Even as the days grew longer and the green things started returning to the land, I felt within me a lingering gloom. Two years of the pandemic, a long, dark winter and most recently a drawn-out bout of Covid-19 had left me feeling low, fatigued and uninspired.
In photographs I could discern a sadness in my eyes even when my mouth was smiling.
I trudged through the daily obligations of life without much spring in my step. I had no energy for any of the things which usually lift my spirits: yoga, running, writing, gardening. Even reading felt like a chore. My children kept me afloat as children do, but a lot of the time I felt like I was sinking.
I felt, and still often feel as though I am looking out through grimy, winter-worn windows. Exhausted and impatient all at once, unable to snap myself out of the slump and let the light in.
In my back garden there is a large box hedge. I didn’t plant it and have never really liked it, but it would have been a big job to remove it, and being as we rent the place, I never found the time.
When we moved in, the hedge was neatly trimmed into a sharp-edged rectangle. I thought it was an ugly feature which seemed to serve little purpose.
“You have to cut it back as soon as the new growth appears in spring,” my mother had said.
Instead, I left it alone and planted climbers at its base — purple flowering clematis, wild ‘travellers joy’ clematis and passionflower — which, three years on, have spread out over the outer layers of the hedge, providing beautiful blooms in the summertime.
I dug a border along the edge of the bush and planted spring bulbs, wildflowers and an apple tree. A budleia found its way in by chance. The hedge grew bobbly and uneven and more characterful, and in another sense it started to grow on me, too. I learned that insects come in the spring to pollinate the small, modest flowers, and that the hedge provides good cover for mice, hedgehogs and other species as well as birds.
During my slow recovery from Covid, I spent a lot of time looking out of the kitchen window which overlooks the back garden. It seemed to calm and steady me, watching the light as it changed and the birds visiting the feeding station, noticing what was growing.
At some point I observed a pair of robins hopping in and out of a hole in the box hedge. Before long it was apparent that they were building a nest. They would dive tirelessly in and out the hedge all day, their beaks stuffed with tiny twigs and mosses, my husband’s beard trimmings which we left out for nesting birds, and once, to my delight, a beakful of pinkish-white petals from the blossoming cherry tree.
It often appeared that one robin was doing all the work while the other kept watch, but it’s hard to tell. They would perch on the apple tree with its budding pink flowers, chattering to each other all day in an intricate, melodious and sophisticated language which I struggle to believe is simply about “marking out territory”.
Adjacent to the hedge is my children’s playhouse, which has inside it a little plastic kitchen unit. I cleaned and filled the sink with fresh water, and left the door open so the robins could use it as an en-suite bathroom. And they did! Flitting in and out, splashing their feathers and sipping the clean water, then darting back into the gnarled undergrowth.
Yesterday one of the robins perched for a long time on the fence outside my kitchen window, and I could swear he was looking right into my eyes.
Was he saying thank you? I doubt it. Still, it warms my heart to think that these birds instinctively trusted that my garden would be a safe enough home for their chicks. I like to think that they have everything they need during this demanding time in their lives, and that maybe their offspring will nest around here, too.
I’m grateful to these joyful little birds who have lifted me, at least a little way, out of a long, internal rainy day. These tiny songbirds, who endure the harshest of winters and symbolise hope, renewal and rebirth, perhaps even bring a sign of good things to come. They’ve brought some colour and song into my tired heart, and given me something to write about.
If like me, you have been feeling worn out, sad or lonely lately, please know that you are not alone. These are not easy times, and the oppressive, post-pandemic ‘back to normal’ narrative is not working for anyone. But we still have a beautiful world to share and care for, and we have each other, too. If we keep our eyes open and pay attention, we will find that there is abundant help on offer to keep our souls intact in a world so in need of healing.
Maybe the box hedge had something to teach me as well. My take? If we make space and send love to the parts of ourselves which we deem to be ugly, unloveable or unworthy, they might just surprise us.
