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

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

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