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, 7 July 2019

Oak by the Brook (poem)





Oak by the Brook

When the great oak fell in the woods
the valley shuddered and we felt
the aftershock in our feet for weeks.
When the great oak fell, fifty families
of mice fled, and the pairs of woodpeckers.

Nuthatches went into exile, and a hundred
thousand insects. The heron and winter’s
white egrets no longer have a lookout
over the minnow brook; no perch
for summer’s turtle doves. Last week

a thousand bees hummed in its canopy;
this winter, the jays will scavenge for
five thousand fewer acorns. The valley
is a wound. The valley is a mouth with
a missing front tooth. The valley is Munch’s

mouth, open and forever a silent scream.
When we walk where the oak was we too
are now silent. The great oak fell; the valley
shuddered; we feel its echoes still.


© Roselle Angwin



I'm currently teaching an intensive yearlong online tree course. Bookings are coming in for the 1-to-1 option that will begin on the winter solstice 2019:

https://thewildways.co.uk/tongues-in-trees-a-yearlong-course/



Wednesday, 26 June 2019

A June ragbag: trees, islands, pups, birds, vegan cheese and EMFs... & a poem




TONGUES IN TREES

It was, after all, nearly the solstice; and the summer solstice in GB is almost always wet. 


The thing about the weather is that we can resist it, or we can accept it on its terms. So the at-times-heavy rain that accompanied my 'Tongues in Trees' poetry day in a wood on Dartmoor on Sunday could have spoiled the day. But when you're under a leaf canopy on which the rain plays such sweet music, you're engaged with trees in a wood called Druid - yes really – and you're on a quest for words, how can it be miserable? Especially, I should have added, when you have a campfire with two big kettles to huddle round. 16 writers joining me in the woodland to do what I love doing – spending time outdoors, and writing – was bliss. 

The yearlong online Tongues in Trees course I've been leading has been immensely rewarding: for me, and for the participants who have been in communication with me about it. Exciting times. I work with just a handful of people on a 1-to-1 basis, and am taking bookings for 2020 now.


BIRDS

You will remember how upset I've been about the absence of swallows, martins and swifts in our summer skies in Britain. The RSPB has confirmed that swift numbers are down by 50% odd; and far fewer of the other two than before. Insecticides and climate change weather conditions are part of the picture. I would still like to know how your hirundines are faring.


Meantime, I take consolation in the increase in bullfinches and goldfinches here. I've watched wrens, great tits and willow tits learning to fly at very close quarters. At the top of our small woodland we've a nest of sparrowhawks: wonderful to hear and watch them above us, though not without a pang because the land of which we are guardians is very bird-rich. (As I write this a green woodpecker is yaffling in the oak tree that adjoins my garden study.)




ISLANDS OF THE HEART

I was delighted that The Telegraph of June 8th 2019 included my Isle of Iona writing weeks in their ten 'world's best creative writing courses'. Next year will be my 20th of leading this course. Due to cancellations, there are just one or two places left on this September's week, and on the 2020 one.

Iona: The Glass-Blue Day


The way sky inhabits the creases

smears colour that steals your breath


The sand so pale it might be grains of light

The big Hebridean night that opens its arms


and drops its creel of stars
towards our upturned faces


© Roselle Angwin


If you would enjoy some intensive work on your poetry, including putting together a collection, in a stunning place this autumn, then you might want to consider my THE WELL OF POETRY weeks in the Cévennes mountains of southern France.



PUPS

TM has been going round the place smiling a lot (he normally has a sober thoughtful expression). TM is a self-declared cat-man. The reason he's happy? Our two newish pups. Who'd have thought it?


GETTING THE WRITING RIGHT

You might remember the book I've been banging on about a bit, for a while, written partly (mostly) in and about a Brittany forest.

Sometimes it takes another to see what you can't. Or to ask the right question. A couple of weeks ago I was mentioning to a friend that I knew something was adrift with it, but couldn't identify it. 'What would you say to a student who brought you that problem?' she asked. No hesitation on my part. 'That you're writing three books.' So – yes. BIG rewrite.


VEGAN CHEESE

Yes, I know that's a contradiction in terms. And I know that cheese is the thing I miss most, by a long way.


How wonderful, then, that I've found three new 'cheeses' – tasty; and what's more in environmentally-friendly packaging.

Tyne Chease makes solid 'cheese' in flavours like smoked (my favourite), mustard (2nd favourite), as well as pink peppercorn, Ethopian spice, and others. It's delicious, and packaged in balsa wood, waxed paper and shavings.

They also do a soft 'cheese' in a number of flavours – TM, who still eats dairy, likes this as much as dairy soft cheese. It comes in glass. No, it's not cheap. But neither is dairy cheese. I simply eat less.


New to me is Mouse's Favourite. Their camembert blue is amazing. Packaging is card and compostable wrapping.

And if you don't know Coyo yogurt, made as it sounds from coconuts, try it. Again, TM eats this in preference to dairy yogurt – and he's a big dairy fan.

