Joy – the third Sunday in Advent

Ely Cathedral’s powerful statue of Mary, by David Wynne

As we approach the third sunday of Advent, the word we turn to is Joy. And, as part of that turning to joy, many also remember Mary. In particular, her response to the angel’s message when she was invited to participate in this story of “God-with-us”… but more on that later.

As I look at this statue, I find Mary’s stance compelling. It is open and powerful, it feels like a “yes” which accepts and trusts what will be, even if it is beyond the mind’s understanding. Pictures of Mary often show her looking more afraid, more passive. This work captures a moment of glorious, positive choice. But there is something else. The slight downward tilt of her head seems to acknowledge the difficulties caught up in this acceptance, and the enormity of that choice. There is awe and vulnerability here too – vulnerability captured in that bare foot peeking out.

Here is the story, from my book The Bible Retold

Among the fields and vineyards of Nazareth, in Galilee, lived a girl named Mary.  She was soon to be married to Joseph, a carpenter, who could trace his family back to David, the shepherd king.

Then, one day, astonishing news burst into Mary’s quiet, hopeful life.  The angel Gabriel came to her with a message.
“God is with you, Mary!” Mary gasped, and fell to her knees.  “Don’t be afraid. God smiles on you!” The angel spoke the astounding words gently, lovingly. “You will have a son and name him Jesus.  He will be called great – the Son of the Most High God! The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David, and his kingdom will never end!”

For a moment there was silence, as Gabriel’s words filled the air – and Mary’s mind. “But how can this be, as I am not yet married?” Mary asked.
“God’s Holy Spirit will enfold you.  Your child will be holy.  Even Elizabeth, from your own family, is going to have a child, despite her age! She is now in her sixth month.  So you see, nothing is impossible with God!”

Mary raised her eyes to Gabriel’s face. “I am God’s servant. Let it be as you say.” And the angel let her alone, her mind spinning with the strange words.

Then Mary thought of Elizabeth. “The angel knew all about her – I must go to her.” She got ready, and set off quickly for Elizabeth’s home in Judea to the south, near Jerusalem.

As soon as she arrived at the house, she hurried to Elizabeth and took her hands.  At the sound of Mary’s voice, the baby leaped inside Elizabeth, and the Holy Spirit filled her.  She understood at once what had happened to Mary.

“You are blessed among all women, and blessed is your unborn child!” she said. “Why have I been so honoured? Why should the mother of my Lord God come to visit me?” Elizabeth laughed, and put Mary’s hand on her belly. “You see how my child leaps for joy at the sound of your voice?”

Then, Mary speaks out extraordinary words, which in turn echo the words of Hannah when she said goodbye to her long-awaited son, Samuel (I Samuel 2) . You can read Mary’s words – the Magnificat – in my version here, and also more about Mary and Elizabeth’s time together.

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It strikes me how deeply Mary entered into uncertainty, with her acceptance despite her questions – “how can this be?” She is setting out on a path that will cause her pain, but the angel’s words focus on a bigger picture, an unknowably big picture. There is a vision of what will be, the good that will come from her choice. There is tenderness and reassurance here as she asks the question, honouring her uncertainty, the impossibility of comprehending what this may mean. And there is also a gentle, tactful suggestion of a path to be taken. A path to her cousin Elizabeth – who is also caught up in this great bursting through of hope and joy into a world marked with difficulty and pain. And that path will bring her companionship with someone who will believe her, and will support her, and to whom she can offer love and encouragement in turn.

Sometimes, during Advent, we are also reminded of John the Baptist – Elizabeth’s son – and his question to Jesus when he was in prison: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” You can read the account here. What I love about this reading is the way Jesus reassures John in a way he will understand, echoing the prophet Isaiah. There is a tenderness and deep compassion here too. We can almost hear an echo of their mothers’ relationship in this question, this uncertainty, and this reassurance. Jesus then goes on to speak to those listening who may, we presume, be shaken by John’s question – or critical of him for doubting. The compassion of Jesus’ response can reassure all of us. It is hard for us to understand, and doubt and question and uncertainty are here embraced and not feared.

So our focus on joy is one where joy can be experienced despite our frailties and uncertainties. It does not come with knowing the answers, having things all neatly wrapped up, but in the courage to enter into the mysterious life of something beyond and greater than ourselves. Perhaps here is the only place it can be found.

