A poem for New Year’s Eve – Crossing the Blyth at sunset, at the turn of the year

All the photos in this post were taken by my husband on a wild and stormy day at Walberswick.

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 year, I’ll be looking to continue to deepen my appreciating, and active care.

The poem I’m sharing with you today was written at a previous New Year. We nearly missed the foot ferry between Southwold and Walberswick while out on a long winter’s walk with our family. It ran till sunset – and sunset was upon us. It speaks of a happier time, when family could stay, when the foot ferry was open, as well as The Bell Inn at Walberswick. Today, husband and I did a long bright blue walk along the River Deben’s bank downstream from the creek, as far as you can now before the breach. It was beautiful, full of birds and ice. Little flags of ice clung on to the reeds after high tide and flashed in the sun. But I did remember this Walberswick walk, and the strange feeling of being suspended between the two shores, the two closed gates, in the hands of the ferryman whose course was sure even though it seemed to slant so across the water.

It helped me thinking about today, where I feel suspended between two shores. This year, the new shore seems further away, and harder to know. We are not used to feeling quite this adrift, and uncertain. Trust, hope, faith, love – and action drawn from these – are important now. But so is sitting with the uncertainty, with the not knowing where we are going and what we are doing. Perhaps in this space we can dream of a shore with warm, welcoming lights, with togetherness, with hope. Perhaps we may find we can be such a shore for each other, and keep lights of hope and welcome burning in the long cold nights.

I’ve shared with you another poem about winter walking along this shore, and a murmuration of starlings. You can read that here.

Crossing the Blyth at sunset, at the turn of the year.

We walked fast towards the ferry –
nearly too late –
and saw the ferryman on the other side,
the gate closed behind him.
But we waved, and he came,
his blue boat a long wide
curve across the river.

Behind him the setting sun,
the treeshapes
black against the orange sky,
How beautiful it is.
He helps us on board,
offering me his hand
with nautical courtesy,
and then shuts the gate
firmly behind us.

So we thank him, and our blue boat
begins to churn those golden waters
rippling with a fast tide,
as we seem to hang for a time
between those two closed gates,
between those two jetties,
in neither one space, nor the other.
We are somewhere else instead,
where all is gold,
where darkness lies behind,
where the lights of the houses and
the wide-open pub are ahead of us,
lights that warm with the hope of welcome.

We are suspended for a while
in this Adnams-blue boat
with the diesel and the saltsmell
and the cry of the birds,
bathed in light, trailing
an ice hand in water
the same colour
as the light.
Here we are.
This moment.
Between two moments.
How beautiful it is.

Melton Little Free Pantry – Christmas Update

It feels like disappointment after disappointment, crisis after crisis in the run up to Christmas this year in the UK. We’d carefully pieced together plans for seeing those we love, and tried to work out how to do that as safely and joyfully as we could, only for those plans to be upended when it was rather too late to make alternatives. Some of us may find that our cupboards are full, and our guests are not coming. Others, intending to be away, are finding it hard to stock up with Christmas goodies – or anything – in time.

For Suffolk folks, the Little Free Pantry at St Andrew’s Church, Melton, might offer a solution to at least the food sharing aspect of this difficulty. You can read more about the project here. It’s a very simple idea. Anyone can come and leave some food at the pantry, and anyone can come and take some food.

Leave what you can, take what you need.

So, if your cupboards are looking a bit full, and you are sad that you can’t share your food with your nearest and dearest, why not consider sharing it with your neighbours?
If you find yourself in need of this and that, why not come along and have some?
I find it’s helped fill a sad space to leave a few things to cheer someone else. It’s helped me to pass some Christmas cheer on. Why not complete the circle by receiving it? It’s looking quite full and festive at the moment.

Access to the pantry is via the lane to the right of the church, cutting across the end of the Rectory drive. You can see some photos of the way here.

Opening Times:

Monday to Saturday, 9 am – 4 pm
Sunday, 12 noon – 4 pm
Open during the Christmas holidays

You can leave items at the Rectory outside of these times. A link to the Church website can be found here.

Apologies for the blur – I still haven’t worked out how to get a clear shot while wearing a mask!

