Friday, 20 March 2020

A Daily Dose of Dartmoor


I've been seeing a lot of deeply beautiful posts from friends who are using this strange time to drop away from all social contacts, including social media, to go and sit with the land and listen deeply to what She is saying... to what we, the interwoven web of all of life, are saying. This fills my heart with gratitude and hope, and also with a terrible sadness for all those who don't have the opportunity to be with land. There are too many of us cut off from our birthright of conscious connectivity to, and experience of; soft brown earth, freshly unfurling leaves, the scent of the fox who passed in the night hanging on the morning air, the mellifluous arias of birds, or the bubbling songs of rivers.



I cannot bring you scent or sound, but I can offer you sight of the deep green beauty within which I dwell, in the hopes that it feeds your soul. So I'm offering out images of my little corner of what matters. Of Mater, Mother, Gaia, Our Lady of Life.



For those with no access to the healing beauty of the wild right now - a daily dose of Dartmoor.



This ancient tree-sister, curves a smile through the misty dawn air - she tells me her robe of living green moss delights her. Moss squirms with joy at the appreciation. The many languages of the land are spells that open hearts. They are the key that unlocks the door in our mind between ‘them’ and ‘us’.



Spring’s ululations are on the tip of her own tongue, the returning green erupting, spiraling into new life. Glory to the Land, exultations to Her in her beauty for all she offers us. May we sing her back her own praises with joy at the nearness of this.


Before I take each picture I ask if it's OK that I do so, they smile and give assent. I ask if they will help me with the words, and they tell me they do, and they laugh at me with their moss beaks and their swinging tree hips, they laugh and tell me that everything I need to know, everything I need to say, is held inside my love for them and their love for me.



We have to fall in love with the wild, we must, and in order to fall in love with it we must know it. Not just know its existence, but truly know it like we know our own grandmother, our own sister, our own mother. If we do not fall in love with the wild then we will not save it and we will live in a technical world full of technical details and bot bees fertilizing drone planted genetically modified mono-crops. Cars that fly and drive themselves, instant internet connection, things that seem so appealing, so beguiling, we have them at the cost of the wild, externally and internally. I do not want that, I do not want it for me, or for you, or for any of our children. If we lose this then we lose being human.We will become some other thing, some profoundly frightening thing, half animal, half machine. I suspect the part that is machine will be at lest half of our heart, half of our joy, half of our capacity to grieve. And whilst it's tempting to desire numbness - Oh my Goddess, the beauty that it excludes. It's not worth it.



While we are being separated from the rest of humanity we have an opportunity to experience the truth that we belong to a greater tribe of living, breathing, animate, ensouled beings. We can drop into the arms of the sensual world, realign ourselves with nature and remember our kinship with the rest of life.



So let’s become Ivy, practice flight, flower as shamelessly as a primrose. Eros is not exclusively the dominion of human body touching human body. Eros is our relationship with the sensual world, with all of the rest of matter: These are times when we can't just walk up to our friend and casually cuddle them, feel the beauty and strength of a loving pair of arms around us, no matter how brief or seemingly un-erotic this is, it's a thing that our physicality needs and it's a thing our bodies will miss desperately as it becomes rarer and rarer. So let’s hug a tree, stroke a flower, hold a bee. 



Allow the softly warming air, the wind, the rain, the sun to caress us. Allow the ground to hold us and the water to trickle over our skin. Smell everything, listen hard. We can remember that we are sensual beings, that we are here to derive and imbibe and offer sensuality and mutuality to the living, breathing, animate world, of which we are a part. Ours is an animal body and animal bodies need touching and stroking and celebrating through the senses just as much as they need feeding and watering and sheltering from storms.



















Monday, 9 March 2020

Made with Love to be Awake

"It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done." - Vincent Van Gough


What is made with love is often well made and well loved. "Things men have made with wakened hands, and put soft life into are awake through years with transferred touch, and go on glowing for long years. And for this reason, some old things are lovely, warm still with the life of forgotten men who made them" D. H. Lawrence.


