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.
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.
I’m so delighted to have one of my poems included in the wonderful Diana Butler Bass’ blog. I love her work and am currently feeling quite excited! It’s almost like I’m participating in the Wild Goose Festival from my rather hot garden.
Here’s a link to the whole poem – the first of a series.
I was thinking of the small, wind-carried seeds that now fill the meadow patch of our lawn, and how we never know where our words will blow to, how they will land, or what future flowers they may bear.
Edit: 19th July. I’ve just listened to Diana Butler Bass’ sermon on All the Marys. Wow. It’s extraordinary. Some astonishing new scholarship and some powerful rethinking of the Mary and Martha texts. I’ll do some pondering, and find out more, but here it is. If you have access to Substack, listen and be astonished. What if this is a valid interpretation?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Update 11th April 2022:
My friend Jacquie has published an excellent article about eco anxiety and anger, and the power of finding your tribe – people you can work with to take some action. It talks about this march and action, which we did together. You can find it by following the link here.
As we are beginning to venture out a little more, we thought we would pay a visit to Ely, and the vast indoor space of its ancient cathedral. They often have contemporary art there, which helps the old stones continue to sing, giving a new perspective on ancient truths. We knew that Gaia, an installation by Luke Jerram, was going to be there in July, and so we went and saw this beautiful, astonishing sight. The comparative emptiness of the cathedral space made it all the more powerful as it floated above us.
And as the space is vast, and it takes time to walk up to, around and beyond the piece, you do have time and space in which to allow the work to speak to you, to stir up responses, and to pray. I am sure that one of the intentions is to give us all an opportunity to experience something like “earthrise”, when the astronauts first saw the whole of the Earth from space, and how that shifted their perspective, and began to change the way all of us are able to see our home. The staggering, indescribable beauty of the whole called out my sense of awe, which sat uncomfortably alongside my awareness of the damage we are doing to our precious, unique home.
In the setting of the cathedral, as Gaia hangs in the nave under the painted ceiling which tells the long stretch of the Bible’s story, I found the language of repentance surprisingly, and helpfully, came to mind. Repentance both in our more familiar understanding of sorrow for wrongdoing, and desire to amend, and in the possibly more ancient meanings carried in the old texts, of returning home, and of undergoing a profound change of mind – a paradigm shift in the way you see.
Much of my writing celebrates the beauty of the natural world, how lovely, precious, and vulnerable it is. But sometimes, that love spills over into grief. So the old stones, and the old story, seemed illuminated by our current crisis, and, in turn, those ancient words seemed to express something necessary, and powerful, and, in the end, with the potential for hope.
Gaia at Ely Cathedral
She seems to float, lit up with her own light, slowly turning, blue and blooming with clouds as we walk up, look up, small before her.
While above our steps, the familiar painted roof rolls on, telling its painted story, from the tree, and the garden, on towards this
fathomless shining beauty, the ‘all’ that was so very good in that beginning. Now as she turns we see how she hangs below the story’s last scenes – the gift of a beloved child held on his mother’s lap, held forward towards us, loved and given and giving, and the wounded golden king, who gives still.
And below, below hangs the whole shining Earth, dazzling, vast with sea, turning and flowering with clouds from the southern ice-shine, melting although we do not see her weep,
And the land, those small green swathes and swags, are dressed in white too, a veil of vapour, while the deserts spread brown and red above our eyes.
The lands are small, countries seem tales we tell. What is certain is this one great flow – ocean and ice and cloud – and the unseen winds that bear them through our blue, breathing air.
And the people stand beneath her, lit by ice, and hold up their hands as if to carry her, or hold her, or save her from falling.
How beautiful it is. How strange and wondrous that we should be creatures who live within so much living perfection.
And as she turns slowly under the child and the king, I wonder, what do those familiar words mean now, ‘the sins of the world’, as the stain of our reckless harm seeps through the blue and green, through all this living glory,
And is there any hope in our waking up to beauty with grief and loss, even as dust and ashes float across the sky, across us all, late as we are in our repenting?
And is there hope, hope that we might be granted this grace – time for amendment of life, to tend the garden with its leaves and fruit, shining and greening, to take part in the work of loving and healing, of restoration, of making all things new.
Last year, I gathered together some links for poems, readings and prayers here on my blog. All of them, on the theme of the road to Easter, are included in this revised post. I’ve also added some links to additional material. You will find sections for different days, with links included. I’ve noticed that quite a few people have been looking at Holy Week and Easter posts, and I’m really grateful for the interest. Thank you for joining me here. I hope you find this update helpful. I’ve also been contacted by some churches in the USA asking if they can use my poems in their online services. I am very happy to share my writing in this way. It really helps me if you acknowledge my authorship, and this blog as the source. It is a real encouragement if you feel able to post a comment about how you have used the material, and also how it went. I do love reading those!
