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

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.

Monday 25 February 2019

the things that reconnect

Climate change. Species extinction. Trump's wall. Brexit. The UK selling arms to Saudi who use those weapons to destroy civilians in Yemen.
If you are at all like me, you too will have the troubles of the world sitting like existential toothache deep in your chest cavity much if not all of the time. We seem to be in a hard passage, not just for our species but for all species at our hands. This is not news, but for me at least it feels even more overwhelming than usual. We all belong in this web, so all these things affect us deeply, whether or not we're conscious of it. It can make it hard to step aside and focus on living from essential nature – arguably part of our soul-task here, and I believe a necessary step to 'saving the world'. We need conscious individuals so desperately badly at the moment.

In my case, severe flu and pleurisy, extreme backache, a move abroad for a family member and my help needed when I can't even lift a kettle and barely my head from the pillow, and yet another death in our family with its attendant trauma and, in addition, trouble in the life of another family member, and life can feel at times really overwhelming. (I don't mean to sound self-pitying! - this is just how it is sometimes.) Add to this that hares are disappearing; rabbits are succumbing to disease so we've lost 45% of our foxes in a few short years; I've seen no badgers on our land since they started culling down here. Easy then for me to lose sight of our work here, and of my own connection to my inner life, as if a pipe has been disconnected.

While I'm aware that it's easy to say this in the relatively-safe UK, this is the test of the Underworld Journey, an initiation into the little and greater deaths that will liberate, a little, if we commit to the journey, the soul from the grip of the ego so that new life might be born – in our own worlds, inner and outer, and collectively, too, if we can find the strength to keep on keeping on: not to lose faith that change can happen.

There are indisputably many apparent impasses 'out there', but slowly and imperceptibly, of course change continues to happen: change, the only constant. 'This too must pass.'

Look at the schoolchildren rising up in protest. Look at the number of people – many thousands – who gave up all animal products for Veganuary: a move towards ending suffering. Look at 17 year old Lucy Gavaghan who started to campaign aged only 12 for a better life for hens, and has single-handedly persuaded many of the supermarket chains in GB to refuse to stock battery eggs. In Bavaria, through people-pressure, farming practices that will benefit bees have been forced in. And there's good news for the Yazidi women.

The little things can help. In my own life, the news at the weekend that otters, pine martens, polecats and yes even badgers are returning brings a little weak sun back in to the beleaguered psyche. Some more acceptances for my own poetry, often neglected lately. Spending some hours in gentle February sun with many birds around, and primroses, rosemary flowers, hellebore, celandines, dandelions and lungwort offering early nectar to early bees, finally clearing the mat of buttercups that is choking my herb-and-bee-bed. Clearing one's own patch. Tidying our lives, a little.

And as for the rest: we owe it to ourselves and each other, arguably, to not be immobilised: to feel the pain and carry on trying to live a kind life, to do the hard graft of individuation, to keep the flag of protest and activism flying in whatever way we can: not to give in to the corporations, the banks, the apparent inexorability of our governments. Not to give up.

Every so often, just when things are at their darkest, I discover for me personally that something will slide in sideways that will jolt me like a lightning flash, and all of a sudden things seem possible again. I feel renewed, revivified, recharged, alive, reconnected.

My well is filling up; my electricity supply is reconnected.

It is a book by a visionary author, a much-loved commentator, that has woven me back into the web. I'll tell you more very soon.

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