Poem: The apple tree, having grown in shadow

Things change, yet leave their mark. I was thinking about this as I looked at one of our apple trees, grown curved in its search for light. You can see the shape of the trunk most clearly in the shadow it leaves on the fence. Even when light returns, the curve remains. Grown like this, the tree has given us apples in autumn, and beauty all year. I thought about how the tree found a way of flourishing despite the shade, and admired its resilience. So, the poem is mainly about the tree, but also, murmuring away underneath, was an awareness of the tree as teacher, making visible something that is often hidden within us.

The tree adapted to its setting, and as the setting changed, the adaptation remains even though there is more light. We all do this, whether it’s growing accustomed to living quietly and distantly during a pandemic, or learning from a young age how to live in difficult emotional or physical circumstances. Even when things are better, lighter, more friendly, we can find ourselves living as if they are not. Patterns of mind can be changed, new growth can happen, but it takes noticing, with compassion, and stretching ourselves a little into the new, more open space.

As lockdown eases, we can go gently with ourselves as we try to asses what is safe, and what has become a habit that is no longer needed – and those assesments are far from easy. We can be gentle with each other, too, as we all navigate our way into more open living. The changes in how we respond may be, in part, due to patterns of being which were laid down long ago. These, too, can be nurtured into more helpful shapes that keep us safe and help us flourish, both. I believe we can become free from patterns that no longer serve us, and grow with full vigour.

All these things I thought about, as I looked at the apple tree. But mainly, I though how beautiful it was, and how much blossom it bore this year.

The apple tree, having grown in shadow

I follow the curve with my eyes,
the way the thin trunk
arches back, seeking light.
On that side, the branches
grow thicker, surer.

It bends away from the dense shade
that was there, only weeks ago,
a dark shrub that outgrew it,
then died. Now, the blossomy
branches lean back,
away, from open
light-filled space.

Cast in shadow, it grew thus,
leafing and flowering,
supple, adapting to shade,
and seeking light.

I wonder, what will happen now?
Now we have cut down that
dense, dry growth?
The thin branches on this side
will fill out, strengthen,
divide, reaching into the place
that was once too dark,
heavy, in time, with fruit.

But what of the trunk?
Will it bear, one hundred
years from now, that curve,
lessened, perhaps, by
years of thickening growth?
The adaptation no longer
serves it, yet the tree
may still bear it,
And the tree’s beauty
is held in the grace
of this curve.


Such shapes of growth
and thought persist,
gently, strangely,
known or unknown.
We make allowance
for the ghost
of a shadow
no longer seen.

Poem: Strange Birds II

Last time, I shared a poem with you written in response to a day’s walking in Norfolk, close to Wild Ken Hill. More especially, it was about the birds we encountered. It was so uplifting to hear, and to see, so many creatures that were unknown to us, and most especially to hear songs we had never heard before. It’s an awe-inspiring, hopeful place. I’m not suprised that Springwatch chose it as their base this year.
You can read the poem, and find links to interesting stuff, here.

That night, as I drifted off to sleep, I heard more. This is a falling-asleep snippet as I drifted off to the sound of more strange birds. I hear owls at home, from time to time, but a nightjar was beautiful and new to me. I’d found out about them while we were doing another walk, nearer home. The Sandlings walk takes the nightjar as its waymarker, and has artwork showing the nightjar – and its food the moth – to search for as you walk.

We never heard one – unsurprisingly, as we walked that route by day. One of the magical things of staying near the sanctuary of Wild Ken Hill is that we heard these night-creatures, at last. It seemed a fitting end to a day in which we had encountered so much richness, so much abundant life.

I was half wondering if a nightingale would join in. Not this time, but I have heard them near home before, and you can read about that here.

Photo from the Woodland Trust

Strange Birds II

I lie awake, head full of
the sound of daybirds,
and slowly, slipping over
these new songs
now known by heart,
come night cries –
such life as lives
in darkness.

First the owl, mottled
and shadowed in leafing trees,
and then the night-jar’s
churning and rumbling
down low, in rough ground

and as I drift into dreams
with these strange guides,
these gentle sounds and soft,
there is a moment
when I can wonder –

Where will they lead me,
through unseen nightscapes,
both strange and new,
and strangely old –
where will they take me –
through what dreams
of hope,
both green and dark,
will they carry me
on their brown wings?

Poem: Strange Birds, Wild Ken Hill

Rounding the path on the bank that holds the freshwater scrapes, with the wildest bit of Wild Ken Hill visible behind. Norfolk, UK

Last week, we decided to try to take a trip out. We haven’t been anywhere for months, with the lockdowns, and looked for somewhere to stay for a night so we could walk more coast path in Norfolk. Amazingly, we found a place very near Wild Ken Hill, where Springwatch is based this year – for non UK readers, that’s a glorious BBC live nature broadcast. Having read Isabella Tree’s Wilding, we’ve been chatting about rewilding and what we can do in our small patch to make space for the abundance of wild things. We were excited and curious to be so near a rewilding, regenerative project..

We might have expected to be immersed in wildlife, but that didn’t prepare us for the wonder of being so. Wherever we looked, there was more, and more – things we’ve never heard or seen before. Life was exuberant, everywhere, abundant in a way that was simply awe-inspiring. And then, as we were walking away from the wetland scrapes, there was another treasure. In the scub between the two banks, which strectched behind the caravan park, were turtle doves. I never thought I’d hear one.

These rare birds, all the creatures, seem happy to come if we make space for them, and refrain from harming the land. Life wants to live, it wants to return and thrive. Careful thought and work and research has gone in to providing this space, but it’s so good to know that there is hope, that the care is more than worthwhile. The joy and wonder we felt there reminded me that human flourishing is bound up with the flourishing of all things.

My husband took some pictures, and once we’ve uploaded them, I’ll share them with you here. I wanted to write my response, to share the joy and the beauty and the reverence of being surrounded by strange birds.

Photo from the Bird Guide website. If you’d like to listen to turtle doves, here’s a link.
You can listen to me reading the poem here.

Strange birds, Wild Ken Hill

Walking along the bank,
between scrub and scrape,
insects rise in unaccustomed clouds,
flying things unknown.
A small orange butterfly
rising and tumbling, keeps
ahead, just before us
until at last it settles on
this wildflower bank,
blowsy with cow parsley,
and opens its wings to the sun

while another pair of wings,
huge and white, make their
wide arches
and swoop and rise
above and beside us,
a great spoonbill
unfolding awe about its feathers,
lifted on air full of cries,
and we walk softly among
these flights of beauty
with opening reverence.

And as we move on,
under the warming sun,
we turn to look to the
other side
where May froths
with heady scent,
and there, we hear a
sound unheard before.

A soft low purring,
rising and falling,
one, then two, three,
then many,
the voice of the turtle doves,
a tremor of joy,
a long breath of wonder
in this small space,
near caravans and cars.

The yes of spring,
the yes of hope,
of awe and beauty and love,
the yes of life, in abundance,
these are borne to us
on the wings
of strange birds.

From the Wild Ken Hill website, link above.

The flowers appear on the earth;

    the time of singing has come,

and the voice of the turtle-dove

    is heard in our land.

 The fig tree puts forth its figs,

    and the vines are in blossom;

    they give forth fragrance.

Arise, my love, my fair one,

    and come away.

 O my dove, in the clefts of the rock,

    in the covert of the cliff,

let me see your face,

    let me hear your voice;

for your voice is sweet,

    and your face is lovely.

Song of Solomon, 2:12-14