This story was originally published here in Scribe.
It is a clear November morning. An early mist has settled over the field into a thick blanket of dew which coats each blade of grass with tiny droplets of water, gathering in orbs at the tips which light up like stars when they catch the rays of the sun.
Leaves of mottled ochre, rust and flame-red drift towards the ground. Birch trees sway like underwater kelp forests. The last, yellowing leaves of the ash trees wave and flutter like fairy flags in a cornflower blue sky and the oaks are clad in fine leafy crowns of burnished bronze, russet and gold: autumn’s elegiac song, soon to be blown away with the coming winter winds.
A bright green woodpecker flashes through the trees. Morning calls of blackbird, robin and wren infuse the air with song. Meandering trackways left by fox and badger snake through the long grass, betraying the secrets of the night before, and a soft, earthy smell of mulch coats my tongue with a cool, metallic tang.
When the field at the bottom of our garden came up for rent a couple of years ago, the rent was cheap, so we took it on. The previous tenant used to mow it every few weeks, keeping it flattened to a featureless stubble. Now, last year’s acorns have grown into a miniature forest of saplings. Drifts of golden ragwort, birds foot trefoil and rosebay willowherb bring colour and insects in the warmer months, and many varieties of delicate, mysterious fungi grow here in the autumn. We mow around the edges once a year to keep the brambles from taking over, but otherwise, we let the field be.
I’m getting to know the other residents. Hobbies and buzzards, field mice and glow worms. A feast of wild forage — nettles and cleavers in early spring, elderflowers and wild roses on the full moon closest to the summer solstice, berries and rosehips in the autumn. I gather the plants with my children to show them how they are connected to and supported by the medicine and nourishment of the earth. There are emperor dragonflies, barn owls and hummingbird hawk-moths. Sweet violet, mugwort and meadowsweet. Skeins of wild geese passing overhead on their migratory paths. Spirit made visible.
If I owned the field, I would rewild it and fall in love with it forever. Given time, I would have a young forest to wander through. The landlady will probably mow it all down as soon as we move from here — but seeing as the field doesn’t care who owns it, for as long as I am a guest of this place, I’ll let the trees and the wildflowers grow.
“To protect what is wild is to protect what is gentle. Perhaps the wilderness we fear is the pause between our own heartbeats, the silent space that says we live only by grace. Wilderness lives by this same grace. Wild mercy is in our hands.” — Terry Tempest Williams
The field may not be mine, but it is part of me. When I walk barefoot in the grass, the soles of my feet absorb negative ions and trace minerals from the earth. When I breathe the air, the mushroom spores, tree pollen and sea air blown in from across the hills enter my lungs and subtly rearrange the molecular makeup of my blood. The liberty caps I find and nibble on damp autumn mornings activate seratonin receptors in my prefrontal cortex, healing and igniting my neural pathways in ways that even modern neuroscience doesn’t fully understand. My relationship with this plot of earth is rhyzomatic. The boundaries are not clearly defined.
But the exchange is more than physical. Robin Wall Kimmerer writes: “Paying attention is a form of reciprocity with the living world, receiving the gifts with open eyes and open heart.” In a land where my ancestral wisdom has been burned, scorned and drowned out over centuries, paying attention and living in reciprocity allows me to reclaim some part of my indigenous relationship to this land. It’s an act of love and healing, a restoration of an ancient kinship, a way of relearning the language of this place, her stories and her songs. The land speaks to us in myriad ways. She guides our hearts to weave the broken threads back together.
As the field rewilds herself, she invites those parts of me which have been mown, flattened and poisoned, to come back to the fullness of life. When I offer the field my presence and attention, she gifts me with beauty, magic, wonder and poetry. I feel safe and held by this place. I feel loved. I am home.
