After a rainy May and June during which I was away a lot, the garden has grown verdant and jungle-like. Now that the sun is out at last, I’m content to sit among the overgrown disorder of it all, listening to the bees. I wrote this poem out there yesterday.
Green and lush, untended and anarchic,
Bindweed and dandelions push for space
Where jasmine, bergamot and chamomile’s
Intoxicating scents release on touch
Long fingertips of fern unfurl to languid summer sun
Beneath a canopy of ash and elder
Campanula cascading over faded walls
Thousands of five-pointed, purple stars
Alive with humming bees from dawn til dusk
Feathered, soft, all shades and shapes of green,
The smell of warm, damp earth as I, to blackbird’s song,
Water the tomatoes in the evening light
A bramble flower suspended on a single spider’s thread
North-facing, paved over, with high walls on three sides, it sits in a puddle of shade all winter long. There are no sweeping vistas or sweet-smelling grasses on which to walk barefoot. The only plants that thrive there are hardy woodland flowers, ferns and bulbs in a jumble of muddy pots.
But I love it. It’s my sanctuary, and my little patch of the outside world. It’s where I go to plant seeds with my daughter in spring and watch them grow. It’s where we go, wrapped up in warm towels, after a bath to look up at the moon. It’s where we – if we’re lucky and the slugs don’t get there first – eat warm red tomatoes straight off the vine in summer and pick blackberries from the heavy boughs which overhang the wall in early autumn. It’s a habitat for birds and insects, a space for my daughter to play and of course, a miniature kingdom for my cat.
Right now, bright sprays of hazy blue forget-me-nots are appearing in places I don’t recall planting any seeds. The tulips and alliums are poised and ready to burst open into May. Delicate white blossom snows down from the tree over the wall and the elder and the ash grow above it all, side by side, like a pair of wily old ladies who’ve decorated themselves with young, budding, green leaves, ready for the big party. The herb garden is sweetly fragrant after the spring rain and plentiful enough to start harvesting for cooking again.
Everything is on the up.
Even so, it always takes my body a while to shrug off the last of winter. Even as Beltane approaches, I often still want to be curled up with a book under a duvet for another few weeks.
So, now that the ground is drying and the dawn coming earlier, one of the first things I do every day, without fail, is go outside.
As I empty the kitchen peelings and cuttings into the compost bin and top up the bird feeders, I breathe in the dewy dawn air and glimpse the sunrise over the neighbouring allotments.
I take a moment to notice the ferns unfurling and the birdsong and the mist and the soft colours of the morning sky, full of mystery and promise.
If only for a moment, I close my eyes, pause, and reset.
The year we moved into our home, an ash seed pod or ‘key’ fluttered down from the tree over the wall and took root in a crack in the concrete floor of our yard.
A year later, I noticed the sapling struggling, so I propped it up against a milk pail. It almost reaches the second floor of our house now.
The young tree’s silvery bark and soot-black, pointed buds – each of them imprinted with an embryonic copy of the branch they one day dream of becoming – somehow remind me of the limbs and hooves of a fawn. I feel that this makes sense, somehow, since deer and ash grew up together, evolving from the same forests.
Known as the Goddess Tree, the cosmic Tree of Life in Norse mythology and the Druidic World Tree, spanning the universe with its roots deep in the earth, the ash tree stands for strength, connection and rootedness in wisdom. Indeed, the creation myths of many ancient world cultures display a belief that the essence of humankind itself originated from the ash tree.
Somewhere, long ago in the dreamtime, we grew up together.
And yet today, ash is threatened with extinction. Hundreds of lichen, fungi and insects depend on ash for survival; it is a vital part of our ecosystem. Without it, we also suffer an immense spiritual loss.
“The ash is a key to healing the loneliness of the human spirit out of touch with its origins. It can provide a sense of being grounded and of belonging… so that we can better appreciate the many ways in which positive thought and action today can create a brighter tomorrow.”
The ancient cultures believed that the wisdom of ash teaches us that unity and harmony with the natural world is our heritage and our birthright. The Goddess Tree speaks of connection and belonging – our kinship with the great family of all things – and stimulates our soul-psyches into a kind of remembrance which bears great relevance today.
