Lammas: Replenishing the Life-Well

Lammas: Replenishing the Life-Well

Since the pandemic lock-down began here in the UK, I’ve not spent a night away from home. The furthest I have travelled was a two hour drive to my mother’s funeral, back in April. As restrictions eased, we’ve been to the coast a few times and into Norwich. But we’re not going to be going away for a holiday and I have no idea when I will have my next work trip. I was supposed to have had a couple of Paris or Northern France assignments in later June/early July but obviously they didn’t happen.

At the same time as all this, I’ve had a massive, and utterly horrible increase in the amount of pain I am in, and an equally massive loss of energy. When you can’t sleep because of pain, anxiety, grief, the body has no chance to mend itself, to rest and recuperate and the spirit/soul has no chance to recover from the blows life has aimed at it. I would have loved to have been able to visit various locations and sites that nourish me, but until quite recently that sort of travel was out of the question for normal mortals who cannot flout the law like certain government advisors (and others). Even though many places are now open, at least partially, the limitations and the extra hoops to jump through put me off even trying. I don’t want to, say, go round Norwich Cathedral, following a set path that takes a truncated tour. I want to sit in empty corners and quiet chapels, or stand in the labyrinth and gaze at the sky.

We had a wonderful trip with my brother to a woodland near where he lives; we took a picnic and since he’s a butterfly expert, we got to experience certain examples of lepidoptera we’d not have spotted or recognised. He can identify a butterfly often just by its flight patterns, so this meant we got to see silver-washed fritillaries we’d otherwise not have realised were there; a purple hair-streak butterfly came down from the oak canopy and we were able to get a decent look at it. I’d never seen one before.

Then a few days ago, we went to Dunwich Forest, and had a deeply restorative walk there. We used to take our dog there, and since she died almost ten years ago, we’ve hardly been back. The fluttering leaves of birch, the high fronds of bracken, the deep dark green of planted conifers, and the solid green of oak leaves gave us shade from the intense summer sun; the scent of ferns and moss and the hint of fallen leaves and fungus reminded me of the ephemeral nature of the season. We saw many gatekeeper butterflies, coppers, large skippers, peacocks, red admirals, silver-washed fritillaries (which I’d never have identified if I’d not had my brother show me the week before), and a couple of white admirals too. Dragonflies of many hues and species flitted around like jewelled brooches that have come to life. The sun on gorse seed pods made them crackle and pop and fling the seeds a surprising distance; the few brilliant yellow flowers gave out their toasted coconut macaroon fragrance. Then, because an hour and a half’s walk had worn me out, we drove to the beach and got chips from the beach cafe, and ate them sitting on the shingle while the sea caressed the rolling pebbles at the shoreline.

I’ve spent a lot of time in my garden; I bought a couple of zero gravity reclining chairs which have proved perfect for lying back in to gaze at the night sky and try to see the comet. Later this month, we’ll watch for meteor showers. We’ve left the lawns uncut this year; closer to the house, they’re kept short by the assiduous efforts of our little squad of guinea pigs but further away, the grass has gone to seed, as have the various hawk-bits, cat’s ears, hawkweeds, and others. That’s brought in squadrons of seed-eating birds like goldfinches. The longer grass has encouraged grasshoppers and crickets, and I’ve spotted wall butterflies (whose larval stage eats grasses) and also clouded yellows (whose caterpillars eat clovers) flitting around and mating. The vegetable plants we’ve cultivated are all producing delicious food for us and the guinea pigs; the self-sown evening primroses draw both butterflies and moths. The flowers are like faery ballgowns of the softest, most vibrant yellow silk, and at night they give off both a gentle aroma and a strange, almost luminescent glow as the colour reflects moonlight and starlight. Bats fly in profusion over our heads as we lie star gazing, intercepting the June bugs and cockchafers that have launched from the lawn most nights during June and some of July, and hedgehogs perform their mating rituals (noisy) a few yards or even feet away from us, before adjourning to the feeding station to crunch up cat biscuits and slurp up the odd over-ripe banana.