We mentioned Isaiah above. Here is part of the passage paired with the reading about John in the Church of England readings for this week. You can read it all here.

The desert and the parched land will be glad;
    the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus,  it will burst into bloom;
    it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
    the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
    the splendor of our God.

 Strengthen the feeble hands,
    steady the knees that give way;
 say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
    he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
    he will come to save you.”

 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
 Then will the lame leap like a deer,
    and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert.
 The burning sand will become a pool,
    the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
    grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

 And a highway will be there;
    it will be called the Way of Holiness;
    it will be for those who walk on that Way.

Once again, we have a vision of how the world could be, restored and flourishing. A highway through the wetlands bursting with life, and even those who lack strength and steadiness will walk it.

And I call to mind COP15, the biodiversity conference currently taking place in Montreal. When so much of the beautiful life of our world is diminished, we so need this vision of restoration and abundance. We need this vision of life and joy, of a better way of being in the world. And then we need to walk into it.

We thank you for being born among us,
sharing with us what it is to be human.
we thank you for showing us a way to live,
full of grace and truth.
Light up our path, and let us walk with you.

From John 1

From Prayers and Verses

Peace – the second Sunday in Advent – a shoot springing up from a stump.

It’s the first of December, we’re entering into Advent proper now. This post is in preparation for the second Sunday of the season, and for many the theme of the week is Peace, following on from Hope last week. Tree stumps also feature.

Once again, we are engaged in a radical practice of seeing what could be alongside what is. As with the thoughts on Hope, we’re not trusting to wishful thinking, or pretending real obstacles to peace don’t block our way.

They dress the wound of my people
    as though it were not serious.
“Peace, peace,” they say,
    when there is no peace.


Says Jeremiah . And I’m sure we all know the distress of having some deep issue dismissed, and peace proclaimed when what that means is people keeping silent about weighty matters. That is no peace. We are in search of something much more radical.

How to hold on to some kind of centre, some kind of Peace, in the midst of all that surrounds us? Whether that’s deep matters of justice, distress, and hurt, or our more daily concerns of lists and duties and timetables and so many forgotten-to-do-in-time things?  How to hold on to a centre, and to peace, in the midst of loss, and loneliness, and Christmas pasts? This Sunday, the second of Advent, the theme of peace is much needed.

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This beautiful Advent ring is from The Chapel in the Fields,  and you can read more about it, and the words on it, here.

Once again, readings for this week turn to the prophets. A longer meander through the section of Isaiah we read from below will reveal much that preceeds the talk of peace. There are words which seek to uncover injustice and untruth, addressing past conflicts and wrongdoings. This isn’t peace which seeks to bandage over matters that need deeper healing, this is peace as a result of a long process of radical transformation. It’s a vision of the dream of God for the world. Of the growth and new life possible in things which seem beyond hope of greening.

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
    the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
    and a little child will lead them.
 The cow will feed with the bear,
    their young will lie down together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
 The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
    and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
 They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah 11: 1-2, 6-9

I am very struck by the image of the tree stump – cut down, presumed dead, or unproductive – springing back into life.  We see again the hope in even the most hopeless situations, the determination of life. Many have looked back at these words of Isaiah and seen the coming of Jesus in them. In the shoot springing up, and in the little child who will gently lead. Born into most unpromising circumstances – homeless (at least temporarily), under enemy occupation and the cruel rule of a local puppet tyrant – there is a deep promise of peace and hope in the coming of Jesus. This new growth will take a suprising form. This dream of a new world will grow under the surface, in hearts and lives. Appearences are deceptive.

Even my beautiful dead cotoneaster, picture at the top of this post, harbours life.  Although the plant itself hasn’t sprung up from dead roots, other things have.  Birds perched in the branches, dropping seeds, and now the light has reached the ground, things are growing. And the dead wood is a haven for so many small creatures. I wrote about the tree here.

And deeper, and further into the prophecy, we have the harmony of all creatures, including humans, living at peace. We have an ecology of plenty and playfulness, of trust and abundance. As we meditate on the possibilities of peace, and the world as it may be, can we catch a vision of what that might be like? As we see the number of trees, the whole landscapes and ecosystems, that have been lost, how might these words speak into that situation with hope, justice and peace?

