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.

Small things to reduce plastic use and other green tips

Small things to reduce plastic use and other green tips

Small things to reduce plastic use and other green tips

With the New Year came a plethora of articles and television programmes, basically with a new year-new you theme. The tidy fairy aka Marie Kondo has taught people to fold t shirts and declutter their homes. I’m not a fan of the whole decluttering lark, because it tends to actually create anxiety in many, because we are social animals and can feel pressure to conform and seek approval from our peers by following the trend even when we don’t really want or need to. And much of it is aimed at people who are financially secure enough so that getting rid of an item that still has use in it isn’t a problem if they suddenly discover they do need it six months down the line. They can just buy a new one. Nor am I am a fan of the idea that everything you own must spark joy. I’m more a fan of the William Morris adage: “Have nothing in your home you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

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N is for Newt

N is for Newt

N is for Newt

When I taught English as a foreign language, playing word games was a nice ten minute filler at the end of the lesson. Going through the alphabet and finding a word for a series of categories was a pretty standard exercise but the letter N always stumped students when it came to the animal category. There really aren’t many animals starting with N. I usually ended up supplying the word, either Newt of Nuthatch.

Newts are (as you all know) amphibians. Contrary to popular belief this doesn’t mean they spend most of their time in and around water; newts like damp places for certain but the only time you’re likely to see them in your pond is during the breeding season. Our pond has at least once species of newt that breeds in it (as well as frogs and toads), and they’re utterly delightful to watch.

This one was caught when we were weed-clearing last year and was returned immediately after the photo opportunity.

A Thinking Place

A Thinking Place

Do you have a place you find yourself drawn to when you need to have a good old think? I suspect most of us do. Over the years there have been many, some close to hand and others a good distance away from home.

When we lived in Nottingham in the early 90s I had a thinking place almost on my doorstep, which is just as well as I had a toddler at home at the time. The house was the first we’d had which had a proper garden and it was quite a decent size for us; room for a swing and plenty of space to run around but also nice for us adults. My thinking place was half way up the garden path, where the garden sloped upwards and there were a few steps. I’d sit there, summer or winter, with a mug of coffee, and think.

In the years that followed there were many more. When we lived in north Yorkshire, there was a place up in the forest above where we lived, about a half hour’s brisk walk. The mountain stream that meandered down from the moors passed close to the path and down a cascade of waterfalls over rock formations left behind after the last ice age. There were four stages to the waterfall, and the sound of running water and bird song was intensely calming and conducive to deep contemplation. I’d walk up here with the dog, sit down for twenty minutes and let it all sink in, and the knots in my head slowly untangled.

In Norfolk, there were several close enough to my home that a walk often took a couple of hours as I spent time in each. One was a huge tree trunk that had been dragged off the path and left. Here I would sit, among the woodland, and listen to nightingales and watch for wildlife and the fae. Further on, deeper in the woodland, was a vast black poplar, larger than any I’ve ever seen before or since. It was clearly the queen of the wood, twin- trunked and massive. In the gap between the two huge trunks I would stand and think; I remember being there with my friend Claire, singing native American chants together, in tune with the spirit of the forest. There was a small clearing further along, on the edge of the common, where I could sit unseen and be at one with the trees.

In the Midlands, I had several areas along the river Soar where I would stop for a while and watch the river, one close to the lock gates, another further along the tow path. When we lived in Suffolk (until about 3 years back) I had a few along the beach, sitting on a particular groyne, or among woodland clearings. Here I have one or two, by the giant old oak or on the bridge over the stream in Starston.

Despite the changes in landscape, all these thinking places had a lot in common. Each was a place where wildlife came, even in the city, though there was nothing visible that would obviously attract birds or animals. My waterfall place was the first and only place I’ve seen a merlin (the smallest of our raptors). It had not come to drink or really to hunt; it just appeared on the other side of the stream, watched me for a while and flew off. My thinking spot on the Soar brought me into contact with a weasel I lifted from the river; for example, and the further one brought me face to face with a mink. My thinking spot on the bridge brings me close contact with kingfishers, dippers, waterbirds, rodents, owls, egrets and many others. The fallen tree and the black poplar was also places where the usually invisible beings of the countryside allowed themselves to be seen. At night time, the wood was alive with the fae.

