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
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.
As things grow and spread in the garden, I sometimes feel a plant is no longer thriving, or no longer fits the mood. The colours and textures change constantly, and sometimes something can seem stranded, suddenly out of place. I felt that way about these tall, pale asters last year. I moved some, and find they are thriving in their new homes, but the rest, I thought I’d dig up.
Lack of energy or time or poor weather means that I often don’t carry out my plans, leave them for another season. But increasingly, I am not acting on an impulse to remove, I am giving myself another chance to look at things differently. I am so glad that I left these, for this year, the asters are the loveliest thing I see.
I thought about their transformation, or rather, the transformation I experienced in how I saw them. I realised that the plants that are around them, and the increased light now the old tree has died, have made them appear transformed, lit up. Seeing things in isolation, out of context, we can miss their beauty, their true qualities. Kindly companions change everything.
A change of heart/asters
I wanted to dig them up, these pale asters. They looked grey under clouds grey enough. Shaded and overshadowed, they spread, moved forward towards the light. In their advance, they bound cyclamen as tight as a vice. They are no good, I though.
But, it seems, they needed that light, and more than that, the right company – this new rich pink, the purple leaves turning deep red behind them, the pale chaos of ammi running to seed – all this has transformed them, or rather transformed my seeing, revealed their beauty – a delicacy of colour, a generous abundance.
In this new light, the bees and the butterflies crowd them for their late nectar as the sun shines on them, finding in them a sweetness I had missed.
I will not be so hasty. I will give myself time to look again. I will step back, take in the whole, and remember that kindly companions change everything. I will look to add, befriend, seeking the right company.
I will remember the value of light, and seeing each thing not for itself alone, but as part of a wider abundance. And so, I have had a change of heart and I see now, yes I see now, that none of this pale, unassuming flourishing is wasted.
It’s been a while since I’ve shared a poem with you, so thank you for finding me again! Sometimes, it’s good to simply be over the summer, to rest in warmer days, and fill up notebooks with things for later.
And so, this next poem comes to you a little out of season. There are still a few wild strawberries hanging on in there in sheltered spots, but now the autumn storms are upon us, and they don’t last long. So this is from a few weeks ago – it feels longer, like a different, sunnier world. The fruit ripening now is the apples – but I hope to write about them another time.
As I was harvesting wild strawberries, I was thinking how good it is, the way they just spread around the garden, making a home for frogs and newts and slugs, how good it is they choose their places to flourish and thrive. Much in the garden is self-willed, and it does seem to be thriving, if a little scruffy at this time of year.
I do tend them, by looking after the soil, and they tend me with their sweet goodness. As I was turning over this circle in my mind, this poem came, with a basket of fruit.
Wild strawberries – a gift
Each day now, I bend, send my hand through thick leaves, under undergrowth, searching for that flash of fruit.
Finding trove after trove, tiny, sweet-sharp, intense, lingering on the tongue.
They grow rapidly, self-willed, under my delighted gaze, spreading over rich soil thick with compost, nourishing the slugs and me.
And as I stretch and gather, gather and stretch, I feel a sudden wash of gratitude, precarious, and abundant, thankful for each tiny fruit.
For a moment, I feel part of a rich goodness beating steady and deep, a full base note under the sweetness – the endless life-circle of gift and gratitude, gratitude and gift,
and of mutual care – I care for the plants, and they care for me, gently, sweetly, with a taste never to be forgotten.
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.
I’m very grateful for the interest people have been taking in my poems based on Bible stories. Thank you. I’m sharing this one again, as it may help in people’s preparation for, and celebration of, Pentecost. Both poem and reading show the way that the Spirit can burst through our shut away places and times, taking the ordinary and transforming it. I hope you find some encouragement here.
Wind and fire – two of the ways people have tried to describe the Spirit.
As we approach Pentecost Sunday, I am sharing with you some readings and a poem. Please feel free to use them if they help you, saying where they are from.
