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.

River Poem: Homecoming

The River Deben at dusk.

The river is quieter in the summer – at least, it’s quieter for birds. It is busy with us humans loving and enjoying sailing and swimming and rowing and all the other things which bring us onto and into the river. There’s been much going on too about protecting the river, and I was part of an event a little while ago where we celebrated and spoke up for our river, which is the lifeblood of the town and its people, as well as all the other communities of creatures within and around it. You can read a little more about all this here if you would wish.

Photo by Lorraine Ruth Leach, Save the Deben

But, this is a poem about those birds, mainly the waders, who are far away to the north all summer. It’s so good when begin to return, as they do now and all through the shortening days. The lowlands of the east are a haven for so many migrating birds, and many are working to protect and enhance the wild places that shelter them. Just this week, the Suffolk Wildlife Trust have announced very exciting plans for rewilding part of the Deben’s watershed – Martlesham Wilds. You can read about that here.

Over the long and beautiful days of summer, I miss the winter birds – the godwits and the lapwings and the curlews and the redshanks, and so many others. I feel so honoured to live in a place blessed by their presence, by their return year after year. It’s so precious, and precarious. So here is a poem that rose up as I leaned on the flood defences, and watched the sky and the mud, and greeted the homecoming birds.

Homecoming

Oh, the waders are returning –
swooping now over the water,
their wings and tails flashed
with white against the slow dark
shimmer of river and mud.

How good to see them again,
to hear them again,
their plaintive calls
rising like long echoes of
winter, of the far north
where they have been
all summer long.

The godwits have their heads
down now, probing river-mud
for worms – again and again,
hungry, windblown,
wings aching with effort
of flight across open,
chilling seas, exhausted
and home at last, jabbing and
jabbing with their strong beaks
for worms that have been
quiet all summer, deep down,
low with heat and drought.

How I have missed them,
with their cries and angled flight,
and as the days darken,
it feels now as it does
when old friends return,
and we share a table together,
feasting and talking long
into the gathering night,
together, and content.

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

Poem: River Haiku – April 2022, Updated to include Save the Deben event.

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.

You can see a report on Channel 4 News here.

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.

Photo by Charmian Berry

It then joined the march…

Photo by Ruth Leach
Photo by Ruth Leach

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.

Photo by Ruth Leach

River Haiku – April 2022

The river breathes life
for fish, otter, bird and us:
Now death flows, we speak.

It’s such a wondrous river. Let’s treasure our places, and care for them.

Updated 24th April 2022 to include coverage of the Day of Action.

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.

Local Climate March, more on Plant Hope, and a community writing project

Photo by Matthew Ling

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.

Photo by Charmian Berry

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.

Photo by Jacquie Tricker

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.

Stamp by Noolibird

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.