The Alde Valley Festival – a glimpse of a more beautiful world.

I don’t know how I have managed to miss this astonishing festival in previous years – it’s not far from where I live, but tucked away in the network of lanes between routes to other places.

Perhaps that’s one reason why, going down the drive laced with cowparsley and buttercups, it felt like we were slipping into another world – a world we are losing and a new one we are finding.  There are ribbons tied in trees, and sculptures, and everyday objects that look like they have been placed with transforming love and care.  You feel yourself relaxing, and being lifted, and filling with wonder, even as you arrive.

Jason Gathorne-Hardy writes in the programme

The farm sits within a landscape that has been planted and cultivated for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. Small areas of farm parkland and pastures [known locally as pightles] are enclosed by hedges of hawthorn, crab apple, blackthorn, field maple, hazel and elm.  This grassy landscape is punctuated by free-standing trees: oak, ash and poplars tower above the hedgerows……

White House Farm is a truly remarkable place.  They have been running this festival since 2011, using their working farm buildings as workshop space, studio space, and exhibition space.  This year’s theme is Florabundance.

As you meander through the farmyards, directed by handwritten signs on wood, you find open doors to peer behind, revealing breathtaking beauty.  There is so much, but I’ll just pick out a few details among a true abundance.

 

In the lamb nursery room – which is used as such earlier in the season – laid out on white tops, were the most exquisite bronze vegetables, fruit and seeds. Alice-Andrea Ewing had cast them from produce during her residency at the farm.  The beauty of the natural forms coupled with the weight and seriousness of bronze gave them an extraordinary presence, as if we could see and feel everyday things as truly wonderful.

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The combination of old farm buildings and small cubes of art gallery white really charged ordinary food with a sense of the artist’s reverence, such as with these pears, and medlars.

 

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I loved the way the whole place was so hospitable.  There were were toys and picnic tables and clues to adventures outside – and inside the lovely Suffolk chairs, old and new, were often beside piles of books that, if you felt inclined, would send you on the trail of other adventures – of friendships and connections between the artists and those who had gone before, and the places they love, and their mutual “cross pollination”.   The Benton End trail was a joy to follow – especially the connection with the iris paintings we would come to later.

I loved the transformation of the everyday, the desire to honour simple planting and growing, that was evident everywhere.  In particular, Tessa Newcomb with works “The onions continued to be elegant”, “The last moment of the Year, 2018”, and a whole barnful more….. and Ruth Stage’s limpid winter light, again in pictures of the farm and nearby walled garden.

It was the corrugated old threshing barn that held the largest and most breathtaking works though.  Jane Wormwell’s large canvasses of detailed corners of her garden, and tangles of hedgerow brambles, were remarkably powerful and moving.  These huge flowers put me in a better perspective.  The main exhibition space was given over to Jelly Green’s iris paintings.  This is why we had come – the publicity material had small snatches of them, and I really wanted to see them in real life with all the thickness of the paint and vividness and aliveness of the colours.

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Some of these were flowers cultivated at Benton End by Cedric Morris, who taught Maggi Hambling, who taught Jelly Green.

The vivacity, the joyfulness of the paintings was breathtaking.  I could have spent much longer there.

There is a tiny chapel in one of the barns, with a cross on the table before an animal feeding trough, a manger.  The walls have small pictures of refugees, and brick-sized scriptures alongside.  It was a good place to stop, to breathe, to pray.  The whole place is full of a deep sense of presence, of connection, of goodness, of life.

We walked through the bluebell wood, following the winding path, slowly, breathing deeply, letting the colour and the scent fill us.

 

More from Jason Gathorne-Hardy

It is easy to believe that we, as humans, can control our environment: that we dictate the terms on which we live on this planet. But that notion of power over of all that we survey is probably a mistake.  Plants give us oxygen to breathe, clean water to drink and the raw materials for shelter, food, medicines, comfort and rest.  To borrow a phrase, ‘we live in their world’. We have lost a lot of biodiversity in the past two hundred years.  Locally, this is made abundantly clear by referring to George Crabbe’s plant list for Framlingham and District in the early C19th…….
The Exhibition also seeks to honour their presence in our gardens and landscapes and celebrate the importance of plants in our lives – alongside natural pollinators and seed carriers – through the work of selected guest artists.  Implicit in this is a positive and hopeful story: that the diversity of flora and fauna that we once lived with…. in whose world we lived…. may once again become abundant and resurgent…. which is something to celebrate!

