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

Monday 21 December 2020

poem for the winter solstice 2020

In the Cave of the Heart

If the year hadn’t been this dark,
if our usual state of uncertainty
hadn’t triumphed again so firmly
as the dark will again, if briefly,
before our journey back, if those
two planets, one the epitome
of contraction and the other expansion,
had not met in extraordinary intimacy
as they haven’t since 1623, and I hadn’t
been reminded that John Donne wrote
then that ‘no man is an island’; if these
hadn’t happened I might have forgotten
that in the cave of the heart there are
no strangers. We all long for the same
things: some rest, some hope, a little
love, the faith that the earth will
continue her path round the sun,
and we with her; that the light
will return, that spring will come.

Roselle Angwin




Thursday 17 December 2020

reblog: not-your-average-nutroast (recipe), Christmas trees & Tongues in Trees

Looking through my blogs for my nut roast recipe, I see that I posted this exactly 2 years ago today. Goodness, how many things have changed in the world since then; mostly not for the better in the immediate short term, but who can tell in the longer?

I'm posting this again as the recipe might be helpful to those (apparently) one-in-four families in the UK who will be – unbelievably and delightfully – not eating meat this year at Christmas. Yes, this is a change for the better, as is the increased awareness of the enormous cost in suffering to the animals – of course – but also to the environment, including the climate.


Some of you will know that I am almost entirely vegan (though not quite as 'pure', yet, as I'd like to be). You may also know that after the intense hard work of the 7th draft of my SPELL IN THE FOREST book, currently doing the rounds of the publishers, it was such a relief, as well as a surprise, to find myself writing a plant-based cookbook. Except, of course, it's not just a cookbook, but a wide approach to living with heart, and sustainably.

UPDATE in 2020: SPELL has found a home & will be published in June 2021; and the plant-based book is very much in progress.
Anyway, one way and another, mostly as a result of having an excess of produce in the garden this year and a stepson staying who was very enthusiastic about my culinary experiments, I've developed a number of new recipes.
I was really pleased with this fresh take on an old vegan favourite, so I offer it for those of you who are plant-based, going plant-based, or needing to cook for relatives or friends who are (the younger generation has done so much for compassionate eating – it was rather overwhelming to see just how many vegan cookbooks there are on the shelves in Waterstones at the moment. It's a prompt to make mine different.)

Nut, mushroom and sage roast

10 sundried tomatoes (buy dry ones; soak overnight or use hot water for 30 minutes; save soaking water)
2 mugs in total of a mix of brazils, hazelnuts, almonds &/or chestnuts (tin is fine), roughly chopped
1 mug oats
1 slice wholemeal bread, torn
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
good-sized bunch of fresh sage, chopped
2 small onions (preferably red) 
2/3 cloves garlic
500 gms mushrooms, sliced (a mix of types/dried wild mushrooms soaked overnight adds flavour)
1/2 can chopped plum tomatoes
2 heaped tbsps nutritional yeast flakes
a few good glugs of oil (I use cold-pressed sunflower oil – Meridian – as I like the flavour; you could also use melted coconut oil)

Gently sauté the sliced onions, sliced mushrooms (rinsed and well-drained if soaked), until soft, in 2 tbsps of the oil. Add crushed garlic after 5 minutes.

Meantime chop the nuts roughly in a blender, then add the bread.

In a big bowl combine the above with oats, finely-chopped sage, chopped sundrieds (squeeze and reserve water) yeast flakes and sunflower seeds.

Add the soaking water from the sundrieds, the half-can of tomatoes and a good slosh of oil. Season to taste (freshly-ground black pepper is a must). The mix should be loose-ish and moist.

Pack into an oiled bread tin (2lb size) and cook at 175º (fan 160º) for an hour-plus.

I served this with an onion gravy (I cheated and bought the Essential one, which is organic, doesn’t contain palm oil, and is also gluten-free), roast cubed squash with smoked paprika, lemony greens and a fresh beetroot and red cabbage pickle.


My guess is that most of you who read this blog will already not support the purchase of cut Christmas trees. However, if it's not too late, I want to put in a plea if you are tempted.

I know it's a tradition. I know it makes all the difference to the midwinter drear (here in Britain). But.

It's said that our tradition of bringing evergreens into the house and lighting them to remind us of the cycle: that even in the darkest times the light is not far behind (you can't kill the spirit, as the old Greenham Common song goes) dates back to the druids, who would hang lights in the outdoor living evergreens at the midwinter solstice.

I'm very much in favour of this, but not of growing and logging conifers to do this. Conifers themselves as cash crops not only don't nourish the soil, but acidify it, so discouraging growth of other plants. Because they as a species are chosen to grow fast to reach a loggable height, there is no time for the mycelial network (which feeds the tree community, passes messages and is generally A Good Thing) to develop. Worse, any chance at such a network, crucial to soil and plant health, is utterly destroyed for a long period by the logging operation. And a conifer plantation will support far fewer mammal and especially bird species, as well as insects, than a broadleaf forest.

