And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow ~ on love and marriage

Then Almitra spoke again and said…
“And what of Marriage, master?”
And he answered saying:

You were born together,
and together you shall
be forevermore.

You shall be together when the white wings
of death scatter your days.

Aye, you shall be together even in the
silent  memory of God.

But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make
not a bond of love.
Let it rather be a moving sea between
the shores of  your souls.

Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give  one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.

Sing and dance
together and be joyous,
but let each of you be alone,

Even as the  strings of a lute are alone
though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the  hand of Life can contain your hearts.

And stand together, yet not too
near together.  For the pillars of the temple stand apart,

And the oak tree and the cypress
grow not in each other’s shadow.

from Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet

Lost #5

Lost #5

During the days that follow any memory of my life before the forest leaches away, until I cease to remember what it felt like to have a full stomach, to be comfortable and clean and to have any sense of who I am. Here I am a strange animal, walking on two legs for sure, but acting on instinct and impulse. I eat, not when I am hungry, for I am always hungry to the point of being ravenous, but when I find food. Seldom is it filling or tasty, but I swallow it down and after a few days where I vomit continuously till I think I may die, my body
adapts to the strange food and stops rebelling. I eat whatever is
edible, and no longer question this. Berries, leaves, nuts, grubs and
insects: but carrion is usually too far gone to risk eating, and I
have no means of making fire. A kill is a risky place to linger; the
predator will be close, if the meat is still fresh enough for me to
eat raw.

I drink water from the clear streams that criss cross the forest,
checking the soil by the banks for signs that any animals have been
there recently. At night I sometimes hear cries that tell me that
dangerous animals live too close to me and I shiver in whatever tree
I have chosen for my night’s rest. Sometimes, I find a deep pool and
swim in it, trying to rinse the filth from body and hair. My clothes
have become organic extensions of myself, ragged and dirty, but
somehow holding together enough to give me warmth enough to survive the nights. Gradually I forget that such things as beds exist. I
cannot imagine lying down to sleep; I doze, leaning against a tree
trunk, high up in one of the increasingly massive trees.

For as I journey deeper into the forest, either I have become infinitely smaller or the trees have become far taller than even my now distant memories of trees would have me believe. I have come to an area where the trees seem to have been growing since the start of time itself, and the spread of their branches keeps the forest floor clear of  smaller trees. No one has ever cleared away fallen wood; every branch that has fallen in a winter gale still remains undisturbed, home to a million insects and small mammals. I come to an area where many of the great trees have all fallen, leaving mountains of wood, piled against each other in shattered heaps. The trunks are many, many times my height, and when they stood, these giants rivalled mountains in their height. Once I might have told what manner of tree these were, but now I only know that I must scramble among them, for days at a time, to cross an area that may be less than a quarter of a mile across filled with treacherous heaps of decaying dead-fall and low growing vegetation like brambles.

When finally I get clear of the grove of fallen giants, I find that I am
among their living kin. Towering trunks, their skins rough and
fissured, soar skywards, and I can see only the tiniest glimpses of
sky through the dense canopy of leaves. The tree tops are hundreds of feet above me, and there are no branches low enough for me to climb up into the protective arms of the trees that night.

I shiver and wonder what beasts patrol this area of forest at night. I
must find somewhere to sleep or risk being prey myself when the deep velvety darkness falls and makes moving impossible. Among these trees, the canopy of leaves is so complete that even the sunlight filters through only imperfectly and the forest floor is filled with green shadows and little grows here.

I stand gazing up, mouth open in wonder, and begin to move among the columns of trunks that stretch miles in every direction without
variation, and wonder where I am to sleep this night when the cradles of branches are inaccessible to me.

Dog Days

Dog Days

Where did my summer go?

Lost in a whirl of passing days

Eaten up by anxiety

Consumed by confusion?

Summer ends as it began, silently,

Slowly, the greens fading

From brilliance to buff

Becoming at first tired and jaded,

Ragged at the edges,

The freshness of spring

Dried and hardened to leather.

