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 22 December 2021

the last of the light: winter solstice 2021 (poem)


The Stillness of Trees
winter solstice 2021

After the owl has scratched white lines
on the gathering dusk
After the soup the mince pies
the warmth of companionship
after these dry months
After the lit tree

We carry our lanterns into the dark wood
in silence   each lighting the way
for the one behind
Make a circle round the fire
taste the lichen gin
make a libation

After this I lean into the stillness
of trees   think of the one yellow leaf
holding firm at the tip of the thirteenth
apple tree which I read as both promise
and symbol   think of how

persistence and resilience take a yielding shape
trusting in the dying and rebirth cycle
without question   think of how hard
this is as human   think how much
we still have to learn.

© Roselle Angwin

Monday 20 December 2021

November's mini-sagas

When I send out a Fire in the Head newsletter, I've taken recently to offering a mini-competition. The prize is a book, but the point of the competition is to keep the pens or cursors of the many lovely writers who've worked with me in the past moving, especially during a time when it's hard to attend courses in person. (I will be returning with some more online courses in 2022.)

The latest one in November was a prompt to write what I called a 'mini-saga' with beginning, middle and end all contained in no more than 200 words. My stipulation was that it should in some way, no matter how tangentially or briefly, refer to trees. The idea behind this prompt came from a competition I ran as part of a small Dartmoor literary festival I used to organise many years ago. I've never forgotten one of the winners: the whole of the Trojan wars retold in 200 words.

'Mini-saga' is a bit of a misnomer in this current competition, though I haven't found an alternative. Really, mini-saga should refer indeed to some epic story, like the Trojan wars. Never mind though: it did get some people writing.

As always, I struggled to pick a winner. Four stories rose to the surface in the end, and the truth is I could have chosen any one of them. All of them had something to commend them. Here they are, with the writers' names and my brief commentary:


Deep through the night of dark blackness when all slept, save for the sparkling stars illuminating a way, a mystery unfolded.  Someone spun such a complex pattern of intricacy and beauty across the cover of firs and berries, that it was impossible not to be awed.  A force had stolen in through that silent darkness, creating immense power and strength. And whatever were to fall against it resistance would be impossible.

Then the freezing air caught up each suspended strand of woven thread, all was engulfed as magical white tightened its hold, drawing taught all in its wake.  As a new day emerged, the sun rose to shine, and the mists drew away, leaving life to unfold in its usual daily habit!  And the hunter knew it was time to withdraw, no capture yet made… Eyes rushing looking down, all failed to witness the wonder of the night’s magic.

But suddenly marvelling, new eyes caught the sparkle dancing, they paid attention. Who had created such craft?  Alas, the gardeners already cutting, destroyed for ever those unseen magical threads.  And a larder was empty, no-one saw the destruction they’d caused.  Who knew what talent of weaving might ever again emerge?

© Thea Bailey November 2021

Thea Bailey wrote a beautiful and lyrical piece that drew together how easily the small but beautiful is overlooked and even trashed, and the ‘weaver’s magic’ destroyed. (The weaver being both spider and a metaphor.) Look at this great opening line: ‘Deep through the night of dark blackness when all slept, save for the sparkling stars illuminating a way, a mystery unfolded.’ Somehow Thea made a mere 200 words feel like a substantial story.



Once upon a time, in a shiny part of this lovely land, happily a-gyring and a-gimbling, lived the little locals. Music lulled their sleepy woodland groves –

BUT monsters were reputed to stalk the deepest forests - the Secretive Jubjub Bird, the Fiercely Frumious Bandersnatch, the Totally Terrifying Jabberwock!

Our princely hero, (listen well, my Beamish Boy!), grasped his fabled sword and, fully-armoured, bravely left the Palace, seeking to slay the fearsome, flame-eyed monster.

Princey entered the tulgiest part of the wood, hunting high and hunting low until, iffing and uffing slightly, he rested his weary body in the shade of the Tumtum tree.

"What's that I hear?!" He caught up his blade and snicker-snack! Off came the head of the unsuspecting Jabberwock, as it came a-whiffling between the trees...

Grasping the gory head, leaving the body dead, our hero hurtled lickety-spit through the wildest woods and galumphed-up to beat Callooh-Callay on the Palace gates!

"Oh what is this, my Beamish Boy?! Have you triumphed over adversity and restored peace to our Kingdom! Come to my arms, come sing the frabjous news!"

And we all lived happily ever after, a-gyring and a-gimbling in the mimsiest of Borogroves...

© Janey Thompson November 2021

Janey Thompson made me smile with her ‘Channelling Lewis Carroll’ and her version of the Jabberwocky – a humorous and tight little piece. I loved the verbs – some created by LC but some I think by Janey herself. This was an original approach to my topic.



The battle was over; the Kings of the land were dead. Pyres of discarded corpses smouldered as the victorious took their riches downstream. Wind swept across the open space and found no answer, as only the emptiness of death lived here.

A young girl emerged from the surrounding trees. She had witnessed the battle and felt the pain of loss. She came to stand where the earth had been scoured during the fight and pushed her bare feet and hands into the earth. Her tears fell.

Years passed. Many seasons came and went until a warrior came upon the clearing. She struck her silvery sword fiercely into the earth. For she too had lost ancestors in this place and silently channelled her rage in the only way she knew. She gripped the soil, sensing a need in her to make this place her own.

More years passed. Others had followed the warrior here and life returned. One day an old woman walked within. She stood before the warrior who towered over her, cascading tendrils of hair flowing in the wind. She thanked this soul who had renewed the Earth. Her tears fell on the Silver Birch.

© Claire Brown November 2021

Claire Brown wrote a fierce and beautiful story about the brutal logging of the Kings of the Forest, in which the feminine principle, in the shape of the queenly Silver Birch (opening tree in my Wheel of the Year tree calendar), after the ravages of the logging companies, sets her footsteps towards the healing of the land (Birch is a 'pioneer species' colonising new land for other trees to follow). After the desolation comes new life and restored Wasteland via the women in the story. This one really speaks to me. Claire has some strong lines: 'Wind swept across the open space and found no answer, as only the emptiness of death lived here.’ This story too feels so much bigger than its length suggests; it’s also a bit archetypal.



“Mama,” she asked when she was small, “why is it called the Winding Wood?”
     And Mama told her it was for the path that winds through the trees, and that winding path is the one she must always take.
     Now that she’s grown the rule irks her. Her friends abide by it but she slips off, skips through the trees and then waits, laughing, as they take the longer way.
     She goes to the wood on her own – another rule carelessly laid aside – and the sound of the trees moving in the wind is like a voice calling Come and dance with us. And she dances, winding among oak, ash and beech until she remembers the time and dances back to the path, and home.
     She wakes to the tree-voices in the night and slips out in her nightdress, running into the woods, dancing – certain the trees are dancing too.
     Another tree-voice – a rowan, berry-bright – whispers, Come close, touch my skin, then, Let me feel your skin. She sheds her nightdress, leans naked against the trunk. The leaves caress her; the branches wind round her like a lover’s arms.
     She’s lost to Mama. But in the moonlight, she still dances…

© November 2021 Caro Johnson

In the end, I chose Caro Johnson’s ‘Winding Wood’. I think it’s because of the apparent simplicity. The story reads like a fairy tale that holds a key, as well as ‘everywoman’s tale’ - there’s an undercurrent that feels autobiographical, but also more universal and ambiguous. Central to it are two themes: leaving home and finding one’s own true path despite the various voices that try to hold you back, and finding home among the trees (in this case the Rowan). The journey of individuation. Read it again, though. The simplicity is deceptive: do you too feel the undercurrent? A somewhat Otherworldly undercurrent?

