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

Thursday 27 September 2018

Finistère September 21

Outside the kitchen window the single hollyhock, like Jack’s beanstalk, has reached the eaves and turned back towards the ground. It’s been flowering for two or three months now, and among the hard round seedheads there are still flowers up the main stem and on the tip.
    I’m particularly proud of this one. Unlike the ones I’ve planted with so much care and attention so often, this one has thrived in poor, or even practically no, soil. It’s emerged from the single seed I dropped into the gravel lining the dampcourse; a seed collected from a stray plant by a small bridge near the River Lot in southwest France in 2011. It’s a delicate pale peach with crimson centre.
    At the bottom of the garden the rosa rugosa have matured and evidently, from the number of fat spherical round hips, had a great flowering season, with plenty of pink and white fragrant blooms still opening.
    When the garden and hedge were destroyed for the legally-required replacement of the septic tank last year, my little garden gate and fence into the back private garden also disappeared. We erected a wooden arch, and I planted jasmine and a perfumed white climbing rose given me by a friend. The latter has rampaged over the top of the arch and down the other side, with the jasmine filling in the gaps.
    Unfortunately, the arch now frames the view of the washing whirligig. So I’ve brought in a reconstituted stone Buddha to draw the eye. It was so difficult to find a Buddha with the ‘right’ face, and this one is not perfect*, but I can live with it. Although my own spiritual practice is eclectic, my Zen meditation has underpinned it for more than 40 years. So the little Buddha, rather than being merely a garden ornament, is a focal point for me: an instant reminder to drop my concerns, my habitual anxieties, my judgements – just to drop my shoulders, drop into my feet, be present to this moment. (*This judgement has no place in a Zen philosophy but then, I’m not perfect either! Or at least, we’re both perfect in our imperfections.)

The willow outside the bedroom window is going to have to be topped. Nonetheless, I’m grateful for it: in the past it’s so often been a particular tree in the garden of a house I've been looking at with a view to renting that has sealed where I’m going to live next. Without going into details here, a willow tree insisted itself into my awareness at a time of shamanic enquiry into tree consciousness many years ago now, so I take notice, and this tree certainly added to my sense of 'rightness' about the cottage. I’m so grateful too for its cargo of small songbirds, warblers – yes, willow warblers – included.

September is beautiful in the Forest. There are fewer tourists, the Forest seems to be breathing out, and we’ve had a small heatwave until today’s pre-equinoctial gales, so that the woods have been full of spilled soft light. We seem to encounter dragonflies and herons wherever we go this time. I find a new-to-me little fontaine in the Forest, and its genius loci or tutelary deity was a bright and beautiful young yellow dragonfly.
    What a joy to walk through the woods – and another joy is the 2nd-hand English and French bookshop.

Today I took TM to Mougau-Bihan – the magnificent late-Neolithic allée couverte I mentioned in a previous blog ('allée couverte' generally translates as ‘passage grave’, though in fact it might never have been constructed as a burial site; there’s still so much we don’t know about the megaliths). This one has some carvings in one end: two pairs of breasts, presumably a gesture to the Mother Goddess who was probably significant in that era, and some axes or swords (that could just as easily be phalluses).

We had a coffee in the shabby-chic little café-restaurant by the Lac du Drennec – checking out its potential for swimming for TM (verdict: good), and then walked the 7 kms around its wooded perimeter (along with many French/Bretons doing the same thing, if they weren’t on or in the water or having one of those extended Sunday lunches en famille at a picnic bench that the French do so well).
    It’s an artificial lake created by damming the River Elorn, but it still manages to be beautiful, with plenty of wildfowl and, apparently, otters. (Nearby is an area where a colony of beavers thrives.)
On the way back I stopped to show TM the Fontaine de St Jean, also mentioned in the previous post, a beautiful restored and tended holy well plus lavoir (often they are both; a comfortable rubbing-shoulder of the sacred and secular, which pleases me).