Interwoven with my love of All That IS and my gratitude for the multitudinous gifts of my life, is a love of beauty is a great admiration for and love of the human hand.


I can't remember whose hands these are - making the drum above - for many hands have come to my table and formed themselves into prayers. Young and old alike, finding their way to make magic, create a home for the indwelling spirit of a drum or a rattle. Making an altar to acknowledge those who's help we'd like, or those who we want to make sure know that they are loved and remembered.




Our mouths were surely made for singing, our feet for dancing and our hands; for holding, tending, stroking, planting, cooking, waving, carving, casting (rods or stitches), sanding, cutting, knotting, wrapping, weaving, spinning, banging, clapping, making, making, making, the magic that is the creating of beautiful and power-full objects. This is obviously not a definitive list!


"This is the real secret of life, to be completely engaged with what you are doing... and instead of calling it work... realise it is play" Alan Watts


Or if it doesn't feel like play, then make it prayer.


Art as prayer is one of the most beautiful and rewarding things I can think of to do. It can be anything, a mandala made of leaves, a castle of sand, a tapestry, a clay goddess, a cake, a song.


As long as it is made with love, offered with love.


With the understanding that everything we are, everything we do, everything we offer back, comes from Gaia, is made of Gaia.


So the prayer is much more in the gratitude and in the making, for all that you are and all that you love, than it is in the offering itself.


"May your joys, like the starts at night, be too numerous to count." (Pierre Pradervand) And may your hands find many beautiful things to make, all of them prayers.

























































Thursday, 27 February 2020

The River Is a Strong Brown God

Exerts from 'The Dry Salvages'
(No. 3 of 'Four Quartets')
By T S Eliot

"I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
Is a strong brown god—sullen, untamed and intractable,
Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;
Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;

Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.
The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
By the dwellers in cities—ever, however, implacable.
Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder
Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated
By worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and waiting."



"The river is within us, the sea is all about us;
The sea is the land's edge also,
.............. The sea has many voices,
Many gods and many voices."


"The tolling bell
Measures time not our time, rung by the unhurried
Ground swell, a time
Older than the time of chronometers, older
Than time counted by anxious worried women
Lying awake, calculating the future,
Trying to unweave, unwind, unravel
And piece together the past and the future,
Between midnight and dawn, when the past is all deception,
The future futureless, before the morning watch
When time stops and time is never ending." 


As a child listening to the river, a new sense enlivened within me, a new language to understand, unraveling unfamiliar words from within the melee. My heart listened quietly, and from here I understood -  this is a sensual experience, I must breathe it and feel it and not-overthink it. I knew beyond any doubt that the river was a god. 


I see now that the many mellifluous languages of the wild are our birthright, we are supposed to be able to attend to them and learn from them. Perhaps it's a step to far to expect almost anyone from the 'consumer culture' to join me in believing that rivers are gods, but if we do not understand the shrieking call of the blackbird as she flies arrow-like from danger, we will not know of the danger. If we cannot hear the difference between deep water and shallow, we will end up in deep water. We have ended up in deep water. Our 'future futureless' perhaps.



Terry Tempest Williams wrote - "The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time", but many seem to feel pinned to the spot, frozen like a rabbit in the headlights by the enormity of all the things that need to change. We feel powerless in a world where corporations and governments appear to have control and seem to be acting too slowly to make any significant difference. We talk about what needs to change, but these discussions are not getting us out of the deep water, they are neither boat nor paddle, they are yet more ways in which we are avoiding actually doing what needs to be done. Which - in my humble opinion - is acting, in every moment of every day, as if every part of every thing is alive. Ghandi said  “what we each do seems insignificant, but it is most important that we do it.” If we can bring consideration for all of life, awareness of the consequences of every single choice, into our daily practice of living, what could we achieve? 




Clare Dubois, the founder of TreeSisters wrote a piece that expressed what I'm trying to say much more eloquently than I can but sadly I can't find it to share with you. So here goes with something a bit similar.. 