My thanks to all four of the writers above.



Wednesday 8 December 2021

Ragbag: cultivating the land inside


'What we need is existential creativity...'

'There is a time for hope and there is a time for realism. But what is needed now is beyond hope and realism. This is a time when we ought to dedicate ourselves to bringing about the greatest shift in human consciousness and the way we live... It is now time for us to be the most creative we have ever been, the most far-sighted, the most practical, the most conscious and selfless. The stakes have never been, and will never be, higher... For we are on the verge of losing this most precious and beautiful of worlds, a miracle in all the universe, a home for the evolution of souls, a little paradise here in the richness of space, where we are meant to live and grow and be happy, but which we are day by day turning into a barren stone in space.' Ben Okri, The Guardian, 13.11.21


'My real work is getting to know, inside out, my home ground.'

'The soil is dark, the wind is red, and my dreams are snake green with long white roots. At the back of my mouth, way behind memory and longing, is the taste of the ground I garden every day, grit that lingers on my tongue and tells me who I am.

'Every particle of soil, every atom of earth, is alive with mystery and potential... 

'Every soil is a long winding story told in the voices of water and inhaled and exhaled air; of the stone-slow cycles of rock itself becoming soil; and in the voices of the swarming masses of micro-organisms feeding, breeding and dying on fertile dust, creating new life out of their own bodies made from exploded stone.

'After all these years of working the land, I am made of the soil and water of my home place. I have become these elements and they have become me.

'The best gardeners I know continue to find time both to sit still and to walk the margins of their land... When I slow down sufficiently to actually arrive in the garden, I see that everything around me is constantly changing... And when I really slow down, I see that garden and gardener are changing too, ripening and decaying with every breath.' Wendy Johnson, Zen Buddhist gardener


Cultivating the ground of metta

I have a Buddhist practice on which I sometimes focus during meditation. In true Buddhist spirit, it is both extremely hard and extremely simple.

'Metta' is loving-kindness meditation. Before you stick your fingers down your throat, it is neither New-Agey nor simplistic, though it seems both.

Allied to the Tibetan practice of tonglen, in which you breathe in another's suffering, it is a breathing out of love and kindness towards someone else.

You may incorporate phrases into the meditation, all the while holding that person in mind/heart. Currently, I say:

'May you [name], be free of suffering and sorrow.
May you be free of fear and anxiety.
May you be well. May you be safe. May you be happy.'

Of course it's not a magic cure-all. However, it can't hurt to wish goodwill towards others; and who knows how far such a vibe will travel. Its real benefit, though, is the softening of the heart of the meditator, and goodness knows we need that these days.

That's the easy bit. Now try turning that on yourself! This is my current practice:

'May I be free of opinions and judgement.
May I be free of suffering and sorrow.
May I be free of fear and anxiety.
May I be well. May I be safe. May I be happy.'

For many of us, especially those of us who were brought up Catholics, the first sentence is easy (we know how to flagellate ourselves: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa). And I am full of opinions and judgements, so I can admit/say that fairly readily (I'm not the only one in our family, but let's leave that on one side, at least in the moment of vowing to try to be less judgemental!).

But to receive our own love and care? To be happy? How hard we in the West find that, especially if we let the world in to break our hearts.

And it's oft-quoted in therapeutic circles: how can we truly love another if we don't know how to love ourselves?

Monday 6 December 2021

Ragbag: The land outside (to be followed by the land inside)



October has come; autumn storms
sweep winds over the island. On the fence
by Oran’s Chapel – he of the Song –
two new swallows, so young they barely
have tails, crouch determinedly, ignoring
their parents’ harsh chivvying to fly, fly,

be ready to migrate. Late brood; the last
of the flock to leave. So many things these days
break my heart. Weeks’-old bodies
against an ocean, a continent; and I here
witnessing, knowing they may not make it –
and there is nothing, nothing, I can do.

© Roselle Angwin

No surprise that the Guardian has reported so many more birds entering the red list. Astonishingly, swallows are not yet on it, though I've seen the migrant population here in Devon diminish year on year on year. Swifts and house martins, heartbreakingly, have found their way on to that list; each time I've seen a barn conversion in the area I've known that a few more martin and swallow families have lost their ancestral homes; and a barn owl or two, probably, as well.

I have to remind myself that it's not all bad news, all of the time: the white-tailed sea eagle population in Scotland is rising a little; and indeed I saw one a couple of times this autumn on Iona.

Here in the courtyard the winter birds gather in the dawn, appearing as we come downstairs before daybreak, shadowy forms hopping onto the doorstep awaiting seed. Here are the dunnocks, one of whom is exceptionally tame; the two robins, one of which chases every other bird away, though the two bullfinches hold their own. Here are the various tits. The adult male blackbird is followed still by his now-mature son, as he has been for two full years. I can only imagine that since his mate, the son's mother, and the son's two just-fledged sisters, all of whom were taken by a sparrowhawk (the mother) and a buzzard (the siblings) in the same week and right by their cliffside nest outside the kitchen French windows, some kind of maturation and development has been arrested. Perhaps there is a comfort now in numbers for both of them, even if that number is only two.

I walked past a bench that neighbours have planted by a little stream the other day, close to the lane. I saw they'd installed a beautiful new sculpture attached to the end of the bench: a heron, lifelike and detailed to the extent I could practically feel the velvet delicacy of its engraved feathery coverts. Then it flew away.

Each winter little egrets make their way upstream and inland from the Dart where there is now a small permanent population, to perch in the big oak near 'our' brook. There was a winter when TM and I were walking beside the brook below our house, in the valley. I had just said to TM 'I haven't seen the little egrets here at all this winter'; and one flew up literally two metres ahead of our footsteps. Today, I was thinking the same thing as I walked the dogs, and then saw three of them stalking across the wet meadow.

Oak by the Brook

When the great oak fell in the woods
the valley shuddered and we felt
the aftershock in our feet for weeks.
When the great oak fell, fifty families
of mice fled, and the pairs of woodpeckers.

Nuthatches went into exile, and a hundred
thousand insects. The heron and winter’s
white egrets no longer have a lookout
over the minnow brook; no perch
for summer’s turtle doves. Last week

a thousand bees hummed in its canopy;
this winter, the jays will scavenge for
five thousand fewer acorns. The valley
is a wound. The valley is a mouth with
a missing front tooth. The valley is Munch’s

mouth, open and forever a silent scream.
When we walk where the oak was we too
are now silent. The great oak fell; the valley
shuddered; we feel its echoes still.

