Sitting in the garden in the late afternoon today – the Summer Solstice – I watched the daisies in the sun and the breeze. Here they are.
Midsummer – and the tall daisies are full of light, nodding and glowing, glowing and nodding, saying yes, it seems, to all that is.
Simplicity – to receive the light and shine out in turn. To have roots in the dark earth, in the damp earth and to shine like this – with a purity of brightness, and such depth of yellow, while swaying, like this, in the breeze.
Perhaps it is so – simply to be is holy, to receive and to give is enough, this longest of days.
Alchemy – for surely it is a glory, and a wonder, to turn earth and damp and light into this brightness, this daily beauty, shining like the distant sun here, in this shady place, beneath my apple tree.
But this poem, a little later than I’d intended due to a bout of covid, came about only a few weeks ago, on a wild and unpredictable day. The way the crows stayed together as they flew was remarkable – they held a bond, they held their distance, tumbling together, despite the unpredictable blustering of the wind. It brought to mind all the things that we find hard to measure in our systems of measuring – the bonds between us, the gifts of attention and intent, the power of belonging. In this poem, the question of hope came to mind. I have not resolved it. I was thinking about hope in the face of all the pains of the living earth, including ourselves – the disruption and destruction of networks of life that have been in place for aeons.
Perhaps the question is one I can let go, learn to live with. And another, perhaps more useful question is can I continue to turn my attention to these strange, immesurable qualities of love, belonging, gratitude, which can shift our attention, and therefore our action.
In any case, here are some pictures from the garden, and a poem for you.
Two crows in an April gale
And as the wind blows slant across the patched and mottled sky, I watch two crows tumbling and twisting sideways through the cold air, keeping together
As if each is the other’s fixed point, their north star, dark as they are against the darkening clouds, in this sudden, unfamiliar cold, as the wind veers north, then south, then north while the day’s unease lengthens.
And these two birds floating through so much turmoil, an upended sky, remain, strangely, together – paired, equidistant, invisibly tangled, gyring like lost kites with sinuous strings.
Is there any hope? I know not. Facts singe and darken with fire. Even Spring seems provisional as the wind shifts strangely.
Do I hope? I know not. And yet this bond between the birds speaks of much that is not counted in our counting of facts. Our reckoning speaks not of the loves between us, the urgency of our turning, the efforts we bear to remain close, all things holding together in strange union.
Now, a lull, the crows are gone, and the blackbird sings still, and yet, and
Oh I cannot bear that he should sing in vain. So sing into being a new, ancient world, brother bird, dear one, sing on, calling to another, calling to life, and who knows where this bleak wind will carry our songs.
Who knows the power of these loves, of that sweet melody, of the tumbling together of crows.
The lino cuts at the top of this post were done to go with some poems which I posted before. If you would like to read them, you can begin here.
As I was thinking about all that binds us together, these words from the New Testament came to mind. They help me. Colossians 1:15-17
Our beautiful river, the Deben in Suffolk, is in trouble. Testing of the water has revealed that untreated sewage is being dumped. The estuary is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, rich in wildlife, and yet still this is happening. The river is the economic lifeblood of the community, with sailors and walkers, canoeists and birdwatchers all making a vital contribution to the towns and villages by its banks. Wild swimming has also become increasingly popular since the pandemic. We solved these problems long ago – having dirty, unhealthy rivers – and yet, here we are. Economics seems to be a good servant of humanity, and an exceptionally bad master. That can change. The water company – here as elsewhere – can be held to account. Reform of practice is more than possible. You can read more about the situation and our local response here.
There was a rally and march on Saturday 23rd April, the National Day of Action for Water Quality.
I was very sorry not to be able to go, stuck in the garden with covid – although I couldn’t have a nicer spot to be stuck in. Counsillor Caroline Page (Lib Dems) asked if I felt up to writing a haiku that she could share on my behalf. I’m delighted to be asked and have had a go through the brain fog.
A poet herself, she read it out at the beginning of the rally.
It then joined the march…
You can see more pictures, and video clips, on twitter here
I’m very proud to be part of this fantastic community, who love their place, and seek to protect it.
River Haiku – April 2022
The river breathes life for fish, otter, bird and us: Now death flows, we speak.
Updated 24th April 2022 to include coverage of the Day of Action.
Over the past few years, I’ve gathered and shared with you links to various readings here on the blog that tell the Easter story. Whether you are joining together with many others, or perhaps staying within a smaller household group, or a gathering of friends, I hope you will find here something that supports you, whatever you are doing..
I notice that two posts are proving particularly helpful at the moment. I’ll share links to these at the beginning, and then go through everything in a Holy Week sequence.
Do please feel free to use any of these resources, acknowledging me and this blog. It’s always good to hear about that, though, so do let me know if you can!
These are the most popular links here on the blog at the moment:
Other Holy Week stories – You can find these in Chapter 11 of my retelling – both editions: The Bible Story Retold, and The Lion Classic Bible, which share the same text. The second of these has lovely illustrations by Sophie Williamson.
Prayers and Verses also has a section in Chapter 11 called The Road to Good Friday, which you might find useful.
Maundy Thursday – The Last Supper, Jesus washes their feet.
Now, we come to the new poems I’ve written for Good Friday – based on the seven sentences Jesus spoke from the cross. I’ve put them together with some readings, music, and art, to give you a Good Friday Meditation.
I was so delighted to be asked to be involved in this local event. Our town council has a thoughtful and dedicated Climate Emergency Committee, who invited a range of speakers and exhibitors who could talk about what they are doing, and what we could do, to work more harmoniously with nature to tackle the double and linked emergencies of biodiversity loss and climate change.
If you’ve been reading this blog, you may recall that last autumn I gathered a community poem, November Leaves, and read it out at a council meeting. You can find out more about that here and here. It was following on from reading that poem at a council meeting that I was invited to begin each of the two days with a poem. As I looked through the programme, and wondered what to share, I was struck by the breadth and depth of the experience covered by the speakers.
I’d just like to briefly share with you the poems I read.
One hundred and ten years
Despite this cold there is a shimmer of life in the air above the beds, where bluebells begin their opening.
Tiny flies, and larger, and bees, and the occasional, beautiful, butterfly – look, just there.
I watch them in awe, all these tiny specks of life. Each small thing part of The garden’s constant dance, each being knowing their own irreplaceable steps.
I wonder what it was like, over a hundred years ago now, before the house was built, when all this was orchard. Did butterflies rise in dense bright clouds as you walked through the long grass? Could you lie down softly and hear the loud hum of bees in the speckled blossom above?
Perhaps, like Tom’s Midnight Garden, that rich place is still here, in the shadows. And perhaps, I hope, it is becoming less ghostly, more embodied, more visible, humming in this shimmer of life in the air. Growing stronger after so many years, as if seen with eyes as clear and sure as a dreaming child’s.
As the emphasis of the weekend was on action, and in particular localism, I came away feeling greatly encouraged to keep doing the apparently small things I am doing. To shop locally and seasonally, to allow the garden to grow with the aim of increasing its abundance of life, to buy less and what I buy to be as thoughtful as I can, to connect to others who are seeking to support nature and create networks where life can flourish.
The news about the climate emergency is pretty dire, but I’m trying to look at what I can do, and what we can do, and seeking to add my voice to those who are calling for change.
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.