This winter, in fields just like this one a short way along the river from here, while the hedgehogs and badgers are sleeping in their winter dens, men will arrive with diggers and lorries and unshakeable feelings of entitlement to scrape away the precious topsoil and destroy countless habitats to make space for more ugly, unsustainable houses. I fear for the creatures. A mother’s first wish is to keep her children safe, to give them a safe home. When I see the current climate trajectory charts and alarming statistics, I fear for my children too.
Perhaps, even if the field were mine, I would still feel this hiraeth, this homesickness for a home I can’t return to, a home which never was. What I feel is an echoic fraction of the rootlessness and lack of agency which the creatures and spirits of the earth feel when they are pushed further and further out from their ancestral homelands.
Lately I’ve been creating spontaneous rituals here and there, asking the trees for help, making offerings to the land and sky. Feeling the weight and precarious balance of hope and despair which defines this moment. The grief, the rage, the enormity of it all. The overwhelm, the sheer exhaustion. And the feeling that nothing else matters, nothing at all.
The ground beneath our feet moves differently now. In all this chaos and confusion, I find strength and comfort in nature’s truth that all things move in cycles. While I’m grappling as best I can with the horrifying truth of the facts, I am also a mother. My heart refuses to accept the grim and apocalyptic story that humankind is simply doomed. As Martin Shaw has said, “Facts don’t have the story.”
I think of the Incan concept of ayni, or the sacred art of reciprocity: a wise, beautiful concept which holds the warmth of the Andean sun. It comes from the idea that our world is one of living energy — the Incan name for our planet, Kausay Pacha, literally means “the world of living abundance” — and that we are part of a universe where everything is living and connected. Ayni is the thread that holds the fabric of existence together. It continues to be an important part of the Andean culture to this day.
Ayni is rooted in the ancient truth that we live in an abundant, miraculous world, governed by the natural laws of balance and flow, where spirit is alive and well. It sits in stark contrast to the modern Western idea of the world as a scarce, flawed, inadequate place. When we stay close to ayni, we understand that the plan here on earth, even in this age of death, is life.
When I feel overwhelmed, it is often a good idea to get my hands in the soil. To go to ground. These are dark, uncertain times — but the dark is home to wild, regenerative magic. And when darkness gathers, it’s time to plant bulbs.
Later that same November day, I take a sack of crocus bulbs and plant them beside the bridge which connects the garden to the field. Each bulb is an act of faith, an invitation to beauty, an embodiment of ayni, an offering to life and the future, an avowal of belief in magic, and a promise to the coming spring. A prayerful acknowledgement of the sacred in the everyday.
When the flowers appear in bright bursts of purple, white and gold in early spring, I will welcome the return of the light, and give thanks that we made it through.
“Bless the poets, the workers for justice, the dancers of ceremony, the singers of heartache, the visionaries, all makers and carriers of fresh meaning. We will all make it through, despite politics and wars, despite failures and misunderstandings. There is only love.” — Joy Harjo
Autumn leaves dance around and above me and float joyfully towards the ground, each one dreaming of winter’s rest and the bright days of spring.
We will make it through.
Thank you for reading! 🧡
An earlier version of this article was published here in Scribe
My daughter keeps two snails in a large tupperware box in the corner of the kitchen. She found them in the garden, and since we aren’t able to let her have a ‘real’ pet like a cat or a dog, I agreed that she could keep them.
I don’t like keeping the snails in a box. I try to make it as homely for them as possible, keeping it slightly damp, making holes in the roof to provide fresh air and creating miniature arrangements of leaves, areas of moss, soil, pebbles, deadwood, fresh flowers, vegetable peelings, small slices of cucumber and melon and garden pots turned on their side to make ‘bedrooms’.
Every few days while I clean out their box and give them fresh food, I set the snails free in the garden. I watch as they stretch their soft bodies over the mosses and grasses, always making their way towards the vast, dark forest of the flower border with its towering canopy of nasturtiums, geraniums and weeds. It’s a meditation, watching these snails. I slow down, shrink to their size and explore alongside them just like in Alice in Wonderland or Honey I Shrunk the Kids.