The Guardian noted on 15th June that the number of Britons converting to plant-based diets has quadrupled between 2014 and 2018 to 600,000. That's a whole lot less animal suffering and carbon emissions.

Meantime, I've invented a delicious pickle to eat with your non-cheese.  I'll be posting it on 57billion.org over the next day or two, with a couple more recipes.


EMFs
One of the things I'm most concerned about is electromagnetic frequency (EMF) emissions. More than 30 years ago a doctor (ie not a flaky hippy as I've been called) said to me that if EMFs were coloured we'd be a whole lot less complacent about the quantity we're putting into the atmosphere. As it is, we're actually complicit in frying ourselves – irradiating ourselves – for the sake of being permanently 'connected'.

We need to resist 5G (Brussels – the city – along with various other places has banned it). It's bad news not only to humans but to animals, birds, plants and trees too. Worse, as it will be beamed from around 20,000 satellites (I think), there will be nowhere on earth we can escape it.

Having a daughter who's extremely electro-sensitive has really focused me on the issue of human-made electromagnetic radiation and the thick 'soup' that we've created – so very many times more EMFs in the atmosphere in the last 50 years than the naturally-occurring ones.

Yes, whatever people (and the telecoms industries) might say to the contrary, they ARE harmful: to us, especially children; to animals and birds; to trees and plants. And with 5G there will be nowhere on earth to avoid them. 5G is orders of magnitude greater than 4G. And no, in case someone has said to you that non-ionizing EMFs are perfectly safe, that's simply not true from the research.


Please, people, inform yourselves. Get rid of your smartphone. Please learn about switching devices off and unplugging them when you're not using them, especially at night: mobile phones (If you look you will see that the phone's own small print, within the device, tells you not to hold it close to your ear, btw); tablets; computers; and if you have a clock radio in your room, try removing it.

Change your cordless phone for a corded one (better for you and also to help the nesting habits of house sparrows). CABLE your internet instead of using Wifi (switch the Wifi off. If you've a BT router you'll need to ask them to do that.) Oh yes, don't have a smart meter foisted on you, by anyone.

I've done these things: I'm sleeping better; my tinnitus is receding; I'm less dizzy and my heart arrhythmia is greatly improved.

If you want to follow up, look at Dr Martin Blank's 'Overpowered' (or for an easier layperson read that summarises all the research go for Nicholas Pineault's The Non-Tinfoil Guide to EMFs – I actually really enjoyed reading it!).

Meantime, please do look at this link and sign and share (it's an international appeal to the UN, WHO, EU, Council of Europe and governments worldwide
from doctors and scientists who know that 5G will cause widespread harm).

Here's an excerpt:
'Despite widespread denial, the evidence that radio frequency (RF) radiation is harmful to life is already overwhelming. The accumulated clinical evidence of sick and injured human beings, experimental evidence of damage to DNA, cells and organ systems in a wide variety of plants and animals, and epidemiological evidence that the major diseases of modern civilization—cancer, heart disease and diabetes—are in large part caused by electromagnetic pollution, forms a literature base of well over 10,000 peer-reviewed studies.'



THE PROMISED POEM
And finally, to end on a happier note, here's my 'Other Solstice Poem':


We have made this garden
but in the early solstice sunlight
slant to the brim of the courtyard
where it falls on the indescribable
blue, the ultraviolet blue, of cranesbills
and their neighbouring pot, the garden
and this light are making us.


© Roselle Angwin








Friday, 21 June 2019

summer solstice 2019: 'In the Valley' (poem)


            Summer solstice 2019: In the Valley


Mid-year, and in early hazy rain
at sun-standstill I’m thinking of
our longago wedding; am walking
today with the lost and the dead.
The year’s high summer turning.
Dog roses let loose their hearts.
By the brook, the pups leap bramble,
nettle; foxgloves are taller than my head.
I think that the trees don’t mind
dropping and losing their fruit;
I think the plants don’t care how
many petals and leaves they shed.


© Roselle Angwin



Solstice blessings to you all.






 

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

The indie author-publisher: guest blog from Isabella Muir

Among the eclectic range, from time to time I do actually posts blogs here on the writing process – which is, after all, how I earn my living.

Today's blog comes from Isabella Muir. I first encountered Isabella two or three years ago when I was tutoring novelists on an online forum for MsLexia magazine (some of you know that, in addition to my poetry and 'ecosoul' creative programmes, I've been leading novel-writing courses now for over 20 years. My first was given a whole-page feature in The Guardian in 1998.)

At that stage (my mentoring for MsLexia), Isabella had begun her first novel, The Tapestry Bag. When I met her face-to-face earlier this year on a course I was co-tutoring with Sarah Acton, she'd not only finished but published four novels. 


Here she describes why and how she chose to self-publish.