In many places, sitka spruce, the Christmas tree species, often displaces native heath- and moorland and deciduous tree-growth, and makes it increasingly inhospitable for the bird and animal species for which it is home and which are often themselves in decline: curlew, birds of prey, owls, snipe, small rodents among others, and insect species.

And then there are the insecticides which are sprayed on many of our cash crops, including some conifers, against insect damage. The insects which feed other species die, and the toxins are washed into soil and watercourses; any residues will come into our home with the tree. According to a letter from an ecologist in the Guardian on Saturday, often Christmas trees are sprayed with anti-freeze – anti-freeze! – it can kill a cat, and is a carcinogen – to help against needle-fall.

Convinced yet?

And of course a plastic one is just as bad: hardly a symbol of the evergreen nature of the life-death-life cycle, as we all know plastic is not only a fossil-fuel derivative but doesn't break down for literally 100s of years.

What to do to celebrate the turning year?

I can think of three options, all of which I use.

One is to rear a little conifer in a pot, as we have done. It's not so brilliant for any tree to be raised in solitary confinement where its roots can't intermingle, but conifers apparently are better at it than many species. 

Two is to bring in boughs of holly, trails of ivy, and/or some small conifer branches.

Three is to find a shed dead branch, and peel it. You can of course spray it silver, which is beautiful, but the paint will probably also be not right-on. (Driftwood?) Either way it does look amazing dressed with some white fairylights and some glass baubles.

My daughter and I have had a tradition for the last 20+ years of buying each other a beautiful Christmas tree ornament; we now each have a collection of handpainted wooden, straw, glass, paper and metal small tree-baubles, often handmade, sometimes simply gathered, like cones. This is sustainable tree decoration, and the tree really is a centrepiece.

If you already do anything like this, or are inspired to do so, I'd love to see your photos. though sometimes Blogger won't let people contact me through the Comments; I'm sorry, but you could find my contact details through the websites to the right.

And if you only read one book next year, and if you haven't yet read it, do find the most inspiring book I've been absorbed in in years: Peter Wohlleben's The Hidden Life of Trees (wonderful translation from the German by Jane Billinghurst).

Update: I have to add Richard Powers' astonishing novel Overstorey to this.


On Thursday I'm sending out the first modules of my new yearlong moon-month tree course, Tongues in Trees. There is still time, just, to sign up for the self-study option, on which I have space (also one space for the tutored course).

Update in 2020: The first two years of this yearlong online course seem to have been very successful. You can see what people have said on the relevant webpage; and the first group has continued with the practice, and the private Facebook page, through this year too. And yes, there is JUST time to join us if you'd like, but I'm sending out the first bundle of materials this weekend.

and the books chosen by writers & readers as being the most memorable of 2020

... so to pick up on my comment of yesterday:

'Those of you who receive (and read) my newsletter will know that in the last two I've offered a mini-competition, which has proved popular. The most recent one was a request to readers to write a maximum of 300 words on their 'best book' of 2020. It didn't need to be a book published during this year, only read.

'Well, I found it hard to choose a winner, so left it all on one side for a week or three. During that time, 3 names rose to the surface, and tomorrow I will post their pieces – a diverse and eclectic selection.'

So today, here are three very different pieces of writing about three very different books. What they have in common is that, in one way or another, they're all about journeys:


Moby Dick by Herman Melville.

Was it my favourite book of 2020? This isn’t such a straightforward question.  My email to other members of the reading group was bewildered. Melville’s relentless enthusiasm was ringing in my ears and my 20th/21st century mind was offended by the horror of whaling, especially as I had read that the population of Right Whales is down to a few hundred, and they’re still being caught, not for their oil, but by becoming tangled in commercial fishing lines. I felt as if I’d been tossed about on the crest of an intense, unpredictable sea for the entire 469 pages. It has been claimed to be the best novel written by an American.  What really? I wrote sarcastically. I regret much of what I said. I let it rest, and … my mind keeps coming back to it. I’ve dreamed about it.  It’s bizarre, beautiful, and haunting. Some of the language is sublime and funny. The gathering together of nations on the whaling ship is intriguing.  It’s interesting enough that Melville is a man of his time, but he also seems out of his time, or on the edges of it. He’s anti-hierarchic, and insurgent. His striving to understand the whale, in body and spirit, the copious research that he undertook, and his careful exposition of the whaling industry, is painstaking and passionate. It’s a book of its time, but also a book of the future. It’s prophetic in places; he could see where the slaughter was leading.  He wanted his contemporaries to know about whaling, and where the bones in their bustiers and the oil in their lamps came from, so, he hoped, they could use them sparingly. What’s new? It’s a continuing enquiry, just translated to different products. This book affected me strongly but it was strange, very strange.