© Roselle Angwin
(from A Spell in the Forest)

Speaking of jays (as the poem was), they can gather up to 5000 acorns each year, burying them for overwintering, and noting, apparently, landmarks to find them again. The garden has been deprived lately of that enormous and smile-making coarse racket they make; I'm wondering whether they've had to go a lot further afield for their winter stock. This year has been whatever the opposite of a 'mast year' is: last year was a mast year, at least in the UK, where a huge abundance of nuts, beech mast and acorns was produced. This is often followed by a year when the pickings for jays and squirrels are more slender, although this year they've been exceptionally slender.

What we have had an abundance of in the courtyard though are these: tiny pale green discs, like sequins, in their hundreds of thousands. They are 'spangles', created by oak gall wasps, and each spangle contains a larva. Not sure they're the choice foodstuff of jays and squirrels, however.

It's been an odd growing year. The early part was cold and wet, and the 'season' was late starting. Our beans, courgettes and squashes all failed: a shock, as our borlotti, cobra and pea beans are normally easy and prolific, and, frozen, provide much of our winter protein. I say all the beans failed, but actually the three successive sowings of broad beans (one over-wintering) were all productive, including the new red-podded variety. I've been trialling a no-dig bed (rather against TM's sense that only a bed that's been properly dug over is a suitable bed), and felt a bit smug, as where all the many greenhouse-sown beans, later planted out into the dig beds, failed, my very late sowing of borlotti beans in the no-dig went from bean sown direct into soil to fruiting bean in just five weeks.

After last year's apple harvest, enough to keep TM, who eats at least six apples a day, in fruit until March 2021, this yautumn, despite plenty of blossom and young fruits in early spring, we had not a single one. Not one. I guess, as with nutting trees, a mast year costs the tree, and it hasn't the same energy the following season. In this case, spring gales didn't help.

An unexpected success, though, were my sweet potatoes. Here's the first one I dug, a 'beauregard', a perfectly decent size, and very tasty indeed:

There were a few other big ones, but most of the rest were small. Still, the dogs loved them.

On the other hand, I'm delighted at just how many dishes we had from one butternut squash: butternut, lentil and coconut soup for 12 people; butternut hummus; roasted butternut rings; and a topping of squash again for the dogs' dinner. (And yes, my plant-based cookbook is nearly ready to go off and seek its fortune. I just need to double-check all the research into animal welfare, environmental benefits, land use benefits, health benefits and so on.)

Now it's dusk: chilly, clear, periwinkle blue turning cobalt then Quink. In the lanes, there are still a few campion hanging on, and yes periwinkles: almost all of those left the palest starriest large white-lilac ones, escapees.

Over the stone wall edging my bee-garden my prostrate rosemary, one of my very favourite plants and quite an amazing medicinal herb, tumbles its new lavender blue flowers, taking over from where my enormous bush rosemary has left off.

Soon, the witch hazel catkins will light the little tree golden; till then, spindle berries garland the dusk.

© Roselle Angwin 2021

Friday 12 November 2021

20th year of my ISLANDS OF THE HEART retreat weeks, Isle of Iona, autumn 2021

At last, after a 2-year COVID break, these holistic writing retreats went ahead. Such joy. Some differences; some similarities; two lovely groups; spectacular (as always) island.

I don't know what's happened to Blogger – the photos are posted in the reverse order to the unfolding of the days and the order in which I posted them! Never mind. Scroll back in time.

All these photos are mine, except the wild geese, by Caroline Harmsworth (thank you, Caroline, for your permission).

Photos 1 © Caroline Harmsworth September 21

Rest © Roselle Angwin September 21

Tuesday 21 September 2021

these bright moments

In my last FIRE IN THE HEAD newsletter, I offered a mini-competition, as I usually do, the prize being one of my books.

This one was for the briefest of brief recordings, in writing, of a moment of presence: 7 short passages that expressed a passing beauty, delight, and/or surprise.

When it came to it, I could not choose between 3 submissions. I think you'll see why when you read them. Each has that quality of mindfulness I was looking for: attention to and submersion in the present and passing moment, and a glimpse of something larger conveyed within the brevity.

Thank you, Barbara, Gabrielle and Sheena for writing these delights – they help offset all the horrors we all know too much about right now; a reminder that the earth still turns and that beauty heals the heart.

Seven short prose pieces
Early Autumn / N.E.Fife

Desiring a moon-fix, I leave it late to take out to the compost the day’s peelings and tea-leaves. I scan the sky. There’s no moon to be seen. Darkness envelops. Slowly, the stars appear: pinpricks revealing light from beyond.

I wasn’t expecting rain. After days, weeks, of dry, I waken to damp earth. All along the box, cobwebs hang, an overnight handiwork of hammocks. They are holding the moisture, minute drops around the edges, a glistening mass towards the centre.

Do you remember the rainbows, on windowpanes and doorsteps? Ours leant against the gate, a discarded roof-slate, drawn with wax crayons from years ago. Those early months, we were fearful and in shock; the rainbows gave us comfort. Things are different now and the slate hangs on the potting shed. I didn’t want it abandoned. This morning, approaching past runner beans and michaelmas daisies, out of the blue the slate appears icon-like: Tender Mother of God, with loving-kindness showing the way.

Contrary to what you imagine, it’s best to mow first thing; so here I am in the orchard, the sun tipping the tree-tops and my scythe sharpened and gleaming. It cuts through the grass like butter, a steady joyful rhythmic swish…halted suddenly by a tiny sound of squealing. There below, at the blade’s edge, a yearling frog scrambles away, panicked and I fear in pain, desperately trying to bury itself in the reapings.

The rooks have started to gather again, late afternoons, in the ash. They’re a rough noisy backdrop as I pick apples from the espalier against the wall. The air is warm and still. There’s the rustle of leaves, dusty and beginning to brittle, and the crack of the snap, as I twist off the stalks. There’s the muffled gentle placing of the fruit in the basket. Occasionally there’s a thud, when an apple dislodges from its branch and drops to the ground.

The unfurling of the lily leaves, sure and steady, is a source of delight as I sit by the pond with Friends, on yet another Sunday morning, in these still-sparse post-lockdown days. I’m reflecting on the Advice Attend to what love requires of you. I feel admonished, daunted, feeble. Then I recall a Friend saying, “Love enables as well, you know.” Another unfurling.

I’ve made a habit of trusting the birds for sunflowers. Seedlings usually do appear and this year I’ve gathered them next to the drying green and underplanted with nasturtiums Empress of India, the gold and the red. It’s midday and the washing’s hung out. I’m caught in the concentration of bees as they feed on the sunflower’s dark centre, the crown of petals aflame.

Barbara Davey


September Snippets

6 September:

The climbing nasturtiums are late this year. Today they heft marmalade orange trumpets to a cornflower blue sky. The visual hit of complementary colours. A tortoiseshell butterfly forages the nasturtiums, orange on orange.

7 September:  

First autumn mist on the lake. A grebe dives, disappears, leaving a radiating circle of silver. Two swans synchronised diving, sticking up through the mist like a split iceberg – and my heart splits open too. I half expect Excalibur to be next up.

