Out in the cold, damp garden, I have been holding my nerve and not cutting things back. Just this week, I’ve snipped a few old stems above the primroses getting ready to flower – and indeed flowering already. I am seeing how long I can sit on my hands and wait as things flop under frost and rain, thinking of the life held in piles of leaves, and the hollow stems of perennials.
Where I have cut back, I have left things in piles near where they grew, giving time for the things that live there to move before I compost them.
As I have left this old growth, and quietened the voice in my head reproving me for untidiness, I’ve noticed real beauty in these seedheads, and fading leaves and flowers, and an increase in the hum of aliveness I’m noticing in the garden.
Even moving a few leaves to clear space for primroses has revealed fat caterpillars, and many tiny creatures unknown to me. There is beauty here, too. All this decay from last year is full of life, full of what will be needed by the bluetits investigating the nest box, the blackbirds turning over leaves.
I’ve left it wild – left seedheads and leaves – and the leaves lie piled up in heaps in borders, against fences, swept from paths.
And I find I love the colours of the fading aster leaves, colours I have not seen before, new to my eyes, uncut as they are. And the pale seedheads – like stars – of the alliums, and the dark eyes of rudbeckia, how they sway together as the wind whips round, mingling, full, and darkly shimmering.
I watch the birds as they eat red berries – dark holly, the vivid bright cotoneaster, as the squirrels lope inquiringly over the lawn, looking for what they buried.
There is so much life in the few brief hours of daylight, while the night lingers in the sharp musk of fox, the delicate deer paths deepening in the soft earth. And I feel how precious this space is,
How, now it is cold, the garden is sanctuary to many more than me. And I love to be host to such guests. There is much joy in noticing their need, and in opening my hand to offer what they lack, quietly, invisibly.
Even now, in the darkest days life stirs, life comes through the slick dripping trees, through frost and fog, and finds shelter here, and makes a home.
Once again, we are marking the turning of the year amid uncertainty, upturned plans and that strange mixture of being on repeat with the pandemic, and knowing that this season will be different from what has gone before. Looking back, I find this poem has helped me once more this year, and so I’m sharing it with you again.
May we all have a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year. May we hold on to what is good, and hold a steady course in uncertain times.
I’d like to thank you all for your support, for taking the time to read this blog over the past year. I hope it blesses you in the year to come, too.
This is a strange New Year’s Eve. It’s disconcerting to think how little we anticipated what this year would bring at it’s beginning. It throws our attempts at planning and new resolutions into all kinds of disarray, if we try to look ahead. So I’m attempting to leave the future where it is today. I’m trying to look deeper, at some of the lessons this year of a long pause, a long hesition. I’m noticing that there are things I can take forward…. the things I miss and therefore know their worth, the things I don’t miss as much as I expected. Knowing the value of community, connection, kindness more keenly, I’ll look for ways to nurture them in these new days. Knowing how the natural world has sustained me this…
Once again, we’re having a strange time of preparation for Christmas. With so much uncertainty about the virus, and some confusion about plans, and travel, I’ve been finding it hard to think I’ll really be able to see loved ones this year…. but so far, it’s looking like it might all still be possible.
And as I woke up this morning, I thought about how uncertain, and bewildering, Mary and Joseph’s situation was at that first Christmas. How much it was, in the end, about God being with us even in the most unpromising situations. For them, it was hardly shining tinsel all tied up with a bow, but the gift of a child born far away from their home was the most profound blessing, after all.
So, whatever ends up happening, I’m trying to hold on to that thought, to steady myself and ready myself as best I can.
May you have a peaceful and blessed Christmas, wherever you are.
The Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, had ordered a census throughout the whole empire, when all the people would be counted, and taxed. The orders spread along straight Roman roads, and were proclaimed first in the white marble cities and ports, and then in the towns and villages of the countryside.
Even quiet Nazareth heard the news, and Mary and Joseph began to gather together their belongings, ready to travel to Bethlehem. That was Joseph’s family home: he was descended from King David, of Bethlehem. They set off south on the crowded road, for the whole empire was travelling. But, for Mary, the journey was especially hard, and the road seemed never ending. It was nearly time for her baby to be born.