The Footing
, Longbarrow Press, 2013

The Footing is an anthology of new poems, written by seven mostly Sheffield based poets, on the themes of walking and landscape. Brian Lewis, founder of Longbarrow Press, writes in the introduction that the poems are ‘…alive to the possible worlds that are envisioned, if only briefly, in the act of walking, the paths behind us and the paths before us.’
    A collection of poems does not only begin with the words themselves, but also with the sense of their presentation. Binding, typography, paper and layout all contribute to the transmission and absorption of the texts, and The Footing certainly measures up to these demands.
    The anthology bears all the hallmarks of connecting the reader with the seven poets, in how each engages with journey, place and memory. Walking is about slowing down and the poems enjoin the reader to contemplate multiple landscapes as containers of discovery: historical and contemporary.
    From the moment I held and opened this impeccably produced book, I was pulled into its myriad resonances of sounds and textures. Images came at me from many directions as I moved slowly through the poems, stopping at intervals to bask in their associations, imagery and voices. Localities were magnified as I lingered in them, alive to their senses and relationships.
    I have returned many times to these poems as sites, and the sites as poems, wanting to live longer in them. The writer, Rebecca Solnit (author of Wanderlust) is quoted on the inside of the dust wrapper: ‘…walking is a mode not of travelling, but of being.’ It’s what draws me back to the poems in this anthology; the poems being and I’m walking within them.

The Footing
is available direct from Longbarrow Press -


Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth, Frances Wilson, Faber and Faber, 2008.

Lockdown coincided with the first curlews returning to the moors above my home in Swaledale.  These wistful spirits soon turned my mind to the poetics of journeys.  Enjoying the slowing pace, almost too much, it allowed the movement in the natural world to quietly shift into a preoccupation. Nest building became the paramount focus of home, garden and the surrounding uplands.
    And so, with ease, I wandered into the Romantics, last visited with intent many years ago at university.  But it was not to Coleridge or Keats I found myself turning, nor to William, but to the gentler voice of Dorothy Wordsworth, which seemed so fitting for the mood of 2020.
    Of course, April brought the one hundred and seventieth anniversary of her brother’s death, of which much was made.  But it was the welcome of a song thrush each morning that reminded me of a Wordsworth musing on his sister: ‘Her voice is like a hidden Bird’.
    For me, Dorothy remained the unheard voice of the Romantic period.  I knew of her ardent championing and support for William and the journals she kept of their lives alongside Coleridge and other dominant literary forces.  But I should have realised that an intelligent woman, who was happy to live in the shadow of an ego, would not be anything other than a complex character.
    Wilson captures the intimacy of the Wordsworths' relationship.  Dorothy’s sensuality and sensibility, the innate wildness of the young girl, the darker places in her character, such as the debilitating moment of self-awareness on the day William married Mary Hutchinson, eventually leading to the sad regression into mental health problems and dementia at the end of her life.
    A poignant biography of a talented and troubled lady.

Debbie, Julia, Julius, thank you.


Wednesday 16 December 2020

my best book of 2020 (& also the most memorable book read in 2020 by other readers who are writers)

Those of you who receive (and read) my newsletter will know that in the last two I've offered a mini-competition, which has proved popular. The most recent one was a request to readers to write a maximum of 300 words on their 'best book' of 2020. It didn't need to be a book published during this year, only read.

Well, I found it hard to choose a winner, so left it all on one side for a week or three. During that time, 3 names rose to the surface, and tomorrow I will post their pieces – a diverse and eclectic selection.

For me, oddly, lockdown has not been a time for much reading, although I have managed some. But the standout book of the year is a book on microfarming that is rooted in permaculture, written by two French unintentional farmers. It's been such a very inspiring read, and will inform the next stage of TM's and my journey, which is a major foray into forest-garden and permaculture sustainable systems – hands-on, of course. Regenerative small-scale farming has to be our future, collectively.

For any of you who want to be inspired in a similar way, it's

Miraculous Abundance: One Quarter Acre, Two French Farmers, and Enough Food to Feed the World
by Perrine & Charles Hervé-Gruyer


The Bec Hellouin model for growing food, sequestering carbon, creating jobs, and increasing biodiversity without using fossil fuels

When Charles and Perrine Herve-Gruyer set out to create their farm in an historic Normandy village, they had no idea just how much their lives would change. Neither one had ever farmed before. Charles had been circumnavigating the globe by sail, operating a floating school that taught students about ecology and indigenous cultures. Perrine had been an international lawyer in Japan. Each had returned to France to start a new life. Eventually, Perrine joined Charles in Normandy, and Le Ferme du Bec Hellouin was born.