8 September:

A walk through a neglected field. Sunshine. Ash trees dangling magnificent bunches of keys. A surprise of late blackberries. I have no container. I walk home with warm purple ooze seeping through my fingers, the earthy lush smell of ripe berries.

9 September:

Watching bumblebees trying to stuff their ample bodies into a second flowering of purple penstemon. I see a tiny triangle on the brown bobble of a nearby rudbeckia, wing spots like staring golden eyes. I am only a handspan away, but it stays still while I fuss with google lens to identify it as a mint moth. So delicate, so easily overlooked.

10 September:

My garden caryopteris have flowered overnight, brilliant blue on lime green. Excitement of bumblebees who have abandoned the penstemon for these easier pickings. 
An east Asia native, you shuin Chinese, but in my mind I see my aunt-in-law’s wildlife rich London garden, its butterfly and bee laden caryopteris by her front door, the wicker tepee in a winding shrubbery where her magic bird would lay chocolate eggs for small children.

11 September:

Reaching for some home-grown rocket, I find myself eyeball to eyeball with a garden spider, soft morning light bouncing off two of its eight eyes. It dangles at ease, hammocked ona web slung between a camellia and winter jasmine. Legs stretch out like an advertisement for striped leggings, special offer 4 for 2. I am mesmerised by its stillness, its symmetry, when a bin lid clangs in the next-door garden and its legs convulse, high knees sharp-angled, just for a moment and then dangling nonchalance resumes.

12 September:
It seems that overnight the woods have changed colour, paths peppered with yellow and brown leaves. There are little red orbs everywhere, like early Christmas decorations, on guelder and wild roses, hawthorn and rowans. The blackberries that so recently fruited are clotted with fat convolvulus like dollops of early snow. A tipsy feeling that the earth is turning.

Gabrielle O’Donovan


7 moments …

The little Rowan trees in Morrisons’ car park never know true silence nor the star-pierced darkness of open moorland or a Welsh hillside. They breath in petrol laden air, their leaves are choked with dust, their nights are neon and they are sometimes clipped by reversing cars. Yet they survive – and here they are on a late August afternoon, their glowing berries warming the souls of frazzled shoppers.

I am looking upwards through the heart shaped lobes of a sizeable vine leaf, patterned with the shifting shadows of its higher sibling leaves, against a bright sky busy with passing birds. Hinged to its stem by a glistening spider’s web it is mesmerising, nature’s narrative played out on a living screen mapped with veins (who needs television?) And – oh! – now a small insect is crawling across it, sharply silhouetted, vibrant.

My neighbours have given me onions from their garden, plaited together into a sort of heavy necklace which I am very tempted to wear - an elderly female Onion Johnny (?Jane.) But I resist. Instead they are hanging outside to dry in the sun, fat globes of gold and deepest ruby red, their smooth skins making them shine like lamps. They are so tactile. Stroking them, I can sense the firm juicy layers within and imagine them browning in olive oil and filling my kitchen with their appetising smell.

The Buddleia’s spires are dying. It should be cut back but I have been putting the job off, in spite of having to fight my way past it to reach the compost bin, endangering my eyes in the process. But far from being punished for my laziness, today I am richly rewarded. A Red Admiral butterfly has landed on almost the last panicle still to bear a few flowers and is lingering there, wings gently opening and closing. Terra-cotta, black and white on purple – what an arresting colour combination! What a gift!

(Re)reading Ted Hughes’ poem about an otter that

“….from sea

To sea crosses in three nights
Like a king in hiding. Crying to the old shape of the starlit land,
Over sunken farms where the bats go round,
Without answer…”

An “Oh” moment every time.

My small garden is beyond untidy, but it is blessed with many insects. The heavy rains of a fortnight ago collapsed the Cosmos and Japanese Anemones and now they are leaning towards me where I sit with a mug of coffee, like eager stall holders offering their wares. And such wares! Delicate shell-pink Anemone heads, Cosmos with their rich burgundy petals, golden centres and feathery leaves – they are generous with their lovely energy. They are full of bees; all kinds of bees. And tiny iridescent flies are crawling over them, rainbowed by the mid morning sun.

The first day of Harvest Month and I am picking blackberries – one of the perks of having a garden that would make devotees of order weep. Although I try to be careful, I cannot avoid disturbing the spiders that have laced the hedge with filament curtains. The spiders scurry off and I am in awe of their beautiful markings – cream and black and tawny brown. Stepping sideways, I catch my foot in something (see above, for perks read hazards) and topple, inelegantly, on to my bottom. But I do not spill the blackberries!

Sheena Odle

Monday 16 August 2021

RAGBAG PART 1: those jackdaws; the veg garden; books old & new


You know what it's like to have so much crammed in to your daily life, and so much to say, that you say nothing at all? – That. Hence no blogs.

What a turbulent time in the world. How distressing and helpless-making it all seems – if we're not mindful of holding a positive intention, even a tiny intention, like noticing some beautiful things in or about each day. When you do that, not only do you remember that the world is still beautiful, but you also gain some perspective on your own relatively trivial issues. (I have to say there have been a few of those, here in the Garden of Avalon. As in the macro, so in the micro, for we are all connected.)

However, since there really is too much to talk about, I shall just say: over and over I am reminded that change is the only constant, and how we surf these changing challenging moments, how we learn to live increasingly calmly with uncertainty as our faithful companion, determines so much of how we live, and what we experience and think and feel, in the world. So easy to hit out, to blame others, when it's our own emotional reactivity to our perceptions, false beliefs and assumptions that causes so much of our own distress.


Way back before Easter I posted some words about the jackdaws waking me early with their wild chortles and plays on the roof, just feet from my head on the pillow (the other side of the slates, I hasten to add).

The birds didn't ever go quiet. What did happen, though, is that a few weeks later their chortles were joined, and then replaced, by an ever-increasing-in-volume small raucousness: undifferentiated and rabbley. Every morning. Every morning at 4.30 am.

Week by week, though, it changed until I could pick out three small, demanding, and distinct individual voices. The parents went quiet: they were clearly far too hassled and far too shagged-out to do anything other than spend every daylight hour shoving food into the squawking open mouths.

About four or five weeks in, I managed to get a glimpse of their 'nest'. A shambolic strewing of twigs, several of which frequently toppled to the ground (where the neighbouring cat sat in the early mornings, also with his mouth open) balanced right under the eaves on top of the ivy growing up the back of our stone house homed five almost full-sized jackdaws (three the chicks). By now their voices were truly loud. I have no idea how they didn't fall out, let alone how they actually managed to sleep at night, piled as they must have been one of top of the other in swaying ivy (one did, but caught itself in the ivy just above the cat's reach; and must have managed to flap or scramble back up).

Anyway, they fledged, and all five joined the bigger congregation of rooks and jackdaws roosting across the valley. Occasionally still all five will do a flyover; and now and then I hear a familiar chortle at 4.30 or so. I still wake at that time, even without their greetings.


My herb and bee garden has become a quiet corner for meditation and – should I ever manage to snatch a few moments for my own writing – poetry. More significantly, it's home to many insects, and many fledgling birds. There was a moment this year when it was a spectacular feast of scents and colours and peak abundance; before a week or two later it tumbled to huge overgrowth.