At last they came to Bethlehem, but it was not the end of their troubles. The city was noisy, bustling, and heaving with crowds, and Joseph searched anxiously for somewhere quiet for Mary to rest – her pains were beginning, and the baby would be born that night. The inn was already full of travellers, and the only place for them was a stable. There, among the animals, Mary gave birth to her firstborn son, and wrapped him up tightly in swaddling bands and laid him in a manger full of hay. Then, she rested next to the manger, smiling at the baby’s tiny face.
There were shepherds who lived out on the hills nearby – the same hills where King David had once watched over the flocks, long ago. The sheep were sleeping in their fold under the shining stars, while the shepherds kept watch. Their fire flickered and crackled, and the lambs would bleat for their mothers, but they were the only sounds. All was peaceful. All was well.
Suddenly, right there in the shepherd’s simple camp, appeared and angel of the Lord, shining with God’s glory and heaven’s brightness. The shepherds gripped each other in terror, their skin prickling with fright. “Don’t be afraid, I’m bringing you good news – it will bring joy to all people!” The shepherds listened, awestruck, their faces glowing with the angel’s light. “This is the day the good news begins, and this is the place. In the town of David, a saviour has been born. He is Christ, the Anointed One, the one you have been waiting for. And this is the sign that these words are true: you will find a baby wrapped tightly in swaddling bands, lying in a manger.”
The shepherds watched as light was added to light, voice to voice, until they were surrounded by a dazzling, heavenly host of angels, all praising God and saying “Glory! Glory to God in the highest, And on the earth be peace!”
And then, in an instant, the angels were gone, and the shepherds were left in dark night shadows, listening to the sound of a distant wind. But their eyes still shone with heaven’s light. “Let’s go and see for ourselves!” they called to one another as they raced over the dark, rocky fields to Bethlehem. There, they found Mary and Joseph, and, just as the angel had said, they found the baby wrapped tightly in swaddling bands and lying in a manger. They saw him with their own eyes, and spread the angel’s message to all they met. “The Promised One has come! The Christ, the Anointed One, has been born!” The angel’s words were on everyone’s lips that night in Bethlehem. And, as the shepherds made their way back to their sheep, bursting with good news, Mary kept their words safe, like treasures, in her heart.
Last time, I shared a wonderful piece of work with you. It emerged from the people of our town during the Global Day of Action for the Environment, at the mid-point of COP 26 earlier this month.
You may remember that we invited people to write down their hopes and fears for the environment on cardboard leaves, which we tied to a tree in the main shopping street, The Thoroughfare. I then wove those words together into a poem. You can read it, and more about it, here.
Now, the finished poem is itself tied to the tree where it began. It felt like a homecoming, tying the people’s words to the tree.
The leaves themselves seemed to precious to discard, carrying as they did such heartfelt words. St Mary’s Church in the town is taking care of them. They are hanging up near the back, as part of their display on caring for the world. It’s full of helpful, thoughtful suggestions and reflections.
There are some extra leaves so you can add your own contribution to the tree, too, as well as encouragement to “Go one step Greener”. The church is open for prayer and contemplation between 10 and 4 Monday to Saturday, unless there is a special event. Local people, it’s well worth a visit.
I’ve sent a copy to our MP, Dr Therese Coffey, too. Edit note 13th December: I’ve received a letter from Dr Coffey, with thanks for the poem and some information on what the government has done and hopes to do for the environment.
Last night, I was able to share the poem with the Town Council – reading it out and giving a physical copy. It seemed a very good, hopeful way for the meeting to start. They listened attentively and appreciatively, and responded with applause and real enthusiasm. So, if you were one of the local people who contributed their hopes and fears to the poem, do know that our local representatives have heard you, and will keep a record of your words in their minutes too.