Bec Hellouin has since become a celebrated model of innovative, ecological agriculture in Europe, connected to national and international organizations addressing food security, heralded by celebrity chefs as well as the Slow Food movement, and featured in the inspiring Cesar and COLCOA award-winning documentary film, Demain ('Tomorrow'). Miraculous Abundance is the eloquent tale of the couple's evolution from creating a farm to sustain their family to delving into an experiment in how to grow the most food possible, in the most ecological way possible, and create a farm model that can carry us into a post-carbon future-when oil is no longer moving goods and services, energy is scarcer, and localization is a must.

Today, the farm produces a variety of vegetables using a mix of permaculture, bio-intensive, four-season, and natural farming techniques--as well as techniques gleaned from native cultures around the world. It has some animals for eggs and milk, horses for farming, a welcome center, a farm store, a permaculture school, a bread oven for artisan breads, greenhouses, a cidery, and a forge. It has also become the site of research focusing on how small organic farms like theirs might confront Europe's (and the world's) projected food crisis.

But in this honest and engaging account of the trials and joys of their uncompromising effort, readers meet two people who are farming the future as much as they are farming their land. They envision farms like theirs someday being the hub for a host of other businesses that can drive rural communities-from bread makers and grain millers to animal care givers and other tradespeople.

Market farmers and home gardeners alike will find much in these pages, but so will those who've never picked up a hoe. The couple's account of their quest to design an almost Edenlike farm, hone their practices, and find new ways to feed the world is an inspiring tale. It is also a love letter to a future in which people increasingly live in rural communities that rely on traditional skills, locally created and purveyed goods and services, renewable energy, and greater local governance, but are also connected to the larger world.

* * *

Friday 20 November 2020

pets and insecticides

 I can't keep quiet about this. I feel so angry. If you live with animals, you should too (or even of course if you don't!).

A recent article in The Guardian has highlighted the outrageous practice of giving our companion animals routine – often monthly – doses of flea treatment and wormers – even when they don't need it.

Our vets, whom I otherwise rate, invite one to sign up to receive such treatments regularly. (A doctor friend of mine said 35 years ago: 'It's the pharmaceutical companies that really pull the strings.' Yes indeed. Let's not buy their line.)

It doesn't take much intuition to sense that these are not going to do our animals any good. It also doesn't take much intelligence to wonder where such insecticides end up, and what their impact is. I almost never use these products.

But I wasn't aware that one dose, for one medium-sized dog, of a common flea treatment contains enough toxic chemicals to kill 60 million bees. Yes, you read that correctly. We know how badly bees are suffering already.

An irony is that this happens whether or not it's flea 'season', which in northern Europe is summer. (Yes, I know ticks can be dangerous to both animals and more especially humans, if they carry Lyme disease. However, if you walk in the countryside, you are likely to pick up ticks even without an animal beside you. It's good practice to check your skin after such a walk. I'm assiduous about checking our dogs regularly and removing ticks with tick-hooks.)

There are alternatives that are insect-repellent but non-toxic.

I buy an essential oil blend, Pets' Parasite Formula. I use it weekly in flea and tick season, and yes it is harder work and no it is not quite as effective as a blast of chemicals, but it's not bad. You can use it as a spot-on, on their collars, in a shampoo like Neem, or brushed through their coats. I buy it direct from the French vet who developed it, but you can also buy it here.

For worms, I use Verm-X, which is herbal, tasty, and very effective. This too has been developed by a vet. You can get this from the manufacturers.

I have written to my vets asking them to reconsider. I've posted this all over social media, and am telling anyone who will listen.

Read the article here.

Wednesday 11 November 2020

Trees in Autumn (poem)


Trees in Autumn
for Sam Wernham

I know the theory
the way xylem and phloem
carry food and waste
from root to branch to leaf
and back to root
how the sap flows up the trunk
in spring, why the tree shuts off
the leaf’s umbilical in autumn.
And still the way those leaves
surrender to the first frosts
of November, give their rainbow
to our eyes, their nourishment
to the soil, remains
one of the wonders of this world
before which miracle I stand
as one receiving benediction.

© Roselle Angwin



Friday 6 November 2020

the best lockdown vegan and g-f chocolate truffle brownies... & a big box of books


'They' say cooking's an art and baking's a science, don't they? Well, I'm definitely not the latter. So allow me a small boast. Not being a baker, then, (other than of bread), and eating very little sugar, I am especially astonished that I have made what might be the best chocolate brownies ever. Even TM, a confirmed dairy-eater, has volunteered that these vegan and gluten-free brownies might just be The Ones.

For I have, dear reader, started – finally – to compile the plant-based cookbook I've been yacking about for ages. It's slow, especially with just one good hand with which to type, but it is happening. As counterpoint to the tasty but (arguably) worthy wholefood savouries mainly based on what is in the garden when, I do in fact include some sweet things.

And who doesn't need a treat like brownies now and then, especially at times of COVID, election uncertainty, BREXIT (and in my case a fractured arm)? With my one good arm I managed to make these truffle brownies for TM's birthday last Monday. I defrosted some of our blackcurrants, and would highly recommend incorporating some tart berries.