The whole of our tumbling Earth is Gaia, 

the rivers are Gaia,
the trees are Gaia,  
clouds, rain, rivers and seas are Gaia. 
Sheep are Gaia, as are wolves and jackals. 
So far not too taxing....

The sunrise, this now mostly typed-on white page, 

the north wind, all winds, chemtrails (really? You turned the Sacred Earth into that?), 
are Gaia. 
The old dog, you, me. 
We are Gaia. 
The coffee in my cup, 
my cup, 
it is Gaia. 
My phone, 
electricity, 
the plumbing, 
my delicious supper, 
my husband who made that delicious supper - he is Gaia too.
So's the bloke who grew the squash, and the one who picked the nuts. 
The squash is Gaia, 
and the nuts, 
and the shop they came from 
and the packet they came in.
Someone made that packet out of Gaia. 
And it will be thrown away into Gaia. 

When I do that - 

Please Gaia, 
let me remember to at least 
say thank you. 













Saturday, 25 January 2020

Walking with Aunt Leaf

Aunt Leaf
Needing one, I invented her - 
The great-great-aunt dark as hickory
Called Shining-Leaf or Drifting-Cloud
Or The-Beauty-of-the-Night.
Dear aunt I'd call into the leaves,
and she'd rise up, like an old log in a pool.
and whisper in a language only the two of us knew
the word that meant follow,
and we'd travel
cheerful as birds
out of the dusty town and into the trees
where she would change us both into something
quicker - 
two foxes with black feet,
two snakes green as ribbons,
two shimmering fish - and all day we'd travel.
At day's end she'd leave me back at my own door
with the rest of my family,
who were kind, but solid as wood
and rarely wandered. While she,
old twist of feathers and birch bark,
would walk in circles wide as rain and then
float back
scattering the rags of twilight
on fluttering moth wings;
or she'd slouch from the barn like an gray opossum;
or she's hang in the milky moonlight
burning like a medallion,
this bone dream, this friend I had to have,
this old woman made out of leaves.
Mary Oliver




I've been walking with Aunt Leaf. We've been out a lot - sometimes she is made of leaves and sometimes wood. At other times she is blackbird or blackbird song,  deer or badger. Sometimes she is the wind, or even just a feeling. During our wanderings - I've been wondering... Why is it that I'm so unwilling to walk with anyone but Aunt Leaf, Druid (now that Daisy is too old and seldom comes further than the garden gate), and Fergus?


It's been coming to me slowly, fighting it's way through the vague fog of social conditioning and my projections on my fellow humans - when I'm walking, when I'm outside, I'm listening to The World, to The Wild.


I want to almost completely disappear and become one with the wind, the water, the birds, their songs, a tree, whatever it is that catches me.


I don't want you to have to wait for me and I don't want to hurry back from wherever I'm going, on the other side of the boundary between this world and the other. I want to be fully here, AND fully there, and I don't want to wish you would hush so that I can listen to voices that yours is drowning out. No offence intended.


It's explained beautifully by Nan Shepherd in 'The Living Mountain'.  "The presence of another person does not detract from, but enhances, the silence, if the other is the right sort of hill companion. The perfect hill companion is the one whose identity is for the time being merged in that of the mountains, as you feel your own to be. Then such speech as arises is part of a common life and cannot be alien. To 'make conversation', however, is ruinous, to speak may be superfluous. I have it from a gaunt elderly man, a 'lang tangle o'a chiel', with high cheek bones and hollow cheeks, product of a hill farm though himself a a civil servant, that when he goes on the hill with 'chatterers', he 'could see them to an ill place'. I have walked myself with brilliant young people whose talk, entertaining, witty and incessant, yet left me weary and dispirited, because the hill did not speak. This does not imply that the only good talk on a hill is about the hill. All sorts of themes may be lit up from within by contact with it, as they are by contact with another mind, and so discussion may be salted. Yet to listen is better than to speak.


