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.
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.
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.
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.