These are delicious warm from the oven, and possibly even better out of the fridge the next day. Enjoy them.


  • 80 grams raw coconut oil
  • 180 grams dark chocolate
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract.

Grease and line a square tin (8" or 20cms) square tin. Preheat oven to 160º (fan).


  • 140 gms of rice flour, coconut flour or ground almonds (I usually use rice and almonds 50/50)
  • 20 gms cocoa powder
  • 180 gms unrefined dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp ground cardamom (optional)


One or a combination of: 2 tbsps of fresh or frozen blackcurrants, 2 tbsps sour cherries, handful chopped walnuts, 1 tbsp chia seeds


to dry mix

  • melted ingredients
  • 240 mls almond milk (230 mls if using fresh or frozen berries)

and stir well to make a batter. Pour into the tin and tip to level the top. Bake for 25-30 minutes maximum (any longer and it will become cakey). It should still look a little liquid in the centre and be gooey. When coolish, mark into small squares (they're rich).


Something I started to do before the broken-arm fiasco was a book-cull. This also involved much clearing and sorting of my 'garret' – at least, in theory. I got as far as putting about 120 books that I'm unlikely to read again in boxes for charity shops, and shuffling around the various boxes of my own books. Gulp. I have 100s.

Having recently come into the twentieth century with some podcasts, it occurs to me that I might begin to read the opening few pages of my various books and post them. Meantime, I'd like to mention this, my second and most recent novel, The Burning Ground, to you in case you'd like to support a struggling writer in the time of covid. The book's set on Dartmoor and in Brittany, places close to my heart. Here's the blurb:

Take two brothers. One secret. One woman, two lovers. Add in two deaths, and the trauma of foot and mouth on a small Dartmoor hill farm. Under such pressure other older secrets emerge, with devastating consequences.

I read this over two days and could hardly bear to put it down. Gripping narrative, beautifully written and with a depth of knowledge of so many things: landscape, environment, farming, archaeology, myth and human passion, yet none of it heavy handed or overpowering the plot.’ MTR

‘…the best book I’ve read in a very long time…Dr HG

There’s a summary of it on the Guardian’s ‘readers’ best books of 2013′.

There are a number of reviews on Amazon. You can buy it direct from me by heading to the links to the right of this page, scrolling down, and choosing THE BURNING GROUND from the dropdown menu.

Oh and if you don't know of it yet I want to mention the newly-launched online ethical bookstore:

Well – What about enjoying a good brownie alongside a good book? (Double boast.)

Wednesday 28 October 2020

ragbag: silver birch, broken arm, best-laid plans, low-impact living, individuation


'...during the hard
grief-struck time, for a fortnight or more she was

a solitary light in the valley...'

– this birch ('the poet's tree') was my view in March, keeping me sane. Barely anything else was out in leaf.

And here she is with her sisters in October, and a whole summer has gone by, with its strange times. She in her ever-changing way has remained constant for me; she and her kind lighting the roadside homewards, sheltering me and whispering like an inland sea outside A&E in the darkness of 1am.


It's 5.30am British time and I'm on the trail of TM, who is as usual a few hundred yards ahead of me, on the lorry deck of the cross-channel ferry. I'm tired, stressed, a bit unmindful, and not altogether convinced that we should be doing this. We are about to dock in Normandy and drive 700kms southwest before dusk. Unbalanced as I am – as I have been most of the year – and carrying far too much baggage (ditto), I don't see the raised metal lorry anchoring point ('elephant's foot') until I've tripped over it, and smashed my arm against its neighbour.

At 6.30am I'm in French 'urgences' at the local hospital, where we will sit in separate rooms for nearly 6 hours – by which time it's too late, and I'm in too much pain with a fracture to my shoulder, to head south.

In the past few days I've had a number of dreams and premonitions that seem to suggest traffic accidents. It turns out later that one of my sisters had the same premonition in relation to me. (My family is somewhat psychic, and telepathy etc is common.) These days, I tend to take notice; too often it's been to my great cost if I don't. But TM, who has just finished a huge eco-build for a client and is entering a new phase in his life, has become enormously enthused for a trip, and wants to move things forward in our lives. So I agree, and we are going to be driving around 2000kms in 6 days, and looking at 7 or 8 possible locations. 

When we set out to head to southwest France, one possible location of many for our permaculture and forest-gardening future, I was already very stressed, very tired, and aware this is not the best time to pick to travel. I'm also ambivalent about leaving Britain and my very deep roots, personal and ancestral, in the rural Westcountry (and it is not yet certain that we will; and NB my courses will continue to happen wherever I am, and there may even be a new venue, if whatever the 'new normal' turns out to be will allow face-to-face groups).

We divert to Brittany. As we turn the vehicle west, I feel such a flood of relief washing over me to be going towards a land I know and love. TM of course is deeply disappointed and frustrated, though he hides it well and is considerate of my needs. 