It was so good to be able to do that. Our council are doing a great deal to take care of the beautiful place where we live, and are keen to do more. It’s good to be able to give voice to the hopes and dreams of people in the town, to share them in places where they will be heard, and will, in turn, do their work in other minds and hearts.
Each small thing matters. You never know what will grow from even these leaves.
We’re in the season of Celtic Advent now, which starts a little earlier than the beginning of December ….. so I hope you don’t mind my bringing up the subject of Christmas.
Copies of my children’s book, The Little Christmas Tree, are available, but I’ve noticed a few suppliers aren’t carrying a large stock, so, if you’re considering buying a copy for a youngster in your life, it might be worth placing an order with your local bookshop or one of the online ones – like Bookshop.org, which supports independent bookshops in the UK – soon.
It’s a beautiful book, illustrated with real tenderness and detail by Lorna Hussey…
Last year, there was a powerful BSL version of the story made and posted on Youtube. You can find more about it, and a link to the video, here. I found it very moving to watch. It’s so good when a story works its magic, rises from the page, and finds life in new forms like this.
Once again, I find, as I revisit this story, it has a real resonance with our current global difficulties – the animals are threatened by a storm, and it is a tree in the forest that offers them shelter and hope. I wrote some more about this reading of the story elsewhere on this blog, and you can find that post here. I feel the simple story of kindness and hospitality has some hope and direction to offer us as we think about the difficulties wild creatures are facing, and what they need to find safety and security.
But it is, most of all, that simple Christmas story of kindness and hospitality.
Last time, I shared with you about what happened in my town for the Global Day of Action for the Environment, the mid point of COP 26. It was so good to work together with friends. Thank you, you know who you are! You can read about that here.
This time, I’d like to share with you about the leaves hung up on the tree – you can see them fluttering in the photo above. We invited people to write down their hopes and fears for the climate on cardboard leaves, which we gathered together at the end of the morning.
I’ve turned the fragments into a found poem, and have begun the process of sending out a few copies – the first to our local MP.
I’ve decorated these copies with a lino print I did, in the spirit of craftivism. This is their philosophy, and I like it….
“If we want our world to be more beautiful, kind and fair, can we make our activism be more beautiful, kind and fair?”
And so, here it is. The poem made of words written by the people of Woodbridge, supported by Jacquie and David Tricker and friends. Put together by me, with invaluable editorial support from Tracy Watson-Brown. I’d also like to thank the early years teachers who helped me read some of the contributions from our very young writers.
A special thanks goes to all the people who stopped and talked to us, and wrote down their hopes and fears for us to share with you.
November Leaves People were invited to write down their hopes and fears for the climate in Woodbridge Thoroughfare, Suffolk, as part of the COP 26 Global Day of Action.
And young and old came and hung their words up on the familiar tree, to twist and turn in the cold wind, to carry their hopes and fears for our world away to rustle and whisper in your ear, dear reader. So listen to these voices. Listen now, for it is already late, and the leaves are falling.
We hope to … thrive in a more equal, cleaner, and kinder world, love life, kind and helpful to all living things. Showing love and care, helping the climate which in turn helps the animals – including us.
Children’s voices, saying what they see: World Litter, Erosion, Deforestation, Global Warming, Animals losing their home, Endangered. Where will the polar bears go? And what if people don’t listen and fall asleep? Tears!
Older voices, fearing for the children’s future: It’s not too late – but only if we all act now! In hope for a greener, cleaner world for us…. our children, their children and their children!
We fear – more people will suffer, and the poorest will suffer the most, not enough of us will change our ways. We must live lightly – look after the poor or ignore the signs and greed wins – too much “I want it now”. Too much blaming others, blaming farmers, for climate change.
We could live in a peaceful world, make ancient trees monuments, replanting and replanting those that have been cut down. Fresh air! No diesel fumes, no single use plastics, acting together now to save our world or here, and soon, much of our town could be under the sea.
Will we see sense? Will we act now?
And so the leaves of the tree are gathered up, gathered together, speaking together as one. From many fragments, many voices, this small town speaks, and wonders, Where will the polar bears go?