Our apple trees are laden with fruit that’s ripening and drawing both wasps and blackbirds to the windfalls. The bees get on with their work and a steady hum of insect life underpins the sounds of bird life and the harsher hum of traffic. New dragonflies emerge from the pond, eye us up and decide we’re too big to eat (apparently they’ll intercept fragments of crisp or peanut flipped into the air, or so my brother has told me) and head off to find something more manageable.

I’ve had very few human encounters face to face in the last months; the few that I have had have been usually very welcome, with people I like and admire. The facility for video chats (many platforms available) has been a sanity saver for me and for many.

All of these things have been replenishing my life-well. It’s a term I have used (I might have coined it) for that deep pool of experiences and thoughts and memories and dreams that feed me at the deepest, most essential level. It’s where the ideas for stories are drawn from, where they sink down into the bedrock and sometimes emerge years or even decades later as part of something complex, and wonderful. Two years ago, we went back to Taize, and though the week(with two days of travel either side) left me so physically drained it took months to recover, the contribution to my life-well was so profound that it will stay with me forever. There was an attempt to get such a trip going from this diocese, and I was part of the meeting discussing it; it didn’t happen, and even had it been planned for this year it would have been scuppered. One of the things I needed to get across was how important that trip had been to me, but also how difficult it had been. The sad thing is how abled people react to information about difficulties in access to these kinds of pilgrimages. The general feeling is, “If it was that hard, why on earth would you put yourself through that to go again?” This completely fails to understand what life is like for the disabled. The idea that if they were in your shoes, they’d just not do anything difficult or painful is absurd; life is already constricted for those with disabilities, and the opportunities to replenish your life-well are also restricted. It’s the life-well we draw on in dark days, in days where getting out of bed let alone the house, is a major challenge and can be nigh-on impossible.

Having a life-well is important, vital even, to living a full, well-lived life rather than just enduring an existence. This extraordinary year I have heard friends talk about watching for hours as a spider spun her web, of books read they’ve long intended to read but never found the time for, of local walks where some kind soul has chalked the names of plants on the pavements, of meeting life-minded souls via Zoom, of taking virtual pilgrimages, of being still enough that wild creatures draw closer. I’ve heard nothing of holidays on exotic beaches, of sightseeing in distant lands, of the long-awaited family wedding, because the experiences that fill our life-wells this year are different. Some have been bitter, dark and filled with sadness and horrors. Some have been laden with home-made bread, bird-watching in back yards and reconnecting with much-loved old friends.

This is my Lammas wish for you: that your life-well this year be filled with unexpected riches that will carry you into the colder, darker months and give you joy and wisdom to draw upon as the year turns.

Blessings to you all.

Desert Journey

Desert Journey

In the wild places, life loses its confusion
And shines instead with the brilliant clarity
Of fresh-hewn crystal, sparkling with light
And edges so sharp they would draw blood.
The final tent is lost in a shimmer of heat,
Long miles behind me in the sand;
I cannot see my destination
Though mirages try to distort my vision
And lure me from my straight path.
I lay the compass on the baking ground
Follow where the arrow points me
Even though I can see nothing ahead
But sand, sand and yet more sand.
It will be cold tonight, surely,
The ice glittering in the moonlight
Mirroring the hard stars in velvet sky
Singing with high voices like distant angels.
Tomorrow, the sky will be too bright
But I will remember the stars
With their haunting piercing songs
I shall walk to that rhythm
Till I reach the other side.

Sexy Beast

Sexy Beast

Spring, you sexy beast, you’re back!
Blowing hot and cold again,
From pheromones and feathers fluttering,
Pistils and stamens at it,
Hammer and tongs,
To nights that end in ice,
Frosted grass and ruined plants
Pricked out too soon, too tender.
You’re so full of juice
You might explode with green.
Stiff new leaves, quivering catkins
Open-mouthed flowers
And frantic frogs, a-courting,
Birds, oblivious of envious eyes,
Bill and coo and shag.
That’s a bird, too, right?

The Winter Queen, set to music!

If you enjoyed the Otherworldly aspects of Away With the Fairies, and The Wild Hunt, then you may well enjoy the Celtic Myth Podcast Show https://twitter.com/CelticMythShow . I bumped into Gary and Ruth on Twitter and they really liked my poem, The Winter Queen.