From the fields it came: the first sheaf of barley cut for that year’s harvest. It was carried high through streets crammed with visitors, and on to the Temple. And then the priest offered it to God, giving thanks for the good land, and for the gift of harvest. For that day was the celebration of the first fruits. It was Pentecost. Meanwhile, the disciples were all together, waiting. Then, suddenly, it began. It stared with sound – a sound like the wind – but this was no gentle harvest breeze. This was a shaking and a roaring: a sound of power, whooshing and howling about the house, rattling every door and shutter. The sound seemed to come down from heaven itself, and filled the house as the wind fills sails. Then, the disciples watched wide-eyed as something that looked like fire came down, and tongues of flame peeled off it and rested on each of them without burning them. All of them were filled, for the Holy Spirit had come. And as it happened, their tongues were loosened, and they began to speak as the Spirit gave them words. These words were not Aramaic, their own language, but in languages that were unknown to them. A crowd had gathered by the house because of the extraordinary sound, but then they heard voices. There were pilgrims in Jerusalem from all over the known world, and they recognized the words the disciples were speaking. “He’s talking Egyptian!” said one. “That one’s talking my language,” said a visitor from Crete – and the same was true for all. Each person heard God’s praises in their own tongue. “What can it mean?” they asked each other. But others among the crowd joked that the disciples had been drinking. The Twelve heard what they were saying, so Simon Peter stood up to speak to the crowds. “Listen, I’ll tell you what’s happening. We’re not drunk! It’s too early in the day for that! This is God’s promise come true. Do you remember what one of the prophets wrote long ago? I’ll pour out my Spirit on everyone – young and old. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, young men will have visions, and old men dreams. All who follow me – men and women – will be given my Spirit, and there will be wonders!
Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours… Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good, and yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now. St Theresa of Avila 1515-82
Spirit of God put love in my life. Spirit of God put joy in my life. Spirit of God put peace in my life. Spirit of God make me patient. Spirit of God make me kind. Spirit of God make me good. Spirit of God give me faithfulness. Spirit of God give me humility. Spirit of God give me self-control.
From Galatians 5:22–23
When I’m retelling stories from the Bible, I often spend time before them quietly, sinking into the story, wondering what it would have been like to have been there, to have seen and heard and felt….. As well as the retelling, this poem emerged from that process of contemplation.
How would it feel, then, to live in that God-shaken house? To feel the wind, like the very breath of life, like the stirring of the deep before time, gusting through these small daily rooms, clattering and pressing against doors and shutters, not to be contained?
How would it feel to look up, eyes dried by wind-force, and see fire falling, flames bright and crackling, and resting with heat that does not burn on each wondrous head?
To be blown open lock-sprung lifted with wild reckless joy as words tumble out into the clear singing light?
It would feel like this, it feels like this, and it is still only morning.
I am delighted to see how even the tiniest glimmer of sun brings out clouds of insects in the garden. I love the way the spring flowers are hungrily visited by bees. I do what I can to encourage butterflies. It cheers me when they come, but sometimes, I remember reading in novels, and poems, of an abundance that I can hardly imagine. It fills me for a kind of nostalgia for something I didn’t know, but nonetheless miss. I feel its lack. I remember as a child hearing older people talk about primroses and cowslips as flowers that were abundant in their youth, but had all but vanished from the countryside. No doubt, these memories are what is behind my cherishing them, and watching them spread through the garden.
So, although it warms my heart to see the growing abundance in our lightly disordered patch of nature, I’m aware of shifting baselines – I know the natural world I experience is diminished compared to that which our ancestors saw and knew. I sometimes feel the presence of a ghost landscape behind what I see – a landscape of what had been. To the best of my knowledge, my place was once an orchard, and my mind’s eye can almost see it, alive in a way I can only dream of.
I was reminded of a book I loved as a child, Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, where the garden, as it was, becomes visible, even though it had been destroyed and built over. At least here, in this place, there is hope that some of the abundance there was can return, as much as it is within my power.
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 with 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 clouds as you walked through the long grass? Could you lie down and hear the hum of many bees in the blossom above? Could you doze in the scent of wildflowers, the hum and scratch of insects?
Perhaps, like Tom’s Midnight Garden, that place is still here, in the shadows. Sometimes, I can almost glipse it, as transient as dawn mist.
And perhaps, I hope, it is becoming less ghostly, more embodied, humming in this shimmer of life in the air. Growing stronger, growing more certain, after so many years.
Next week, all being well, the rules will change here in England. We’ll be able to have someone local in the garden again. Having all this time with no human visitors has made me thing about who I’m tending this garden for. It’s been rather nice to leave aside my imaginary visitor who might critisize my rather haphazard and untidy methods, and just go with what I want, and what the garden seems to do. I hasten to say that my dear friends who came and sat with me last year, when inside was out of bounds, are always delighted to be here, and say no such thing! The critic is internal, and I am seeking to encourage her or him not to worry, to look at what is beautiful instead.