The talking tribe, I find, want sensation from the mountain - not in Keats's sense. Beginners, not unnaturally, do the same - I did myself. They want the startling view, the horrid pinnacle - sips of beer and tea instead of milk. Yet often the mountain gives itself most completely when I have no destination, when I reach  nowhere in particular, but have gone out merely to be with the mountain as one visits a friend with no intention but to be with him."


And as soon as I'd realised that this is why I'd rather have Aunt Leaf for company, I also realised that I need to share how I walk, how I engage with the land, as much as where I walk and what I see.  I have a growing belief that this is the year when co-operation must take over from competition as the paradigm in which we mostly operate: Generosity of Spirit must be normal, restoration in all areas of life our priority. If this blog is written at the instruction of 'Them' - so that we may all learn to love our Earth the better - then it must be about how that loving arises, or how relationship with place is nurtured - so I'm going to try to do that. In the mean-time I read this....

"May this new decade be remembered as the decade of the strange path, of the third way, of the broken binary, of the traversal disruption, the kairotic moment, the posthuman movement for emancipation, the gift of disorientation that opened up new places of power, and of slow limbs. May this decade bring more than just solutions, more than just a future - may it bring words we don't know yet, and temporalities we have not yet inhabited. May we be slower than speed could calculate, and swifter than the pull of the gravity of words can incarcerate. And may we be visited so thoroughly, and met in wild places so overwhelmingly, that we are left undone. Ready for composting. Ready for the impossible.
Welcome to the decade of the fugitive.”
- Bayo Akomolafe



May it be so. 







Friday, 13 December 2019

Winter Solstice - a Wondering on Novelty


Winter's world is whirling past and it's nearly the Solstice - that wonderful bi-annual moment when the worlds of dark and light catch their breath, pause a moment in the dance before the balance shifts and the retreating light becomes the returning light, the returning dark becomes the retreating dark. 
The sun herself seems to stand still, rising and setting in the same place on three consecutive days. Sol - the sun. Stice - standing still.



It is no wonder that upon the very day that the northern curve of our tumbling Earth feels the increasing arc of the warming sun upon her, our calendar brings us the moment we chose to celebrate the birth of the child that many see as 'the light'.


But I've been wondering lately - why is it that we (as a culture) celebrate this birthday with such a lot of 'stuff'? And why do we still buy a lot of stuff even if we're not celebrating a birthday? Or even celebrating anything.


I've carried this question around for a while now and come up with a theory, I'd love to know what you think. I believe we're addicted to novelty: We buy a new thing and then it's not new any more and so maybe we throw it away or maybe we keep it but still we want another. And another. And another.
I believe the constant desire for novelty is hardwired into us as part of our animal bodies.


Because novelty is what the sensuous, sentient, ever turning, changing world is always offering us. No two days are the same, the berries are not the same today as they were yesterday. The moon waxes and wanes, the seasons change, things grow and blossom and bloom and fruit and die. They compost, they are born again, or their descendants are - our world is transformed constantly around us. Newness is an unavoidable condition of aliveness. You cannot - as they say - step in the same river twice.
Unless of course you are completely separated from nature and stuck inside all day. Your wall does not change. Your view, quite literally, does not change.


If we went outside more, if we started to deliberately observe the ways in which each new day brings us newness - even in a city, even on the way to work - perhaps shopping would loose it's attraction?  Perhaps we could stop filling the world with plastic and fumes, cutting down forests and polluting rivers. Perhaps we would no longer believe that the convenience of 'the internet of things' is worth the lives of the majority of our pollinators?



Please, let's go outside and find out. The Anthropocene might just as well be labelled the Consumerpocene, because it's our shopping habit that's one of the main stays in keeping the 21st century version of capitalism alive - and that only seems to be good for a very few.





















Monday, 28 October 2019

Samhain and The Many Necessary Deaths

The wheel of the year turns, what was up is now down. The apples and many of the leaves are fallen, every kind of seed is lying on the ground, it's cold, and there's that ever flowing wet. If  you don't live in the gentle green of the British Isles this might sound like a very unappealing thing, but it's gorgeous, my favourite time of year. Even in the pouring rain there is something utterly magical about the slow unleaving of the land, how the skeletal shapes of granite and branch emerge from the yellows and golds of once photosynthesised light. There is so much elegance in this slow death dance.


