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.

Poem: Wild Strawberries – a gift

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.

Poem: Gaia at Ely Cathedral

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.

You can listen to the poem here.

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.

Looking at Gaia from behind the communion table brought to mind the words of repentance from that service, and I was aware of my sense of what “the sins of the world” might mean was creaking open a little wider.

Poem: The apple tree, having grown in shadow

Things change, yet leave their mark. I was thinking about this as I looked at one of our apple trees, grown curved in its search for light. You can see the shape of the trunk most clearly in the shadow it leaves on the fence. It grew like this to adapt to the dense shade of a neighbouring shrub which grew faster than it, and cast it in shadow. That shrub died, it is gone now. Yet even as light returns, the curve remains. Grown like this, the tree has given us apples in autumn, and beauty all year. I thought about how the tree found a way of flourishing despite the shade, and admired its resilience. So, the poem is mainly about the tree, but also, murmuring away underneath, was an awareness of the tree as teacher, making visible something that is often hidden within us.

The tree adapted to its setting, and as the setting changed, the adaptation remains even though there is more light. We all do this, whether it’s growing accustomed to living quietly and distantly during a pandemic, or learning from a young age how to live in difficult emotional or physical circumstances. Even when things are better, lighter, more friendly, we can find ourselves living as if they are not. Patterns of mind can be changed, new growth can happen, but it takes noticing, with compassion, and stretching ourselves a little into the new, more open space.

As lockdown eases, we can go gently with ourselves as we try to asses what is safe, and what has become a habit that is no longer needed – and those assesments are far from easy. We can be gentle with each other, too, as we all navigate our way into more open living. The changes in how we respond may be, in part, due to patterns of being which were laid down long ago. These, too, can be nurtured into more helpful shapes that keep us safe and help us flourish, both. I believe we can become free from patterns that no longer serve us, and grow with full vigour.

All these things I thought about, as I looked at the apple tree. But mainly, I though how beautiful it was, and how much blossom it bore this year.

The apple tree, having grown in shadow

I follow the curve with my eyes,
the way the thin trunk
arches back, seeking light.
On that side, the branches
grow thicker, surer.

It bends away from the dense shade
that was there, only weeks ago,
a dark shrub that outgrew it,
then died. Now, the blossomy
branches lean back,
away, from open
light-filled space.

Cast in shadow, it grew thus,
leafing and flowering,
supple, adapting to shade,
and seeking light.

I wonder, what will happen now?
Now we have cut down that
dense, dry growth?
The thin branches on this side
will fill out, strengthen,
divide, reaching into the place
that was once too dark,
heavy, in time, with fruit.

But what of the trunk?
Will it bear, one hundred
years from now, that curve,
lessened, perhaps, by
years of thickening growth?
The adaptation no longer
serves it, yet the tree
may still bear it,
And the tree’s beauty
is held in the grace
of this curve.


Such shapes of growth
and thought persist,
gently, strangely,
known or unknown.
We make allowance
for the ghost
of a shadow
no longer seen.