 

What a joy it was to come home, and to see that the irises in our own garden were beginning to open.

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If you live in Suffolk, the exhibition is open for one more weekend – the Late May Bank Holiday.  The tea in the farmhouse is very good too!

 

 

Lent: Jesus said I Am …… Holy Week, I am he – Jesus betrayed

This post draws on the final chapter of my book, Jesus said, I Am, finding life in the everyday

The last time Jesus said “I am”  was in the garden, at the moment the soldiers, and Judas, came to arrest him.

John 17:25-18:11

This is the decisive moment, when everything changes: Jesus steps forward, moving away from his friends.  He steps unarmed towards the guards, soldiers, and Judas.  This step delivers him into the hands of violent men. And yet, and yet.

In his very quietness, quiescence, there is a power and a strength they do not understand.  For their power is no power.  Jesus has freely chosen to drink from this cup of betrayal and suffering and death.  He knows what is to come.  He steps forward, into all that is to come, knowing this to be the way of justice, love and peace.  He steps forward, knowing this is the way to something unimaginably great – overcoming and forgiving the worst evil humanity can do.  But also, it is an immediate, personal, loving step – he keeps his friends safe, draws the eyes of the solders away from them as he enters their circle of glaring torchlight.

‘For whom are you looking?’
‘Jesus of Nazareth’
‘I am’ – ego eimi – ‘I am he’

 

Once again, we see something – someone – real – someone you can talk to, touch, kiss even – who is also this ‘I am’ we have been holding in our mind.  Those who came to arrest him fall to the ground as he says these words.

This is the great ‘I am’ of the burning bush in the shadowy brightness of the soldiers’ torches.  We are on holy ground.

Swords

Peter must put away his sword, and he does.  Jesus undoes our common narratives of violence – killing, defeat of our enemies, power and control are not the way of the cross.  Luke (22:51) records Jesus healing Malchus, the one Peter wounded.  Even now, this is how Jesus loves his enemies.

Judas Norwich

With gratitude to Norwich Cathedral

There is a very moving C14th painting in the Chapel of the Holy Innocents at Norwich Cathedral which shows the arrest of Jesus. Jesus is at the centre, with soldiers around him. Judas is on his left, embracing him, and Jesus receives this embrace, moving slightly towards it.  And Jesus’ other hand rests on a poor naked scrap of humanity, Malchus, restoring his ear.  It is all one beautiful, graceful movement.  This movement, this gesture, seems to transform even the betrayal of a friend, turning it into something life-giving for the naked soldier.  Even in all his ugliness, he is healed.  At some point, someone has scratched away Judas’ lips and eyes, presumably unable to bear the betrayal.  But Jesus bore it; he submitted to it.

The path of the sword is not the way of the cross.  For love and life to triumph over cruelty, separation and death, Jesus chose this way.

The way towards Good Friday is also the way towards Easter Sunday.

We have seen Jesus bring many things together.  These I am sayings reconcile, among other things, the everyday world of bread and gates and plants, with something that seems mystical and far away – the great I Am of the burning bush.  Perhaps we can come to hold these things together, see that they are not so far apart, after all.

Perhaps we too, in all our common, daily life can connect these two things.  Our lives can seem so insignificant and ordinary, but they are illuminated by a life-light, a love and a grace, a hope and a way that is so deep and true it connects our very depths to the very depths of a God who loves us enough to come, in fragile flesh, and stretch out his arms to show us the full extent of his love.  It is in our very ordinariness, our very smallness and failure and seeming insignificance, that we encounter the love and grace of God.  Even there, we can live out of that life-light. We can live in abundant life.

 

Reflection and response

Take some time to look at the picture of the betrayal above.  Seek to do so prayerfully, open to God.  What do you notice?  What catches your attention?
Ask if there are things for you here.
Ask if this speaks into your life, what you are facing now, today.

You might like to think more about Judas.  You can find my poem about him at the last supper here.