The characteristics of my own thinking spots mark them as places a shaman would call power spots, a seer would call them nexus points where earth energies peak. You can dowse for them, even, or just sense how a place feels. Often your body just knows (just as it can know when a place is somewhere you need to steer clear of!) It’s this convergence of power that seems to call wild things close, and which keeps them there when a human is present (when all their instincts are to high-tail it out of there). I’ve had a young seal virtually sitting on my lap, on a winter beach, unafraid and almost affectionate; deer, and hares, and many other creatures have come absurdly, marvellously close to me, looking me in the eye and coming so close I could have touched them.

Places like this are truly magical and to be treasured.

Things of Winter Beauty and Wonder: Advent Day Twelve

Day Twelve

Birds in the garden

As winter arrives a variety of migrant birds arrive in Britain; not just the overwintering geese for whom our climate is like a spa holiday compared to their usual honking grounds, but familiar birds like blackbirds, robins and starlings, come from continental Europe and beyond to take advantage of our milder weather and our love of feeding the wild birds. Blackbirds from the continent can be recognised by their brighter yellow beaks. Murmurations of starlings coming to roost make winter evenings spectaculr events. The robins’ song is a challenge to a death match, fighting over good territory.

But it’s a simple and beautiful thing to watch visiting birds feeding on a bird table; after pairing off for breeding, goldfinches and other small birds now group together in flocks. Many will huddle together in great roosts, hidden away in your shrubbery, sharing body heat like minute, temperate penguins.

The robin has featured on British Christmas cards for a long time, but despite folklore linking the robin to Christ on the cross, the reason for their link to Christmas is more prosaic and amusing. Originally the first postal delivery men in this country wore bright red coats, and became known as Robin Redbreasts, and since greetings cards for Christmas were delivered by Robins, it soon became a jokey theme to use the birds on the cards. As a child I remember a book called The Christmas Robin about a little bird who ended up in a house and perched on the top of the tree and sang on Christmas day; the connection has now become so strong that the robin is the quintessential Christmas bird.

Be more Badger ~ calling afresh on an old ally

Be more Badger ~ calling afresh on an old ally

A few nights ago, I caught the end of a nature programme I’d seen before, “Honey Badgers: Masters of Mayhem” and I had an enjoyable twenty minutes watching the antics of captive honey badger Stoffle (he was hand reared, I believe because he was found injured as a baby and couldn’t be returned to the wild). It reminded me of my ties to Badger medicine.

My first proper job after I graduated was in nature conservation, working in the capacity of education officer on an SSSI reserve in the north east of England. One of the many wonderful aspects of my job was the badgers. We had several colonies of them and one sett was perfect for badger watching. Dug into the sides of steep yew woodland, the sett had many entrances and it was possibly for us to scramble down at nightfall and sit among the tree roots and watch the badgers. I’ve written more about it in a post from some years ago. https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2010/05/01/badgers-bums/

The European badger is a more reserved beast than the South African honey badger but it shares powerful characteristics. Tenacity, strength, connection to roots are all part of its medicine. According to my usual favourite site on such matters http://www.animalspirits.com/index8.html , the badger is:

Keeper of stories, Bold self-expression, Aggressiveness, Single-mindedness, Passion, Cunning, Revenge, Perseverance, Control, Antidote to passivity or victimization, Persistence in the service of a mission, Groundedness, Knowledge of the earth, Earth magick and wisdom, Creative action in a crisis, Protection of rights and spiritual ideas.

 

One thing it doesn’t mention is the fact that the European badger has the thickest skin of any mammal native to Britain. This means that not only is it able to avoid the kind of injuries creatures with thinner skin might get, it can also move within its skin if pinned or held down in a fight. This gives greater manoeuvrability in conflict.

They also head deep underground during the winter, not to hibernate as such but to go into energy conservation mode, sleeping and dreaming the winter away. Who knows what their dreams are?

 

I need more of the badger attributes. And I need a thicker skin. I shall Be More Badger.