If you've completed a novel and might want to consider self-publishing, this is a helpful link.

~~~

GUEST POST FROM ISABELLA MUIR



MY JOURNEY TOWARDS INDEPENDENCE

I had written my first novel.  That in itself was a milestone.  But I was soon to discover that it was just the first milestone on my journey to becoming an independent author.

Along the way, at each T-junction and crossroads there have been decisions to make.  It is only now, some four years on, that I can see the route map that has led me to where I am now – a contented author of four novels, two novellas and a short story anthology.

Looking back to the first few steps on my journey I appreciate that the critical decisions I made early on are the ones that I have repeated throughout, in different guises.

Once I had completed my first manuscript – even before I decided whether or not to approach a literary agent – I needed feedback.  Did the story hold up, what about the characters and setting? Having completed my MA in Professional Writing with Falmouth University in 2015, I was fortunate to remain in contact with two wonderful emerging writers.  Christoffer Petersen, whose chosen genre is Arctic noir – thrillers and crime – and Sarah Acton, who excels in the field of poetry and nature writing.  Both were happy to work on my manuscript to provide advice and guidance by way of structural and content editing.  Having been a technical editor for all my working life, I felt confident enough to undertake the copy edit and proof-reading myself.  These early stages are vital, whether someone chooses to pitch to an agent or prefers to independently publish.  No reader wants to read a story full of plot gaps or grammatical errors.

Perhaps it was this ongoing connection with Christoffer Petersen (who had already successfully chosen the indie route) that led me to follow in his footsteps, or perhaps I was in a hurry to see my novel in print.  Choosing to break into the traditional world of publishing requires persistence and patience; it can be months, even years, before an author is accepted by an agent and the book is then accepted by a publisher. Once the contract is agreed it can take many more months while the manuscript goes through the editing and production stages and finally lands on a bookshop shelf. If I had chosen this route it would also mean I would need to relinquish control.  As someone who has run my own company for the last thirty years I’m not great at being told what to do!  The indie route meant I had control over every element of my novel: the title; the cover; the formatting, the pricing and the sales outlets.

Of course, it also meant I had another set of skills to learn and many more decisions to make.  Throughout my journey I have gathered some wonderful supporters.  I joined a local group of independent authors (CHINDI) each with their own chosen route to publishing.  Some have followed a similar path to me, doing much of the preparatory work themselves; others have enlisted the paid help of individuals or organisations to edit and format their text, design their covers and upload their novels to the popular outlets. 

I have always loved the concept of bartering.  Each of us has skills that may prove valuable to others.  I am so grateful for the chance to be able to ‘trade’ expertise with Chris. He creates all my design and artwork, for covers and marketing materials, and I edit his thrillers. It works well for both of us and I am sure will continue to prove an invaluable partnership.

I chose to use KDP, which is the independent publishing arm of Amazon, with your titles being automatically made available for sale in twelve different Amazon marketplaces worldwide.  Although the website is fairly hand-holding, I needed to learn about categories and tags and pricing. Amazon offers 60% royalties on sales of paperbacks and a choice of 35% or 70% royalties for ebooks (depending on your sales price).

Like any professional area there is some jargon associated with indie publishing.  I learned what it means to ‘go wide’, which is effectively deciding to publish on other platforms as well as Amazon.  There are many, including Kobo, Smashwords and Apple iBooks.  I also discovered that by uploading to Ingram Spark I had more chance of getting my novels into bookshops.

Once the books ‘exist’ in both paperback and ebook form, the next challenge is to let readers know about them!  Now a fresh set of skills is needed – marketing and promotion.  There are many routes, some paid, some unpaid.  Of course, there is paid advertising, but social media is useful and free, although it is not enough to plead with people in tweets and Facebook posts to ‘please buy my book’. Millions of other authors are hoping for the same thing.  Joining topic-specific Facebook groups can prove helpful, not least because it means you are widening your support network.  I have been involved in several blog tours whereby interested individuals receive a free book, in return for an unbiased review.  Having reviews on sites such as Amazon can help readers decide whether or not to purchase a book.  Remember, there is always the risk the reviews may not be favourable, but then as an author you need to be ready for criticism as well as praise!  Via the CHINDI network I have been involved in various summer fetes and festivals where I have had the chance to sell my books directly to the public.  I have also donated copies to my local library. In recent months I have gone on to organise audiobook versions of two of my novels, which has been really interesting and worth considering, as the audiobook format is a significant growth area among the reading public.

Throughout my journey I have come to rely on many different ‘resources’, among them my own set of developing skills and my increasing network of supporters.  The resource of time is, of course, also an issue.  Being an indie author is like running your own business.  In addition to the elements I have mentioned above, you need to set your own deadlines, monitor sales and keep a basic set of accounts.  All authors know the challenge of juggling time; there are so many distractions and never enough hours in the day for writing.  As an indie author, there is a whole other set of tasks to draw you away from that notebook.

It is also worth reflecting on your motivation for writing.  Whether you choose the independent route, or opt to seek out a traditional publishing deal, it is unlikely to result in you making a million!  After all, there is only one JK Rowling!  However, I do know indie authors who are able to earn enough to make it their full-time occupation, but like most things in life, such success comes from a mixture of hard work and good luck.  Choosing a niche genre can help, as well as being prepared to be quite vocal in terms of marketing and promotion.

The route to publication can be complicated and challenging, but for me – in the main - it has been joyful. I have only provided a snapshot here, but hopefully it is a useful ‘taster’ to tempt you to find out more.