You might consider writing down your own vision for how such a just, peaceful, restorative, abundant world might appear. You might wish to pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” from the Lord’s Prayer. What comes to mind as you pray that bold and transformative prayer? And as we pray, so we seek to live. How might we live this week in response to this vision, this dream, this prayer?

And as we do so, we could turn to this week’s gospel reading. Trees come up here, too…..  John the Baptist, preparing the way for the ministry of his cousin Jesus, speaks of knowing trees by their fruit.  What their lives produce.

Here it is, from my version in The Bible Retold.

Under the white heat of the sun, far from shade, the murmuring crowds gathered.  Some had walked through city streets, others through fields and vineyards, but all had come out into the stony, dusty Desert of Judea to see one person.
It was John, son of Zechariah, who stood by the river Jordan.

John was no polished performer – he looked wild, dressed in rough clothes of camel hair held together by a leather belt.  He was thin, eating only the locusts and wild honey  he could find in the desert.  But his words were full of power, full of life and holiness. He called out in a loud voice “Repent! Turn your lives around and come back to God!  His kingdom is near.  Come and be washed clean!”  And many came forward, full of sorrow for the wrongs they had done, and John baptized them in the River Jordan.

There some among the religious leaders who came and joined the crowds to look holy in front of everyone else – they thought they were good enough already, and had no real need to change.  “You snakes!” the Baptist spat: “We can tell what you are like by what you do – just as you can tell a tree by its fruit.  Don’t think you can fool anyone with show-religion!”

But most who came were hungry for a new beginning.  For John taught them to hope.  In his words, they caught a glimpse of something beyond their everyday lives.  They understood that John the Baptist was preparing the way for something, or someone, astonishing.
“I baptize you with water, for repentance.  But you wait. There is one coming after me who is so much greater.  I am not even fit to carry his sandals for him. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire – a baptism that will wash you inside out.”

In Luke’s Gospel, we get an insight into what this preparation for the one who is to come  might look like in practice

“Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” …..

Luke 2:9-11

We remember the Advent traditions of giving – not just to friends and relations, but to others as they have need.  What John the Baptist is calling people to, to prepare for the coming of the Kingdom of God, looks a lot like sharing, like generosity of spirit, as we are able.  Perhaps this is a way towards Peace.
As our readings take us closer to Christmas, to the birth of the one who we have been waiting for – springing up like a new shoot – we will find a clearer focus on the Prince of Peace who is to come, and the way of peace he walked.

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Hope, and Peace

Perhaps we can make time to keep our eyes open for signs of new growth in the winter gloom, when all seems cold.
Are there shoots appearing? Are there signs of new life?
Can we pursue peace by looking for justice, and by sharing as far as we are able?
We can share kindness, and patience, and perhaps a smile to cheer someone’s day.  Perhaps we can do more than that.  If we have the choice to simplify things for ourselves, we may find we have a little room to share with others.
Might that be a path to a more peaceful Christmas?

Wherever you are in your Christmas preparations today, may you know Peace.

This photo is of an apparently dead, flailed hazel hedge near where I live. Despite this treatment, it has put out some new growth. How many years it’ll withstand such an onslaught, I don’t know. But I am heartened to see the new shoot growing up from a very unpeaceful process. You can read more about the hedge here.

As a small stone, dropped in a pool, sends ripples to its furthers edges,
help us know our small actions of love and kindness can do great good.

Help us do the good things we can,
trusting you will use them.

From Prayers and Verses

On the subject of trees, Eden online bookshop has a few copies of my children’s picture book available….

Wildlife corridors – a hedge story, and a poem.

I’m really pleased to be part of Transition Woodbridge’s Wildlife Corridors project. You can read more about Transition Woodbrige here, and Wildlife Corridors here.

We’re a group of all sorts of people from about the town who are seeking to make it a bit more wildlife friendly, and learning and sharing as we go. So below, you’ll find a little story about one of our hedges which I wrote for the group’s newsletter. We’re beginning to do more of this – passing on our often falterning steps towards a different way of thinking about our gardens. Here, our hedge had a beetle problem, and we tried a gentler and more natural approach to the plague of viburnum beetles than we might have done in the past. We’re delighted that the hedgeline is gradually becoming much more beautiful, diverse, and better for a wider range of creatures than simply the dreaded viburnum beetle!