When we heed the magic of ash, we sense that our innately human strengths of compassion, courage, innovation, creativity and cooperation empower us all to affect great change. Despite a narrative of fear which seeks to convince us that we are separate, lost, and helpless, we may remember who we really are, and recognise our own power.
The future may look uncertain – but there is hope. Respected ecologist George Peterken says: “There is genetic diversity in ash… I would expect them to evolve their way round the fungus.” Perhaps we, too, will evolve our way round this intense and challenging time.
As for my baby ash tree, for now I shall love it, water it and grow flowers up around it in the hope of brighter days ahead. For as long as I can, I will let its buds live out their dream of someday becoming branches, leaves outstretched, dancing in the bright summer sun.
This poem is inspired by my garden; I dedicate it to the baby ash tree.
“Within every woman there is a wild and natural creature, a powerful force, filled with good instincts, passionate creativity, and ageless knowing. Her name is Wild Woman, but she is an endangered species.” ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes
Sometimes the chaos, noise and haste of the human world make me long for the solace and wild spirit of nature.
I long to sleep out beneath a wheel of stars in the enchanted desert night; to walk in a verdant forest where wild creatures roam.
I hunger for real darkness, for wilderness, for lost horizons, and for the mystery, wisdom, perspective, freedom and beauty that only the natural world offers.
I long to…
“… come into the peace of wild things.” ~ Wendell Berry
These collectives, and many more like them, are working to re-establish wild spaces in nature, planting trees, re-introducing indigenous species, restoring broken ecological relationships, repairing the Great Self to wholeness.
Some call this the Great Work of our times.
“Rewilding offers hope. It offers the hope of recovery, of the enhancement of wonder and enchantment and delight in world that often seems crushingly bleak… It offers us a chance to replace our silent spring with a raucous summer.”
~ George Monbiot, A Manifesto for Rewilding the World
We can all outwardly play our part in this positive story by striving towards a more harmonious, integral relationship with the natural world. But rewilding is a process which begins inside.
Rewilding is a spiritual attendance to the interconnectedness of all life, which transcends separation and fragmented notions of us/them and humanity/nature.
Desert, forest, mountain, grassland and ocean — the archetypal wildlands or Soulscapes of Mary Reynold Thompson’s deeply insightful book on spiritual ecology Reclaiming the Wild Soul — are places within all of us.
Through slowing down, listening, opening, surrendering, connecting, being and asking what really matters, we can access these places in deep and profound ways, giving rise to great journeys of the soul and enabling bold leaps of creativity, compassion and courage.
“Spend time out of doors, praise the earth, love the wild migrations of your own imagination, and be grateful for every leaf you meet. In this way, you will inevitably become part of the great rewilding of our world.”
~ Mary Reynolds Thompson
In doing this, we may reclaim the wild through our own psyches. We may become wildflowers in the wasteland. We may come fully into our power, and realize our potential to be the medicine the world needs.
Put simply, what we do to the planet, we do to ourselves, and vice versa.
“Let the great rewilding of the world begin with you. Let yourself be absorbed into something larger and less tame than your isolated self.” ~ Lorraine Anderson
“Spring has returned. The earth is like a child that knows poems” – Rainer Maria Rilke
The fire festival of Imbolc on February 1st/2nd marks the mid-point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Here is a poem I wrote about it last year. I hope you like it. Love and blessings as the light returns x
I am the dream of awakening.
I am the returning of the light.
I am the tough green shoot pushing up through the pavestones, I am the first kiss of sunlight on the unfurling petals of the snowdrop. I am the wind which whispers the gentle pull of home to the migratory bird.
I am the drop of ice melting on the mountainside with its great dream of the ocean.
I am the sap rising in the blossom tree just before it reveals its sticky buds to the sky; I am the riotous celebration humming away beneath the earth’s mantle of frozen sleep.
I am the rousing of the bee from its winter slumber, and the soft pad of the mother-wolf’s paw on the snow as she prepares to birth her pups.
I am hope, potential, rebirth and promise. I am the kindling breath which transforms the flicker of inspiration in your creative core into a blazing torch.
Give me the silent crescent moon rising over the sea and I will build you a bridge of silver light so you can walk up and lie in it.
Give me the frost-hardened wilderness and I will breathe radiant green life over it.
Give me the healer, the writer, the craftsperson and the storyteller, and I will replenish her essence and make her new again.