Anyway, their winter show is extremely enjoyable and uplifting at this cold, dark time of the year, and they have done a wonderful, spine-tingling reading of The Winter Queen, with the music of Phil Thornton as evocative backing. I confess I was in tears when Gary (one of the presenters) messaged me on Facebook and I listened to the show, because it felt so lovely to have been included in this way. I’m probably a Celt by ancestry, but I am very much a Celt at heart whatever my blood might say.

Do download the show. The Winter Queen comes at around 35 minutes.

http://celticmythpodshow.com/Shownotes/episodeSP38.php

The words to the poem can be seen here:

https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2013/12/16/the-winter-queen/

The Winter Queen

The Winter Queen

She came softly on the trailing edge

Of fevered dreams and sinking sleep,

Face a mask of opaque ice, her eyes

Blue-bright as a sunlit glacier.

Hair as soft as swan’s lost down

Filled with pearly Honesty and skeletons

Of Queen Anne’s Lace.

Her wreath was of frozen holly leaves

Dotted with berries of bloody red

And dusted with traces of white hoar frost

Like glitter on a Venetian mask.

Her clothes the rags of summer splendour

Faded by the autumn skies

And ripped to ragged ruin

By gales and snowstorms yet to come.

Around her throat withered rowan berries

And rock hard sloes dried to stone

The meagre treasures hanging still

Amid the shaking hedges here.

Her staff a shaft of blackthorn, bare

Of leaves but bearing thorns and buds

Hard and tight as clenched fists

Defiant of the clutch of cold.

Her voice was hoarse with winter storm,

Yet soft as a draught under my door,

Insistent and full of power

Commanding me to obey her words.

The creatures of the wild will need

More food than my late sister did provide,

For my realm and season will persist

Past the time when buds should break.

Take my rowan beads, and hang them

Where the birds will feed

As signal that you will be their friend

Though my reign be far too long.”

I woke. Her touch upon my face

Turned skin to leaden hue like death.

In the night garden ~ musings by starlight

In the night garden ~ musings by starlight

The grass has cooled now and feels pleasantly moist against the soles of my feet. During the heat of the day I could not walk here, barefoot or otherwise, for fear of treading on the many bees that buzz among the thousands of clover flowers. The texture of the grass is scratchy, reminding me how dry it has become. The flower heads are soft white, and even they are beginning to wither.

There are flowers that have become magically altered by the darkness; blue and white Canterbury Bells seem luminous, the blue ones almost fluorescing in the limited light. The sky has still streaks of pink and gold at the far horizon, but otherwise is deepening to indigo very fast. The last of the swifts flew over some time ago and I am watching now for the arrival of the first bats, as the night shift takes over.

The pond is now dark, the golden globes of the water soldier flowers shut tight, and the hum of bees collecting water is silenced. If I stand here a while, a goldfish will surface for a moment, then disappear into the depths again. The first water lily flower is still closed, screwed up like a puzzle, but it will perhaps open tomorrow.

The sky is now deep blue, and has a clarity about its darkness that is surprising. The first of the stars glimmers and then twinkles; within a few moments there are more visible than I can count, diamond white against the velvet backdrop like gemstones being shown off by a jeweller.

A soft breeze shakes the leaves of the trees, still warm from a hot day, and with it comes an intoxicating scent. It’s the fragrance of the summer nights I remember from twenty years ago in our first garden, crushed grass, roses and night-scented stocks that I sowed in every gap amid perennials and between paving slabs. Rich, but ethereal, the perfume transports me back to another hot night, when I was still young and full of hope and life seemed a little simpler than it does now. I was not happier then but I had poured much of my energy into creating a garden that held magic.

At the end of the garden I have put a bench, beneath the sheltering canopy of leave of a cherry plum tree. There’s a trellis near on each side, up which grow well established old roses. One is named Alchemist and this pleases me. The scent is comforting, and mixes with that of the jasmine and honeysuckles we have planted to complement the roses. The border near my seat has other scented plants too that give up their aroma at night. Night-phlox, which my brother grows for me each year, has starry white flowers touched with deep blood-red maroon markings, and its scent is powerful. It smells like a mixture of Refresher sweets from childhood and expensive French perfume.