What now? I'm wounded and we're in quarantine. 

In Cornwall, we have the phrase 'a Mevagissey treat' (Mevagissey is a small fishing port). The 'treat' is 'a wet arse and no fish'. I'm trying to compose an equivalent. (Anyone?)

A small addendum: when we get home, there's a letter from TM's pickup manufacturer recalling the vehicle, due to a potentially serious safety issue. Who knows – it could have been a worse accident.

Low-impact living and the power of the consumer

We are committed to low-impact living*, ideally as much as possible off-grid, and growing our food, in a sustainable and regenerative way; not just for our benefit but for that of the human and more-than-human community, and the future; and the time to make that happen is yesterday. *In our case vegan, to reduce animal suffering and because it takes so much less land.

I have been thinking a lot about the conjunction of viruses such as coronavirus, climate change and consumerism – all of course inexorably interlinked. We need, indeed, to put pressure on all our governments to make deep changes – but that doesn't let us off the hook as individuals. And as individuals, it's hard not to feel hopeless and helpless, I know. 

But we have more power, more agency, than we tend to think. We can effect change simply with our consumer choices. Food choices are obvious – there is much evidence that meat- and dairy-farming are some of the worst drivers of climate change through unskillful and toxic land use and loss of forest and biodiversity, which in turn encroaches on wildlife refuges and brings wild animals into closer contact with humans, as well as meaning that the global poor have far fewer food choices than the affluent west; hence the Asian wildlife markets in which, supposedly, COVID arose. 

It's been heartening that so many people have started to grown their own food this summer.

And we can stop flying, and begin really to value 'our' place, our flourishing in that place and its community and the other species, our kin, in it. We can walk, and cycle (two more things that have really come to the fore during this period), and take the time to really get to know it: its rocks and soil, its contours, its trees and plants and habitat, its stories, the habits of the creatures who share it, its changing faces through the seasons and even hour by hour.

But there's a deeper issue at stake: our profound anthropocentrism. Nothing will change until we begin as a species to shift our attitude, our lived attitude, to one of ecocentrism.

And then there's our own growth as individuals. We live in a culture that values individualism, whereas what we need is what Jung called 'individuation': some 'eating the shadow' work (a turning-towards our own dark unknown places in the service of deeper/higher consciousness, rather than projecting them onto others). 

This will engender and enable a shift of locus from the ego to the true Self, the transpersonal aspect of the more conscious psyche that knows that wisdom is about caring for the other, human and more-than-human, rather than about focusing on meeting the desires, aversions and attachments of the individual petty self, the ego. 

The perspective from the Self is a bigger, more luminous, expanded view that knows that we are all, always, profoundly interconnected.





Wednesday 14 October 2020

Autumn equinox: dog days, Sirius and Orion...

In my most recent (autumn equinox) Fire in the Head newsletter, I wrote:

Dog Days & mini-competition

I don't know if, like me, you find the summer draining in the end: dry dusty lethargy? I love the warmth, and being outside so much, but there is something about renewed vitality that happens when the equinox comes around, and that slant golden light that pierces the heart. 'September has come, it is hers / Whose vitality leaps in the autumn,' says Louis Macneice – and yes, as an equinox birthday person I claim that for myself.

I was delighted to discover just now that, as I suspected, the phrase 'dog days' is connected with the appearance, once again, of the Dog Star, Sirius, in the night sky – the brightest of all of them in the late summer. I've been wondering if that's Sirius that I've been seeing lately. I'm not sure what this is connected with [in this newsletter] other than dogs; but Sirius was a highly significant star to our ancestors, especially in the Egyptian tradition.

And Homer wrote:

'Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky
On summer nights, star of stars,
Orion's Dog they call it, brightest
Of all...'

So what I invited newsletter recipients to do was:

In honour of Sirius (and the equinox), here's a challenge for you:

Send in a short poem (no more than 12 lines) or micro-story (no more than 200 words) that in some way relates to what I've just said, above. You've only a few days to do this: the best emailed poem or micro-story to have arrived in my inbox by 30th September will receive 2 of my books, either poetry or novels, of your choice (or 1 bigger book of either River Suite or Writing the Bright Moment); OR £20 off one of my courses.

Quite a few of my some-time course participants to receive the newsletter responded. It was really hard to choose a winner, as each poem or piece of prose had something to commend it.

In the end, I picked two joint winners. One, Jill Lewis, I chose because I loved the way her piece of writing refused to be boxed in, and also captured the present-moment vitality of descriptive narrative that underpins my newest online course (in which Jill was a participant), WRITING THE BRIGHT MOMENT – poetry, nature & mindfulness

I also, of course, liked her awareness of and attention to the plight of the more-than-human in our times.

The second piece, by Vicki Morley, is utterly different (from everyone else's), and I chose this because of its left-field originality and, like Jill's, its refusal to be boxed. It also directly referenced Sirius. And I liked the double meaning of its title.