After the account, you will find a poem drawing on this same hedge, and its story of renewal.

A hedge story – from pest control to native beauty.

It was a thin strip of dark green, between drives and walls. Our viburnum hedge joins what’s left of the original roadside hedgerow with holm oak and wild cherry plums to the network of gardens and trees behind. A narrow corridor of life, but with precious winter flowers for the bees, and just occasionally, a wren or a bluetit nested there. It was part of the planting we inherited.

A few years ago, it began to sicken dramatically.  Viburnum beetle. It looked devastated, and I had my doubts if it would recover. We consulted the RHS website, cut away the worst of it, and scraped out some of the soil underneath where the grubs overwinter.  As I did so, I felt the poverty of the soil – it was grey, had no structure, with no visible worms or other minibeasts. So we piled on the homemade compost and autumn leaves.  We also decided to enrich it more permanently with native plants – for as it was, it could not renew itself, and the long strip of monoculture was an easy target for the dreaded beetle.

I bought some bare rooted spindle from Botanica and interspersed these with hazel that the squirrels had kindly planted around the garden. In the autumns to come, I’m hoping for a blaze of butter yellow hazel, with bright red leaves and pink/orange berries from the spindle. All to fall to the ground and feed it.

It’s limped through this year’s drought, but we’re getting there.  It’s drawn in so many more creatures already. The insects are returning.  The soil has worms, and frogs and mice make their way along it.  At night bats hunt over it, and by day, the dragonflies. Many plants are finding their way there, each making their own contribution.  At first, it was mustard garlic.  Now, there’s purple toadflax, birdsfoot trefoil, various bedstraws and all manner of other plants.  Butterflies and caterpillars, bees and hoverflies, and a healthy range of beetles are making a home here.

There’s a trellis separating our neighbour’s drive from this hedge and, in consultation with them, we’ve planted garden seeds and cuttings – vetch and perpetual sweet peas to improve the soil, honeysuckle, roses and jasmine.  Again, I hope that next year it will be truly beautiful.

And as for the beetle attack… there have been a few nibbled leaves in the last two years, but nothing more than that. And, if some of the original plants die, there is  plenty of life to take advantage of the light and air they leave.  We have moved from a dark monoculture to a diverse and increasingly native abundance, with so much more food for all life.  The viburnum still gives flower at a time of year when the natives are quiet, and deep cover too for plants and animals and birds. But the natives are making their presence felt now, and bringing so much beauty, diversity and abundance. It’s becoming a joy, and an example of how gentle care can slowly move a garden to something far more alive. I’m watching what it’s doing with real delight. What will be next?

And now the poem…..

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Hedge

And the garden now is my poem.
So this hedge, this long line of joy
and work, rhymes its meanings
back and forth, carries them through
seasons, through drought and cold
by bird and frog and bee. Carries
deep memory of the land, of wood
and hedgerow, orchard and field, and deep
hope too, for what may be, and
what is becoming. And growing.

For joy and work wrought it,
and renewed it, planted these
saplings of spindle and hazel
that will be red and gold as
leaves fade in late sun, fade
to such an illuminated brightness.


And I see what may be, what are,
sweet rose cuttings unfolding, and
growing, as honeysuckle twines,
and jasmine – tiny, with tiny leaves –
grows now in warmth, and sweet peas
begin their work of rising up
from hard coiled seeds.
 
All this abundance given freely
by the garden and gathered,
and tended, and shared,
as she freely gives more –
wind-blown seeds and bird-
carried berries filling the earth
to overflowing, as together we make
a line of such richness and beauty,
thought and imagining, sibilant
as the wind whips through it,
sounding like words spilling
on the page.
These words. This page.

I would write in green, I have
written in green, working
with all this life. Patient, resting
in its waiting, and growing, and fading,
ending, and beginning again.
And again. This long line of green.  

Poem: On Looking Up

This is a poem, in two parts, drawing on my morning practice of yoga in the garden. It’s patchy at this time of year, depending on rain, and sometimes cold, but there are some mornings where you catch a break in the changing weather, and know why this is a good way to begin.