I sit on the bench, feeling a few dried leaves crunch beneath me and I look up. I have a line of plain fairy-lights, solar powered, that like tiny globes of white fire, like stars strung out on a line like beads, and these are trailed through the lower branches. The sounds of the town go on around me but I don’t hear them much. I feel insulated from it all, I feel a million miles from here.

Somewhere close by, the hedgehog is beginning her nightly rounds, and will stop at our garden for a supper of dog food and a drink of water from the birdbath. I wait, feeling the first bite of a mosquito, and wishing I had brought citronella oil out with me to fend them off.

There is a moment where everything is held in perfect expectation, a breath away from realisation; the transformation of a mundane suburban garden into a world where beings from beyond this reality might step blithely into this world and I into theirs and where it’s eminently possible that a unicorn might begin cropping the starlit clover.

A cloud passes over the stars and the moment is lost, and I get up to go inside. At the back door I pause and the scent of the night garden washes over me and with it, the hopes and the dreams I once had flicker like fireflies around me. The past and its memories are here, too; they’ve never gone away, but have been waiting, like dormant seeds buried deep, for the right conditions and the right time to start to sprout.

What will these forgotten seeds grow into?

Summer Solstice Morning

Summer Solstice morning

I have not slept. I have spent the night tending the fire, gazing into the dancing flames and the embers that glow red amid the grey ash that coats them. It may be summer but the night has been chilly and my body aches with it, and with the enforced stillness. I’d like to feed the fire now, coax it into new life, but the purpose of the night was to keep the fire barely alive till the first sunlight breaks over the tree-clad horizon. I have fed the fire one stick at a time, keeping the balance between it remaining alight and the spark being extinguished for lack of fuel. On a normal day I would have banked the fire with slabs of turf hacked from the grass-clad slopes below my cave but this is part of my ritual, this meticulous slow tending to the spirit of the hearth.

Inside my cave, my cooking fire has burned low too, but I know I can rekindle that quickly and easily. My stomach growls and I think of hot tea and cakes made from the last of the autumn’s chestnuts, cooked on a flat stone in the margins of the hearth.

This is not about fire; this is not about light. And yet both are fundamental to this morning. If morning ever comes, that is, for the sky is midnight blue, speckled with stars and frayed with wisps of clouds that blur their twinkling.

But I can hear birds beginning to stir, to emit the first notes of their songs to greet the daylight with, and when I look again I can see that the stars are going out, one by one. The midnight blue has become greyish, and as I gaze into the blackness below the ledge where my cave opens out into a half moon of soft sand, I can see that the forest beyond is no longer a sea of darkness. I can see that there are trees as diffuse light strikes the leaves and branches, and very far off the line of night is vanishing as the first rays of sun pierce the sky. It will not be long, but my legs are cramping and I struggle to my feet, stamping and waving my arms to restore the blood flow to my body.

Like red eyes, the embers glow more brightly as the morning brings a stiff breeze that scatters the ashes and whips the last of the dying fire into one final bloom of flames. I stand very still, hearing the soft crackle, and I wait. The golden burst of sun-rays is sudden; it always takes me by surprise how swift it comes, this morning. As the light touches the forest and then reaches my little dwelling, I take my flask and I hold it up to the rising sun. Mead, from last year or the year before, sweet and strong. I drink deeply, gulping and letting it pour into me. Half for me, then I upend the flask so that the rest floods the fire. There is a hiss and a smell of honey, and the fire is out.

This day is the longest day and will need no ritual fire. The furnace of the sun is at its peak now and we shall need no more reminders of its power until the harvest comes.

I turn, wobbling slightly as the mead has gone to my head, and go inside to brew tea and brown sweet cakes before going about my day’s work, while outside the mountain I live on is warmed by the midsummer sun and the creatures I share the land with start their day. 

Desert Journey

Desert Journey

In the wild places, life loses its confusion

And shines instead with the brilliant clarity

Of fresh-hewn crystal, sparkling with light

And edges so sharp they would draw blood.

The final tent is lost in a shimmer of heat,

Long miles behind me in the sand;

I cannot see my destination

Though mirages try to distort my vision

And lure me from my straight path.

