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.

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