Poem: Pigeons in the Blossom – early March

Our wild cherry plum blossom on a sunnier day.

Hello again! Thank you so much for joining me here. I’ve been taking a break from blogging, if not from writing, for a few winter months. But as the days are lengthening and the sap is rising I’m emerging from winter hibernation by the fire.

Yesterday, for #International Women’s Day, I joined some of the wonderful women and men who make our small town such a special place. We’d been invited by Counsellor Caroline Page, who organised the very special gathering despite seriously failing health. There was cake and poetry, an old wind-up gramaphone, and Suffragette colours – a celebration of women who had lived in the town in years gone by as well as those we know and love today. It was full of life and joy and friendship. Many people shared, and I hope to be able to put a link up in time to more details about the poems and stories that we read and heard together.

That morning, I’d been watching the pigeons in the trees in front of our house – a remnant of an ancient hedgerow we’re gradually restoring – and took inspiration from their eagerness and their clatter. So although this is not a poem about women, it’s a poem about life, for all of us I hope, and the awaking of spring. It was my contribution to the feast.

I’m sharing it as part of my inclination to awaken and to clatter, to be hungry for spring and for life. I hope you enjoy it.

Pigeons in the blossom – Early March

Now that the cherry plum
is blossoming – hedgerows
white and frothy,
flowers pale, bark dark –

pigeons come through
the grey sky, clattering as they
land opposite my window,
their collars brighter than
the blossom where they
perch and peck.

Sometimes one, often
more – armfuls – they
balance across the scrubby tree
like vintage decorations,
nodding their blushed heads
hungrily, pecking so many buds.

The top of the tree is almost
stripped bare – no fruit high up then,
no precarious balancing
on shaky ladders
in the summer to come.

Lower, thinner, branches are tested
again and again by fat feasting
pigeons, hungry for rich bitterness.

I feel inclined to join them,
to taste that blossom too.
I know the hunger for spring,
bone-cold and weary as I am.
And I am coming to see their wisdom
as I too feel the urge
to awaken and to clatter,
to feast on life with its bright blossom,
its green buds, again and again.

Pigeons seem to be a bit of a theme. Not the most popular bird, I know, but I do enjoy watching them. I do hope to be an equal opportunities appreciator of nature, and to celebrate all the creatures who share this patch of garden wild.

Here’s a few more poems, if you’d like to read on.

Sheringham Park Pigeons

The courtesie of Pigeons

The wings of Gabriel’s wood

Wildlife corridors – a hedge story, and a poem.

I’m really pleased to be part of Transition Woodbridge’s Wildlife Corridors project. You can read more about Transition Woodbrige here, and Wildlife Corridors here.

We’re a group of all sorts of people from about the town who are seeking to make it a bit more wildlife friendly, and learning and sharing as we go. So below, you’ll find a little story about one of our hedges which I wrote for the group’s newsletter. We’re beginning to do more of this – passing on our often falterning steps towards a different way of thinking about our gardens. Here, our hedge had a beetle problem, and we tried a gentler and more natural approach to the plague of viburnum beetles than we might have done in the past. We’re delighted that the hedgeline is gradually becoming much more beautiful, diverse, and better for a wider range of creatures than simply the dreaded viburnum beetle!

After the account, you will find a poem drawing on this same hedge, and its story of renewal.

A hedge story – from pest control to native beauty.

It was a thin strip of dark green, between drives and walls. Our viburnum hedge joins what’s left of the original roadside hedgerow with holm oak and wild cherry plums to the network of gardens and trees behind. A narrow corridor of life, but with precious winter flowers for the bees, and just occasionally, a wren or a bluetit nested there. It was part of the planting we inherited.

A few years ago, it began to sicken dramatically.  Viburnum beetle. It looked devastated, and I had my doubts if it would recover. We consulted the RHS website, cut away the worst of it, and scraped out some of the soil underneath where the grubs overwinter.  As I did so, I felt the poverty of the soil – it was grey, had no structure, with no visible worms or other minibeasts. So we piled on the homemade compost and autumn leaves.  We also decided to enrich it more permanently with native plants – for as it was, it could not renew itself, and the long strip of monoculture was an easy target for the dreaded beetle.