Isabella Muir is the author of the Sussex Crime Mystery series:

       BOOK 1: THE TAPESTRY BAG

       BOOK 2: LOST PROPERTY

       BOOK 3: THE INVISIBLE CASE

And her latest novel is: THE FORGOTTEN CHILDREN

She can be contacted via:




Or on Goodreads







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Wednesday, 29 May 2019

advice for writers (Alan Watts)


'Advice? I don't have advice. Stop aspiring and start writing. If you're writing, you're a writer. Write like you're a goddam death row inmate and the governor is out of the country and there's no chance of a pardon. Write like you're clinging to the edge of a cliff, white knuckles, and you've got just one last thing to say, like you're a bird flying over us and you can see everything, and please, for God's sake, tell us something that will save us from ourselves. Take a deep breath and tell us your deepest darkest secret, so we can wipe our brow and know that we're not alone. Write like you have a message from the king. Or don't. Who knows, maybe you're one of the lucky ones who don't have to.'

~ Alan Watts (I can't remember who pointed me towards this quote; whoever you were, thank you)











Wednesday, 22 May 2019

'Walking with Trees': book review

WALKING WITH TREES 
by Glennie Kindred
(Permanent Publications 2019)




Recently there has been an upsurge of interest in trees. Some of this arises from research done by Suzanne Simard on the underground network of communications between trees through mycorrhizal networks, now known as the Wood Wide Web; and building on this is the amazing book by Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees. There are now a great number of tree books around (of which some of the most inspiring and comprehensive are the three in a series by Fred Hageneder).
     Japan has recently dedicated the equivalent of millions of pounds to the study and promotion of Shinrin-Yoku, forest-bathing, as a therapeutic aid to humans.
     I myself have been leading a course called ‘Tongues in Trees’ for about five years now. In its most recent incarnation it’s a yearlong online course, beginning at the winter solstice 2018, rooted in the Celtic tree ogham alphabet/calendar.
   
     What joy, then, a few months into delivering this course, to receive a review copy of Glennie Kindred’s newest and most comprehensive tree book to date. 
   
     Kindred is the motherlode, or ‘hub tree’, of tree lore in the UK, and many people will know her several lovely, originally hand-made and -stitched, pamphlets, as well as books, on trees, plants, our relationship to the natural world and earth wisdom in more general terms, all beautifully illustrated with her own drawings.
  
     This new book is also graced with her images, which have the blended skills of loving observation and the accuracy that comes with close looking in tandem with magical insight and sensitivity. (You can buy the book, and prints, on Kindred’s website.)

There is not a lot that Kindred doesn’t know about trees. Reading this book, it’s also clear that the vast proportion of her knowledge is from her own depth of experience and communication with the tree realm. She doesn’t study them; rather she ‘builds a bridge’ to enter tree consciousness and brings back some of their gifts. ‘…[M]ore than once I have found myself standing at the edge of my conditioning,’ she states in the preface, ‘to sense an awareness of something more… a sense of communion and communication between myself and the plants and the trees, and an absolute certainty of the interconnectedness and sentience of all life.’
   

Walking With Trees describes what Kindred calls the ‘Council of Thirteen’: like myself, she goes with a 13-consonant Celtic ogham alphabet based on 13 native trees. (There is much disagreement about the number of ogham trees and some disagreement about their corresponding feadha, or letter-symbols.) She and I take slightly different perspectives in that one of her thirteen is the beech tree, which is a later arrival on British shores (still several thousand years ago, of course), and is not associated with the Celtic uplands where one finds the other native trees, nor their mythology. However, I don’t disagree with her choice, and it’s true that, along with the small-leaved lime and the elm, beech marks an absence in the thirteen-month tree calendar that Robert Graves proposes and which resonates for so many of us.

Her book is ‘an urgent appeal to be part of the human changes that the Earth so badly needs us to make… The trees teach us. We learn from them; grow and expand, regenerate and deepen, as their wisdom permeates through to our depths and helps change us from the inside’.
     I’m very much in tune with Kindred’s perspective, especially at a time of global deforestation, and with the introduction of 5G ‘requiring’ that vast numbers of trees that are ‘in the way’ of receiving signals are being felled.
     My own tree course is an attempt to focus awareness on trees: in and of themselves, but also as utterly essential components in providing oxygen, keeping the hydrological cycle going, preventing soil erosion, offering habitat, shelter and foods for many millions of species of flora and fauna, offering medicines and foods to humans, and effecting positive changes to our immune systems. 
   

Trees also act as mediators on a psychic level. By introducing people to the experience of being with individual tree species and trees, I hope to shift participants’ perspectives from the anthropocentric to the ecocentric via, in this case, the arbocentric. Then, as we heal ourselves, so we heal our relationship with the other-than-human.



To learn to cherish, I believe, in anything other than the abstract, we need to know that which we wish to cherish; we need to be familiar with its ways; we need to learn to understand and love it. It would be very clear that Kindred has a deep love of and relationship with trees, even if she didn’t declare it:  ‘I can honestly say I’m in love with trees. They fill me with delight and awe in equal measure. I collect their leaves, blossom and fruit for my medicine cupboard and they gift me with layer upon layer of medicine for my soul. Being in their presence nurtures me, and the more sensitive and open I become to their sentience, the more levels of interaction and communication we exchange.’

The book is carefully constructed. Kindred divides each tree-chapter into the characteristics, legends and folk lore, and gifts as Part 1 for each species (and including information on growing the tree, plus food, medicines and crafts associated with it); Part 2 focuses on both the wider picture of that tree in its environment, both physical and more subtle/energetic, and also inner-world correspondences, and the tree’s place in the Wheel of the Year. She includes notes on her own personal relationship with each tree. And each has several of Kindred’s relevant delicate drawings. This is a book you’d be proud to have on your shelves – as inspiration, for information, as a thing of beauty.


Link to publisher’s page.