However, it's been wonderful to see so many bees and butterflies this year, though devastating to see and hear so few swallows – again.

It's been an odd year in the garden, with the climatic extremes we've all had. (I imagine many of you who are gardeners out there would say the same thing? I'd be delighted to hear your experience.) We depend on our veg for between half and two-thirds of all our food, but this year it will be less that that.

Because TM* wasn't working last year, he had more time to spend in our organic veg garden, so for once we were ahead of ourselves. For once, too, I actually managed to sow three lots of broad beans successionally, and they have been prolific. But the French cobra beans, courgettes and squashes we started off in the greenhouse in spring have been terrible; simply not thriving, despite well-composted beds and enough magnesium.

On the other hand, the borlotti beans which we sowed directly a couple of months later into the soil of my mulched no-dig bed had reached the tops of the canes and were producing flowers fewer than five weeks later. Also very productive were the three varieties of broad beans: one overwintered, and two, including the red-skinned Karmaszyn, sown and cropping early.

The kales and cabbages are doing fine under their nets against cabbage whites and pigeons. Ditto the onions and leeks. My Swiss chard, French sorrel and salads have been great; ditto beetroots and spring onions. So far, the sweet potatoes we're trialling seem to be OK, and the sweetcorn too. Both depend on late sun, though.

The biggest failure, and rather devastating on a small domestic scale, has been blight on the wonderful, huge, lush tomato plants, both indoors and out-; and, worse, when they have been laden with trusses of green fruits. We have had to uproot and burn a dozen previously-healthy plants. I've made green tomato and rhubarb chutney with some.

Of course, being in the same family, the potatoes have it too. The earlies are OK, and we cut down and carted away the haulms of the main crop spuds, and TM lifted the purple-skinned heritage Arran Victory yesterday. We don't know yet if they'll be edible, although normally they would store well and see us right through the winter.

We are lucky: we can go and buy organic potatoes. Not the case for the victims of the Irish Potato Famine – how easily, given the vagaries of the weather, one could succumb to starvation (one million did) if one depends on a single crop, especially given the political horrors imposed by the British/English rulers and wealthy absentee landlords that went with that event.


Well, I was fortunate enough as to be given a fabulous online launch for A Spell in the Forest, by my friend James Murray-White, who founded the Save The Oaks campaign. More than a hundred people from all over the world attended the launch event, were generous with their attention, and said lovely things. If you were one, thank you. Please know you made a difference to my life. That evening was truly a peak experience.

If you click on the link above, it will take you to James' site and blog, where you can, if you'd like, watch and listen to the launch, and also be directed to my webpage to see details of, and buy, the book.

A plea: if you have read my book, it would help me enormously if yyou'd post a brief review on Amazon, even a sentence or two. Many people go to Amazon to read reviews, even if they then buy direct from me, or from their local bookshop, Hive or (Oh – what a thing! – the week the book was published, I shot right up into Hive's Top 20, at place #7! Sadly, however, I shot right back out again the following week...)

Another plea: if you haven't, please buy the book!

And I am supposed to be writing Book Two. Well, nothing's happened with that since midwinter; there has been so much else going on, with new online courses: Writing the Bright Moment & Poetry & the Ensouled Life; and with mentoring, and admin for the Islands of the Heart retreats in a few weeks. Then there is family, our two young dogs and many discussions and explorations in relation to what future we want to create for ourselves, and help in whatever way we can to create for the world.

One thing I know is that I want to spend more time writing, and growing, and less time on the computer. So...

One way in which I'm committing my time in future is to completing my book (for which I may have found a publisher) on plant-based living, based in part on recipes from our garden.
I am a quiet but deeply committed vegan activist. Going plant-based, or at least reducing your meat and dairy consumption is the biggest way in which you can tackle the climate emergency.  Of all this, and a recipe, more in Part 11.

* a small boast: TM has been awarded the regional Sustainable Builders' Award of the Year by the Federation of Master Builders for his last eco-house. That means he goes forward to the nationals in the autumn.

Wednesday 23 June 2021

Zoom launch for A Spell in the Forest

'The magic of trees. Guides to the wildwood, keepers of mysteries, tellers of tales.'


Trees occupy a place of enormous significance, not only in our planet’s web of life but also in our psyche. A Spell in the Forest - Tongues in Trees is part love-song, part poetic guidebook, and part exploration of thirteen native sacred British tree species. Tongues in Trees is a multi-layered contribution to the current awareness of the importance and significance of trees and the resurgence of interest in their place on our planet and in our hearts.

Well, only two days to go till publication date in the UK (mid-July in the US).

There's 'before the book' and 'after the book' – all I've been able to think of the last few weeks is the amount of publicity my publisher, like almost all publishing houses now except the very biggest corporate presses, requires that I do. I've been asked for blogs, articles, interviews, podcasts – I know, I should be so lucky; but it's exhausting and time-consuming (and unpaid), nonetheless.

And you might have noticed I didn't even manage a poem for the summer solstice.

If you think my new book might be of interest to you, then sign up for our book launch on Thursday July 1st at 7pm BST (UK). It's free but you do need to register. We are inviting donations to my host James Murray-White's campaign Save the Oaks.

You can register here; and read more about the book here. With any luck, we will record the launch and post it online.

I'm very much looking forward to it (with a little trepidation); and James tells me about 100 tickets have gone already.

 Maybe see you; and I'll be back post-launch with, perhaps, a little more diversity of content than recently!

Monday 24 May 2021

Spelling time...


You might have noticed, if you've been paying attention over the last year, that publication date is racing towards us for my new book? And I'm currently overwhelmed by all the work undone from 9 weeks in total of being without phone and internet this year, but catching up with myself.

I was delighted with how my most recent course developed and progressed. Poetry, Imagination & the Ensouled Life almost didn't happen due to an absence of the wherewithal to offer the promised Zoom sessions, but at the last minute Open Reach restored this – er, well, lifeline, no matter what one thinks of spending one's days on a computer. This will happen again; I think we were all inspired by the work we did together (you can see details, and feedback, on the link).

Meantime, my publishers have organised a long list of individuals and organisations to help publicise my book, and Nimuë Brown hosted a blog by me last week. Here it is reposted from her blog:

A guest blog from Roselle Angwin

I imagine that all children know – at least if they have access to the rest of the natural world – that animals and birds, plant and trees all speak to them. It seems both normal and natural, and just the way the world is. How different our lives, and our relationship with the more-than-human, would be if that was a quality, an enchantment, that routinely continued into adulthood.

As a very young child, I used to leave out ‘potions’ of pulverised rosehips, herbs and rainwater in acorn cups for ‘the fairies’, whom I knew lived in plants and trees. Sometimes I would see a glimpse of a woodmouse, or a bird, who’d sipped my brew – and that was OK too; in fact it was magical (considering the delight I feel, even as an adult when birds come to the doorstep without fear, not much has changed there).

I remember when I first learned to speak Cedar. My cousins in Cornwall had a ‘home field’ on their farm where the orphaned lambs would be, needing bottle-feeding several times a day. In between, we would climb onto a long horizontal limb of the Cedar tree in the field. One day, up there on my own aged about five, I heard the tree whispering, and realised that I could understand its language.

