Monday, 16 October 2017

To Be or Not To Be?

"We must say of the universe that it is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects."
Thomas Berry


I have been thinking a lot recently about the naming of things - about the relationship between how we 'say' the world and how we think of it (or her, or him). We think mostly in words and so the words we choose in some ways define and direct how we think. There is a strange reciprocity between the name of something, and perhaps even more importantly the way it is spoken of, and how we think about it. 



Is this basket of deliciousness a basket full of 'produce'? If so, then who produced it, why and for whom?



If it's produce then does that word 'produce' link in our minds to other words such as 'profit', 'bottom line', 'economies of scale' and 'natural resources', or to words like 'garden', 'homegrown' and 'handmade'? With a word like produce the jury is probably out, each of us will have our associations, generous or greedy, with that word, but there are many other words which are far less evasive in their associations. What if I ask you if these apples are a commodity? To some people they are. And to some they are a magical link to our ancient past and current connection to the unseen world.



 How would it be if we thought of the things that we can gather in baskets as gifts?


What if we considered that the bountiful Earth - our kind and generous mother - gave us these gifts in order that we might live? And that each and every thing from the natural world is indivisibly interwoven into an interconnected and interdependent web of life. That we are consanguine with every beating heart on earth and related to everyone, human and more-than-human; animal, mineral and vegetable. How would that change how we spoke of them?



How would it be if we understood that we are not the only intended recipients of this bounty and indeed that we are dependent on both the lush generosity of the original creator herself and the interweaving of many lives other than our own for that generosity? 



To me the most important and perplexing part of this web of associations that is our language is most clearly illustrated by the pronoun 'it'. For a more detailed exploration of the word have a look here at an explanation by The Cambridge Dictionary and here for one by The Oxford Dictionary. My difficulty with 'it' is most clearly expressed by Robin Wall Kimmerer in her beautiful book 'Braiding Sweetgrass'. She says "Imagine seeing your grandmother standing at the stove in her apron and then say of her, "look, it is making soup. It has gray hair." We might snicker at such a mistake, but we also recoil from it. In English, we never refer to a member of our family, or indeed to any person, as it. That would be a profound act of disrespect. It robs a person of selfhood and kinship, reducing a person to a mere thing."


"Saying it makes a living land into "natural resources." If a maple is an it, we can take up the chain saw. If a maple is a her, we think twice." 



It's easy to imagine that a relationship with the pronouns of relationship might be something that belongs only to indigenous peoples and is long lost to us, indeed to hear Kimmerer speak of the Potawatomo language it's easy to loose heart entirely - "European languages often assign gender to nouns, but Potawatomi does not divide the world into masculine and feminine. Nouns and verbs both are animate and inanimate. You hear a person with a word that is completely different from the one with which you hear an airplane. Pronouns, articles, plurals, demonstratives, verbs - all those syntactical bits I never could keep straight in high school English are all aligned in Potawatomi to provide different ways to speak of the living world and the lifeless one. Different verb forms, different plurals, different everything apply depending on whether what you are speaking of is alive."


But let us not loose heart, because we are ALL indigenous to somewhere and it's not too late to behave as if we understood this. "For all of us, becoming indigenous to a place means living as if your children's future mattered, to take care of the land is if our lives, both material and spiritual, depended on it".

So let us begin.








Friday, 28 July 2017

Shadow Dancing at Lughnasadh


"Would that our endangered and dangerous days be remembered, years from now, as a time when some gathered and rose up and, truant no more, learned their lives. Th​en our learning together will begin to be tethered to something vast and thrilled​,​ and burdened with purpose."  Stephen Jenkinson. 


I have been dancing with shadows. The last of the July sun casts them strong and clear, they feel magical, small black doorways into another world entirely. A world of rarely glimpsed truths told boldly and brave but obscured by what we think we know.


Deep in the shadows is often where we are told the truth lies and often where we are most afraid to look.


But is the truth in the shadows really? Or is that very same truth often blazing, brazen in plain sight, but so much harder to see there - mostly, I suspect, because we simply don't want to see it. Do we ascribe the dwelling of truths to the shadows because we are more prepared to see them there, or because they are easier to ignore there?


 We say that doubt casts a shadow, and that it is in the shadows that our culture hides it's ugliest faces.