~~~


Roselle Angwin is partway through writing a second book on trees and tree lore herself, partly inspired by spending some of each year in a magical Brittany forest associated with the Brocéliande of the Grail legends which forms the subject of the previous (as yet unpublished) book, and partly inspired by her Tongues in Trees teaching work.






    



Tuesday, 7 May 2019

only a little planet, and only the one...

The rips in the fabric of things...
To my huge distress, I have been noticing the lack of house martins and swallows this year. Last year, I saw my first on the Isle of Iona, on 28th March. Iona is more than 600 miles north of where I live, in gentle temperate surroundings, where now, end of the first week in May, I have seen, in the immediate locality, just three swallows where normally I'd expect to see around 15 or 16. I still haven't seen a single house martin, and they normally arrive earlier.

I tell myself the hirundines are all just late; but we know there's drought and insect loss (and pesticides) affecting watering holes and feeding places in mainland Europe, Spain and France, on their long journey from Africa. Insects and birds both – like all life – are also susceptible to EMFs, especially 5G.*

I'm heartbroken at this. If you have seen any or many, please do post that in the Comments section.


We really can't keep ignoring species loss – as big a problem for the rest of the natural world as climate change – and of course the two are inexorably linked.

And although it's way past time we focused only on our human needs – it's anthropocentrism that's caused all this in the first place, in my view, and my own focus now is on shifting to an ecocentric approach in my life and my work – there is still the truth that we actually depend on everything else in the ecosystem, from pollinating insects to trees, and everything in the earth and water zones between or adjoining. We live in an utterly interconnected and interdependent web of being.

I know some of you will have seen this. Today, May 7th 2019, The Guardian's leading articles, based on the very recent UN's Global Assessment Report ('...the most thorough planetary health check ever undertaken') are sobering, if not 'new' news.

Decline in global biomass of wild mammals is 82% in fewer than 50 years (or at least, that's my understanding from the graph).

In terms of our diet, there has been change, driven by young people mainly, over the last few years: it's much more mainstream now to eat a vegan diet. But still, a great many people don't want to look at this problem, and its effects. It's inconvenient to change your eating habits, especially if you like the taste of meat (I'm aware it's a bigger and more problematic issue altogether for farmers and their incomes).

Meat & dairy production accounts for 83% of farmland; 58% of greenhouse gas emissions; 57% of water pollution; 56% of air pollution; 33% of freshwater extraction; and ironically provides only 35% of our protein (2nd-hand at that, so to speak), and 18% of our calories.
 
If you want to know more about a vegan diet and how to switch healthfully, see 57billion.org, especially the links page.

* 5G: see here.




Wednesday, 24 April 2019

An April ragbag: canines; 2mph; cholesterol levels; & dog-or-cat people

Not quite sun-up and I can't sleep; am lying here trying to count the stars that persist after night's party's over, but they slither and slip like sand through fingers, and I have to keep starting again, starting over.

Now one star, or maybe two, only, spying on our daytime world.


Soon, yes, soon, the dawn chorus. Must be about 5am and I'm trying hard to catch another hour before we have to get up. Sky's lightening. I'm sleepy and drifting and the chorus starts: so thick, so lovely, so ethereal, almost, in this hidden unruined valley, habitat perfect.

Did I dream, or hear it, this extraordinary song? – Clear but resonant; rising, falling, rising again; the sweetness of a dove's call, but higher and more plangent. Shockingly beautiful.

I'm awake. 'Can you hear that?' I ask TM. 'Never heard that bird before.'

'It's the puppies whining,' answers TM, and we both leap out of bed to greet them, and also hoping to avoid, possibly belatedly, a sea of pee. It's their first morning with us.

