June: Hope in Small Spaces

flowers
“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” – Mary Oliver

 

Postcard from the June Garden

 

Herringbone clouds drift in infinite seas

A perfect half-moon in a cosmos blue sky

Elderflowers float to the earth at my feet

Cat slumbers, sun-baked, white among sage and thyme

Green-glorious symphony of breeze, birds and bees…

 

Around me, the lush upward surge of the June garden is full of magic and vibrant green possibility.

The few things I got around to planting from seed with my daughter this year – wildflowers, nasturtiums, sunflowers, sweet peas and broad beans – are growing, their tiny green arms thrust open to the sun. In the unrest of current events (we have a general election here in the UK tomorrow on which it feels like so much is resting) I am reminded of this simple truth by the seedlings:

Turn your face stubbornly to the light and keep it there.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

I’m quickly running out of space for any more plants, but even our small, shady courtyard garden is enough to show my little girl that with the right conditions and a little care, seeds will grow; magic (or, science we can’t yet explain) exists; hope comes in odd places; and small things have great power.

A pair of great tits nested in the bird box for the first time this spring. I watched from my daughter’s window as they, beaks stuffed full of fat green caterpillars, flew tirelessly backwards and forwards to greet the raucous cheeping and chirping from inside the box.  I worried about their babies, what with our resident rat and cat – but they made it! Few things could have lifted my spirit more than the sight of the fledglings.

My small courtyard garden is sanctuary and medicine in a tumultuous world. There is so much in flux right now; so much swirling in the spaces between hope and despair. But when I go outside I can narrow my focus and find moments of peace, perspective and joy in the smallest of things: the tenacious little avocado tree which has sprouted unexpectedly from the compost heap; the jasmine flowers glowing like fairy lights in the moonlight; the soft scent of the herb garden in summer rain. The perfect, crystalline sphere of a raindrop glistening on a fern leaf. The yellow flash of a charm of goldfinches chattering in the elder tree. The joy of simple things and the promise of bright days ahead.

When you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated and isolated, joy is a fine initial act of insurrection.” – Rebecca Solnit

I sometimes feel as though the world is poised in a moment of hope and possibility. I’m not saying everything is going to be fine; I’m saying I still believe there’s a fine chance things can get better if we believe it and make it happen. And while there are green things, sunrises and people hell bent on making a better future – in ways both loud and quiet – hope is not ours to surrender.

There is still a window of time.
Nature can win if we give her a chance.
You have an indomitable spirit.
You can do something every day to make change
and make this a better world. ” – Jane Goodall

A green bottle fly, orange-eyed, metallic and resplendent on the budding marguerite daisies, glints emerald in the sun’s reflection and buzzes away, over the wall, across the allotments and up into the sky beyond.

Wishing you midsummer blessings, vibrance and serenity this full moon x

Spaces Untamed

untamed
“Make yourself one small republic of unconquered spirit.” – Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark

Last summer I had the pleasure of visiting a friend’s house in London. A large, faded town house in the centre of Brixton, it seemed like it might have been rather grand in its bygone heyday, and I imagined that it had a fair few whispered stories of its own tucked away in the empty spaces between the bricks and floorboards.

These days the house is squatted by a group of young, spirited and socially conscious teachers, youth workers, activists and creatives. In the midst of a summer – and, as it turned out, a year – characterised by a mainstream narrative of fear, division and hatred, conversations revolved around taking actions to enrich and unify the community, the culture, the world. There was much laughter and a genuine feeling of inclusion; I encountered no futility or despair, only the lively exchange of ideas, hope for new beginnings, and the will to usher them into being. It was a refreshing, inspiring evening –  especially for someone who doesn’t leave the country village much.

Another thing that struck me about the house was its garden. Beyond the patio and a small, overgrown lawn, a large area had been left to grow completely wild. It was thick, dark green and utterly untraversable to all but the semi-feral cat whom the house had adopted. The wild space exuded mystery, knowing and, I think, a kind of peace, as though it was somehow grateful to have just been left alone. To many it would look a mess, and of course there’s every chance that it had been left untended simply because no-one had the time or inclination to cultivate the space. But I found it beautiful and of value, especially there in the heart of this beating metropolis. Not only did it provide a habitat for the plants and creatures which lived within in, but it also lent the house a sense of reciprocity with the natural marrow of the city, as if to say: we’ve got enough; this, you can keep.

Just as our physical environments need wild areas – be they vast expanses of wilderness or corners of city gardens – it is vital for us as creative human beings to leave spaces untamed in our soul-psyches. They can be messy, imperfect, and sometimes challenging, but are always rich in treasures for those who approach them with open ears, eyes and hearts. I find them through solitude, play, movement, meditation, reading, writing, art and time spent in nature. They are where my inspiration resides, and I am learning, slowly, to trust when they are calling me to explore them, and when they want to be left alone. I am starting to believe that they grow and evolve in their own time, and that as long as I keep working and chipping away at it, they will lead me on great adventures.

I may just be starting out, but it feels good to be in relationship with the mysteries of the creative process.

My themes for this winter:

What happens when we really slow down and listen?

What happens when we let go and create/live from the heart?

What happens when we allow ourselves to hope?

… Untold possibilities!

Blessings for 2017 x

The Glastonbury Oak

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“My poetry was born between the hill and the river. It took its voice from the rain, and like the timber, it steeped itself in the forests…” – Pablo Neruda

During a particularly muddy and dank Glastonbury festival, I took refuge from the rain under a magnificent, 500-year-old oak tree. Taking shelter beside me was a lovely woman who runs Glastonbury Festival’s Oak Tree Project, an initiative which distributes acorns from the tree to be planted around the country. I was subsequently inspired to write this poem. I sent it to her, and she said she’s going to display it near the tree at next year’s festival. Which, I feel, is quite an honour!

