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

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:


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.


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?



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.



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.



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.

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