Of course, our current crisis has left people with real worries and practical difficulty in providing for themselves and their families. The Little Free Pantry is a way of neighbours showing love and support for each other at a difficult time. If you are facing hardship, there are others who can also give help. You could try the local Salvation Army, and the wonderful Teapot Project. The Teapot Project redirects food that would otherwise go to waste, passing it on. They make wonderful frozen meals, too. You can order the food at full (very reasonable) price, or pay as you feel.

With this terrible virus, our normal instincts to reach out to each other are constantly frustrated. In these very dark days, we may long to give and receive love, and support, and practical help, and not know how to do it. The pantry is in some ways such a small thing, but it is a sign of hope and of the love we long to share. And the food is not a small thing, it really does help. The fact that it’s there, that people in the neighbourhood are looking out for each other, helps too. That feeling that we are not alone is so important. Joining in with the giving and taking of the pantry connects us. Why not give it a go?

For those who are not local, there may be food sharing schemes where you live, or you could consider starting one?

Christmas, a time when we remember there is light in the darkness.

Poem: November Trees – twilight

I wrote this when it was darkening fast – by the end I could not see the marks my pencil was making in my notebook. Darkness comes so early now, but that change into night is beautiful, and, if we can take a moment to notice it, has things to teach us too.

So I have no photo of this moment, but am offering you others from autumn, and hope that you will have a chance to look out of the window, or walk through darkening paths, and see the trees as they settle for the winter, and the birds as they settle for the night.

November trees – twilight

It grows dark.
The trees are black lines
against a yellow sky
which shines, illuminating
through a net of ink,
and the last birds drift
overhead to their roosts
by the river,
and the last birds murmur
and settle in those darkening
trees,

And quiet sadness
creeps like frost across the grass,
as the last flowers
bow their rimy heads.

And suddenly, the question –
What are we to do?
seems a different kind of puzzle.
Not one to solve, but
one to lay down,
in its many pieces,
on the cold grass,
slowly, in wonder.

All this before me knows
what to do, and does it.
Rooted, patient,
receiving the weather like
weather –
whatever comes, comes.

From this place, it will act
when action stirs it with
the unsettling brightness
of spring.  When the ink
stirs once more with green sap.


Until then,
the cold trees will
net the light,
and wait, and deepen,
the darkness will spread
as I am learning to be
grateful for this breath,
to watch this red leaf
spin on a thread of
spiders web,
to feel the cold
sting me alive.

Poem: One and Many

This week, as the darkness and the weather continue to close in, and the news is full of sadness and anger, I’ve been doing something I have never done before – as so many of us are.

I’ve been participating in an online retreat, by zoom, with the Community of Aiden and Hilda, which should have been at Lindisfarne – Holy Island. I’ve never been to such a retreat before, and had not planned to go, but I was encouraged by a friend to try, and dip my toes into those North Sea waters from further south. The week’s subject is The Way of Three, exploring the Celtic love of Trinity.

Celtic prayers and blessings are full of references to this threefold presence of God – not as inscrutable doctrine, but as a deep way of experiencing God, and indeed, all things. Its participatory, and dwells in the dance of interconnection. I have had a growing awareness of this other way of seeing, and just begin to explore it in the chapter on the True Vine in my book, Jesus said “I Am” – finding life in the everyday. You can read a little from that chapter here.

It’s a beautiful and wise retreat, full of welcome and love. I am so glad I joined. On the morning of the second day, I woke with a really strong sense of how everything is bound together, held together in love, and how our new understandings of interconnectedness in ecology and physics and computing and economics are opening our eyes to a new way of seeing and being in the word. As we see reality as interconnected, it gives us a picture, a frame, to help us see God as participating in a dance of love. We find it hard to open up our understanding of God, and these new ways of looking at the world can work as metaphors, helping us picture what is hard to comprehend. What was, at least to me, a doctrinal puzzle, from a perspective of separateness, is now something liveable, relevant, and joyful. It’s taking me a while to find a way of articulating and knowing more deeply this sense, but in the meantime, here is a poem, which I wrote that morning – the day before yesterday. I hope it helps.

One and many

In my garden, I greet the birds
as they slow to land, and hop amongst
the plants, and the feeders.

I greet too the plants,
arriving more slowly still.
I work with what is.
I seek to welcome what grows,
and as things come to the end,
I thank them for their presence,
their work in the garden.