I really didn’t think, when I gathered this stuff together last year, we’d still be keeping these holy days at home, or on zoom, or in very small gatherings, this year. But, as we are, I hope you find what follows useful. At the end, I share a link to a poem I posted for last Easter Sunday, which deals with the themes of being shut away. I wonder if this second strange Easter season may continue to give us some new insight into the isolation and separation recorded in the Gospel accounts.
This season of Holy Week and Easter is filled with realism and hope. It looks darkness, despair, violence and loss full in the face, unflinchingly. And then, it shows something new and good arising. It shows us a strange, unsettling hope for new life. It shows this hope birthed in a tomb. I think our recent collective and solitary experience may help us understand more deeply.
Perhaps we can focus on an inner journey, something quieter, more contemplative. As we do so, we may find, as many have before, that we get to a place of deeper connection, more grounded truth, fuller love. We may find new meaning in Jesus’ teaching and example – how he let things fall away, how he found himself alone, how he loved and forgave even so.
Please feel free to use any of the resources you find helpful, and to share them, saying where they are from.
The links will take you to blog posts where you will find extracts from my books, too. The books include:
You may have local bookshops open – if you do, they can order these for you. Otherwise, they are available wherever you usually do your online bookshopping. The links above take you to Bookshop.org, which supports local bookshops in the UK.
The Retold thread of my blog gives you sections from my book, “The Bible Story Retold in Twelve Chapters”, and “Prayers and Verses” that sits alongside it. They are good for all ages, and have been used in all age worship, Messy Church, and care homes alike.
The House at Bethany, the Raising of Lazarus
Many spend time with this Gospel story in Holy Week. It’s a story that means a great deal to me. You can find some links below.
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.
Last year, I wrote a series of poems for Good Friday, which were used in a number of churches near where I live. It was a great honour to be able to do this. I put together a recording and posted it on Youtube, and there’s a link to that below. I also compiled a suggestion for a Good Friday Meditation, with links to music and the poems. It’s all here, I hope it helps!
This post is a follow up from yesterday’s on ideas for using my children’s picture book, The Little Christmas Tree, this year for Advent and Christmas. You can read that post here.
I’ve also been contacted by another person who’d like to use my retelling of the Bible this Christmas. My old friend Rev Jenny Tebboth of Chalfont St Giles has had a lovely idea for involving families in an alternative crib service out of doors, which should be possible even if there are restrictions. Jenny has very generously given me permission to share the outline of her idea, in case it is of any help to another community trying to plan Christmas activities…. It’s well worth thinking about if you are puzzling over what to do for a crib service, or nativity of any sort.
It’s like a treasure trail…..
“Families will work through the story in six scenes round the village, read part of the story at each scene, pray and listen to a carol – ending behind the inn for hot chocolate.”
I’m so excited to think that my retelling will form the framework for such a lovely idea. The book is in twelve chapters, and Chapter 8 is mainly the birth and early life of Jesus, so there is a good flow of narrative for the six scenes. It’s a very exciting and innovative way to do a socially distanced Christmas adventure. Being out in the cold of winter will be a powerful way of entering into the Nativity story imaginatively, and offers something new and memorable to do to feel involved in Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter, and the birth of Jesus. It’s a beautiful idea, and I look forward to hearing more about it. I’ll post an update when I know more.
If you’d like to read more of my Christmas Retold, you can do so on a previous blog post, here. There, you’ll also find some prayers from my book, Prayers and Verses, and some beautiful pictures.
Here’s some of the story, though, to give you an idea:
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.”
From The Bible Story Retold in Twelve Chapters
If you’d like a copy of The Bible Story Retold, you may well be able to order through your local bookshop even if it’s closed. Alternatively, there are the usual online places. I’m particularly excited about this new venture, though, and commend it to you….
Bookshop.org is a new enterprise which supports local bookshops while selling online. It’s applying for B corporation status in the UK, which means it operates to high ethical standards and makes a positive contribution to communities. You can read a newspaper article about it here.
If you follow this link, you’ll find my book The Bible Story Retold on sale there. It may be they don’t have many copies, so….
You can also find it on Eden bookshops, and all the other online shops.
Once again, it’s so good to hear and share these ideas. If you’d like to use any of my material, I’d love to hear from you. If you’d like, I can share what you plan to do on this blog nearer Christmas. You are very welcome to use my material whether you get in touch or not. Please do acknowledge where it’s from, and that will be good.