By the people of Woodbridge, compiled by Andrea Skevington
Saturday 6th November was the mid point of COP 26, and a Day of Action where we could add their voices to the thousands gathered in Glasgow. Here in Woodbridge, a few organisations had got together to plan a march, and it soon became apparent that many were interested in joining them. So, Woodbridge Churches Together, Transition Woodbridge and the local Womens Institute did an excellent job – all working together to organise and hold a peaceful, purposeful, inspiring community action.
There were about 300 of us, which is quite a turn out for a small town. The atmosphere was energising and determined and also celebratory. There was music and speeches to inspire, and to remind us of some of the things that are already going on in the town, and the much more that could be done. We looked forward for ways to proceed, to work locally for a better and fairer place for all, as well as how to continue to let our voices be heard.
As is becoming a tradition in our town, people could leave their banners to be tied to the railings of the Shire Hall, reminding the Town Council of the strength of feeling.
Photo by Councillor Caroline Page
My home-made placard was double sided. Here’s the front… you might be able to see it hanging up.
One of the very positive things about a march in your local commuity is that many of us knew each other. Already, I’ve been having conversations with old friends and acquaintances who were there, and beginning to nudge forward to what we might want to do together to help green our local place even more.
All this was in the afternoon. In the morning, I, and a few friends, were in the Thoroughfare, our main shopping street, having a small happening. Some of you who have followed this blog for a while may remember that last year I had an idea of giving out bulbs and bookmarks, inviting people to Plant Hope. You can read about it following the link. It’s so good that this year, the time seemed right to do it. Having the support of a few friends made all the difference. It was so good having the chance to talk to people about hope in difficult times, about the power of plants and nature to help us in our crisis. A very moving morning.
As you can see, by the time we got round to taking a photo, nearly all the bulbs and bookmarks had gone!
There was another aspect to our happening though. If you look at the tree, you’ll see some cardboard leaves. We invited passers by to write down their hopes, dreams and fears for the environment and hang them on the tree. We’ve gathered them up, and are in the process of turning them into a poem to send to our politicians, both local and national, and to others. It’s very moving to see what people young and old have written. It’ll be called November Leaves, and I’ll be sharing more with you on that in due course.
It was a wonderful, hopeful, sad day, a day of coming together in community, which is a thing I’ve missed very much.
It also felt like the beginning of closer engagement for many, with many organisation coming together for the common good.
Last year, I just made this one bookmark. This year, I could have given away twice as many as I made. How things grow.
It’s very exciting to receive a parcel for a publisher – and today, this one arrived.
It contains BRF’s book to celebrate 100 years of publishing, and includes a huge depth and breadth of wisdom and insight. They asked a wide range of people to contribute, including me. I’m very honoured to be invited to be part of this important project, it’s so good! I’ve written for them for a while, in Quiet Spaces, and now New Daylight. They also published my most recent book, “Jesus said, I Am – finding life in the everyday”. I find myself in excellent company. Here’s one of the pages that list the contributors, and you can see the depth and breadth BRF have pulled together to make this book. You might find me somewhere in the middle.
I was asked to write a reflection on a passage from John’s gospel, where Jesus speaks to a woman at a well. It’s a passage I love, and have spoken and written about before. I included a reflection on its themes in my book on the I Am sayings, as some scholars regard it as the first. You can read more about that here. As the title below says, the well is deep, and I find more and more wisdom, compassion and hope in the passage the more I allow myself to sink down into this encounter.
I’ve been having a browse through, and it is a beautiful, thoughtful book. It would make a good gift for someone interested.
You can buy it from the publishers here, or from wherever you like to purchase your books. It can be ordered from any local bookshop.
This is another poem written a few weeks ago, so is slightly out of time. But only slightly. I have yet to cut back the lavenders that guard this bench where I often sit, as they still have a few stray flowers which draw the bees whenever the sun comes out. And it does, these last few days of strange warmth, and intermittent downpours. In some ways, then, this poem is an elegy to the extravagant blossoms that drew so many bees only a short time ago.