Around the same time, I used to climb up into one of the pair of cherry trees either side of our home front gate, and delightedly knew as I faded into the canopy that no one could see me for blossom.

That was probably the beginning of my lifelong relationship with trees. However, there was a more significant event as an adult. I worked part-time for Kindred Spirit magazine back in the 90s, and one of my briefs was to conduct a transatlantic phone interview with shaman Eliot Cowan, who had just written Plant Spirit Medicine. I knew about shamanic practice and plant medicine; had read my Carlos Castaneda; had experimented with psychotropic plants; had even written a book on subjects that included such things from my own practice. But something subtly shifted for me after that interview.

Not long afterwards I booked myself a week’s solo retreat in a tiny cottage near Cornwall’s coast. The cottage was in woodland, and within the shelter of a triple earthwork, complete with its own Iron Age fogou. I’d come specifically to work with trees, and to do a week’s writing. I imagined I would connect with the magical Rowan and the ethereal Silver Birch (sometimes known as the ‘poet’s tree’). I’d dumped my luggage and headed off down through the woodland towards the sea. I knew the area well, and was confident that I would find Birch and Rowan close by – and I did. 

I knew that trees love to be met, anthropomorphic as that sounds. We seem to have a natural close relationship with trees; indeed, some first nation peoples believe that humans are descended from trees. 

However, I hadn’t bargained for the abductive qualities of the Willow – that slender, gentle and tender-seeming tree under which Ophelia permanently floats in her death-song in a painting by the Pre-Raphaelite John Everett Millais. So I was taken hostage by a particular Willow in a watery grove of them. Benign though the tree was, it was also extremely insistent, in a way that startled me.

I never made it to the other trees; instead, I spent a rather trippy few hours under Willow’s influence instead, and that journey has continued. (It was only later I learned that Willow has a reputation in folk lore for ‘stalking’ people.)

Since then, I’ve become ever more aware of the deep synergy between humans and plants, in particular trees, and it led me to marking the wheel of the year with my version of the Celtic Tree Calendar, and then  devising courses, ‘Tongues in Trees’, that would enable me to lead participants into a deeper relationship with the tree family. I’ve been leading these for many years, now, and have more recently offered this course as a one-year online intensive.

I spend part of my year in an ancient mythic forest. Quite apart from everything we now know about the gifts from trees, whether to do with climate change, the hydrological cycles, preventing soil erosion, offering habitat, food, medicines, timber for shelters and fires, and new findings about the immense ‘wood wide web’ that underpins a forest, we have a deep psychic resonance with the idea of the Greenwood, the Wildwood. 

There are always two forests: one is the physical wood and forest we encounter ‘out there’. The other is the abiding forest of our imagination: an inner pristine wildwood, an Enchanted Forest, the one we encounter in myths, fairy stories and legends.

When I walk into a physical forest, I walk into a liminal place, and a deep, receptive and attentive humming silence, a benign presence. There’s something about entering a forest that is both healing and disorienting (in my forthcoming book I speak a lot about this). In the forest we lose horizons, and perspectives, and enter firstly a green underwater-type world, and secondly a kind of mythic consciousness, as our European fairy tales attest. 

I know this particular forest quite well. I arrived in it a few years ago after a particularly traumatic time in my life, knowing that it would offer me some kind of healing, and it did – AFTER tripping me up and breaking my arm so that I had to be still – an almost foreign experience for me.

But the biggest shift was my fond idea that I’d write about trees here; but in fact I ended up learning from trees – as it’s said our Druidic ancestors did. That changed the way I wrote my book. 

And – years on – I am still learning from trees.

Roselle Angwin

Roselle Angwin’s new book A Spell in the Forest – tongues in trees will be published by Moon Books on June 25th 2021.

First published on A Druid Life

WATCH THIS SPACE for dates for a Zoom launch.

Wednesday 14 April 2021



If you are familiar with my work, you will know that the notion of connectivity, and how we make conscious relationship to 'all that is', sits at the heart of it. We are all in interrelationship, all of the time. Living as if this is the truth that it is changes everything. We can no longer pretend that we are separate and superior.

A few weeks ago friend, colleague and occasional workshop participant Dr Lania Knight, until very recently a creative writing tutor on the MA course at the University of Gloucester, recorded a YouTube interview with me where I was talking about my approach to land, place and the other-than-human species who share our planet.

I was speaking as a writer, and therefore talking about my own relationship to the more-than-human world and how it colours my writing as well as my experience.

A little afterwards, one of the university MA students who were the destined audience of the video emailed me.

Some of you might be interested in our conversation.

[KA] I would very much like to know a little more about your idea of 'connectivity'. This has intrigued me and I'm trying to imagine writing nature poetry by removing the self as a prominent focus… it's begun to make me think differently about nature and my place within it.  Would you have time to comment more on what you mean by 'connectivity' and how this can be put into practice when writing poetry?

[RA] I have been thinking about what you ask. It has been a perspective that is so woven into the fabric of me that I needed to step back and think about your question. Here's my response:

So, in brief, my starting point is that our post-Enlightenment/Cartesian heritage has not always done us favours. It fosters a further dualism that has probably been a significant part of our collective psyche for hundreds and possibly thousands of years: matter/spirit, good/bad, man/woman, humans/nature. So it seems almost inevitable that we relate to the rest of nature – the other-than-human or more-than-human – as if it’s ‘out there’, separate from us. It’s my view that it’s this unconscious assumption that is at least in part responsible for the atrocities we can visit/have visited on other species and the planet.

My perspective is that, rather than a hierarchy of life with humans at the apex, we are all part of a vast network of interrelationship where anything that happens to a part affects the whole. It is not ‘us’ and ‘nature’ but as eco-theologian Thomas Berry said: ‘we are a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects’.

In my view, everything of the natural world is animate, sentient, conscious to some degree and in its own way. Everything is inherently in interrelationship, all profoundly interconnected, a vast eco-system of which every single organism is a necessary part of a coherent whole.

I believe this requires for most of us a shift in worldview so that it’s not ‘us’ vs ‘nature’; nor even 'us' and 'nature'.

So I’m not sure it’s so much ‘getting rid of the self’ (or in your words ‘removing the self as a prominent focus’) as seeing it – the self – as simply one, if integral, part of the cosmos.

In terms of poetry, farmer-poet Wendell Berry said something that has always stuck: ‘So much of the poetry I see has speaker present but world absent, or world present but speaker absent.’ (My paraphrase.) (Another dualistic trope is 'either/or’, whereas I believe it’s more holistic and wise to see ‘both/and’.)

I notice that the best writing (poetry is a good example) exemplifies this, when the speaker is fully present in the poem (or essay, or whatever it is) but as a co-operative force, rather than a dominating one. In other words, the writer is part of, not apart from, the subject (and the rest of the natural world).

This seems especially potent in 'the new nature writing', those nature-memoirs written by people like Kathleen Jamie, Helen MacDonald, Miriam Darlington, Jim Perrin, Robert MacFarlane, John Lewis-Stempel, and many others, where the author is very clearly present. In nature non-fiction even 50 years ago the writer, usually a rather old-fashioned and perhaps bachelor gentleman, was very much the detached observer. There may be a place for that, but we want more engaged writers nowadays. That in turn engages us more.