I took no photos at the time, being lost – or found – in the moment, and so I include for you here some other pictures filled with light, and dark, hoping they will fill your eyes with something good. This morning, as I breathed in the light and the air, I was aware of gratitude rising within me, gifted to me. I know that American friends are turning their attention to Thanksgiving at this time of year, and so, even as winter begins its approach, I am reminded to hold on to the practice of gratitude in darkening days.

I wasn’t sure quite where to go with this poem. There were two things – the experience of suddenly becoming aware of the beauty of the sky – and that beauty itself. So I’ve noodled around with it until it sits in two parts. So, this is where it is at the moment.

On looking up

So this is how it was, this morning:
Early, feet bare on cold grass,
I raised my head, stretched my arms,
and as I did so, I remembered
to look up – to open my eyes wide.
I remembered to took up
and breathe in deep and full,
breathe in that cool
morning air, early,
before the smell of  
road runs through it.

Or maybe, it was more like this:
Raising my head, stretching
my arms, breathing deep of
the cold clear air,
my mind beginning to
steady and settle,
my eyes opened –
all at once – to the strange
dazzling luminosity of the sky.
And that sight filled me
as surely as the cold air.
For a moment, hands high,
my smile broke open
as wide as my gaze,
open as it was to this sky.

Sky as dizzying,
vertiginous depth, and falling. 
Sky, too, as ever-present wonder,
and catching. I do not know
which it was, but I know
that the beauty of it
fills me, nourishes me,
changes me.
And I am thankful.

******

For in looking up, I saw
the sky’s unknowable
dizzying depths,
its many layers, its films
of light moving across each other,
and for a moment I held
a cool breath in wonder,
and in looking, and what felt
like falling.

Highest, or deepest, the moon,
partial and pale, and floating
beyond the crumpled
white-blue linen of high clouds
and new sky. And below,
moving fast across them,
hurried and bright, the rapid
soft pink and orange of clouds
blowing in from the north.

And holding up my gaze
with each deepening breath
I see, below the clouds,
how the dark lines of birds
begin their overflight.
Gulls, risen from their
night-roost on the river,
coming inland to forage
in harrowed field,
overflowing bins,
wherever they find
what they need.
And below them,
the crowd of starlings,
chattering, still holding
a loose shape
of past murmurations,
trailing after from their
hushing reedbeds.

Each layer of sky
lower, closer, faster,
sliding against each
other in wild reckless
beauty as my body fills
with north wind,
lungs as cool as
fresh water on
a summers day.
The morning beginning
at one with these things,
with joy in these things,
with yes to these things,
with thankfulness for
all these daily
wondrous things.

River Poem: Homecoming

The River Deben at dusk.

The river is quieter in the summer – at least, it’s quieter for birds. It is busy with us humans loving and enjoying sailing and swimming and rowing and all the other things which bring us onto and into the river. There’s been much going on too about protecting the river, and I was part of an event a little while ago where we celebrated and spoke up for our river, which is the lifeblood of the town and its people, as well as all the other communities of creatures within and around it. You can read a little more about all this here if you would wish.

Photo by Lorraine Ruth Leach, Save the Deben

But, this is a poem about those birds, mainly the waders, who are far away to the north all summer. It’s so good when begin to return, as they do now and all through the shortening days. The lowlands of the east are a haven for so many migrating birds, and many are working to protect and enhance the wild places that shelter them. Just this week, the Suffolk Wildlife Trust have announced very exciting plans for rewilding part of the Deben’s watershed – Martlesham Wilds. You can read about that here.

Over the long and beautiful days of summer, I miss the winter birds – the godwits and the lapwings and the curlews and the redshanks, and so many others. I feel so honoured to live in a place blessed by their presence, by their return year after year. It’s so precious, and precarious. So here is a poem that rose up as I leaned on the flood defences, and watched the sky and the mud, and greeted the homecoming birds.

Homecoming

Oh, the waders are returning –
swooping now over the water,
their wings and tails flashed
with white against the slow dark
shimmer of river and mud.

How good to see them again,
to hear them again,
their plaintive calls
rising like long echoes of
winter, of the far north
where they have been
all summer long.