With the permission of both, here are the pieces.

Mo(u)rning pause


Equinoxal mist and trails of cow dung splattered dry along the narrow road. Young cows, with yellow-labelled ears, whom I had talked with, gone now.

Ah, last swallow swoops, light coming chill. First Michaelmas breath bitter-kissing blackberries. Slow dawn unfolds petal strands, cream-pinking faded hill horizons. Yarrow white stands singular in bracken brown. Green mugwort flurries crowd the high corn. Here toadflax ripples yellow-shy among new nettle sprouts and laced silhouettes of hogweed stalks stretch a pale morning sky.

Ah, the low hush-pound of seagull wings, rising from night fields of grass to scatter-settle across red striated earth. The beech tree, squirrel-stirred, drips mist drops on damp pocked tarmac. Clustered shoots of lime and brown crackle-leaf sycamores hold sap, sturdy in last flow. But ah, this ash, having known depletion even in full summer sail, its vulnerabilities gnawing at resilience, here, now has gone bare. Already. Stark marker of invalidity: my hand on its trunk in recognition, consolation. And no berries this year on that rowan tree I love.

I mourn damage, plague, neglect, greed, cruelty, indifference. Dawn sifts the air and day begins again as if everything were there for ever… and ever… and ever.


Jill Lewis

September 2020





my dog bones, all my beloved pets
Palladio, Alexandra, Horatio, Boris, Claude, Francesca

Mr Mole and Antonio.

I’m in the late autumn of my life

prepare my tomb, worthy of Anubis

silver lettering, black onyx

for my eight greyhounds.

Set the glass so Sirius gazes down

starlight floods inside,

their skulls will shine

teeth yellow as mah-jong tiles

put my remains in the centre.

Vicki Morley
September 2020

NoteBrian Sewell, art critic died in 2015 and gave instructions for his tomb.

Two notes from me
: I'm currently taking bookings for the New Year WRITING THE BRIGHT MOMENT online retreat, mentioned above. Start the year as you'd like to go on! I've had generous and excellent feedback for the August & October ones; you can see some of it if you click on the link and scroll to the bottom of the page.

If you would like to sign up for my newsletter, please visit the link above and make your way to the 'Contact' page.

Tuesday 22 September 2020

Poem for the autumn equinox: Migrations


Migrations, Autumn Equinox 2020

After the grief and trauma of this strange year
our yesterday was blessed by a young hare
in our garden, and the day before, its parent.

Later a flock of fieldfare sped over the meadow,
visitors from elsewhere, autumn in their wings.
Pumpkins are ripening and the days scented;

September’s slant light brings joy and melancholy
mixed as always, and especially now at the equinox.

Two days ago a cloud of swallows gathered over us

heading south. Night, I stand under the Milky Way,
vast river that carries us onward, look out for
Sirius, the Dog Star, whose time is late summer.

Some believe that our souls take flight starward
on death. How much this light from deceased
stellar bodies means to us, who are also stardust.

© Roselle Angwin





Tuesday 15 September 2020

from the ragbag: spaciousness (not), the sea the sea, soup, mother to cailleach


I notice at the moment that I have a physical response to words like 'quiet', 'stillness', 'space', 'solitude'. In my 'Poetry, Nature & Mindfulness' retreats, or at least the Soundcloud recording that goes with them, I emphasise the need to take space, even a few moments, daily: 'Can we carve out just a few seconds' space to really experience spaciousness when everything about our lives is screaming that we need to get on and do, right now, before our world falls apart?'

It seems to me that integrity means 'walking your talk', as they say. I have always valued those quiet moments in my life, and even though much of my adult working-freelance-in-the-arts-single-parent life hasn't left anything much in the way of space, I've always managed to find some for meditation, dreaming, reflecting, strolling on the moor, in the woods or by the sea, free-writing in my notebook, reading – all those essential ingredients for wellbeing.

Well, it's true that I did carve out those moments myself during the first week's retreat, back in early August. Other than that, I have to confess that I have been running ever faster, stressed and rather burned-out, during this whole period of lockdown, in which so many other people have found a sense of spaciousness amid the worry. Partly, I have had to find new ways of generating an already-precarious income. Partly, we have a huge vegetable garden, and this year we've expanded it further – and it's now harvest time. Partly, we have two young and vigorous dogs, hounds and therefore hunters by inclination, not fully trained yet, who need a lot of stimulus, walking and watchfulness. Then there's family; and a certain amount of environmental activism.

Result? Pretty full on from 7am till 8pm+ every single day with barely a break, and lunch standing up. NOT how I want to live my life, and not a healthy way for anyone to live. No wonder even my body registers the absence of what is needed so badly.