The sun changes from the silver-gilt

Shining of May-time joy

To a brassy, aching shade

That burns and wearies the eyes.

Fermenting windfalls draw the wasps

Who feast amid drunken butterflies

Gorging themselves on over-ripe pears

And cider-smelling apples.

The harvest is all done;

Rough with stubble, empty fields

Await the blade of the plough

And the screaming gulls.  

“He jests at scars that never felt a wound” ~ or why compassion for others may be something only learned the hard way

He jests at scars that never felt a wound” or why compassion for
others may be something only learned the hard way.

I finally had to bite the bullet this last week and face my nemesis. Well,  one of them. This is my fifth season teaching the summer school and until last week I’ve avoided doing a lesson on Romeo and Juliet. I hate this play with a passion. Truly. But the previous day’s lesson could  really only be followed up with a lesson with the theme of LOVE and  inevitably that ends up leading to that play.

I hate it for a number of reasons, and the sheer stupidity of this
fiction that dying for love is somehow supremely romantic is one of
them. I have almost no romantic bone in my body. To me, there is
little more futile than suicide because of thwarted or lost love. I’m
fully sympathetic with those who feel this way; it’s not them who I
have issues with but rather the media and the culture that seems to
glorify this as the ultimate romantic gesture(albeit a truly tragic

The lesson went well. I avoided the bear-traps of sex and the Shakespeare was pleasingly incomprehensible. But one line jumped off the page at me. I’ve not touched the play since university and it isn’t one I’ve ever read for pleasure. But, “he jests at scars that never felt a wound,” from Act 2 scene 2, made me shiver a little, bringing back memories I’d rather forget.

After my own pathetic attempt to take my own life all but one of the people I came into contact with in hospital were very kind to me. The one who was not was a night nurse who disparaged me, to my face and told me I was just another silly girl who ought to know better. She mocked me. Over the intervening years, I’ve pondered why she was so mean towards me.

This line from Shakespeare told me why. Unless you are naturally very empathetic, understanding someone else’s pain can only come from a place of experience. And if you have not experienced something closely similar, then there is a real chance that someone else’s reactions to a heartbreak may well seem silly or over-dramatic. We do not have hearts that bruise at the same rate; what hurts me may not even touch another. What pains you may not even be something I notice.

I took a small risk and very briefly told my students of my experience, at roughly the same age as they are now and how, within weeks of that my whole life was transformed and how. Never give up, I told them, never let go of hope for better. Everyone needs to have their heart broken at least once in a lifetime because it teaches you compassion, I said.

I hope they remember this, if nothing else, from their stay in England.

Lost #4

Lost #4

There are no paths. All around me, endless shades of green, with some brown and red and orange as counterpoint, and no opening, no indication that anyone has ever come this way before. I sag against the trunk of the tree I have just climbed, the memory of those distant mountains burned into my retina like the after-burn of lightning flashes, and for a few long minutes, I want to curl into a ball, and bury myself in the moist leaf-litter and return to the earth.

But somehow I square my shoulders and take a long deep breath. I gaze around carefully and I spot it: not a path as such, just a thread
through the greenery. It’s probably a deer path but it seems to be
going in the right direction at least, so I begin.

The way is not easy; I cannot walk, but rather have to weave myself in and out of fallen branches, over rocks and heavy rotting trunks.
Sometimes, in the soft earth I see the footprints of the deer who use
this trail and sometimes droppings, but they are old, and I feel sure
the deer do not come this way often.

I merge with the forest, my mind slipping into its rhythms as the sun
climbs higher and higher. I sip water from a tiny rivulet that
crosses the path, scooping water into my mouth; it tastes earthy, a
tang of smoky peat teases my taste buds, making me remember something I cannot quite put my finger on. It’s not unpleasant, just odd. I eat leaves, to stave off the hunger, and the occasional berry. In the back of my mind, I wonder how I know whether something is safe to eat or not, and worry that perhaps I do not.