I bought some bare rooted spindle from Botanica and interspersed these with hazel that the squirrels had kindly planted around the garden. In the autumns to come, I’m hoping for a blaze of butter yellow hazel, with bright red leaves and pink/orange berries from the spindle. All to fall to the ground and feed it.

It’s limped through this year’s drought, but we’re getting there.  It’s drawn in so many more creatures already. The insects are returning.  The soil has worms, and frogs and mice make their way along it.  At night bats hunt over it, and by day, the dragonflies. Many plants are finding their way there, each making their own contribution.  At first, it was mustard garlic.  Now, there’s purple toadflax, birdsfoot trefoil, various bedstraws and all manner of other plants.  Butterflies and caterpillars, bees and hoverflies, and a healthy range of beetles are making a home here.

There’s a trellis separating our neighbour’s drive from this hedge and, in consultation with them, we’ve planted garden seeds and cuttings – vetch and perpetual sweet peas to improve the soil, honeysuckle, roses and jasmine.  Again, I hope that next year it will be truly beautiful.

And as for the beetle attack… there have been a few nibbled leaves in the last two years, but nothing more than that. And, if some of the original plants die, there is  plenty of life to take advantage of the light and air they leave.  We have moved from a dark monoculture to a diverse and increasingly native abundance, with so much more food for all life.  The viburnum still gives flower at a time of year when the natives are quiet, and deep cover too for plants and animals and birds. But the natives are making their presence felt now, and bringing so much beauty, diversity and abundance. It’s becoming a joy, and an example of how gentle care can slowly move a garden to something far more alive. I’m watching what it’s doing with real delight. What will be next?

And now the poem…..

Green ink 1
Hedge

And the garden now is my poem.
So this hedge, this long line of joy
and work, rhymes its meanings
back and forth, carries them through
seasons, through drought and cold
by bird and frog and bee. Carries
deep memory of the land, of wood
and hedgerow, orchard and field, and deep
hope too, for what may be, and
what is becoming. And growing.

For joy and work wrought it,
and renewed it, planted these
saplings of spindle and hazel
that will be red and gold as
leaves fade in late sun, fade
to such an illuminated brightness.


And I see what may be, what are,
sweet rose cuttings unfolding, and
growing, as honeysuckle twines,
and jasmine – tiny, with tiny leaves –
grows now in warmth, and sweet peas
begin their work of rising up
from hard coiled seeds.
 
All this abundance given freely
by the garden and gathered,
and tended, and shared,
as she freely gives more –
wind-blown seeds and bird-
carried berries filling the earth
to overflowing, as together we make
a line of such richness and beauty,
thought and imagining, sibilant
as the wind whips through it,
sounding like words spilling
on the page.
These words. This page.

I would write in green, I have
written in green, working
with all this life. Patient, resting
in its waiting, and growing, and fading,
ending, and beginning again.
And again. This long line of green.  

Poem: On Looking Up

This is a poem, in two parts, drawing on my morning practice of yoga in the garden. It’s patchy at this time of year, depending on rain, and sometimes cold, but there are some mornings where you catch a break in the changing weather, and know why this is a good way to begin.

I took no photos at the time, being lost – or found – in the moment, and so I include for you here some other pictures filled with light, and dark, hoping they will fill your eyes with something good. This morning, as I breathed in the light and the air, I was aware of gratitude rising within me, gifted to me. I know that American friends are turning their attention to Thanksgiving at this time of year, and so, even as winter begins its approach, I am reminded to hold on to the practice of gratitude in darkening days.

I wasn’t sure quite where to go with this poem. There were two things – the experience of suddenly becoming aware of the beauty of the sky – and that beauty itself. So I’ve noodled around with it until it sits in two parts. So, this is where it is at the moment.

On looking up

So this is how it was, this morning:
Early, feet bare on cold grass,
I raised my head, stretched my arms,
and as I did so, I remembered
to look up – to open my eyes wide.
I remembered to took up
and breathe in deep and full,
breathe in that cool
morning air, early,
before the smell of  
road runs through it.

Or maybe, it was more like this:
Raising my head, stretching
my arms, breathing deep of
the cold clear air,
my mind beginning to
steady and settle,
my eyes opened –
all at once – to the strange
dazzling luminosity of the sky.
And that sight filled me
as surely as the cold air.
For a moment, hands high,
my smile broke open
as wide as my gaze,
open as it was to this sky.