Prayer

Dear God, may we be forever caught up in your love and life.  May we never consider ourselves to be too small, too ordinary, too insignificant to be part of your great story of love and abundant life.  May we remember how Jesus came, humbly, and compared himself to bread, to a shepherd, to a vine.  May we see in the rough materials of our lives the wonder of your grace, your glory, your love.
Amen

 

Life and service

We can do no great things, only small things with great love.
St Teresa of Calcutta

As you consider the ordinariness and extraordinariness of ‘I am’, that great union of the everyday with the divine, develop the discipline of seeing each thing as capable of being filled with great love.  This day, seek to do one humble thing with great love. Repeat every day.

Thank you so much for walking this Lent path with me.

If you’d like a copy of my book, you can ask your local bookshop, or order online.

Here are a few suggestions:

The publishers, BRF

Amazon

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Poem: The green of rose leaves

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The progress of the rose – some, taken last year.

The roses that ramble through the silver birch give me great joy – I love to watch them as they grow and get ready to flower, and then fill the trees with startling beauty. I’m waiting for them, I can almost anticipate their scent …..

but not so much as I don’t love the spring as it is now, today.

Sometimes, we just need to look long enough to see it.

The invitation remains.

How do we respond?

 

 

The green of rose leaves

I watch the long arching branches
of the rambling rose bend in the breeze,
noticing how the leaves lighten,
like a colourchart of
pea green,
like a Deco lithograph.

So dark by the stem,
and look, how vibrant
by the tight bud –
with its white flower
to come.

Today, I can sit here,
and do this.
Today, I give my attention
to the spring,
which warrants it.

It has been here all along,
calling with the blackcap’s
fluid, full-throated voice,
it was here,
all this green,
saying
“Look, look……”
and asking me now,
“So, are you going
to join in?”

Poem – Pulling down trees

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Last year was hard on a beautiful tree in our garden – the late snow, followed by drought, killed a cotoneaster that gave us shade in the summer.  The bees loved its blossom, and the birds came in late winter for the berries. We had fieldfares and redwings hungrily stripping it when the fields froze.  And another tree too, a cedar, that was rather cramped in, died in the drought.  It had lovely grey green leaves, and was a favourite perch of the pigeons who watch for food.

So this poem is a tribute, a thank you, to the trees.  I was intending to write about both, and gave it the title I did because I pulled on the rope that brought down the cedar, but it was one tree that ended up filling the space.  I’ve kept the title, in a kind of echo of another poem, Pulling up trees , as it seemed to work for this one too.

The garden looks so different without them, and I couldn’t bear to have the cotoneaster taken out completely right away.  I wanted something to remember it, and some time to adjust to the loss of it.  I’ve been thinking of replacing it with an apple tree or two, to echo the shape, and the bark, and the blossom and fruit.  I still may plant an apple, but, on clearing around the base, we found there was already something new growing, ready to take advantage of the light and the open space.  So, we’ll see.  The garden has its own plans.

 

Pulling down trees

Dark now, the chainsaws growl on
under lights, taking down
the spreading tree I loved,
with its blossom and berries,
its deep shade in summer.
Full of birds it was,
its arched branches
chattering with life.

They leave the dead trunk behind,
for now, for remembrance,
for that wild rose to climb.

Tomorrow, when the sun rises,
I will see how bare the sky looks
without it,
how wide, how open the space.
How light.
And I will see, too,
at the base, sheltering, a
bending sapling,
holm oak,
already growing.
Such a gift,
always,
there is a gift.

 

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Poem – Crow, on the lawn

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My first home-attempt at lino cut

 

Here is the second poem I have written about the crows who have increasingly appeared in my garden.  You can read the first, and something of the background, here.

It’s a small story, but not small for the crows.  It intrigues me to think that, as I go about my daily life, noticing or not noticing the lives around me, so many creatures are living fully, experiencing – well, we can’t know what, but what we see leads me to suppose that there may be some more commonality of experience than we tend to assume. I am trying to notice more, to see more of that commonality we share, creatures of earth that we are.

I still remember the blackbird who stood guard, in what looked like a vigil of grieving.  You can read that poem here.

I have seen various birds of pray above the garden – kestrels, a buzzard, and, greatly to my delight, a red kite.  I have seen the kestrel in pursuit of a pigeon through the trees here, and the pigeon got away.  It gives me great pleasure to see these magnificent birds, and to know that the land is healthy enough to sustain them.  But I have also seen feathers on the lawn, and blamed the neighbourhood cats.  I know now it isn’t always the cats.  And on this occasion, I saw the aftermath of the grim event.  I hope this poem honours the community of crows.