I’ve changed my emphasis this year. Previously, I was being quite purist about going for british native plants, wildflowers, and I still do try for those first. However, that did leave a long gap in the latter half of the year when there wasn’t much for the insects, so now I’m going for abundant life – plants and a style of gardening that encourage insects, birds, any other wild creatures that are happy to be here. I am protecting tender things from the muntjac, but the deer is welcome just the same. You can read about my planning for later in the year in my poem, Dreaming of Flowers.
Hospitality, then, in my garden, is the largely hidden from human eyes at the moment. It is fairly unconcerned about what other people might think. It is simply what I, and the wildlife, like. This winter, I’ve done other things to shelter nature. I’ve put up a couple of bird boxes, and made a bee hotel, and had piles of cuttings where ladybirds overwinter. I might write about those later. For now, I’m just rejoicing in a few of the flowers.
Hospitality Lockdown III
Alone in the garden. Mild. The early insects stir, hum, fly slowly towards the flowers I have planted – startling yellow aconites, the shrub honeysuckle, primroses, crocus – oh, those two together, the purple and the yellow, how they shine, how they bend their impossibly thin pale stems as they follow the sun, as they accept the weight of bees.
This garden is still a welcoming place. Cut off from friends, from human hospitality, from tea and laughter, from human notice of these opening buds, even now the garden hosts such a banquet.
It sustains and rejoices so many – the hoverflies, like this one, resting in the yellow aconite all this time as I write.
I have spread a table here, welcoming all this life, and together with all these, I receive the early warmth, I rest in the fragrance of flowers.
Just to add – today, I saw the first male brimstone butterfly visiting the primroses. So exciting!
I was chatting to a friend the other day – via screens, of course – and we were mulling over what Lent might look like this year. We were thinking that so many of us have given up so much, and experienced various levels of loss and renunciation over the past year, that we wondered if we could reframe our thinking about Lent. Maybe this year we need something more plainly hopeful, and nurturning of new growth. This ties in with what I have been drawn to doing this late winter season, which is contemplating the parable of the sower, with its hopeful scattering of seed, its false starts, disappointments, failures, and as the seasons roll on, hope and fruitfulness.
So I thought I’d share with you some mediations drawn from the parable as we go through Lent, and find our way through this season of preparation for Easter in our strange new pandemic world. Other nature parables may find their way in too.
Firstly, here is the parable, from my retelling.
Once, when Jesus was surrounded by a crowd of eager listeners, he told them this story.
“One dry, bright day, when the wind was still, a farmer went out to sow seed. He took handfuls of grain from the flat basket he carried and, with a flick of the wrist, scattered seed, hopeful for its growth. But some of the seed fell on the path, where the passing of many feet trampled it, and the birds swooped down and ate it. Some fell on dry rock. After the soft rains, it swelled and sprouted. But then it withered, for its roots could find no water. Some landed among the thorns, which grew so fast that they soon smothered the tender new shoots. But some landed on good soil, where it grew up, and ripened. When the time was right, the farmer came back and harvested a crop from it, a hundred times more than was sown.”
After the crowds had gone, and Jesus was left with the disciples, they asked him “What does that story mean?” And Jesus answered:
“The seed is the word – God’s word. The seed that fell on the path is like the seed that falls in some hearts – it’s snatched away by the devil before it takes root, before those people begin to believe. The seed that falls on the rocks is seed that falls where there is little depth – at first, God’s words bring joy to those people, but there are no roots, and when trouble comes their faith withers away. The thorny places are like hearts choked up with worry, with riches and pleasures. There’s no space for God’s word to grow. But some seed does fall on good soil – the word takes root in hearts that are ready, and they hold on to it. In time, the word gives a rich crop in people’s lives, and they are fruitful.”
As we’ve been in enforced separation, and isolation, and solitariness, I’ve felt my need for conneciton more than ever. I’ve become increasingly aware of our interdependence, interbeing even, our bonds to the whole order of things as well as to other humans. The soil is our hearts, we read, so can we find our way back to a deeper understanding of soil, and our own natures?
Last year, before the lockdowns began, when we could still travel and meet and share, I gave a talk at my old college on this parable. I’d been thinking about how Jesus invites us to consider the flowers of the field, and the birds of the air, and to learn of God from them. Aware of how much damage humanity has done to the wildflowers and the birds, I was struck by what meanings we might learn now.
Here is a small extract:
But in this story, Jesus invites us to see ourselves as soil. Our hearts are soil. Often here we rush into wondering what kind of soil we are, whether we are good soil or bad soil – whether we measure up to some fruitfulness criteria, or not.