This space is encircled with green,
protected,
so the sharing and flourishing
is open, free.
And within, and without,
all is joined together
in the air, the light, the
rain, and the soil,
the pale threads, deep, deep
in the dark earth that join
under fences and hedges.

Sometimes, I look and see
this bird, this tree,
and flower, and butterfly.
And then my eyes widen,
my focus shifts
and I see the whole,
bound together
in all that is.
I see one loud
singing green,
and that glorious,
and that, welcoming me.

Be the eye of God dwelling with you,
The foot of Christ in guidance with you,
The shower of the Spirit pouring on you,
Richly and generously.

Taken from Wise Sayings of the Celts

This morning, I watched and listened to this beautiful piece by David Whyte – another blessing.

And a quote from today’s notes….

Maximus the Confessor (6th century theologian):
“To contemplate the smallest object is to experience the Trinity:
the very being of the object takes us back to the Father;
the meaning it expresses, its logos, speaks to us of Logos;
its growth to fulness and beauty reveals the Breath, the Life-giver.”

Melton Little Free Pantry – Half Term update

Apologies for the blur – my mask was steaming up my glasses!

It’s half term here in the UK, and there’s a huge row going on about how to provide for those children and young people who are entitled to free school meals – will they go hungry this week? It breaks my heart that there are so many children who are at risk of hunger in our country, and that we don’t seem to be able to get our response together in time for this short holiday – after all, we knew it was coming. One of the things this crisis continues to do is to reveal things that may have been hidden, or we may have overlooked. Child poverty is one of these, and it’s an affront to us all that we aren’t, as a society, doing better to look after our kids and their families.

Of course, we need to look at long term, systemic solutions which genuinely help families to live good lives, but that long term thinking doesn’t help much if you or your child can’t sleep for hunger, or the fear of hunger. And so, we see once again the kindness and generosity of so many individuals and businesses – many themselves close to the edge – doing all they can to make sure children in their area have enough to eat.

In the light of this national effort, St Andrews Little Free Pantry is a small offering of love and care for and by the community in Melton, Suffolk. It may be just what someone needs, though, to help them through this time. Small, local things can make such a difference. Anyone can come along and take what they need, no questions. So, although I’ve been writing about the free school meals situation, I do want to emphasise that the pantry is available for all, whatever your reasons for visiting. You can just come along, and take what you need.

It’s stocked by donations, and anyone can bring food or toiletries along. Just leave them in the lobby of the church rooms, or by the rectory door.

It’s a little tucked away, so I took some photos so you can see where to go beforehand, that might help.

St Andrew’s Church, Melton, Suffolk.

To the right of the church is this little lane. Follow the sign to the Rectory, which has a paper sign directing you to the pantry.

When you get to the Rectory drive, turn sharp left – it’s fine to cut across the end of the drive – and you’ll see a little path leading down the side of the church rooms.

The door is to your left, and the pantry shelves are just inside.

You will see it’s open every day this half term week, 9-5. Normal social distancing applies. Just come along, and take what you need, leave what you can.

You can read more about the Little Free Pantry here.

Other local organisations which will help:

Woodbridge Salvation Army

The Teapot Project

Poem: Strawberries

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The main crop strawberries are over now, but these little alpines continue – first one part of the garden, then another, is the place to hunt.  It depends on light, and shade, and water, and when the robins and blackbirds discover them.  We – people in our neighbourhood – are sharing plants, and produce, when we have surplus.  It’s part of the deeper connections we’re working to make, to give and to share.  It’s a kind of abundance and connection that gives me hope.  The Transition Woodbridge movement have been doing a marvellous job of facilitating sharing surplus plants and produce, especially during lockdown, and are continuing to plan harvesting from the community fruit trees as the seasons begin to turn.

 

I wrote this poem when the space under the rosebushes was full of big juicy strawberries – and I took photos, too, but my memory card was playing up, and they were lost. So the pictures are of the smaller ones, which seem to keep going most of the warmer weather. Whenever I eat the big maincrop strawberries, I think of the friend who gave me the parent plants to all I now have.  She lives further away now, but is still growing beautiful things.  She taught me a lot about gardening, especially about listening – to the land, and the things that grow there – and learning from your place.  I miss her, and, when harvesting strawberries one day, I thought of the good fruits of friendship, and its spread and reach, and how it enriches our communities and lives so much, along with the plants and the produce.  We see the goodness of the fruits.