Sky as dizzying,
vertiginous depth, and falling. 
Sky, too, as ever-present wonder,
and catching. I do not know
which it was, but I know
that the beauty of it
fills me, nourishes me,
changes me.
And I am thankful.

******

For in looking up, I saw
the sky’s unknowable
dizzying depths,
its many layers, its films
of light moving across each other,
and for a moment I held
a cool breath in wonder,
and in looking, and what felt
like falling.

Highest, or deepest, the moon,
partial and pale, and floating
beyond the crumpled
white-blue linen of high clouds
and new sky. And below,
moving fast across them,
hurried and bright, the rapid
soft pink and orange of clouds
blowing in from the north.

And holding up my gaze
with each deepening breath
I see, below the clouds,
how the dark lines of birds
begin their overflight.
Gulls, risen from their
night-roost on the river,
coming inland to forage
in harrowed field,
overflowing bins,
wherever they find
what they need.
And below them,
the crowd of starlings,
chattering, still holding
a loose shape
of past murmurations,
trailing after from their
hushing reedbeds.

Each layer of sky
lower, closer, faster,
sliding against each
other in wild reckless
beauty as my body fills
with north wind,
lungs as cool as
fresh water on
a summers day.
The morning beginning
at one with these things,
with joy in these things,
with yes to these things,
with thankfulness for
all these daily
wondrous things.

Poem: Midsummer Daisies

Sitting in the garden in the late afternoon today – the Summer Solstice – I watched the daisies in the sun and the breeze. Here they are.

Midsummer daisies

Midsummer –
and the tall daisies
are full of light,
nodding and glowing,
glowing and nodding,
saying yes, it seems,
to all that is.

Simplicity –
to receive the light and
shine out in turn.
To have roots in the dark earth,
in the damp earth
and to shine like this –
with a purity
of brightness,
and such depth
of yellow,
while swaying, like this,
in the breeze.

Perhaps it is so –
simply to be
is holy,
to receive and
to give is enough,
this longest of days.

Alchemy –
for surely it is a glory,
and a wonder,
to turn earth and damp
and light into
this brightness,
this daily beauty,
shining like the
distant sun here,
in this shady place,
beneath my apple tree.

Poem: Peony

From Farmer Gracy – a perfect peony

I’m with Mary Oliver – each morning I get up and hurry over the damp grass to see what has begun to open in the morning light. I love her poem Peonies, and this poem of mine pays tribute to it.

My peony did not open with the morning. This beauty waited, waited until the sun was high and warm before unwrapping itself.

And I had waited for two years since planting. And waited while the bud was closed. And then, in the space of a few hours, everything changed.

Peony

Today, I watched
as a new peony opened –
I had planted a row of them,
and now, after two years, this –
the wondrous first flower
unwraps itself. Slowly.

And oh, how dark,
how perfect.
Red velvet cake,
chocolate,
a rich eggy heart
of soft anthers
waiting for the
already waiting bees.

Three hours ago it was bud,
and now, this heart is open,
warming in the golden sun.
And still, others wait
to put out their own flowers
for there is more, still more,
to come.

And each day, then,
the question –
What astonishing thing
will unfold for you today,
and unfold in you today?

What gift can be given,
and received?
For all the world,
and you within the world,
is full of such wonders –
sweetness for ants,
clover in the unmown grass
thick with the darkness of bees.

And this flower, now,
with its beauty both
before you and within you –
for they are the same,
know they are the same –
glowing deep in the
ripening light.

Experimental mowing/unmowing pattern, beloved of bees.

Poem: Two crows in an April gale


I have no picture of the particular crows who caught my attention, and prompted this poem, but I thought I’d share this lino cut with you – I did it a few years ago now, and its good to remember the pleasure I took from carving away at the surface.

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

Woodbridge Climate Action Event

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.

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.


 
 

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.

Poem: Winter seedheads

Out in the cold, damp garden, I have been holding my nerve and not cutting things back. Just this week, I’ve snipped a few old stems above the primroses getting ready to flower – and indeed flowering already. I am seeing how long I can sit on my hands and wait as things flop under frost and rain, thinking of the life held in piles of leaves, and the hollow stems of perennials.

Where I have cut back, I have left things in piles near where they grew, giving time for the things that live there to move before I compost them.