I’d like to linger awhile, though, with this ancient and unattractive idea that we are simply soil. I feel it may hold a glimmer of hope. Our language teaches us that humans are humus, made of the same stuff as earth. And from the Hebrew Genesis story – Adam is the one formed from the earth, and the earth is Adamah: dark clay. Ash Wednesday reminds us of this in the context of our sin and death. Today, I want to think of how it relates to our growth, our life. We are brothers and sisters of the earth, made of the same stuff. Can we see ourselves, and the earth, like that?
If we can, we might catch at something important, an antidote to what ails us. Perhaps the crisis we have wrought upon the life of Earth may have its root in seeing ourselves as too separate, too superior to listen to the soil, and the birds, and the weeds.
We can learn much from soil, and we can begin with a simple truth: soil is precious, and it is being lost and degraded – possibly like the human heart. Possibly both need a more tender and wise handling than they are getting in our culture. Soil, whether it is under our feet, or our own hearts substance, can be improved, tended, nurtured back to health.
This Lent, I feel drawn to practices that are nurturing and hopeful, rather than austere. Even so, there is another way of looking at Lent which may be part of this hopefulness. Maybe our ancient practices of restraint, and simplicity, may have wisdom we need in our current difficulties.
In times gone by, Lent was a lean time of year, as the winter was ending. It was a time when the world was waking up to life, when eggs were laid and young were born and cows produced milk again. Without some restraint, this fragile new life would not have had a chance to develop. Humanity chose to wait until the fullness of spring, after Easter, before relieving the winter’s hunger. This calls to mind the ancient Hebrew practice of the year of Sabbath. As well as having a day, once a week, when people refrained from economic and agricultural activity, there were also whole years when the land was permitted to rest, and the people dependend on what the land produced. These times of rest for the land were an important practice for God’s people, nurturing their awareness of their dependence on God. For land was less a possession to be used, more as a gift to be shared for the blessing and feeding of all. Perhaps we can look again at this quiet, gentle living with the land. Perhaps as we enter Lent, we can consider whether there are ways in which we can practice restraint for a season, to ensure the future flourishing of the land, and of the earth. To see restraining our desires as a spiritual discipline is something we can turn to once again.
As we face the degradation of ecosystems, and the loss of so much life, we can construct a form of Lenten fasting to protect and nurture the Earth, to bless the earth and all its communities of being. We are already engaged in abstaining from our pleasures and normal lives to save the lives of others, perhaps more vulnerable that us. We know how hard and necessary it is. Perhaps we can learn from this experience, and gently, kindly, nurture other Lenten practices of simplicity to promote the flourishing of all.
And so, as we reflect on the possibility of new growth as the deep snow melts, of spring and hope and lengthening days, I’d like to share with you this reflection as I put myself in the place of the sower, walking over the land. I am brought up sharp by hearing how degraded our soil has become, how future harvests are threatened by the thinning out of the complex life of the soil. I am greatful that the soil I have here is good, and that a careful spade will unearth many myriad of living things. So this reflection has meandered away from the parable, drawing on my own awareness of how dependent we are on the soil. I hope to continue to share these snatches of meditation with you as we go through Lent. I hope you will join me.
A blessing for the soil.
I bless the soil I walk on I bless the richness of the life I can neither see nor understand.
I give thanks for the fruitfulness of the earth. I give thanks for the falling and rising of green things. I greet the creatures, many legged, single celled, that do the work of life-from-death. May we protect and cherish this foundation. May we nurture good soil. May it be sheltered by plants, free from rocks and thistles.
May we learn in humility what it needs.
More on Ash Wednesday – Remember you are dust. This year, we have all had cause to think of our frailty. To know that we, and those we love, are fragile beings. The words of the traditional Ash Wednesday service have a new and sadder resonance this year.
If you’d like to follow my book, Jesus said I am, for Lent, you can find out more here. There’s lots of material on this blog.
Note, 25th March. This note is by way of apology. I was intending to make this a series running through Lent this year, and haven’t done so. I had a commission for New Daylight – I haven’t done anything for them before, and it took me a little while to get into the groove. That series of meditations will be published next year, also on parables. I wrote on the relationship rather than nature parables, and I couldn’t quite get my head around doing both things! I’ll tell you more about the New Daylight work nearer the time.
The Sower keeps calling to me though, there’s more to explore, and I’ll find a way of doing that with you in due course. Thank you for your patience!
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.