Tonight I bestow my gifts of power and courage at the hearth of your soul: power to step out of the shadows of self-doubt and negativity which have held you in darkness for too long, power to shed all that which no longer serves you, and courage to clear your heart and mind for the dawn that awaits you.
I am the time to honor your unique gifts for their true worth and to protect and nurture your creative self as you would a child. I am the deep longing of the spirit which refuses to be consumed by a narrative of fear and chooses instead to place itself vivaciously on the side of love.
I am the stirring in your belly which knows exactly what you are capable of — and that it’s time the world found out.
I am the fire within which will not be contained any longer.
I am the quickening, I am the serpent uncoiling, I am Imbolc.
You fell in love with her free spirit and the sparkle that lit up in her eyes every time you said: Let’s just go.
You were seduced by the way she smelled: of sweat and sea air, essential oils and sun cream. You watched the sunrise over the mountains together and lay beneath a blanket of stars by firelight in the desert. You swam in turquoise seas, lived in an old 1950s bus and made friends from all over the world.
You missed her when she disappeared for a few months at a time—but knew better than to try and stop her.
When you couldn’t get away in winter, you watched movies about faraway places and drank chai and Spanish wine and ate exotic food and fantasised about your next trip.
She had too many adventures to go on, too many places to see, too many stories yet to be told. And yet, somewhere along the road, your hearts entertwined. Perhaps inevitably, you began to put down roots. You created a home together and grew a garden around it.
And then the most magical thing happened: you started a family.
And just like that, the rip cord marked Eject!, on which she’d kept one finger lightly resting all these years, vanished.
She learned a long time ago that life really is much, much too short for regrets. Besides, it’s not in her nature to look back. She’s more in love with life now than she’s ever been—and when she loves, she loves with every spark of fire in her being.
That’s not to say that, from time to time, she doesn’t question whether she’s wandered too far from her wild nature. She looks at old photos and sometimes wonders what happened to the girl with the tanned skin, the flat abs, the anklets and the golden glow of the sunset in her eyes.
Of course, she plans to travel with her children. Chances are they’ll grow up with their noses in many books and their toes in lots of different oceans.
And motherhood has in itself, without doubt, been the richest and most life-affirming journey she’s ever been on.
But for now at least, the spectacular privilege of being able to hop on a plane with a few clothes, a toothbrush and a passport, and emerge hours later in a different world, with different rules—to leave it all behind and just go—with no idea where she might end up, has been put aside.
Because babies and children don’t really work like that.
So she keeps the soul-flame alive by traveling any way she can: the inner journeyings of meditation, learning, reading, writing, dreaming. And she dreams of travel. With her children. With you. Alone. To the faraway or, at the very least, the elsewhere.
Disregard these dreams at your peril: they reside at her core and pull on the sinews of her heart.
She needs movement. Encourage her to sustain a yoga practice, to go swimming, to run, to dance. Without it she will turn to stone.
Go on family camping trips and listen with her to the sound of rain on the canvas. It takes her to monsoon in the jungle and springtime in the mountains.
Don’t bat an eyelid when she quietly slips off her sandals to walk barefoot through the park. And if she takes off her shoes at a wedding or in an ancient woodland, don’t bother asking why. She will never quite be able to reconcile being in a space she considers sacred with having her shoes on.
Hold her if, for some unfathomable reason, she grows desperately sad at the sight of raindrops on still water or if you catch her standing motionless among the spring blossom as it flutters down like snow.
Let her haggle in a completely inappropriate upmarket shop, and be surprised when, in a spirit of fair play and friendliness, she manages to shave a few pounds off the price.
Understand why she’s looking at flight deals online even when you’re struggling to pay household bills. Part of her needs to fly—even for pretend.
Climb hills. Visit beaches. Watch moonrises. She needs horizons like you need air.
And, as far as possible, travel. It will feed her spirit and enrich your whole family.
And if you can do all this and more, you will be rewarded with the rarest and most precious of creatures.
For she is capable of love without limits.
For she will pass on the breadth of her experience to your children and make each day with them a fantastic adventure.
For she has learned the wisdom that the real journey often starts when you stay in one place.
And above all, for she has chosen you to travel alongside her on the greatest trip of them all.