By late afternoon, as the sun has begun its decline to evening, I have
covered perhaps a mile in a straight line and am exhausted and
filthy. I’ve crossed and recrossed the same ground, and it was only
seeing my own footprints in the moist ground my a stream that told me I had doubled back. I never once thought they might belong to someone else. Throughout this great wide forest that seemed from the treetops to go on to the edges of the earth, I cannot sense another human soul. Only birdsong and insects disturb the peace here.

I can sense the sunset even though I cannot see it and I know I must find shelter for the night. I’ve nothing to keep me warm and I am dimly aware that the food I have eaten would be sufficient for a
family of field-mice to live on. Every limb aches with exertion and
my heart sinks because I know that those mountains are still as far
away as ever.

As I climb into a tree and try to snuggle as close to the trunk as I
can, feeling the living force of the sap slowing inside, I ask
myself, why am I heading for the mountains?

But I sleep before I can even start to answer that question.

(for previous episode see:

Meet the Mirror ~ Tip the Time-line

Meet the mirror, tip the time-line

I don’t like mirrors; they show me a stranger who I don’t like or sometimes don’t even recognise. I don’t look the way I think I do, inside, and often the  fact that there is no correspondence between my inner image and what I see in the mirror means I seldom linger at a mirror. I wash my face, put on make up, do my hair and my teeth and hardly look,  because it leaves me so despondent. I’ve never been pretty, but like Maude Gonne (who was a famed beauty in her time and inspired poet WB Yeats to write some very great poetry) I do have my “moments of glad grace” that might pass for beauty for someone like me.

Today I have felt a touch on my left hand a number of times, like a feather brushing my skin, but there is nothing there. At first I thought a hair was tickling me or a fly, but there was nothing. I got a dim impression of someone trying to attract my attention.

Then this evening, I passed the mirror in the bathroom and I saw something else looking back at me, rather than the usual rather tired blonde with a face like an earnest horse that is desperate to show everyone how clever it actually is and I stopped dead for a moment.

Gazing back at me, somehow, was the little girl I used to be and the old woman I will become. They were not phantoms but they were there in my own familiar half-hated workaday face, as definite as my own bones. I saw in my wiry hair the softness of childhood and the spider-silk of old age, all in the same silver gilt my hair is now, poised in its turning to grey. In my eyes, which are the colour of the north sea in winter, changeable and deep, I saw the pure blue innocence of the child I once was and the deep grey green wisdom of an old woman I may yet become.

I paused, struck by something odder yet that the appearance of these two. It was that as I saw them, I could see they were beautiful and yet, seeing my own face, I could not see it in me. And yet, they are me. How can this be, that I cannot see my beauty in this time but in other times, I can?

I’m probably halfway through my life, and yet, what have I done, and what have I yet to do? Both these questions are what my other selves might ask of me and they did not. If anything they just showed me their loveliness that I am unable to accept in myself.

I am not sure what this encounter means but I’d like to share with you a song by someone who expresses it better than I can, this sense of time tipping and the need to mark the passing of time. Carolyn Hillyer writes very beautiful music that sadly I cannot find on
You-Tube but if you visit
you can find samples to listen to and perhaps to buy.  

Meet the mirror, melt and merge there

Tilt the mirror, tip the time-line

Mind the mirror, mind you mark time

Mid-line, it’s your turn to turn time

(Meet the Mirror, from Old Silverhead, songs and initiations of Woman-hood
by Carolyn Hillyer)

I’m feeling very unsettled by this experience and the sense that I am
perhaps running out of time. It seems only a few years ago that I was that child with bright blue eyes, that have long since turned to that sea colour; can it be that it is an even shorter time before I become that old woman?

Lost #3

For part 1 see Lost #1

For part 2 see Lost #2

Lost #3

I sit until my bones become weary and the grass becomes cold and damp beneath me; the glow-worms slowly flicker and fade and I am alone. Around me the trees softly sough in the night wind and I shiver. I am not dressed for this; my clothes seem unfamiliar and I get to my feet again.

