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 week, we decided to try to take a trip out. We haven’t been anywhere for months, with the lockdowns, and looked for somewhere to stay for a night so we could walk more coast path in Norfolk. Amazingly, we found a place very near Wild Ken Hill, where Springwatch is based this year – for non UK readers, that’s a glorious BBC live nature broadcast. Having read Isabella Tree’s Wilding, we’ve been chatting about rewilding and what we can do in our small patch to make space for the abundance of wild things. We were excited and curious to be so near a rewilding, regenerative project..
We might have expected to be immersed in wildlife, but that didn’t prepare us for the wonder of being so. Wherever we looked, there was more, and more – things we’ve never heard or seen before. Life was exuberant, everywhere, abundant in a way that was simply awe-inspiring. And then, as we were walking away from the wetland scrapes, there was another treasure. In the scub between the two banks, which strectched behind the caravan park, were turtle doves. I never thought I’d hear one.
These rare birds, all the creatures, seem happy to come if we make space for them, and refrain from harming the land. Life wants to live, it wants to return and thrive. Careful thought and work and research has gone in to providing this space, but it’s so good to know that there is hope, that the care is more than worthwhile. The joy and wonder we felt there reminded me that human flourishing is bound up with the flourishing of all things.
My husband took some pictures, and once we’ve uploaded them, I’ll share them with you here. I wanted to write my response, to share the joy and the beauty and the reverence of being surrounded by strange birds.
Strange birds, Wild Ken Hill
Walking along the bank, between scrub and scrape, insects rise in unaccustomed clouds, flying things unknown. A small orange butterfly rising and tumbling, keeps ahead, just before us until at last it settles on this wildflower bank, blowsy with cow parsley, and opens its wings to the sun
while another pair of wings, huge and white, make their wide arches and swoop and rise above and beside us, a great spoonbill unfolding awe about its feathers, lifted on air full of cries, and we walk softly among these flights of beauty with opening reverence.
And as we move on, under the warming sun, we turn to look to the other side where May froths with heady scent, and there, we hear a sound unheard before.
A soft low purring, rising and falling, one, then two, three, then many, the voice of the turtle doves, a tremor of joy, a long breath of wonder in this small space, near caravans and cars.
The yes of spring, the yes of hope, of awe and beauty and love, the yes of life, in abundance, these are borne to us on the wings of strange birds.
I am sure that all people who have ever tried to tend a garden, or grow crops from the land, are deeply aware of the changeablility of weather, and the vulnerability of their work. This year, I have pretty much given up growing veggies from seed, as the cold and dry has thwarted too many of my efforts.
I’m aware that the work and care I give to my garden can be undone so quickly by the weather. Increasingly, I’m aware how the increased instability of the climate is making it harder than ever to grow things. I seek to work in harmony with the rest of nature, but the rest of nature is unnaturally capricious.
I am feeling the loss of a tree that died a few years ago when the Beast from the East was followed by relentlesly hot and dry weather. I know I could not save it, and cannot save all the plants. Even though I know new things are growing, there is an unease in my tending. I have planted an apple tree in its place, which is flourishing, full of blossom. But this contrast between my nurturing of the place, and the wildness and unpredicatability of the weather has been on my mind.
Elsewhere, I have written about the tree. You can read it here.
And yet, the garden is full of life, it florishes, and changes, and we adapt. Things want to grow, and live, and they do.
A good place
Just now, a buzzard drifted overhead, slowly, consideringly. ‘This is a good place’ I whisper, looking up, as mice quake the lengthening grass. She flies on, slowly, her head turns back
as a blackcap sounds his golden, limpid song. This is a good place. Yet the tree died even so.
The weather blows in weird. Too hot, too cold, too much, then not enough, rain. Things begin their opening, and close and blacken.
This is a good place. I tend and nurture. I make homes for many creatures. And the tree died even so, even so the earth shifts as the ice melts, the wind veers and changes, I cannot hold it back – that endless dry north wind that burns the soft green growth.
But I stand with my trowel in my hand, with dirt under my nails, and I tend, and I nurture, even as I look up and watch the sky change, even as I look up and see, too, the high birds drifting across. And I choose to live tenderly, tending, for it is a good place even so.
Edit/Note 19th May 2023
This evening, I’ll be reading this poem at the final talk of a series organised by Woodbridge Climate Action Centre. The series is entitled Regenerating Living Landscapes. This evening’s talk is Landscape Connectivity: Rivers and Wildlife corridors by Professor Peter Hobson. I’ve made a few small edits to the poem – coming back to things you always see something you’d like to tweak – which I have made here on the blog as well. It’s been so good to be involved in the talks, and all the conversations and connections that are flowing out of our gatherings. I’m very honoured to be able to contribute in this small way.
Sitting in one of my sitting-and-thinking spots in the garden, sometimes something catches my eye which brings me joy. In my last post, One hundred and ten years, I talked about the primroses in the garden, and why it mattered to me that they spread. We could have lost them with the blitz of herbicides in the previous century, and their modest presence is still not guaranteed.
Here is a poem then, that draws on their growing brightness in my spring days. Now, we’ve had some warmth, and they are beginning to retreat under the cover of later plants, but here is how I love to see them. Soon, their fine seed will begin to fall again, down over the sleeper into the waiting lawn. I thought about that experience of falling, and how so many things that feel like an end may not be such an ending, after all.
We’ll mow around them, and let them make their way across, amongst the speedwell and the forget me nots that are also growing there.
Some days, something as simple as the way the primroses tumble over the wooden sleeper to the grass below is enough.
It’s enough to see they fall and are caught, nestled between strong grasses, resting on good earth.
Enough that once there, they soften and grow. Enough that they unclench their green fists into open hands as they spread slowly, and ever wider, across the grass like cold, yellow butter.
They fall. They are caught. They find a welcome, a green place, all they need.
May our fallings be so caught. May we, after all, come to rest in some new, surprising place where we flourish.
May we find that what feels like a falling is, after all, a running over, an overflowing, down, to some place we had not known before. And may that running over be enough.
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.