They meet each blade of grass with a kind of rapture, bending and contorting their soft forms to climb flower stalks, wrapping themselves ecstatically around tiny leaves and waggling their antennae as they writhe through the undergrowth in a state of sensual bliss. Raindrops splash on to their brown shells and on to the back of my neck. Do snails feel joy? It certainly looks like they do.
I would like to go further with them, to enter the depths of the lush green underworld. To journey alongside these gentle creatures and see the world for a time as they do; to lose myself in jungles of giant ferns and great hanging vines of ivy, to drink the dewdrops and nibble on petals and wild strawberries as big as beach balls, to arrive at the shores of puddle-lakes and climb trees the size of cities. I would like to find some mossy grove to settle into for the night, to gaze up through a roof of soft-swaying leaves and sparkling cobweb chandeliers and to wonder at the stars in the cool, sweet night.
I am crawling through the rain forest with my invertebrate friends when reality calls. My phone is ringing, the washing machine is spinning noisily and will soon be finished, and the ticking clock reminds me that it is almost time to collect the children from school. Wrenched from my reverie by this strange community of machines, it saddens me to take the snails away from their adventure, but I do.
The garden and fields beyond are wet and green and inviting. I have a strong urge to walk on my own for a long, long time. But I turn and go back inside, where the phone has stopped ringing and the washing machine has clicked to a halt. For a moment, it is eerily quiet. Gently I place the snails back in their box, close the lid, and then the door behind me.
I didn’t plant the butterfly bush. It grew there of its own accord, in between the apple tree and the perennial sweet peas, an uninvited party guest spiraling skywards like an exploded party popper. It crowded out the garden path entirely, but I had not the heart to cut it back – I enjoyed its honey fragrance too much, the daily cohort of butterflies which arrived to sun themselves on purple flowering cones; sometimes five, six, even a dozen soft-winged creatures moving meticulously across the blooms, nectar-drunk, dipping long tongues into each sweet-scented flower in search of ambrosia. I could stand a palm’s width away without startling them, noticing for the first time how exquisite their wings are when seen from underneath, how they give way to hornets but hold their own among the bees, the way they disperse into a flurry of petals around my head if I walk past too fast. Now the flowers are fading, but every time I pass underneath the butterfly bush I am reminded to move slowly, to show hospitality. Wild and beautiful things take root in unexpected places if you let them, and if you walk by too fast, you might scare away the butterflies.
Thank you for reading! 💜 This poem was first published in Scribe magazine here
Put down heavy things: the laundry and the council tax bill, the iphone and the newspaper. Put down the black and white photographs framed in silver on the dresser and the forgotten ideas in yellowing notebooks which are gathering dust in the garage. Put down that vivid, just-remembered dream of a night twenty years ago; the strange, unnamed sadness of an almost-memory of what might have been; put down your hunger for adventure and the green perspex earrings from the 80s which your mother gave you. Put down all the stories, all the lists and grievances, the spoonful of sugar you could probably do without, the stack of unread books and the finely crafted masks you collected on your travels. Just for now, put down the hidden bag of stones which weighs you down – it will still be there when you come back. Put down your closely guarded fears and your dreams of a future which may or may not come, just go outside a moment and turn your face to the warmth of that dazzling, golden sun.
This poem was originally published in Scribe magazine here
It’s a bright, cold day in March. The garden is a poem writing itself.
The last time the blossoms were out on the plum tree, the pandemic was just beginning. I know it’s not over yet; I am not fool enough to make such bold declarations. But I will allow myself a moment of reflection.
What in holy hell just happened?
I am alone. After years of full-time motherhood and three lockdowns, my children are both at school and nursery today. I’m emerging into the fresh green of the garden and into the anomaly, for now at least, of regular time on my own.
What do I do now?
