emotions (of which the baseline one is fear). Step outside them – they're generally reactions to insecurity –and see the bigger picture

20 The happiest people tend to be those who dedicate themselves to something bigger than simply their own ego, whether that is a metaphysical belief system, work that benefits the greater good, or a community or environmental project, for instance. It doesn't have to be big or worldshaking; merely something that, hopefully regularly, takes you beyond 'I, me, mine'

21 Give back. I love the old principle of titheing – passing on a tenth of one's gains. I try and practise it, though a tenth is tricky on my income unless I think in non-monetary terms, so I try to think beyond money. There are many ways of titheing after all. (We certainly do it with the wild predators in our vegetable plot, albeit rather involuntarily and grumpily)

22 See number 1.

 © Roselle Angwin, May 2018

Wednesday 16 May 2018

the trees they do grow high...

...and the rocks are pretty big, too.

and the forest here in Brittany is big enough to get lost in, though TM doesn't do 'lost', so I suppose I mean take an unscheduled scenic tour, arriving back accidentally at the remote and beautiful little woodcutter's cottage (also originally an unscheduled visit) deep in the heart of the forest after quite a long trek, followed then by an undignified scramble through scrub in approximately the desired direction, according to the now-lowering sun.

I spent quite a long time trying to find the 'ancienne fontaine' marked on the map, hoping that it was one of the old holy wells. And it probably was, once. Now it's a rather sad rounded structure, completely blocked in, against which has been built a hunting lodge. Sometimes at night I hear the wild boar; send up some thoughts for their continued survival.

It's possible to walk from here and almost never repeat the walk. I love that. I love too the tall old trees; though many are new-growth after the tempests in 1987 and 1997 that took down so many broadleaves, there are still plenty older ones, jostling among the massive boulders, or growing through the cracks with an etiolated trunk that suddenly swells into something elephantine, or like an as-yet-undigested animal in the torso of a boa constrictor (do snakes have torsoes? Aren't they all torso?) once it arrives beyond the grip of the stone.


You may have noticed an absence of blogposts. I have noticed a reluctance on my part to sit at the computer. Lately – that is, until Iona in early April – I have acquired the habit of sitting at my computer all day. All day. I didn't choose the impoverished creative life to spend it sitting at a screen, and it's made me feel ill. I love communicating and working with people, and of course I'm also a writer, but something has to change. 

What has changed, since my retreats on Iona (which were wonderful, and I hope I speak for all the participants in the temporary family we create together: profound, exciting, stimulating and very creative*) is that I'm spending a great deal more time outside, hands in and feet on the soil. It feels SO good to be back among growing things.

Author Neil Gaiman reputedly said something along the lines of: 'Once I was a professional writer. Now I'm a professional email-answerer.' That. Please don't let that put you off writing to me! – but Ms Usuallyultraconscientious is likely outdoors somewhere and probably won't answer immediately. 

And when I am on the computer I need to spend more time actually writing – which is what I'm supposed to be doing this afternoon: an article for Green Spirit magazine on 'Sacred Feminine, Sacred Masculine' – the focus of my 'Wellkeepers' course in Cornwall in November.


Speaking of courses, there's a new week coming up, indoors and out-, probably in September or October, probably in Cornwall. More anon.

And before that, two outdoor half-day workshops near Totnes in Devon: 'Presence – mindfulness, haiku and haibun' on Sunday June 24th in the South Hams, and 'Tongues in Trees' in beautiful woodland on the edge of Dartmoor on Sunday July 8th. If you'd like to come, I need you to sign up soon. 


For various reasons that I don't need to mention here, I've been feeling quite anxious. Purely selfishly, I was heartened to be reminded by George Monbiot in a post of his how to deal with such states. George has recently had an op for prostate cancer, the ramifications of which could have been horrendous (fortunately, his new blogpost suggests that it's essentially a positive prognosis). 

In case it's of use to you, here are the 3 principle that he considers essential to happiness:

'... imagine how much worse it could be, rather than how much better; change what you can change, accept what you can’t; and do not let fear rule your life.'

On that note, I'm out for a walk before – yes, truly – sitting down to begin the article.


* – though extremely full-on, and not without incident, the major one being someone breaking her leg in the second group. I also had a challenging drive back: they moved the M5 intersection at Birmingham which resulted in me, squeezed between far more motorway lanes than is decent, ending up having to do a detour via Oxford, thus adding a couple of hundred extra miles and five hours to my already-very-long journey.

NB there is a place for a returner on the first April group, and just one place available on the second. I'm in discussion about a 3rd week on Iona, in late September or early October.

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