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 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.

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