Samhain is for remembering the dead. It's the time of the year when the veil between this world and the other is thin; so thin we can perhaps see through it, so thin our ancestors can perhaps return to us, just for the night, just for a short chat. As ever the Western Mind has made this time of year, this celebration of death and the dead, all about itself. We have forgotten that there is so much more to life than that which is human. We have forgotten to remember All the dead, and we seem to have completely forgotten that death is the prerequisite for life - in the ever turning cycle of being.


How exquisite and excruciating would it be if we remembered all the dead, not just the heartbreaking ones - all those species we have brought to extinction - but also all those previously living beings who have nourished us in a myriad of different ways, upon whose lives our own depend. Imagine if we acknowledged the life-death-life cycle as one in which we will all play a part, instead of hiding our eyes in phones and quietly expecting immortality or perhaps eternal youth. What if we could join in the morning songs of the blackbird as she sings her gratitude to another new day... Instead of sticking our figurative fingers into our already plugged ears in order not to hear the keening of Life itself as we saunter along without so much as a thank you. At this time when the veil is thin, we have the opportunity to offer both our grief and our gratitude for the gift of our life, and to change the story, mend the weave, paint a new picture for the coming year.


Only following death can there be rebirth - and for me that's the very necessary work of the season; to allow what needs to die within me its death. And then in the darkness between Samhain and Imbolc to gestate all those beautiful seeds of what I hope will grow. It is no coincidence that this is a fire festival; fire is our oldest ally in this work of death, clearing away, burning away that which is no longer alive. The fires of purification may be painful, but they are vital, and if we forget to undergo them then we will accidentally carry what's dead into this gestation and it will pollute what we bring to birth.


We mostly live within a myth of separation, believing ourselves to be separate from the sacred body of the earth, from the rest of nature, separate from the other creatures, separate from each other, even separate from our own bodies. The cult of the mind has us firmly in it's grasp and we are terrified by the magnitude of the grief we might experience if we re-connect. We fill the emptiness that we feel from that loss of connection with the 'stuff' our consumer society tells us will make us happy, or if not happy then at least successful, which by its measure means yet more stuff. And so the wheel of acquisition goes round. We buy a shiny thing, we throw it out, we buy another - the cycle is unavoidably present everywhere we look. What used to be a pattern of harvest has become a pattern of purchase, but we're no longer making wonderful regenerative compost within which to grow next year's seeds, we're creating land-fill.


There is a Zen saying (I believe) that says "all sickness is homesickness". This makes perfect sense to me. If we could come home to ourselves, to our relationships, remember that our bodies are made of the same thing as the whole of the rest of creation, come home to our place on our Earth, among the family of creature relations (human and otherwise), come home to Earth herself - to remember reciprocity, to remember our manners. How beautiful the world is when we remember reciprocity, gratitude, remember that life is a gift and nothing can be taken for granted.


In the dark dreaming of this time betwix and between, at the dying of the old year, before the birthing of the new, we have the opportunity to go through the fire, let go of all our illusions of separation, re-member ourselves. It may hurt, but it's healing pain, being re-woven into Life.


Perhaps we can make ourselves a basket, to fill with new seeds, new dreams for a new/old way of being human. New stories for a re-vivified life, which can only come from the death of the way we are now.



Perhaps the 'things' we aspire to could be those of which Rilke writes so poignantly -

How surely gravity's law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of even the strongest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.

Each thing -
each stone, blossom, child -
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push out beyond what we belong to
for some empty freedom.

If we surrendered
to earth's' intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.

So, like children, we begin again
to learn from the things,
because they are in God's heart;
they have never left him.

This is what the things can teach us:
to fall,
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.

Rainer Maria Rilke  - Book of Hours 11, 16