This strange mixture of grief and relief is not unfamiliar. I feel elated, exhausted and bereft all at once. I don’t know if I’m hungry or tired. I miss my kids; I need time without my kids. Should I go for a walk or lie down? Clean the house? Write, read, laugh or sob?
The garden presents more decisions. Should I dig over the vegetable plot? Weed the borders? Start preparing the ground for the wildflower patch I’ve been dreaming of through the winter? There’s plenty to do, but I can’t focus. I’m waiting to hear one of my children call out for me, but they’re not here. I’m not used to being alone.
Except, I’m not alone.
There are the flowers: clumps of snowdrops and crocuses giving over to bright yellow daffodils, grape hyacinths and bursts of narcissus bobbing and nodding in the breeze. The tree, too, are slowly rousing from their winter slumber and beginning to put out buds. The field is softening, awakening from deep dreams.
After the long, hard winter, the warmth of the morning sun on my skin feels like a song. The frost-bitten shade snaps at my bare hands and cheeks. The green beaks of the tulips, aliums and bluebells are already above the ground, preparing for warmer days ahead, and the birds are rapturous, flitting about in the rush of early spring.
My mind is still unsettled, but the garden is speaking, beseeching me.
How about you just, like, sit down?
I gather some young nettle tops and cleavers to make a tea and take it down to the fire pit overlooking the fields which lead to the river. The hedgerows are on the cusp of the greening-time and the air is fresh and sweet and full of promise. I take off my shoes and plant my feet on the damp earth, then I sit for a while, eyes closed, listening to the birds.
I’m aware of a slight change in the living earth, mirrored by the sky. And then something wonderful happens.
It starts to rain.
A fine spring drizzle, tickling my forehead and landing on the back of my neck in a spattering of tiny, cold pinpricks. The shower feels cleansing and magical, like a love letter from the sky to the earth, sent to bring the world back to life.
A tonic for my tired soul.
I’m captured by the grace of the moment. I feel as though the rain is washing the heavy energy out of my body and draining it away, down through the soles of my feet into the earth. It’s a gentle, beautiful healing. For a time I feel at peace, full of gratitude, and held in love.
Restored by the simple serenity of solitude, blessed and embraced by the beautiful dance of spring.
This year I saw thirteen moons wax and wane in a changing sky. I saw the white wisp of a comet disappear over the horizon, far out beyond the setting sun; I saw the vapour trails of aeroplanes vanish, replaced with the clear blue day of a spring filled with birdsong; I saw three hot air balloons suspended like planets outside my bedroom window, a billionaire’s space rocket launching into the cosmos and a lonely shower of fireworks pop and fizzle in the black November night. I stood gawping as Jupiter and Saturn crossed paths to become one bright celestial light, and when I woke on the first day of the new year, I looked up once more and saw that the moon was still there, white and shining, but in a different sky.
I’m posting this poem in honour of the New Moon on December 14th. A new dawn awaits 💗
And when you first stepped out into the pink blush of dawn did you feel the soft, dew-soaked earth rise to kiss your feet? Did you notice the trees breathe blessings down upon you in luminous bundles of green and gold, how every breath of woodsmoke, mist and mulch filled your lungs like a cool river? Did you feel yourself attached somehow to each fading star of night like a puppet, held on threads of silver light? And when the beautiful future which you dreamed of so long down that hard broken road finally burst over the horizon and began tumbling towards you like a wave – were you ready to catch it?
I enjoyed the challenge of getting to grips with the technical side of designing it myself. Even using a foolproof web design site like Wix took me some time to figure out!
I’ve been doing a lot of writing over on Medium.com and have found myself using WordPress less and less these days. I’ll be keeping Tales from the Seed live though, and will get back to it in time! I extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone and anyone who has supported and connected with me here over the years; I truly have appreciated every single read, like and follow!
The website has links to a lot of new poetry and articles; I’d love to know what you think.
Wishing all a beautiful and peaceful midwinter season (in the Northern Hemisphere)! 💙