 

I am a tree.

I am completely what I am, beyond thoughts or words.

But we are not so different, you and I.

Our bodies tell our stories. The storms we have weathered, the seasons we have lived.

The ways in which we have learned to love.

 

Five hundred winters I have stood upon this earth.

I do not have legs to carry me, but I have traveled far.

I have welcomed the dawn as it greets me like a song each day, and born witness to the mystery and promise of each night as it falls.

I have listened to the music of the moon as she swells and wanes in the sky, and watched the clouds come and go, as all things do.

I have journeyed round the sun, feeling the breath of the earth rise and fall in me as the great wheel of the stars spins above me night after night in the glittering vastness.

I have caught the gentle kiss of spring rain on my leaves, and danced in the light of the golden summer sun.

 

Like you, I have known joy.

The furred and feathered folk have tickled my wooden body with their footsteps:

The red squirrels, the songbirds, the owls who nest about my crown;

The tiny insects who forge whole worlds on a single branch;

The four-legged bears, the badgers and the wolves who prowled in my shadows and slumbered peacefully in their dens among my roots;

The worms – the sacred keepers of the soil;

The mosses and the lichens who cloak my trunk and limbs;

The bright flowers of the rising light and the mushroom people who visit as the nights draw in.

All are my kin.

I have given them shade and shelter, food and clean air to breathe. It gave me joy to feel their quiet presence, their different forms, soft and light upon my body.

They are fewer now.

Some have not visited me for a very long time.

 

Once, my people ruled these lands. The spirits and the songs of the forest were many, the rivers flowed clean and clear. The magic was good and strong. The two-legged people knew that the land was not so different to them: a living being, deserving of respect and love.

Then they came with their machines, their saws. A shadow fell over the land. Much was lost. They come still; I hear the cries of my cousins both near and far away across the ocean. Your soul hears them too, though your ears do not.

 

But shadows, like clouds, come and go. The magic remains.

It is the land, and the land is the magic.

The trees and the streams and the stones remember this; they whisper its stories, and they are always there for those who listen, who want to remember.

If the trees and the streams and the stones should ever forget, the stars are always there to remind them.

You, too, hold the wisdom and the medicine in your bones, sure as I stand upon this spot.

For you, too, are sacred. You, too, are of the earth.

She is waiting for you to come home.

 

I see the little people now, rushing about, always in such a hurry.

I do not wonder where they are running to, or what they may be running from.

I am just a tree.

But these are just words.

You look tired, little one.

Come, rest a while beneath my branches, where you need do ought but be.

There is time.

Let us simply be alive together, for a short while, in the peace of this magnificent dance.

 

Originally published on Rebelle Society (rebellesociety.com)

 

Autumn Equinox

autumn
Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” – Arundhati Roy

 

The dawn comes later now. I rise to greet it, stepping outside the front door in my dressing gown.

My only company at this hour is the birds, kindling the morning light with their bright chatter; the soft, low, rhythmic coo of the wood pigeon, and the moon: a silver thumbnail ringed with purple and gold where the high cloud illuminates its halo. There is an earthy, metallic tang to the air which invites my lungs to expand. The cat pads up, purring wildly, paws soft and wet, coat smelling of damp earth. Poems drip from the mottled, fading bramble leaves like so many dewdrops.

Here at the night’s end, the world is still and cool, rippling with possibilities.

Morning comes. I go about the work of the day. My daughter. The school run. The housework, the laundry. I smudge the house and go to tidy the herb garden, clearing away the dead growth, tending the plants which envelop me in their soft fragrance as I pull and cut.

I harvest fennel, sage, lemonbalm and mint to use in herbal teas and baths.

I pluck the last of the tomatoes which I planted with my daughter in the spring, popping a few straight off the vine into my mouth, savouring the warmth and sweetness of the fruit.

I dead-head and gather the dry, talon-like seeds of the calendula to sow next year, and empty the kitchen peelings into the compost bin to be recycled into rich humus. It’s a joy to be creating my own organic, black soil for this tiny patch of land: reciprocating, in some small way, the gifts it offers me.

By the time I am finished, a still, golden light coats everything it touches in liquid silk. I smooth my fingers over the trunk of the baby ash tree and gaze up at the mother tree, which sways softly in the quickening breeze, bees and songbirds about her boughs, leaves making dappled patterns as though I am underwater, looking up at the surface of a lake.

A branch quivers and dances in a sudden flurry of wind, its leaves glimmering and trembling ever faster. Then a quick, unhesitating thing happens: the leaf, or the tree, or perhaps both, just lets go.

The leaf spirals to the ground in a fluttering motion not unrecognisable as joy.

It just lets go.

Welcome autumn!

 

 

 

 

 

 

July

wildflowers.jpg
“Sometimes… here, in this world, in this life, there are fragments of paradise.” – Ben Okri

 

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

A sliver of new moon in sunset sky

The cat asleep beside the lemon balm

 

This is where I go

To breathe

 

 

 

 

April

fern
“Plant a garden. It’s good for the health of the earth and it’s good for the health of the people. A garden is a nursery for nurturing connection, the soil of cultivation of practical reverence. And its power goes far beyond the garden gate – once you develop a relationship with a little patch of earth, it becomes a seed itself.” – Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass  (photography by Caroline Arber)

 

Spring comes late to my garden.

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.

It reminds me to be grateful for the day.