For yes, we have succumbed. They are not a replacement for my old girl Ash; nor for my daughter's Murphy, recently tragically dead. They're new life. The heart has place for many loves.

Meet Bran and Wayland. They're smaller than they look (and the same size) – only three months old.


In my Tongues in Trees course, the tree calendar month in which we committed to the puppies is that of Alder, Fearn, dedicated to Bran the Blessed, Bran of the Singing Head, and protector of the feminine in Celtic mythology (one of the myths I limped through in its original language during my degree course at Cambridge).

'If you get to choose a puppy's name from the Celtic pantheon', declared TM, 'then I want an Anglo-Saxon one. What about Wayland?' So Bran and Wayland (as in Wayland's Smithy) they are.

*


Dreaming back from nearly three blissful weeks working with a couple of dozen beautiful people, deeply immersed in sea, sun, wind, soil, sand and the stories of our lives, of this island, of the wider world of our belonging, on the Isle of Iona during the 18th season of my Islands of the Heart retreat, knowing myself to be blessed, and knowing that puppies would be at the end of my journey, this spring is a delight, despite the traffic congestion, despite coming away from what is a transcendent experience for me (actually, who could bear living in paradise all the time?).


Supposedly, spring travels north at just under 2 mph (but that speed is currently increasing, apparently). If that's the case, then spring in Argyllshire in Scotland, including Iona, should have been about 13 days behind spring in Devon. However, the veg in the organic garden of the hotel where I lead the course is usually more advanced than ours, and near Oban (OK, there is a microclimate) the trees were out and some rhododendrons too. Ours were rather behind, and there's definitely no-show for any rhodies around here yet.



*

Here – in addition to addressing the catastrophes of climate change and of animal suffering – is another turn-up for veganism. I have to have annual blood tests, and this year my cholesterol levels are down to 'perfect', with an optimum ratio of 'good' cholesterol to 'bad'. What's more, my iron levels, often a bit below par during my 40-odd years of being a lacto-veggie, are now up to normal on a vegan diet. So to all those who fear nutritional deficiencies, can I just say it can be done? I've more on this page: https://57billion.org/nutrition/


*

I think from time to time in a rather simplistic and polarised way about differences between cat people and dog people. Of course I'm stereotyping, rather based on an unfortunate relationship between me (dog lover) and another (cat lover) a long time ago now. His aversion to dogs and his – as I saw it – dysfunctional relationship to his (dysfunctional) cat were warning signs that I ignored. My deep bond with my dog perhaps was to him, too, I don't know; perhaps he saw us as dysfunctional, also.

Later I formulated a theory that our shadow qualities were projected onto (stereotyped) images of those animals: the man concerned was deeply dependent, whereas cats are seen as independent; I am, or was then, fiercely independent, and maybe a dependent dog carried my shadow needs. Simplistic, as I say. However, neither we nor our animals managed to live together.

Happy, then, the people who love both cats and dogs.


Actually, I love cats too. I was brought up with several of them, all adored, and at age 11 wrote a precocious essay on 'Cats and Ecology' which won the Lloyds Bank children's essay competition. I can't imagine that my 11-year-old self knew anything about ecology; and I'm certain that I couldn't justify a cat's place in an ecosystem.

For that's the trouble. I love wild birds even more. Although there may not be a direct correlation between bird numbers declining and cat predation, says the RSPB, this is troubling:

'The most recent figures of how many creatures are killed by cats are from the Mammal Society. They estimate that cats in the UK catch up to 275 million prey items a year, of which 27 million are birds. [My italics]

'This is the number of prey items [sic!] which were known to have been caught. We don't know how many more the cats caught, but didn't bring home, or how many escaped but subsequently died.'

What I do know is that we have many many more wild birds in our garden here, and nesting, than we did when TM's (lovely) little cat was alive.


And where I'm going with this: TM was a declared cat lover when I met him, and wasn't terribly keen on my dogs. Although that did cause trouble, especially in the beginning, it didn't put me (or him) off pursuing our relationship. 

And now? TM is utterly utterly smitten with the puppies. He adores them. Luckily for me (and the puppies) any amount of pee and whining is worth it. Hooray.





Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Coming away from the island


Hugs, tears, laughter. After the wind-stopped ferries, the sea is brushed steel; lochs and mountains filtered as if through muslin.

First spit of rain: no waterfalls on Mull this year; no snow on the peaks;  rivers so low; no mud for the sand and house martins, soon back, to build nests.



Loch Lomond’s pewter distances catch the heart.

Then ahead, a car crash; abrupt re-entry into the sorrows of the world.

Samira Ahmed says we’re either collaborators or resistors. For change to happen, we need to resist: non-violently but firmly.

In London, Extinction Rebellion protestors are arrested for blocking roads. Never mind the multinationals, the tax-evading corporations, big industry, private bankers, pharmaceutical companies, heads of state with their disastrous policies.

In Paris, they mourn 800 years of cathedral, part-eaten by flame.