Our destruction of nature is baring it's poisonous fruits.  Mankind's destruction of nature, our destruction of nature. The sun here is very hot, the wind very very cold, there is no real ambient warmth most of the time.  This is not how an English July is supposed to be.



Be full of gratitude, if you are reading this then your life is honey sweet indeed in very many ways.





What shadow do you cast?  Where does it fall?  Do you block the sun from another?  Is there anything in that shadow that is not yourself?

In a dark time, the eye begins to see, 
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;   
I hear my echo in the echoing wood— 
A lord of nature weeping to a tree. 
I live between the heron and the wren,   
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den. 

What’s madness but nobility of soul 
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!   
I know the purity of pure despair, 
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.   
That place among the rocks—is it a cave,   
Or winding path? The edge is what I have. 

A steady storm of correspondences! 
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,   
And in broad day the midnight come again!   
A man goes far to find out what he is— 
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,   
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light. 

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.   
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,   
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I? 
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.   
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,   
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

By Theodore Roethke


Sunday, 11 June 2017

Creating Beauty, Being Beauty

A thing of beauty is a joy forever:
It's loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quite for us and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quite breathing.

John Keats


I have always loved to make things, and it has always mattered to me that these things be beautiful as well as useful.


In fact I've consistently had a bit of a 'thing' about beauty, believing it to be incredibly important, and then occasionally over the years wondering if in reality I'm just superficial and attempting to convince myself otherwise.


But then I remember the teachings that are held to be true in many cultures, in particular I'm thinking of the Mayan (have you read Martin Prechtel's books? They are full of wise and heartful lessons in so many ways. I heartily recommend them to you) and the Celtic (and I'm sure there are many more), that say that beauty is part of how we thank the Divine for the gift of our lives, being beautiful is part of our job: the things the Spirits love best are music, dancing, gratitude, smoke, love, grief and beauty - these are they ways we 'pay' for the privilege of that gift - the ways we say 'thank you'. Thank you that I live, thank you for my life, thank you for the interwoven indivisibility of all of which I am a sentient part.


Thank you for my consanguinity with all others who have blood, my sharing of breath with all who breathe (human, animal, trees, plants), my being with all that is.


There are so many ways to say thank you, and it seems that gratitude and beauty are two sides of the very same thing. We say thank you through the creation of beautiful objects, and the celebration of beautiful things like simple food,


Straight out of the ground or straight out of the oven...


And beautiful friends


Or the acknowledgement of the beauty in the ordinary - although how something as exquisite as a daisy can be thought of as ordinary is sometimes beyond me. Things seem so often to be valued by their rarity rather than by any more satisfying measure of beauty.


Such as how they smell, (if only you could smell this!)



Or just how gloriously, stubbornly, uniquely, bovine they are!


"Where shall you seek beauty, and how shall you find her unless she herself be your way and your guide?
And how shall you speak of her except she be the weaver of your speech?
The aggrieved and the injured say, "Beauty is kind and gentle.
Like a young mother half-shy of her own glory she walks among us."
And the passionate say, "Nay, beauty is a thing of might and dread.
Like the tempest she shakes the earth beneath us and the sky above us."
The tired and the weary say, "Beauty is of soft whisperings. She speaks in our spirit.
Her voice yields to our silences like a faint light that quivers in fear of the shadow."
But the restless say, "We have heard her shouting among the mountains,
And with her cries came the sound of hoofs, and the beating of wings and the roaring of lions."
At night the watchmen of the city say, "Beauty shall rise with the dawn from the east."
And at noontide the toilers and the wayfarers say,
"We have seen her leaning over the earth from the windows of the sunset."
In winter say the snow-bound, "She shall come with the spring leaping upon the hills."
And in the summer heat the reapers say,
"We have seen her dancing with the autumn leaves,
and we saw a drift of snow in her hair."
All these things have you said of beauty,
Yet in truth you spoke not of her but of needs unsatisfied,
And beauty is not a need but an ecstasy.
It is not a mouth thirsting nor an empty hand stretched forth,
But rather a heart enflamed and a soul enchanted.
It is not the image you would see nor the song you would hear,
But rather an image you see though you close your eyes and a song you hear though you shut your ears.
It is not the sap within the furrowed bark, nor a wing attached to a claw,
But rather a garden for ever in bloom and a flock of angels for ever in flight.
People of Orphalese, beauty is life when life unveils her holy face.
But you are life and you are the veil.
Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror.
But you are eternity and you are the mirror.