In the same vein, there is a picnic table here too: a huge stone slab with a little monolith behind it right next to the well. The hydrangea bush, with its erstwhile sky-blue flowers, is now adorned with that many-shades-of-bruise colouring in the striking (pun not intended) way that only nature’s makeup artist could achieve.
    I long to be the kind of person who would have organised a sumptuous picnic – and I long for TM to be the kind of man who would have really liked to sit and eat and converse in a languorous way for a couple of hours on a Sunday lunchtime; but hey, we are not.
Four or five lots of other writers have used my cottage now when I’ve not been here. I’ve had amazing, glowing feedback – this is truly a place of inspiration and restoration. Others appreciating and coming to love this place as I do sets in motion another dynamic: in addition to the conversation between me and the place, there’s a third strand now that braids those two, so that we are all interlinked: me, the Forest, the other people who, via me, come to know and love it. More strands in the web of belonging.
    I was nervous at first. This is the first and only place I have ever 'owned’ (I'm not sure one can ever 'own' land), and since I bought it with a legacy from my dad I feel precious about it, and am careful with whom I share it. However, I've always wanted it to be used and to contribute to the local economy, and in fact it’s been enriching and deepening for me too as an experience for others to come and share the tranquillity.
    My programmes of courses seem to facilitate change in people: a deepening of the way they live their lives, an enhanced sense of creativity, transformation, even.    
    How lovely, then, that I might help facilitate change and creativity in a different way, with the co-operation of this place. When someone ‘gets it’ here, the gift that was my father’s inheritance to me carries on round, circulates.

Wednesday 5 September 2018

notes from the lost valley

Early morning walk. Little yellow globes of crab apples in the lanes (I can't find the photo so this above is younger green crab apples in Brittany two months ago). A few still-healthy elm leaves.

A lump rising in my throat as 50, 60 swallows gather on the wires – so many more than I knew were in the locality. The skies have been so empty this year and I don't know if I'm grieving for that, for the imminent loss of the swallows to their winter home, for the danger of their journey (some of them without even pointy tails yet), or for the sheer joy of seeing them. I say a few words to the bird-gods and goddesses to keep them safe, return them to us.
A hot air balloon rises over Dartmoor to the northwest like a slow – very slow – thought.

A rough lick of my hand from a black-tongue bullock.

And then the field and our veg plot, bare feet in dew: a dozen butternut squashes quietly swelling; a new two dozen tomatoes; a few courgettes; exuberances of nasturtiums; the scent of mint.

A young buzzard's plaintive mew. A charm – two charms – of goldfinches. A family of jays gathering or burying acorns rising up as I approach (I read that a jay can gather and bury several thousand acorns in a day, doing its bit for reforesting, as it can't eat that many any day). The high peep of some bullfinches.

The orchard laden.

Wild windfall plums - bullaces (or mazzards as we call them in Devon) – for breakfast.


Writing is my day-job. Unfortunately, it hardly earns me any money. Gardening is my evening-and-weekend-job. That earns me nothing at all – though of course we're saving on food costs. In between, I walk, and read, neither of them for money; and on occasion remember I need to Get A Life, and phone a friend – or even see one.

My paintbrushes are cobwebby and stiff; but you never know. One day soon. Maybe.

Gardening is a bit forefront at the moment And what a bumper summer. There are bucketloads and bucketloads of pea beans to pod and freeze for the winter. These are substantial tasty beans that we use in anything from pâtés to soups to burgers – excellent vegan protein.
We have a fabulous triffidy courgette and squash bed. There are at least a dozen fat butternut squash swelling quietly in among the leaves. This is quite a coup, as it's normally too damp down here for a good – or indeed any – butternut harvest, and this is just from two plants. At the risk of sounding like a playschool leader, perhaps you can spot a few in here?
On the other hand, the green-outside orange-fleshed squash that a friend gave me has not been quite so prolific in fruit, although it does quite well in foliage. Here's a runner making a break for the woodland:

– and this is the first of its fruits:

This is its second fruit:

– which is a beauty, albeit not ripe. Don't break it off, I said to TM, it's not ripe yet. Can you just lift it gently, while I prop it on a slate, or a slug collar (the green thing in the photo above) to stop it from rotting on the ground. TM broke it off. I don't think he actually meant to.*

And this is the third and as far as I can see final fruit. It's a squeezed squash. You can see our dilemma. I'd propped it on a slug collar and had forgotten it, and it grew into the collar. TM tried kicking it around a few times to release it, until I stopped him. It needs a chainsaw but we are a bit loath to trash one of our (100-odd) slug collars – precious and expensive commodities that they are, being at least 50% effective. Mostly.

* The problem is, TM doesn't know his own strength.

On the other hand, he did save my life the other day – I do mean that literally – when I had a very close encounter with death; shockingly close. He gave me the Heimlich manoeuvre, which is why I am here to write about encounters with squashes and squeezes. But I do now have some cracked ribs. And what's a cracked rib or two in the face of a near-death experience?

And I live to continue to write, and to garden. So the question now is is it day-job time or evening-job time, or time for a cup of tea and to sit in the courtyard listening to the screech of the young jays or the very-close-by yaffle of a young green woodpecker?

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