In terms of planetary ethics, clearly we are more likely to protect that with which we are also emotionally engaged – at least, I believe so.

So how we may write to include self and other both is a preoccupation of mine, and one that I emphasise in my courses. I believe this is partly down to consciously switching between the perspectives of self and other and taking care to incorporate both (as per Wendell Berry), but also reminding oneself that in some profound philosophical way self IS other and other IS self. My view of the cosmos suggests that the physical level is only one level of being, and there is a correlation, a reciprocal affinity of relationship, on more subtle levels also. That’s what I mean by connectivity – there are subtle ties that bind us to everyone/everything else.

This doesn’t sit well with our current mechanistic philosophically materialist ‘scientific’ viewpoint, but with, for instance, our new understanding of the subtler aspects of ecosystems such as the mycorrhizal networks that link all plants and trees we are beginning to understand scientifically too that nothing happens in isolation.

My forthcoming book A Spell in the Forest – tongues in trees explores this in much greater detail through the lens of the tree world and also archetypal and symbolic motifs (I trained in a branch of archetypal psychotherapy).*

There's a page on my other website that also addresses this idea (well, actually, probably all the pages do, but this one overtly):

* This is the description: 'Trees occupy a place of enormous significance, not only in our planet’s web of life but also in our psyche. This book is part love-song to trees, forests and the Wildwood, part poetic guidebook to the botany, ecology, cultural history, properties, mythology, folklore and symbolism of trees, and part a deeper exploration of thirteen native sacred British tree species in relation to the powerful mythic Celtic Ogham alphabet calendar. Tongues in Trees is a multi-layered contribution to the current awareness of the importance and significance of trees and the resurgence of interest in their place on our planet and in our hearts.'

Wednesday 31 March 2021

RAGBAG: a chortle of jackdaws; 7 weeks without internet; a Youtube interview on writing about place; growing; & more


I'm woken, far too early, by a pair of jackdaws, chortling and playing wildly on the ridge of the roof in our pitched-ceilinged bedroom.

As always, I'm short on sleep, but I don't mind: these blue-eyed chuckling tricksters always make me laugh. The whole valley, our courtyard and its trees, is submersed in birdsong. Across on the hillside, the same single birch as last spring is in leaf, sherbet-lime among the drabber trees and the yolk-yellow gorse.

From the north-facing top of the sloping field, with the dogs, in early light, a particular milkiness, not quite haze, not quite mist, is washing out the further hills; in the middle distance, a caterpillar of leafless oaks and ashes is outlined in such a painterly way as to make me long to pick up my paints again. I haven't lifted a brush or palette knife in ten years, and a dimension is missing from my life.

Below, our raised vegetable beds are looking unusually neat, ready for the sowings and plantings we're planning for this weekend. Behind us, a mass of bluebells is promising a sea of hyacinth blue. Elder, spindle, hazel, hawthorn and horse chestnut trees are all in leaf in the woodland margins.

Speaking of trees, my book A Spell in the Forest is now available to pre-order – very exciting. I'd love it if you might order a copy, and I'd love it just as much if you'd write even a one-sentence review. I so appreciate the support of so many of you with buying books or studying with me – it just about keeps the wolf hovering in view but not actually consuming me (I love wolves. I also like the fairy tale resonance of that phrase, even though it's a demonisation, and not an accurate depiction of what wolves do.) However, things are different now – see below. The book's available from all the usual online outlets (and I see that the smaller than the above bookshop, but equally independent and ethical Hive has it on an even better offer.  You'll have seen it if you've visited this blog before, but I am so pleased with the cover, which has a deep resonance with where part of the book was written, so I'm posting it again. This is the description:

'Trees occupy a place of enormous significance, not only in our planet's web of life but also in our psyche. A Spell in the Forest - Tongues in Trees is part love-song, part poetic guidebook, and part exploration of thirteen native sacred British tree species. Tongues in Trees is a multi-layered contribution to the current awareness of the importance and significance of trees and the resurgence of interest in their place on our planet and in our hearts.'

Our phonelines and internet went down for the second time this year on 9th February. (Thank you for your care, those of you who have written concerned about my wellbeing. Actually, I have also been quite ill – whether it was a reaction to the vaccine [Astra Zeneca] or coincidental, I don't know.) The internet failure was trees on the cables. In the house, we have a speed of half-a-megabyte; this was restored with a temporary fix a week or two ago, but with three of us using it, and cabled at that for the sake of reducing our EMF load (my daughter is extremly electrosensitive), I wasn't, of course, able to do anything other than answer the occasional email. I've therefore had no income for nearly 7 weeks.

Here, in my garden study, I'm back online now. I don't know whether to be delighted or disappointed. It's true that I was stressed and frustrated when the internet went down. As a freelancing writer, some of my income is derived from the modest sales of books, but almost all of it from workshops – which I had just transferred online. From that point of view, it's been disastrous. But after about 4 weeks of tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth I remembered a more contemplative aspect of my nature, and stopped fighting it.

TM and I have also been developing plans for a future life which will involve permaculture and forest gardening. We grow much of our own food – we still have potatoes, onions and beans in store from last year, and purple sprouting broccoli, kale, leeks and rhubarb fresh, plus I've been foraging for sorrel, wild garlic and wild marjoram. However, we are pursuing a small regenerative and sustainable project which will occupy more of my time. That has been something lovely to come out of this time; and an awareness that I really need to break this 40-year-old pattern of working so hard for so little income (albeit in a hugely rewarding way that also feels as if it can offer something to others).

Meantime I can now offer again what I was about to offer in early March: the next weeklong WRITING THE BRIGHT MOMENT – poetry, nature & mindfulness retreat, which has had excellent feedback, is happening in April.

And ready to go in May is a new course: Poetry, Imagination & the Ensouled Life will happen in a few weeks' time.

I have much more to say (all that keeping quiet since January!) but for now hello; it's lovely to know some of you will be reading this. Oh and there's an interview with me on YouTube, speaking on site-specific writing, place and the more-than-human in response to sensitive questions from Dr Lania Knight.

So this post is all about me. I'll try and remember World next time!

And I've remembered something else that happened because my internet was down: I've put together a new poetry collection.

More anon; and meantime I wish you a festive and inspiring Easter/Ostara, even if we are in restricted circumstances.

Monday 18 January 2021

Proems by Valerie Bence & Sheena Odle


Thank you, Valerie and Sheena, for your two 100-word prose poems; different in tone but similar in some aspects (including pre-dusk-ness).

January 7th

I think I broke the law today. I sat on the bench halfway up the hill. Luckily I didn’t have a flask or that would be classed as having a picnic…no-one was with me, no-one was nearby, I touched nothing as I sat down and stood up.  My mask is in my pocket and my hands are sanitized.  It was twilight, birds were singing themselves to roost.  I could just hear the M1 - a silent neighbour the first time - so people are moving, not here though. Just for devilment I sat on the bench on the way down as well. 