There is as much microplastic in a remote area of the Pyrenees as in a major city. We, all species, are breathing, drinking, eating it in. #REFUSE PLASTIC. If you do nothing else this year. If we don’t oppose it we are complicit. Or collaborators.

‘Earth is flat’ reads the graffiti on a traffic sign outside Glasgow.

Everywhere new leaves – 100 shades of green. New flowers – as if the first ever: windflowers (her face), lady’s smock, bluebells, cherry blossom.

Despite.











Monday, 8 April 2019

Islands of the Heart 2019 2: the island's voices




The Island’s Voices

How many more ways can I find
to speak of this island
when it’s all already been spelled
in the tongue of oystercatcher
and the five o’clock songthrush
the silence of rock, bone, fairy-mound
the spill of light on the dolphins’ wheel
at sunrise today in the Sound?

© Roselle Angwin, April 2019


























Friday, 5 April 2019

the 19th year of Islands of the Heart (Isle of Iona)


ahead the island waits
rain ushers us over and in
drops its veils behind us

 

Notes on the Journey

Sun all the way up to Stafford services – lake clean, wildfowl healthy now (I wrote to them a couple of years ago to say how much I loved the oasis that is Stafford services, but I was intending to boycott them after I'd seen the state of the raggedly-clipped wings of their Canada geese – don't suppose that made a difference, but something has) – where I peel off layers, walk round the lake as we always used to, talk in my head to my absent daughter and our dead hounds.

*

Moffat in its little bowl of end-of-day sunlight. M in hospital. This time last year, our laughter (I’d told the B&B owner that M, in contrast to me, would eat anything: magpies, stray cats, passing children).

A single lapwing flapping alongside; I realise I’ve seen none in a year. In dusky light I walk the old walk, sans dog. 

Above, a huge arc of geese with tiny peeping voices. Pinkfoot?

*

Glasgow.

On the ringroad I’m listening to a Desert Island Discs interviewee speak of a track for her mum, who has dementia (Bread’s ‘I would give everything I own’ – I remember that track so well) and I’m in tears thinking of my late mum’s dementia and the unshareable pain of it. Probably unsafe to drive due to the fact that I can't see for tears, I slow up; and remember the same stretch of road, just a year or two after my mum died, when Radio 4 had me in tears again, too, with a programme on Alzheimer’s.

*

Loch Lomond.


For much of the journey I have the road and the loch to myself. If heaven didn’t have this slant light and silvered water, I wouldn’t want to go there; but it seems it has and I am there.

And there, and there, are little shingled beaches we stopped at to let my collie out for a pee or a drink. She’s long dead; and you too, now.

*

Oban. 

Ticket kiosk guy is outrageously flirtatious.

I buy thick home-made soup: the young guy behind the counter is gracious about my mixing the tomato soup with the butternut and chilli. I take it over to the boats.

The ‘Isle of Lewis’ is about to leave for Barra, five hours’ sail into the wide Atlantic. Tempted. When did I last throw all responsibilities and commitments overboard? The ferry pulls out and I continue sitting on the seawall.

The Seal Trip skipper with the painted plaster pirate onboard changes the chalked time of the next trip from 1 to 1.30 (no punters). As I walk past at 1.20 he changes it again, to 2 (ditto).

By the ferry queue a notice asks me to be sure not to bring any bees, deliberately or carelessly, to Colonsay or Oronsay, where they’re striving to help the native black bee (apis mellifera mellifera) to thrive.

*

I’m not over any of the many deaths that have torn holes in my life the last decade.

*

Mull.

First on, last off.

Drizzle. I rattle over the cattle grid, and there, right there, just ahead and just above is a golden eagle, fingering the damp air.

Keats’ 37 ‘miserable miles’ covered at a rather greater speed than he was able. And if I’d had to walk, I’ve waterproofs and healthy lungs.

Pennyghael: a new sign says ‘Otters crossing for 6 miles’. At least the otters are coming out of decline.

*

Drizzle still as I pull up at Fionnphort, unload my bags at the slipway, park my car and walk back down. I need two candles for the two retreats I’m leading; the Ferry Shop always keeps lovely ones made by the Findhorn Community at Erraid, nearby. No candles.

I think of S, so suddenly and shockingly in hospital instead of with us; and L, who is travelling to be with her instead of us. I know that no one will sit in S and L’s customary seats in the group room. (Later: they don’t.)

*

The promised wind, docile all day, has got up in the Sound, and the flat-bottomed ferry pitches and swerves. My face is full of water and wind and I want to shout with the joy and pain of it all. I can’t see a thing but I wave wildly towards the Iona slipway and the hotel, hoping the people I know will have arrived, people I have come to love, will see me. And they’re there, down at the jetty, waiting to greet me, in drizzle and wind.

Washing over us all, the trill of oystercatchers. A spill of white sand; the green waters of the Sound; a hug; a kind of home.

*

And then, for days, the sun.





Next year will be the 20th year of my Islands of the Heart writing retreats.