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Strawberries
for Kay

Today I am thankful
for strawberries,
growing under the rose bushes,
festooned with casual netting
like a green scarf.

Some rest on the old
stone path, ripening fast,
others are hidden among
leaves of ladies mantle,
sheltered from sun and beaks,

And most of all, I am
thankful for the friend
I watched as she gently
dug the parent plants
from her own rich patch,
who held them out to me
with a reminder to
plant at dusk,
in the cool.
How they have spread
since then.

Friendship, too,
sends out long runners,
who knows where,
small plants that root
as the moment arises,
and how, years later,
these too give
sweet red fruit,
again, and again.

 

 

Poem: Butterfly Path

This next poem is another written following a walk by our river, the Deben, as we make our way down towards the sea.

You can read the first, Waldringfield Salt Marshes, Seal, by following the link.

This poem is about a diversion.  We could not pick up the walk where we left off, by the seal, on the other side of the water.  The footpath was closed, there were diggers and warning signs as the flood defences were being shored up.  We took another route, and were rewarded by butterflies.  I am seeking to learn the names of the many wondrous plants and animals I see, to name them and honour their names.

Some of you may have come across the beautiful book, The Lost Words, written and painted in response to the Oxford English Dictionary’s decision to lose nature words from its children’s edition.  It’s a beautiful, elegaic work – incantations of the names that are nearly, but not quite, lost.  Musicians too have responded, and I have been listening to The Lost Words Blessing, as I seek to do the work of honouring the natural world, and learning its names. It’s a fine piece of music, from Folk by the Oak. I find the lyrics very moving, and resonant.  They express what I hope to do in many of these poems, so coming across the piece was like finding someone who shares a way of seeing the world. Each verse begins with a variation on this refrain:

“Enter the wild with care, my love
And speak the things you see
Let new names take and root and thrive and grow”

it ends..

“Even as the hour grows bleaker, be the singer and the speaker
And in city and in forest, let the larks become your chorus
And when every hope is gone, let the raven call you home”

You can read them all under the video, reached through the link above.

I didn’t take any pictures of the butterflies, unfortunately, but here are some from the Butterfly Conservation website.

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Comma

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Ringlet

 

 

Butterfly path

Evening.  High summer.
To our right the open grass
ripples in the breeze.
And a kestrel hovers,
tail splayed, intent on
what is beneath

the surface of this
silvergreen
watery rippling,
while we walk
down the path
by its side.

Less a path, more a strip of
wildness, of wood and scrub.
Rich with nettles and pink
flowered brambles
and tumbles of flowers
under the shade of thorns
and oaks and hornbeams,
and before us, and around us
on our bright sandy path,
are butterflies.

Ringlet and meadow brown,
the showier admirals,
tortoiseshells and commas,
gatekeeper, small copper –
I am learning these names,

saying these names
for a beauty
I hardly ever see.
Years ago, they say,
butterflies rose in clouds
about you as you walked.

We did not intend to take this path.
Our planned way,
by the river,
was closed.
And so, I receive this shimmer
of beauty as a gift,
in a harmony
of grassland and field edge,
and scrub and wood –
We walk amongst plenty,
amongst what could yet be,
again, cradled in lightness,
and sadness for
what we have lost.
We walk quietly among
many wings,
eyes open,
wide open.

Poem: Waldringfield salt marshes – seal

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These beautiful photos are by Pete Skevington, with thanks.

We haven’t been far from home, since Lockdown started.  It’s been astonishing how that restraint has made us more inventive, seeking out places we haven’t been to, or haven’t been to for years.

We have a very loose walking project of seeing how far along our local river, the Deben, we can go. How much of it is walkable, and accessible by footpath. The river is an estury downstream from us, an unstable and changing and hazardous landscape.  At times, the public right of way marked on the map crosses open water.

We hadn’t attempted to walk this particular route for a very long time ideed.  My memory of it, my first experience of this kind of landscape, was nearly losing my boot in sinking, sucking mud, and being unable to pull myself free.  Now, being more accustomed to the great outdoors, we tried again, knowing the route would be completely different.  How far could we get?