Valerie Bence


Late afternoon, and as the sun slips down a scumbled sky the colour of luminous oatmeal the bare branches of the apple tree are gradually leafing with small birds. Sparrows and assorted tits are queuing for a last stock-up at the feeder to sustain them through a long, cold night. They are joined by a male blackbird, feathers fluffed and plump in profile, his orange bill a bright focal point in this sepia landscape. Beyond the apple is another tree, an oak, and the stark tracery of the one against the other – the warp and weft of it – is heartstopping.

Sheena Odle

Friday 8 January 2021


For once, I stopped work two days before Christmas. A quiet and festive time stretched ahead of me, and I thought about all the writing I would get done over a two-week period, with few course demands during that time, having sent off the first materials for my new 2021 yearlong Tongues in Trees course; at least, until the New Year WRITING THE BRIGHT MOMENT – poetry, nature & mindfulness course which began on Monday last.

There was a lot of research I needed to do for two new books; also a lot of idling by the fire with the family (all three of us), books and DVDs, resting, cooking and baking of new vegan recipes, and walks with the dogs.

Especially, I thought, I'd write a number of new blogposts; catch up a bit.

Of course, it never actually works like that, though I did indeed take a little time out. I also began to compile several new poetry collections (I didn't realise I had so many poems from the last 7 or 8 years that I'd consider good enough to collate for publication).

But on Boxing Day we lost our phone and internet connection to the fall of a beautiful lightning-struck oak up the lane – much beloved of nuthatches and woodpeckers – and so much of what I needed to do was online that actually the last week+ has been a bit of a nightmare of workarounds to get modules sent out (we have almost no mobile signal and don't use smartphones as the electromagnetic radiation for them affects my daughter badly).

Anyway, none of this is big stuff in comparison with what's been happening in the world. At times of transformation, there is something in the cosmos, or the collective (or individual) psyche, that will first of all shake us to the core, secondly break us apart ('the centre cannot hold'), and thirdly, having hung us upside down like the Hanged Man in the tarot until we're emptied, enable the necessary change. No transformation is possible while we're holding on to the old; whether it's functional or dysfunctional, it has to go before we can move forward. Let's hope we're able, now, to pull together.

Anyway, while facilitating the Bright Moment course, my commitment to my own creative and spiritual practice has been to write little prose poems of exactly 100 words each day (actually this commitment pre-dates the course by many years; it's just that, like the earth on its axis, my commitment has a bit of a wobble every so often). So here are some journal proems for you.

You are welcome to send in your own prose poems of exactly 100 words; if I gather 7 or 8 of them I will post them here.

January 1st 2021

Our little island set adrift in the grip of a virus, sailing into the mists. Transience and uncertainty have become our downfall – how we crave predictions. Here in today’s frost icicles lace cliff and frozen lily plants together. The birds gather: dunnocks and robins, tits, chaffinches, a magnificent quaternity of bullfinches. Yesterday a pair of egrets flew over, and a buzzard lifted off from the ash tree, drifted over our heads. These companions have become as constant as anything. Now the splinter of light that revealed and gilded the moorland hill sets the old leafless oak ablaze, fills my eyes.

January 2nd

Morning. Frost and birds define us. Westwards, clouds are a pile, a gossip, of eider ducks. From the sofa, my greatest critic, TM, is interjecting loudly about the veracity (or otherwise) of my previous statement about transience, impermanence and uncertainty. I take the bait, then step back and smile in a way that I hope conveys non-attachment and infinite patience. He starts up again, looking smug: ‘“Before enlightenment, chopping wood, carrying water. After enlightenment, chopping wood, carrying water”. That’s bollocks,’ he states; ‘too simplistic’ – and I fall off my patience-perch again in protest, as he’d hoped I would.

January 3rd

The day is a blank book. Every day’s a blank book. The dogs will fill it with joy and enthusiasm – enthousiasmos  – being naturally inspirited/filled/at one with God, or god. We have to work harder, but always the dogs make us smile: a step towards. On the way up to the field, dogs racing each other in a canine flood tide up the steep slope past the orchard, one of the robins alights near my head, then hops branch to branch towards the feeder. (Always there are birds in what in what I write – a craving for, a memory of, flight?)

January 4th

Another chill dawn. I lie awake; watch the light come back. My preoccupation: a heart that’s too big allows little in the way of self-protection unless we can switch off the voices that tell us it’s selfish to baptise ourselves with our own care. I want to bring him down here, take him into the orchard, dunk him in the blessings of this day, this place.


On the radio: ‘What do you do after you’ve uncovered the nature of the universe? Einstein decided to fix the fridge.’ I’m a way off the first, but I can at least fix myself.

January 5th
This chill north wind, though, blowing us all away from home. We’ve become even more reclusive than ever. Staying at home despite the wind. The virus, like an invasive species, chokes the more tender among us, and how to weed it out? Himalayan balsam, Japanese knotweed, for instance, so difficult to remove. Take the virus, north wind, take it away from home. Carry it, drop it deep out at sea. All I can do: feed the birds. Walk the dogs. Write and teach. Clear out the shambles in my garden study. Tidy my mind, my life. Don’t dwell on death.

January 6th

Epiphany. Anniversary of my gran’s death. Dismantle the solstice garden, unlight the Christmas tree. Or not.

Above, one of the resident sparrowhawks: ‘twee-twee-twee-twee-twee-twee’. Silence from the little birds. This morning the path is green with birdshit – migrating thrushes, blackbirds, redwings feasting on ivy berries after these hard frosts. Forty years on and my fingers still itch to gather them, make a dye. The best green – a clear blue-green; or a deep pink, depending on the mordant. Those days of a hand-made life, packing into a rucksack, then into a van. A hand-made life; no sense of the deaths to come.


January 7th
J’s birthday. I built him a cairn at the top of the mountain. That was the day we heard, then saw, the sangliers, wild boar, who rushed past us like a spating river.

Also my old dog’s birthday. I loved her almost more – heresy – than anyone. How she kept going and kept going for me; how when she collapsed she was too big for me to lift; how she understood what I told her that last morning. 

So many lives carried past in the river – gone and not gone; our hearts simply get fuller and fuller. Never too many loves.

January 8th
Over there, in the so-called Western superpower, anything remotely democratic is splintering, violence volcanic and destructive; a coup, by its own president, overturning democracy itself. For lies, people riot; for a cult of the ego, people die. Is democracy also the liberty to destroy in its name?

Here, we drink tea. Quietly, in the frost, birds come to the seeds I scatter. Is it right to be this far away from all that noise and destruction? Is it right to resist these forces that seek to destroy only by staying at home, tending the hearth, watching the cold sun rise?

© Roselle Angwin


Postscript: Often it happens, despite our very best intentions, that things arise to trip us up when we set aside time like this to tend ourselves and the flames of our heart. My meditation practice this week has included the phrases: 'May my words bring only peace; may my actions cause no harm; may I rest in the quiet heart' – which I post in case it's helpful to any of you. World affairs, of course, continue to be so turbulent. We need to resist by tending our strong and quiet hearts; by courage and the belief that things could – can – be different. By being a force for that.

I wish you calm, courage and – strange word – fortitude.


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