It is also something else. It is a poem where I tease out the feeling I often have while in my garden, that it isn’t “mine” at all. It belongs just as surely to all the living things who make their home here, or feed, or rest, here. It belongs to the newts who live at the bottom of the compost heap, and the bees, and the worms currently throwing up extravagant curlicues of casts all over the lawn, and the squirrel now hanging upside down and raiding the bird feeder. So, I seek to tend for the benefit of all these who live here too. It is a good feeling, to know you share the space with other beings. It seems to be bound up with belonging, and gentleness, and a delighted respect. It’s a subtle shift in feeling, but it feels an important shift in perspective. I am sure, for most humans, through most of human history, this knowledge was part of our shared culture. I’m sure it was held gladly in the spaces between people as they gathered and grew and hunted, and that they passed it on with delight. I am glad to be finding it again, to be included in that long and noble practice of humility and service and mutuality in this small space. It is a small part of rewilding myself, as well as my place.
The Realm of bees
I enter this humming space, roofed by a tracery of magnolia branches, looking up at light-lined leaves. By my side, simple white gladioli.
I feel a slight reserve, knowing myself guest in my own garden, having stepped into this place of bees between the bowing guards of lavender, the scent on my clothes, taking care not to disturb the crowds and flights of bees, so many the flowers turn black and the lavender falls back, half closed doors enclosing me.
And as I sit I breathe deep in the great mead-hall of the bees, full of feasting and the warm hum of wings. I watch the sedums where honeybees stuff their yellow pockets, and the soft butterflies drink deep.
The air is heady, thick even, and one by one large bumbles make their way to my flower-scattered shirt, and rest awhile, and at the feel of them I find a deep stillness.
I see their soft fur, their forelegs scratching an itch, wiping a large, complex eye that looks up, looks up and seems to meet my own, and I wonder what they see as they see me.
I rest now, quietly and strangely, in this realm of bees, I am warmed by the same warmth as them smell the same rich goodness as we breathe the same air, as I sit here, among the flowers, adorned in bees, I feel no longer a stranger, but welcomed into their rich world, seen by their complex eyes, content with them in the sweetness of this early autumn sun. For this moment I, too, live in the realm of bees.
As things grow and spread in the garden, I sometimes feel a plant is no longer thriving, or no longer fits the mood. The colours and textures change constantly, and sometimes something can seem stranded, suddenly out of place. I felt that way about these tall, pale asters last year. I moved some, and find they are thriving in their new homes, but the rest, I thought I’d dig up.
Lack of energy or time or poor weather means that I often don’t carry out my plans, leave them for another season. But increasingly, I am not acting on an impulse to remove, I am giving myself another chance to look at things differently. I am so glad that I left these, for this year, the asters are the loveliest thing I see.
I thought about their transformation, or rather, the transformation I experienced in how I saw them. I realised that the plants that are around them, and the increased light now the old tree has died, have made them appear transformed, lit up. Seeing things in isolation, out of context, we can miss their beauty, their true qualities. Kindly companions change everything.
A change of heart/asters
I wanted to dig them up, these pale asters. They looked grey under clouds grey enough. Shaded and overshadowed, they spread, moved forward towards the light. In their advance, they bound cyclamen as tight as a vice. They are no good, I though.
But, it seems, they needed that light, and more than that, the right company – this new rich pink, the purple leaves turning deep red behind them, the pale chaos of ammi running to seed – all this has transformed them, or rather transformed my seeing, revealed their beauty – a delicacy of colour, a generous abundance.
In this new light, the bees and the butterflies crowd them for their late nectar as the sun shines on them, finding in them a sweetness I had missed.
I will not be so hasty. I will give myself time to look again. I will step back, take in the whole, and remember that kindly companions change everything. I will look to add, befriend, seeking the right company.
I will remember the value of light, and seeing each thing not for itself alone, but as part of a wider abundance. And so, I have had a change of heart and I see now, yes I see now, that none of this pale, unassuming flourishing is wasted.