As I have left this old growth, and quietened the voice in my head reproving me for untidiness, I’ve noticed real beauty in these seedheads, and fading leaves and flowers, and an increase in the hum of aliveness I’m noticing in the garden.

Even moving a few leaves to clear space for primroses has revealed fat caterpillars, and many tiny creatures unknown to me. There is beauty here, too. All this decay from last year is full of life, full of what will be needed by the bluetits investigating the nest box, the blackbirds turning over leaves.

Winter seedheads

I’ve left it wild – left seedheads
and leaves – and the leaves
lie piled up in heaps in borders,
against fences, swept from paths.

And I find I love the colours of
the fading aster leaves,
colours I have not seen before,
new to my eyes, uncut as they are.
And the pale seedheads – like stars –
of the alliums, and the dark eyes of
rudbeckia, how they sway together
as the wind whips round, mingling,
full, and darkly shimmering.

I watch the birds as they eat
red berries  – dark holly,
the vivid bright cotoneaster,
as the squirrels lope inquiringly
over the lawn, looking for what
they buried.

There is so much life in
the few brief hours of daylight,
while the night lingers in the
sharp musk of fox,
the delicate deer paths
deepening in the soft earth.
And I feel how precious this space is,

How, now it is cold, the garden is
sanctuary to many more than me.
And I love to be host to such guests.
There is much joy in noticing
their need, and in opening my hand
to offer what they lack, quietly,
invisibly.

Even now, in the darkest days
life stirs, life comes through
the slick dripping trees,
through frost and fog,
and finds shelter here,
and makes a home.

Poem: The realm of bees

This is another poem written a few weeks ago, so is slightly out of time. But only slightly. I have yet to cut back the lavenders that guard this bench where I often sit, as they still have a few stray flowers which draw the bees whenever the sun comes out. And it does, these last few days of strange warmth, and intermittent downpours. In some ways, then, this poem is an elegy to the extravagant blossoms that drew so many bees only a short time ago.

It is also something else. It is a poem where I tease out the feeling I often have while in my garden, that it isn’t “mine” at all. It belongs just as surely to all the living things who make their home here, or feed, or rest, here. It belongs to the newts who live at the bottom of the compost heap, and the bees, and the worms currently throwing up extravagant curlicues of casts all over the lawn, and the squirrel now hanging upside down and raiding the bird feeder. So, I seek to tend for the benefit of all these who live here too. It is a good feeling, to know you share the space with other beings. It seems to be bound up with belonging, and gentleness, and a delighted respect. It’s a subtle shift in feeling, but it feels an important shift in perspective. I am sure, for most humans, through most of human history, this knowledge was part of our shared culture. I’m sure it was held gladly in the spaces between people as they gathered and grew and hunted, and that they passed it on with delight. I am glad to be finding it again, to be included in that long and noble practice of humility and service and mutuality in this small space. It is a small part of rewilding myself, as well as my place.

The Realm of bees

I enter this humming space,
roofed by a tracery of magnolia branches,
looking up at light-lined leaves.
By my side, simple white gladioli.

I feel a slight reserve, knowing
myself guest in my own garden,
having stepped into this place of bees
between the bowing guards
of lavender, the scent on my clothes,
taking care not to disturb
the crowds and flights of bees,
so many the flowers turn black
and the lavender falls back,
half closed doors enclosing me.

And as I sit I breathe deep
in the great mead-hall of the bees,
full of feasting
and the warm hum of wings.
I watch the sedums
where honeybees
stuff their yellow pockets,
and the soft
butterflies drink deep.

The air is heady, thick even,
and one by one large bumbles
make their way to my
flower-scattered shirt,
and rest awhile, and
at the feel of them
I find a deep stillness.


I see their soft fur,
their forelegs scratching an itch,
wiping a large, complex
eye that looks up,
looks up and seems to meet
my own, and I wonder
what they see
as they see me.

I rest now, quietly and strangely,
in this realm of bees,
I am warmed by the same warmth as them
smell the same rich goodness
as we breathe the same air,
as I sit here, among the flowers,
adorned in bees, I feel no longer
a stranger, but welcomed
into their rich world, seen
by their complex eyes,
content with them
in the sweetness of
this early autumn sun.
For this moment I, too,
live in the realm of bees.

Poem: A change of heart/asters

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.