And then. My daughter, who is a weaver, had just finished a commission from a client in Australia, and needed to photograph it by the sea; in fact on her childhood beach not far from us. On the spur of the moment, ditching all the work undone, I decided to go with her, and (knowing how long she takes for everything) OH! The bliss of a whole afternoon with no structure, no expectations from anyone, human or otherwise, no demands, just me and the sea and the rocks in September sun while my daughter wriggled around by the waves on her belly getting numerous shots to send to her client. You can see her blanket on the link above. In addition to her prone form, these were my views:

A certain equanimity was restored just in one afternoon. Maybe I'll do that again some time in the next year...

The year, of course, is turning. I've been distressed, as I've written here before, at the absence of house martins and swallows. It's an event to hear even one or two overhead, even here, where the land is left pretty much to its own devices in our little hidden valley, and no neighbours use chemicals. There are many reasons for their decline, though I've heard today of hundreds of hirundines elsewhere in Britain, despite. However, the lanes and our hillside have been full of other wildlife. Just now a heron flapped over; buzzards and sparrowhawks nest in the woodland margins at the top of the field; we had a roe deer grazing at close quarters in our meadow when we were working in the veg garden the other day.  Charm after charm of goldfinches fill the valley with song. Yesterday, I nearly trod on a beautiful mature grass snake at the bottom of the track. So there are things to be grateful for.

Are you also, like me, experiencing that we are coming to an end of a cycle, or series of cycles? As the year is in transition, so my life feels as if it is; and somehow the larger world too. Who knows where we'll land, if we'll collectively make the choices we need to make? – What uncertain times; and yet all times are uncertain in their own way, and the knack is to be OK with this.

But there is also a haunting going on, for me; a fear to which we're probably all prone to one degree or another, right now. Will we make the choices we need collectively, in time? So many aspects that it's overwhelming. (Did you see
the horrors of extinction as detailed by David Attenborough on BBC1 the other day?) It's almost too big to comprehend, the turnaround we need.

On a more personal note, I have just, as I've been writing this, sold my beautiful VW campervan that has seen me through a number of personal transitions. I was extraordinarily attached to her, the more so because I bought her, 'Clarissa', as my first-ever own-home with a legacy from my mum. But circumstances change, and she has not recently had the use she deserves. Plus I'm decluttering.

Still, it's a big goodbye.

As the year turns, in Celtic mythology we are at the peak season of fecundity of the Mother aspect of the Triple Goddess. Already, as trees let go of leaves, berries and nuts ripen, piles of spilled golden straw hug the lane edges, and bird migrations are well underway, we're moving towards the time of the Wise Elderwoman, the Crone or Cailleach, She Who Knows. Her time begins truly at Samhain, the time of the ancestors on 1st November, but as soon as the elderberries ripen in the hedges, the pumpkin harvest begins, we feel her first breath.

As I come up for a birthday at the equinox, and really can't deny the ageing process any longer, I reflect on how to let go, with grace and dignity, of this long phase of mothering in my own life. Of course, in so many ways it never ends: even if you don't have children, the Mother and the Maiden are part of your inner life. And if you do, even if your daughter is 40, it doesn't end. Sometimes it's a little galling: as my own daughter explains the negatives of neoliberal capitalism (as if I haven't known about and resisted this all my adult life) and the intricacies of Marxist thought (to one, me, who adopted Marxist philosophy for a while at university), I try and remember that this is the natural order of things – it's her turn to take the stage and shine, and while I might not choose to retreat to the shadows, the Cailleach has her own very particular and more inward power, and so I practise nodding and smiling rather than taking umbrage at being patronised. Oh and actually there's something quite seductive at slipping along unseen in the shadows – especially if you know, as I have always known, how to make yourself invisible to others when you wish to.

And meantime so many harvests, and so many more vegan recipes to develop. While I think of it, I'd love a recipe for vegan biscuits – those simultaneously chewy and crunchy cookies that I can't make (mine are tasty but crumbly) to include into this vegan book wot I ain't yet writ but am compiling – anyone?

And to finish, here's my current soup:

Ruby Harvest Soup

  • 1 red onion
  • 1 small butternut squash or approx half an orange one
  • 1 beetroot, peeled
  • 2 carrots
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 8 fresh tomatoes or 1/2 cans

Chop all these except the garlic into smallish cubes (does anyone ever do cubes?? - 'Smallish chunks') and sauté in olive oil for 10 minutes. 


  • 3 handfuls red lentils
  • the chopped garlic
  • 1 can coconut milk

Stir and add enough stock to cover the lentils with a couple of cms to spare


  • 1 generous sprig thyme if you have it fresh
  • 1 heaped teaspoon each gr cumin, turmeric, smoked paprika.

Simmer for 40 – 50 minutes. 

I blend half of it.

with a minute click
in September breeze
ash leaf   letting go
POSTSCRIPT: there's still time to sign up for the next 'WRITING THE BRIGHT MOMENT – Poetry Nature & Mindfulness' online retreat in early October. (I've another planned for New Year, too.)


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