The godwits have their heads
down now, probing river-mud
for worms – again and again,
hungry, windblown,
wings aching with effort
of flight across open,
chilling seas, exhausted
and home at last, jabbing and
jabbing with their strong beaks
for worms that have been
quiet all summer, deep down,
low with heat and drought.

How I have missed them,
with their cries and angled flight,
and as the days darken,
it feels now as it does
when old friends return,
and we share a table together,
feasting and talking long
into the gathering night,
together, and content.

Poem: Midsummer Daisies

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 daisies

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.

Poem: Peony

From Farmer Gracy – a perfect peony

I’m with Mary Oliver – each morning I get up and hurry over the damp grass to see what has begun to open in the morning light. I love her poem Peonies, and this poem of mine pays tribute to it.

My peony did not open with the morning. This beauty waited, waited until the sun was high and warm before unwrapping itself.

And I had waited for two years since planting. And waited while the bud was closed. And then, in the space of a few hours, everything changed.

Peony

Today, I watched
as a new peony opened –
I had planted a row of them,
and now, after two years, this –
the wondrous first flower
unwraps itself. Slowly.

And oh, how dark,
how perfect.
Red velvet cake,
chocolate,
a rich eggy heart
of soft anthers
waiting for the
already waiting bees.

Three hours ago it was bud,
and now, this heart is open,
warming in the golden sun.
And still, others wait
to put out their own flowers
for there is more, still more,
to come.

And each day, then,
the question –
What astonishing thing
will unfold for you today,
and unfold in you today?

What gift can be given,
and received?
For all the world,
and you within the world,
is full of such wonders –
sweetness for ants,
clover in the unmown grass
thick with the darkness of bees.

And this flower, now,
with its beauty both
before you and within you –
for they are the same,
know they are the same –
glowing deep in the
ripening light.

Experimental mowing/unmowing pattern, beloved of bees.

Poem: Two crows in an April gale


I have no picture of the particular crows who caught my attention, and prompted this poem, but I thought I’d share this lino cut with you – I did it a few years ago now, and its good to remember the pleasure I took from carving away at the surface.

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

Poem: River Haiku – April 2022, Updated to include Save the Deben event.

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.

You can see a report on Channel 4 News here.

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.

Photo by Charmian Berry

It then joined the march…

Photo by Ruth Leach
Photo by Ruth Leach

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.

Photo by Ruth Leach

River Haiku – April 2022

The river breathes life
for fish, otter, bird and us:
Now death flows, we speak.

It’s such a wondrous river. Let’s treasure our places, and care for them.

Updated 24th April 2022 to include coverage of the Day of Action.

Woodbridge Climate Action Event

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.

Waldringfield Saltmarshes – Seal

This thin strip of solid ground
turns away from the shore,
snaking through saltmash –
sea lavender, sea purslane,
samphire glowing
in the fading light,
the saltsmell of algae –
until we are far from
ploughed earth,
far out on this wide,
flat, dizzying
land-water-scape.

Pools of infinite grey mud,
the hiss of water receding,
we walk just as the tide
turns to ebb,
this winding path our
thin line of safety,
draped with a strand-
crust of drying weed,
studded with hundreds
of tiny white crab-shells,
oysters, mussels.
How fragile I feel myself
to be.  How quick to be lost.

After many turns further,
and further out,
we come to the place
the path stops.
On the other bank,
we can see the woods
where great white egrets nest.
At my feet, the red of a
spent cartridge hurts
my eyes
as I hear oystercatchers,
and sweet skylarks,
and water,
and wind scuffing the water.

There, at the end,
the limit of where we could go,
we saw, in the water,
the seal –
a low flat head,
intelligent eyes,
sleek and fat,
as grey and rounded
as the mudbanks –
swimming.
We crouched, concealing
our profiles from the
luminous sky,
we held our breath,
and watched its dive,
and breath, dive,
and breath.

And as it swam upstream,
we turned to go back,
retracing our steps exactly,
watching its joy,
its contentment,
as we grew closer to solid
ground, the smell of ripe
barley after rain,
and mallows,
and sweet chamomile
carried on the breeze,
welcoming us.

But the taste of the saltmash
sustained us,
sustains us,
the peace of the seal
stayed with us,
stays with us.
And the cry of the curlew
remains.


 
 

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.