I do not know how long these crows will stay.  I think they need taller trees than the ones in my garden.  I shall keep watch, and see what they do as they search for a home.

 

Crow, on the lawn

And through the window
I see a sleek small grey bird,
with a yellow-rimmed eye,
with a curved beak,
that stands on the belly
of a crow lying on its back.
Its black flight feathers are
curled up, ruffling in the breeze
as if it lives.

And the hawk pulls on the flesh
of the crow until what remains
is light enough to carry

And then it flies,
with a low, slow flight,
leaving behind
ruffles and pom-poms
of black feathers,
a strange mourning.

Later, though, I see two
crows flying fast and straight
across the sky, intercepting
the curved, grey shape of the hawk.
They circle it close,
cawing, chasing, harrying.

And the hawk has not returned,
and the crows above me
fly in slower circles now,
and the black feathers
still tumble across the lawn.

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Poem – Crows

A few weeks ago we were away, staying near Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire.  I loved the deep steep valleys full of trees, with farmland and moorland above. I also loved the way we were close to towns, and railways, and the busy life of people. We were near Haworth, Bronte country, and staying at Hardcastle Crags, which some of you may know from the Sylvia Plath poem.  I hadn’t realised quite how close we were to the places where Ted Hughes grew up and lived, and was so excited to come across the occasional little plaque in the landscape referring to this poem, or that. My backpack carried collections of poems, and notebooks, as well as chocolate and water.

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So, I’ve been reading them both lately – Plath and Hughes – as well as beginning to turn some of our walks into poems of my own.  It’s taking a while, but reading Ted Hughes has reawakened my curiosity about the crows who visit our garden.  I remember doing an English project at school on Crow, and have come back to look at that collection again, in all its darkness.

What I noticed about the crows that I have come to know a little, here, is their sociability, their memory, their communication despite the apparent sameness of their cries.  They seem intelligent and sociable creatures, and I have written a couple of poems from here, in my garden.  It helps to pull things together – lived experience, and the inspiration of others – and to add a small voice to the other voices that sing songs in our landscapes.

I have also loved the wonderful exhibition at The Sainsbury Centre, UEA, of Elizabeth Frink’s work.  I have been so looking forward to that ever since I heard it was coming, as I have felt drawn to her sculptures for quite a few years, and wanted to see more.  The birds particularly struck me.

 

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Crows

Now it is winter, the crows have come back
with the north wind, with the darkness.
They land softly, and in number,
at their old roosting place –
what remains the great beech
just there, ahead of us.

And then they rise again, suddenly.
They land and rise and caw,
and land, and rise, and caw.
The branches shake their dry leaves.
Can the birds tell the tree is dead,
not sleeping?
They do not settle,
whatever they know.

They crisscross the sky in dark lines
above me in the garden.
They land first here, then there.
They try the blackthorn,
and the sycamore.
They drench the holm oak
with their dark wings,
and strip it of acorns.
Their sharp black beaks and
shark black claws work and work.

All the time their cawing calls,
they seek a new place,
they keep tied to each other
with these black lines,
with these cries,
as they fly restlessly
to and fro,
to and fro.

 

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I have  recently, and unusually for me, done a day’s workshop in lino cut printing at The lettering arts trust.  It was such an inspiring environment, surrounded by such excellent work.  I reminded myself to be inspired, not daunted! We had a very talented tutor, Louise Tiplady, who shared very generously of her time and talents.

I wanted to experiment with trying something at home.  It’s really satisfying to gouge away at the lino, letting shapes emerge.  The top of these two is the lino itself, and you can see how I’ve printed sometimes in red, sometimes in blue, taking out more as I felt I needed to.  I don’t have proper inks yet – I was using old ink stamps – and that might account for the blurry, grainy texture.  It’s something I’d like to keep trying, seeing if I can capture some ideas visually, as well as in words.

 

Spiders

 

 

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September – such a rich month.  You can feel the year turning. I love the golden light, and the fruit and berries everywhere.  I love the mornings when spider webs are strung with dew, and there is a nip in the air, waking you up.