'On Beauty' by Kahil Gilbran 


Recently I was privileged to hear the Dine Elder Pat McCabe speak - and she touched on the idea that we are here to be beautiful - that to her when she gets up in the morning she gets dressed as an act of gratitude and celebration of being alive; she looks down at the ground and offers a thank you to Mother Earth who gave her her body and then upwards to Father Sky who looks down on her and co-created her. She said (and I'm fairly certain I'm quoting her accurately) "I'm pretty sure that Father Sky doesn't care how much I weigh, but he loves to see me celebrate and decorate myself".  I found this really touching, I hadn't really considered that decorating me could be as much an act of gratitude as decorating what I make (and I'd like to point out here that the gorgeous paintings on my drums are done by my husband Fergus, not by me, I only make the drums and rattles - so I'm claiming a part of the creation of their beauty, but by not means the majority of it).  And I'd like to invite you to come with me on a journey of gratitude and beauty - one that feels pretty revolutionary in these times where beauty is defined so narrowly by mainstream western media.  I've taken to wearing what the hell I like and to shouting down the voice that says I'm too old, too fat, too English, too whatever to wear whatever it is. It's fun, it's full of the joy of being alive, full of gratitude for the gift of my life and the gift of my body, and I love it.


So come with me - be Beauty, be Gratitude. Be full of the joy of being alive!


The water's warm......


and there are cakes. ;-)













Wednesday, 31 May 2017

May Recapitulation




The May Queen is crowned and Bel, Celtic god of Fire, the Sun and of Summer has arrived, at least temporarily! It's from his name that we get the word Beltaine. 




By his side walks Bridgit, Bride; she has reclaimed the year from The Winter Hag, The Cailleach, and will rule over the light half of the year. She's here, in the flowers, and the smiles of the bearers of those flowers. 



Perhaps it's him in particular that we honour with this symbol of the masculine. 



May's blossoms have been spectacular, the orchard has been drenched with the smell of fruit trees in blossom, it makes my heart sing and a small corner of my busy little human mind has already started plotting all the delicious things that can be made with fruit and stored for winter, whilst another corner of that same mind mutters about counting chickens and hatching. 



And speaking of singing and hatching; there have been some strange and beautiful and sometimes sad sights here recently. The strangest has perhaps been this young female blackbird who took up residence on the bench and was not to be moved. She was there for some of every day for a week, standing her ground. She's gone now, hopefully having found less obvious places to sit. There are plenty of cats here, each of my three neighbours has three cats, so sitting on a bench in broad daylight is probably not the wisest course of action for any avian. 


There has also been one VERY successful male blackbird strutting about the garden; every time I've seen him he's had his mouth full. I'm pretty sure that he's been one among many, but perhaps they've all been successful at different times and I only notice each of them when they are emanating pride and 'look at me I'm a savage hunter feeding my babies with my trophies' vibes. 


There have clearly been some nests that will not be producing any more birds this year; always a poignant reminder of the tiny tendril of light that is life, so easily extinguished.


As are empty eggs with yolk marks in them, a sure sign that they were emptied by a predator, rather than the emergence of a fledgling. Although obviously if this was a blog read by badgers and foxes this would be a delightful sight telling tales of happy full bellies and a good night's endeavours.


I found a blackbird fledgling by the side of a wall, a bit discombobulated after his first flight. Luckily the cat's hereabouts didn't find him before he remembered he could fly. 




Perhaps this was his egg? It's broken open on the side you can't see and as clean as a whistle inside. 


All month the hedgerows have been full to bursting with good things to eat for everyone. 


Sorrel (above) and Wild Garlic (below) being two of my absolute favourites. 


They make a wonderful addition with Pansies, primrose flowers and Violas to a really beautiful and delicious salad. 


 At the end of May Day's celebrations here, when everyone has gone home and the quiet comes back to the valley


After the hilarious duck race, 


Fergus and I bimble home, up thought the woods. 


past the Wray brook on it's way to join the River Bovey, 


along a well worn path, by bluebells, taking care not to offend the fairies by picking any. 



Under the roof bosses of the cathedrals of trees. 


 Past the unspiraling of Spring in all her glory. 


Out into the yellow and green fields of summer. 



And then home. 


Where there always seems to be a reminder - that there is so much to love in the world, so much worth protecting, so much worth taking into consideration with every choice we make.