The darkness has become less intense and I realise that the light is
starting to return and I scan the sky for signs of dawn. As the black
becomes navy blue and then a grey tinged with pink I can see I am
surrounded by trees which have grown up somewhat twisted and gnarled, their lower branches accessible even to me.

I walk round, my feet leaving a silvery trail in the dew laden grass
and select a tree I think I may be able to climb and find a massive
oak, its bark green with lichen and moss and scramble up into the
lower branches without much problem. Up and up I climb, awkward and inept and trembling at times when I look down.

It’s one of the tallest trees and when I reach the canopy, and have to
stop to catch my breath, I make the mistake of looking down. A tangle of branches weave in and out like a mandala below me and my mind becomes confused by the pattern. I shut my eyes and try to focus.

I open them and steady myself, gripping the wood tightly and shift a
little so I can turn left and right without risking slipping. Over
the sea of greens, the sun is rising, a great red ball that becomes
golden as I watch the mists spiralling up out of the forest. For as
far as my eyes can see, there is only trees, mile upon mile of
forest. I can see no roads or significant clearings beyond some that
seem to be where the more ancient of trees have fallen to their
deaths. I see no buildings or signs of people. In the extreme
distance, I can see the faintest glimmer of a mountain range, a thin
blue line of hummocks at the furthest horizon.

The forest is waking as I stand gazing over the canopy and I can hear birds and other creatures greeting the new day and I can also hear my stomach rumbling.

Slowly I realise that having got up this high, I have now to get down again and after fixing the direction of those mountains in my mind, I begin my shaky descent.

As I climb nervously down, all I can think about is that sea of green
and the miles of endless forest ahead of me. 

Woadworks ~ using Nature to bring well-being AND beauty.

Woadworks ~ using Nature to bring well being AND beauty.

People who know me well know I have had a lifelong passion for all things herbal. I’ve studied informally both the medicinal and cosmetic
properties of herbs and my study shelves are heavily skewed towards
herbals. I bought my first herbal when I was about 12, having messed about boiling up stuff like nettles to make hair rinses and suchlike, and I’ve planted and left behind a good number of gardens.

Though I do make my own products from time to time, what has completely eluded me has been a shampoo that ticks all the boxes. I suffer from a sensitive scalp that flares up at nothing and becomes sore and itchy and then flakes everywhere to such an extent I can’t wear black. I’ve spent a small fortune over the years trying every product on the market with limited success. I found one bar that helped my scalp but made my hair itself dull and lank. My hair is my crowning glory, my one physical beauty and I am vain when it comes to my hair.

I came across Woadworks via Twitter and after an initial chat with
Sandie, the creator, I was delighted to receive a sample of the
hair-bath made with nettles, neem and tea tree oil for tetchy scalps.
Not to put too fine a point on it, this worked so well, I bought a
full sized bottle and a second bottle of a rather wonderful
honey-scented hair-bath, filled with such joys as chamomile,
safflower and you guessed it, honey as a second one to use when my scalp isn’t playing up. Not only do the hair-baths get your hair
clean, they leave it soft and shiny and well conditioned without the
need to use a separate conditioner, something I usually need by the
gallon. Mine is the kind of hair that breaks brushes….

The added advantage of the hair-baths is that your hair seems to stay cleaner for longer; often shampoos seem to strip the scalp of oils and the poor old scalp works every harder to compensate.

I’ve still got to try and work my way through the other products in the Woadworks stable, but going on what I have already tried, I can
expect sheer loveliness to come. All the products are made with love
and expertise and most of the ingredients are either wild-crafted or
organic. They are also created with great understanding of nature and of symbiosis. They’re also not expensive, certainly compared with other premium products but if you are used to buying your haircare products from the own brand Boots or supermarket ranges, they may seem pricey. Believe me when I say they far exceed even the premium products I have already tried, including Neal’s Yard, L’Occitane and many others. You get what you pay for, really.