Spiders – where are they, the rest of the year?
They seem to be everywhere now, including in the house.  I keep reminding myself of the sterling work they are doing eating the flies, which were bothering me last month….

This is a small poem about the ways of spiders, and the power of waiting.  At this time of year, so much slow ripening is coming to fruition.  I find I have forgotten I watched the bees on the raspberries and the apple trees, wondering what the harvest would be.  I have moved on, thinking of something else.

I forget that much I have wondered about, worried about, prayed about, has turned out all right, after all – not everything, but enough.  I am learning the patience of spiders.

 

 

Spiders – September

Now is the time of spiders –
their silver webs spun between
leaves, and twigs, and blades of grass.
Each one has its weaver,
resting its legs
on fine threads,
its many eyes watching.

For now, warm fat insects
drift dreamily on
the September breeze.

The hedges hang
with berries, I cannot
pick the plums fast enough,
first apples bend branches,
and beans lengthen on their vines.

I am learning the patience
of spiders.
It comes.  What you need
comes to you.  Gently,
when you have almost
forgotten that you ever asked,
or wanted, or longed for it –
here, and here, and here..

 

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I have this on my computer desktop. It helps me remember the power of patience endurance, of not giving up.

 

Poem – Treasure, Hidden. Of perseverance and hope.

 

 

 

 

Treasure, Buried

Each morning I find
small divots in the lawn,
dug neatly, completely.

Sometimes, the squirrel
comes while I am there –
both of us, quiet –
and with an arched back
and a bright eye
she digs.

Does she ever find her
hazelnut?
I don’t know.
I haven’t seen.

I do know I find
a seedling growing
unexpectedly somewhere,
sometimes,
and wonder –
was it her?

I push the divots
back into the lawn.
Each day there are more,
and more.

We value persistence,
the squirrel and I,
we value hope.

Poem – Morning Yoga Practice June 2017

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There has been much grief in the UK this week, met with an outpouring of love, and courage, and kindness.  These sudden losses shock us, remind us of our fragility, and the fragility of those we love.  The moments of national grief catch up our own more private losses, bring to mind what has gone before, and can take us deeper into questions – and the capacity to endure the space between the question and anything like an answer.

After reading Malcolm Guite’s reflections on being so close to the terrible events at London Bridge on Saturday night, I too have had these words of Shakespeare on my mind.

How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O! how shall summer’s honey breath hold out,
Against the wrackful siege of batt’ring days?

Asking questions seems a good response to the depths,

I am returning to my practice of writing freely, recording what draws my attention.  This morning it was this.

 

Morning yoga practice  June 2017

I bend on the grass,
look up at the bending gladioli
dancing cerise with their
graceful arches

as June’s north wind
rocks the branches,
as the air fills with
white petals –
blossom, roses –
that fall.

Why is it all so fragile,
this beauty?
why does it all slip
through my fingers?
I stretch, stretch out my
heart, and my love,
sending it both near,
both near and far away.

 
Restore them dear Lord,
Make them whole,
may they see
this life this beauty,
as the petals fall about me
in a cold blaze,
life and beauty ripped away,
yet carried on this June wind,
yet landing softly on this
green earth.

The Deadline Approaches – I AM book

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I have been working on a book for BRF for nearly a year now, and my deadline is approaching!

This means I’ll have less time to share things with you good people over the next month,  but I hope to be able to post a little something from time to time when I can.

Instead, I shall be sitting at my writing table – it’s a lovely ’60s pine one that was my family kitchen table before being passed on to me.  Many meals have been eaten off it, and veggies chopped and pastry rolled.  It also bears the marks of art projects and homework frustrations which I could sand down, but really don’t want to.

The view from the table is the picture you see here – it’s a little distracting.  Although I haven’t had my camera ready to take pictures, so far today I have seen blackbirds, a robin, and even, briefly, a kestrel at the birdbath. I think the kestrel is watching for smaller birds…..

Today, I am revising a chapter on Jesus’ saying “I AM the bread of life”, thinking about the crowds that were fed by the side of the lake, and what it might mean to be nourished by God.  It is a wonderful thing to be able to do, and it is also wonderful to be able to stretch my legs and think outside, with all that beauty and life around.

Thank you for your patience, and I’ll try to post something soon!