Having got as far as we could, we paused where the marsh-creek joined the river, surrounded by mud and flowing water.  I ate some of the salty samphire that was growing there.  And then, we saw the head of a large seal in the creek, very close by.  The whole experience of being out on those marshes was full of awe, transcendent and earthy at the same time – a deep, lively peace, a beauty and a rightness.  Being met by a seal at the furthest reach of our footsteps was such a gift.

I’ve tried to catch some of that in the words of this poem.  I hope you enjoy an excursion over saltmarsh.

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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.

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Poem: Grandiflora – Lockdown 35

When I wrote this next poem, as the volume of traffic increases, as the number of people we encounter while out walking near our home increases, I felt that it was the last one.  The last one named and numbered for lockdown.  This series had come to a resting place, I felt.  The lockdown was ending, possibly disintegrating.

And there are all the mixed emotions that go with everything to do with the covid crisis.  Of course, it is such good news that fewer people are afflicted with this terrible disease.  I am glad my little local shops are beginning to trade again, and people in my community are able to support their families.  I worry that this is a lull, and not an end.  I worry that we are missing an opportunity to make things better in our scramble to make things normal.

But also, I have really enjoyed this method of writing, and then sharing with you.  Thank you for your company.  I hope these poems have given moments of peace, or thoughtfulness, or connection, or beauty – as they are, and as you need.  I will continue writing like this, and also seeing what else calls to be written.  I think there are new things.  So, there are 35 of these, in this series.  I also wrote seven poems for Good Friday.
That’s quite productive for me, and some recharging of my creative batteries, some reading and thinking and seeing, is required.  Having said that, I may miss doing this so much there’ll be something tomorrow!

This last poem seems to say some things that had been rising up in me for a while.  I am finding, in my response to the multiple crises that are unfolding, that I am trying to understand what is going on, rather than value my own opinion so much.  There is a letting go for me here, which is the first step of learning.  It’s seeking to adopt a beginners mind, or seeking to become like a little child.  There is a reference to the wonderful piece of Medieval mysticism, The Cloud of Unkowing, in the poem, and you can read a bit more about that here.

Thank you again for your time, for sharing your time and virtual comany with me, and for your attention, and bless you.

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Grandiflora  Lockdown 35

I am tired of argument,
although curious,
and seeking understanding.
I am done with the
certainty of knowing.

There is so much more
to be explored in unknowing,
so much awaits
in that soft mist
that rests on the skin.

These magnolia leaves,
rattling in the breeze,
some yellow, and falling,
some green, and shining,
do they know the flowers
will begin to open soon?

The flowers will open,
known or not,
releasing their
creamysweet
scent above me –
joining with
the honeysuckle,
with the rose –
revealing their strange
strong hearts.

Each day,
a new flower
will open.
Each day,
I will receive
their beauty,
and, in turn,
pour out tea leaves
for their dark roots.
I am finding
it is enough.
It is enough.

 

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Poem: Gift – Lockdown 20

I have been finding venturing to the shops hard.  It seems to uncover anxiety.  Firstly, there was the strageness of the distance, the rules, the queueing, the empty shelves, the rules you weren’t quite sure about.

Now, it’s changing.  The distance becomes more permanant.  I am wearing a mask – a lovely one, made by a local person, for Bev’s Eco Products, who donates one for every one she makes.  I have hand sanitiser, I roughly know what to do, and yet…. the strangeness continues.  It is so lovely to see friends out and about, but very hard to be sure you are staying far enough away at all times.  We worry we may take the virus with us where we go – into shops, back home to our households. The sense of threat has, for me, increased as I feel less confident in decisions being made by government.  There are, as always, other things behind our fears, but that is enough to be getting along with.

I go to my lovely local shops, where I know people.  I vary which ones, and when, to avoid patterns, and, on return, after cleaning hands yet again and disinfecting cupboard handles, I sit outside, and allow myself to be consoled.  Sometimes, that consolation takes a tangible form, as it did here….

So this is partly a Lockdown Poem, and partly an account of how my place is helping me venture out. Perhaps we will need some unlockdown poems, too.

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Gift  Lockdown poems 20

As I sat gently in the sun,
holding in my hands
a weird sea of sadness
a trip to my shops
had stirred,
I asked, gently,
why,
why this distress?
And listened.
Then, I took instead
a sip of tea,
and breathed, gently.
This rose petal fell
on my page
before I wrote a word.

I look up.
The rosebuds are tight
shut above me,
and yet, it fell.