Sandie is always very helpful and can advise on what product may suit your skin/hair best so if in doubt, email and ask.

(note: this review is not an advertisement but a sharing of a set of
products that I have personally found to have helped me. I hope they might help you or at least give you some enjoyment!)

Rakes in the Grass ~ Hidden Triggers for Emotional Meltdowns

Rakes in the Grass ~ Hidden Triggers for Emotional Meltdowns.


I used to think that the kind of accident you see usually in cartoons
where someone steps on a rake and it springs up and hits them in the face were pure fantasy. I mean, surely no one could ever be that
stupid as to leave a rake lying around in the grass, just waiting to
be trodden upon?


By the time I’d had a garden of my own I discovered quite how easy it is to be smacked in the face or back of the head by your own gardening tools. If you’re busy trying to get through various tasks, and something happens to distract you ( a splinter, the phone, a bee, you name it), it’s all too easy to leave a rake where it falls and not
remember till you see stars and little tweeting birds round your
head. No matter how careful you are, one day it happens and then it
makes you realise that no one has immunity to the occasional accident that might have been avoided.

The same goes for those hidden triggers that are those tiny stones
falling onto a path that make people look up and go, “What is that
rumbling sound?” before half a mountain lands on them. It is
possible that with the aid of a crystal ball, you might have foreseen
this avalanche before it hit you but basically never venturing into
the mountains at all is the only way to be sure of being completely
safe. Of course I am speaking metaphorically here, just in case you
are wondering.

I should have seen the signs that I was becoming ever more fraught and taken a different route through the mountains, but I didn’t.
Sometimes the only way through is to just keep on going and that’s
what I did. But I forgot about the rakes in the grass.

A rake is a hidden something or other that we don’t see coming and yet, was there all along because in all probability we were the ones who left it there. (Not always, but that’s for another time). They are
almost always trivial in themselves but devastating as triggers for
deeper issues. I tend to think of myself as one step away from chaos
at the best of times but I also try not to think about it at all when
I feel I have no choice but to soldier on. That’s the time when I
need to watch out for the rakes most.

My personal rakes in the grass are as follows:

Criticism of something I can’t do anything about. An example of this is how I look. If someone chooses to have a pop at me for being overweight, then if the rock-slide is already poised to crash, that might be enough to shift the final few pebbles and bring down tonnes of rock. Another example is if someone criticises me for simply being me; I have my character flaws and despite all the work I have done to round off my rough edges, I remain imperfect. This is the most frustrating rake as when I am not fragile, I can just smile and let it go; when I am not, it triggers a near suicidal frame of mind.

Unfairness and injustice. Not just personal, but global. ‘Nuff said

Getting something wrong I should have got right. I hate this with a passion, because it just brings home how feeble my efforts are. Pointing it out is just going to make it worse than ever.

Pathos: something that is inherently sad or tragic, whether real or in
fiction or music, is just going to start the rocks shifting
inexorably downwards.

Pain: either sudden or chronic, doesn’t matter which, weakens my resolve to keep things buttoned down and under control.

Hormones: these chemical messengers sometimes pass on mixed or confusing messages and basically tell us lies. I have a very bad reaction to adrenaline in particular, that is both physical and emotional, which is responsible for the panic attacks and free floating anxiety.

Calling me stupid. This last one goes ludicrously deep. I hate anyone calling me stupid. Really hate it. I have no doubts when I am up that I have a high level of intelligence but when I am low, I seek
evidence and proof of it and when I see (in the light of the
depressive moods) how little I have to show for that supposed
intelligence, the slightest indication that someone else thinks me
stupid is almost inevitably going to trigger a meltdown. I feel that
I am constantly pulling a con trick on the world and the sudden
realisation that someone has twigged to my real state of IQ makes me desperate to eliminate myself from the scene ASAP.   