I lay the compass on the baking ground

Follow where the arrow points me

Even though I can see nothing ahead

But sand, sand and yet more sand.

It will be cold tonight, surely,

The ice glittering in the moonlight

Mirroring the hard stars in velvet sky

Singing with high voices like distant angels.

Tomorrow, the sky will be too bright

But I will remember the stars

With their haunting piercing songs

I shall walk to that rhythm

Till I reach the other side.

What am I waiting for?

What am I waiting for?

For the winter to be over?

For Spring to arrive?

For my life to start?

For something to give a little, to feel that sudden shifting that says something is going to move soon?

For the stars to move into a favourable conjunction?

For better times?

Till I am grown up enough to understand the world?

Till my prayers are answered? Till I am strong enough?

Till I am better?

Till I can love myself enough?

Till someone rescues me?

Till the conditions for growth are better?

What am I waiting for?

Is this inactivity simply a lull, a pause in proceedings or is it the preface to a slow decline?

Is each forward step I take that is met by a sliding backwards, a waste of effort?

Am I just clinging on to stop the current, the fierce force of the river, sweeping me away?

I feel like an actor, hiding in the wings, waiting for my cue to step on stage, take my place and speak my lines.

I feel like the crown princess waiting for a crown that never comes without the grief of losing the one who wore it last.

I feel like a child who cannot grow up.

I feel like the eternal Miss Havisham, trapped in a soul that gathers more cobwebs and mould each unkissed year.

I feel like the buds brought in too early that dry and wither on the branch, never to open and flower.

I feel like a treasure hunter who only has half the map; the half where X marks the spot is lost to me.

I feel like the hero of a book, the one where  the reader knows his fate but the hero does not.

I feel like I have lost my way; I’m sitting on my luggage at Paddington station and hoping someone with look after this bear.

I’m scared I’ve missed my moment.

I’m scared I have missed my cue, and the rest of the cast have had to muddle through without me.

I’m scared that I’m in limbo, stuck in a dead hinterland of nothingness where I wait for an eternity for a moment that never comes.

Have I dithered too long about destiny?

Have I failed to make my choices, waiting instead to see what happens?

Has it all passed me by while I stand, frozen by fear and by self doubt?

Or is this instead the patience to wait for the right moment, even without knowing what that would look like?

Is it the rightful caution of someone whose bones know where she should be going, even if her head does not?

Is it the wisdom to wait and not try to force the world into a shape it’s not ready to move into?

Is it the silent knowing that tells you that this is not IT, that mystical something you’ve been waiting for?

That inner certainty that something right for you is there somewhere?

Is it that sane assessment that tells you that while the frying pan is hot, the fire is hotter yet?

What am I waiting for?

I do not know.

But chasing intangibles will not bring it faster.

Is there someone there? ~ a sense of presence

Roses…

 

Is there someone there?

I’m almost sure I can feel you there. The scent of roses comes and goes. It reminds me of something long ago.

The hairs of  my neck are bristling. I can feel you. Who are you? Talk to me. Please.

Nothing

the computer hums softly, the blood in my ears sings

nothing again but the rising of tiny hairs over my whole body. I tingle.

Communicate with me somehow. I jump when the auto-correct turns lower case letters to capitals. Silly cow.

It’s easy to scare myself, imagine things. I make a …well, not a living, but some money from imagining things, so it’s what I naturally do. I take an idea and I let it grow like a weed until I see the form it wants to take and then I tend it so it grows the way it wants to.  I write sometimes like someone who is merely taking down dictation; my best work has always come that way. That sort of writing gives me butterflies and more as I write. I get drawn in and lost in the maze I create, a word-maze, a labyrinth that takes me to a centre somewhere deep inside me  and I find….what do I find there?

I can’t remember.

Who are you? You’ve been here before, months back, touching my hand, my cheek, that little brush like a passing cobweb. Who? Talk to me, let me know you are real and not something from my imagination. Send me a sign. Something I can’t talk myself out of. More than a failing starter switch on a kitchen light. Please.

I can’t feel or sense anything now and that scent of old roses with a dash of something else is gone too. I write that and a shiver starts along my spine. A breath of something.

What is this, what is going on? Is there something, someone there?