You can buy my latest poetry collection, poems from Iona, here.









Thursday, 21 March 2019

spring equinox 2019 poem



Spring equinox: everything renews itself




The wind    the jackdaws    their spill of wild play
brightening the new spring greyness

the spring comes with this
soft rain    and everything renews itself

today it’s raining in the lowlands

everything renews itself    and me too

though perhaps not the stars in any
time scheme humans can relate to   

I am not there but the lens in my mind
is imprinted    the pony grove    my old dog

wizened Dartmoor oaks    and you supine
on that long flat rock    magma billennia-cooled

you firing up the day in a green blaze

everything has renewed itself every cell new

it was that day we saw the dipper
spoke of its ability to walk underwater

how a nest site might be used for forty generations
of dipper    but we are not dippers

and we are not there    I am not there and I’m not
who I was   each bit of me remade now

I am not there    today it’s raining in the lowlands

dog violets coaxed out of their green blanket

spring comes    the spring comes with this
soft rain    and everything renews itself

still at the edges of sleep I see you sometimes
coming down my side of the hill

always coming down the hill my side

I smile to see your green blaze



Roselle Angwin






 

Sunday, 10 March 2019

poetry & the sacred: interview with me

Honoured to be the first poet chosen to feature in a new series, offered by Christine Valters Paintner, herself a poet and author of several inspiring books, on the Abbey of the Arts website. The connections between poetry and the sacred (whatever you understand that to mean) are important to me. (Thank you, Christine, for inviting me to participate, and for the questions that created my response.)

You can read the interview, and some of my poems, here, should you wish to.












Tuesday, 26 February 2019

terrible beauty

 
Heartlands - high moor - painting by Roselle Angwin

Two posts in two days. This might not happen again in a while (and this is still not about That Book).

I have just had occasion to drive what is, for me, probably the most beautiful road in the universe (with the exception of a) the northwest coast road of Mull, and b) the Gorges du Tarn). This road takes me over Dartmoor from Ashburton to Tavistock, and never fails to give me wings, any time of year, any weather.

Utter bliss: over Holne Bridge into woodland; over the Dart on the little Newbridge; up past 'my' Queen Birch (photographed last summer) with her twin trunks and her now-mahogany hair (a sure sign that she's getting ready for spring):




Ponies on the heights; buzzards aplenty; down past the hut circles to Dartmeet (the ghosts of me and my sisters as children still lying out on the ancient clapper bridge, only half of which is now still extant); back up again to the heights towards Prince Hall with its tall beeches, the moor all ochre-gold and sienna-rust; the tors prominent against the blue sky; Two Bridges with its geese; the ancient double stone row, stone circle and standing stone of Merrivale with a host of memories for me; then the little market town of Tavistock, my nearest town for a couple of decades, dreaming in the sun with its cherry blossom, crocuses, primroses, daffodils. Hawthorn hedges already in leaf: it used to be that, when I was growing up in North Devon, they would be in leaf in time for my mum's birthday, the vernal equinox. I saw my first hawthorn leaves, dotted with the odd tiny flower, in January this year, at Dartington. At Portland, in Dorset, the first swallow has been seen, approximately 6 weeks early.

20º C. A stunning day. I smile. Everyone I encounter is smiling. How can we not feel happier? 

And yet, much as I love this weather, it's not OK. Here, we're taking clothes off. In the Arctic, polar bears will be dying.

Yes, this is the apparently-benign face of climate change.


And there's another blot on the horizon. In fact, two.

The first, biggest, one, is a literal blot. In fact it's 180º degrees of blot, where as I drive they are swaling: deliberately burning off old gorse and heather. The thick smoke from four separate fires lies smoggily on the horizon. The moor is, for February, almost tinder-dry after a fortnight of dry and even hot weather.

This happens every year on the moor, often in October, sometimes in February. I hate this. Swaling is entirely for the farmers' benefit, the rationale being that new grass and shoots of bracken, heather, gorse will offer fresh food for the sheep, cattle and ponies grazed up here to provide meat for us, and for zoo animals. I love the dramatic scenery of the moor, but it's entirely as a result of grazing: left to itself, the moor would regenerate as woodland, as the forest it once was (amazingly, first cut in the Neolithic era using hand axes to provide grazing for the new farming revolution).


Swaling is an environmental disaster. It destroys biodiversity, it burns the ancient peat and therefore releases CO2, in itself it pollutes hugely, it destroys thousands upon thousands of small mammals, reptiles and the like. Already, early, skylarks – ground-nesting birds – are nesting.

The other blot on the horizon: the bloody foxhunters on their big warmbloods, in their red and black livery, are out. Foxes, as I wrote in my last post, have declined by 45% in a few short years. We have the hunt come through our valley, too: I haven't seen 'my' fox, who used to sit and sunbathe in its column of golden air in the field next door, for at least two years.

Oh but oh wait, I forgot: of course, since it's illegal now, it's not foxes they're hunting. After all, the hounds know they're not allowed to.

That's OK, then.










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