Now if you have ever been hit in the face with a real rake, the reaction of those around you is usually hysterical laughter, because it’s just so, well, cartoonish. How you feel may vary. Shock and pain are the first reactions, but what is going on around you changes how you can deal with those. If people are laughing, there may be a sudden surge in anger, because they are not seeing your pain. The same goes for the metaphorical rake in the face. If you are anything like me, you just want to run away and hide, because I don’t want anyone seeing the torrent of tears and explosion of rage that’s going to occur in milliseconds. 

I got a rake in the face on Monday, and there are still little birds
tweeting round my head now and I’m buried in a massive heap of fallen rock. The rake, the trigger, was something trivial and pretty
unimpressive, but the avalanche was quite spectacular. It’s going to
take a while to dig myself out and get back to normal. It’s times
like these a shovel would be some use but you’re left only with a
rake, and that’s no good, so you just drop it back into the long

For next time…… 


The Sea-gull’s Tale ~ knowing when or if to intervene

The Sea-gull’s Tale ~ knowing when or if to intervene.

The place where I live is rich in wildlife, but where I work that
wildlife is mainly confined to a slice of nature that most people
would prefer to ignore or destroy. Rats, foxes, pigeons, the
occasional rabbit and most of all sea-gulls scurry, flap or scuttle
their way around the school, and the seagulls seem to take great
sport in splatting on cars or people.

I have great admiration for all of these loathed creatures because they survive on the fringes of our lives and in some cases, share space with us. 

The gulls are getting to be very bold and aggressive, as the students
often leave food lying around and the resulting mêlée
is loud and often violent.

Right now, the juvenile gulls are in the process of fledging and fending for themselves. This is not a kindly process. The parents will often drive their young away, with rather shocking attacks. Gulls are
omnivores, devouring the dead of their own and other species.

I witnessed such an attack from my classroom the other week, where twoadults mercilessly stabbed their beaks at a youngster, ripping feathers from his head. I don’t know if the chick was theirs or not, but they wanted nothing to do with it and I feared they would kill it.

On Saturday morning, I saw it again, and intervened to prevent the
adults killing it. The bird shot me a look and scuttled away, and the
adults took to the sky circling like vultures. Returning that
evening, the coach scattered dozens of gulls, including young ones
still in their brown plumage; the ground was thick with them and the
air full of the raucous cries.

Today my boss came to find me in the staffroom, summoning me to the front because there was a sick bird. Don’t ask how I’ve ended up being the Florence Nightinggale of the animal world in the eyes of the people I work with, but it would seem that I am the one who gets called if there’s something needing to be done with a living being other than a human.

Outside, among the throngs of students (who reminded me of the gulls at that point) I was directed to a corner where a juvenile gull huddled. It was the same young gull, a wound on the side of his head. I called him closer so I could see the extent of his injuries. He came to a foot or two away and let me look before scuttling away. The wound was healing, as far as I could see. But short of somehow grabbing him and subjecting him to first aid, I could do no more. The RSPCA would do nothing as a gull is a common bird and considered vermin by many. I couldn’t catch the bird and just kill him; he had a chance of making it if he stayed away from his own kind till he grew stronger.

I stood for a minute or two, eye to eye with this wary bird and felt
sadness that I had no power to help. I gave my verdict that there was nothing to be done and the bird would probably be fine, and the kids seemed reassured by this, but I felt I had somehow failed.

You see, that one bird is special. I identified with it, poor persecuted
bastard, driven from the nest and fending for himself in a cruel and
uncaring world. I felt protective and yet totally helpless. It came
when I spoke to it, showing both intelligence and curiosity and some
basic trust. 

There are times when you can help in a situation and there are times when any help you may give will create a worse situation, and right now, I simply do not know if I am doing the right thing in doing nothing.

I need to trust not only that my own life is unfolding as it must, but
also that the same can be said for those around me, whether they are friends, family, colleagues, strangers or even just scruffy, beat-up
juvenile seagulls. And that means learning when intervention is a
good idea and when it is not, because getting involved in something
that I am not supposed to be part of subverts not just my life but
that of others.

And yet, my instinct is that when compassion is evoked, then intervention is both right but also inevitable.