Frog medicine, Duck medicine

Frog medicine, Duck medicine

All in a rush, Spring arrived and in our garden it came with enough frogs to almost walk across the pond. For a few weeks, there was a party in the pond, and each evening I went out to put food out for the returned hedgehogs, to hear the contented song of mating amphibians. I’ve always loved frogs; the metamorphosis from spawn to tadpole to froglet to full frog is mind-boggling. Tadpoles apparently can decide when they make the transition. If conditions aren’t right, they can remain a tadpole, getting bigger and bigger, until they mysteriously start to change into frogs. In many animistic traditions, frog is a being of significance too. According to one favourite site (http://www.animalspirits.com/index4.html) this is some of Frog’s attributes:

Singer of songs that celebrate the most ancient watery beginnings, Transformation, Cleansing, Understanding emotions, Rebirth

There’s plenty more information out there, though it does tend to repeat itself. Frog is a water totem, and connects strongly with emotion and cleansing, new starts and transformations.

Frogs

Frogs

On Friday, we had a delightful discovery. For a couple of months the garden has been visited daily by a female mallard duck, sometimes with and sometimes without her drake swain. We wondered whether she was the same duck who came last year with two half grown ducklings; on Friday morning she appeared as if from nowhere with thirteen fluffy little pom-poms. The likelihood is that she had a nest somewhere secluded in our garden and the ducklings were brand new, fresh from the egg. Ducks, too, have their medicine attributes:

Grace on water, Water energy, Seeing clearly through emotions, Spirit helper of mystics and seers

 

http://www.animalspirits.com/index5.html

The alignment of the two symbolic sets of meanings is striking, and with my own mystical aspirations, I cannot help but assign meaning to the apparent coincidence of our garden visitors, and begin to see a slow, but accelerating change in my internal world.

 

Mother Duck and ducklings

Mother Duck and ducklings

Hedgehog Medicine- on the value of literal and metaphysical prickles

Hedgehog Medicine- on the value of literal and metaphysical prickles

When my daughter was small, a story at bedtime was one of the things we treasured and like many parents, we had our own favourites. The Winter Hedgehog was one we all loved.http://www.amazon.co.uk/Winter-Hedgehog-Red-Picture-Books/dp/0099809400/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417864863&sr=1-1&keywords=the+winter+hedgehog

It tells the story of a young hedgehog who refuses to go to sleep for the winter and sets out to explore what winter is. Without spoilers, I can tell you he found it to be “beautiful, dangerous and very, very cold.”

Last month, I had a series of baby hedgehogs needing rescuing. All (probably) from a late litter, I found them in my garden at night, one at a time, and all were tiny, hungry and riddled with fleas, lung-worms and ticks. A few days before I’d seen a dead adult squished at the side of the road, and I am pretty certain that was their mum. In total, we took five little hogs to the rescue centre, and I am pleased to report that most recent report has them all thriving and doing well. This is against the odds, as usually only 20% of youngsters rescued at this size survive. If they all make it through to the spring, we will bring them back here to release in our garden.

I’ve handled a lot of wildlife in my time and I have been privileged to handle many hedgehogs. They’re at a critically low level in the UK, and there are fears we may lose them altogether. There are lots of things we can all do to help, and for more info, do look at the Hedgehog Society’s website for advice http://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/

on feeding and more general information about their lives. We put out food every evening, because contrary to what most have believed, they don’t sleep the entire winter but will come out during mild spells and will need food if they do.

Now, as far as I am concerned, there are messages that come to us from within our own souls and from the outside world: oracles, if you like. The arrival of quite so many spiky little beings coincided with a time of needing to withdraw and of going within, but also of the need to protect myself. I have often felt raw and with too few skins and the hedgehogs remind me of the need for psychic protection for the sake of staying safe while being able to go about my daily life. I’ve talked before about armouring and becoming vulnerable and this encounter with hedgehogs has been a reminder that while I need to protect myself I should not do so by becoming cut off from the world. Hedgehogs are agile, and are good climbers, despite their apparently cumbersome outer layer. Each prickle is actually a modified hair and is very flexible and quite light.

One of the very curious things about this litter of hoglets is that I found it much harder to pick them up. I’ve scooped up hedgehogs with bare hands in the past and not been prickled, but when the rescue centre lady handled them she showed me these ones have a different pattern of prickles. They seem to have a number of extra prickles that are longer, thicker, sharper than the others, and which are also paler. It would seem they have been adapting and changing too. One of the few predators in the UK that can do anything with a hedgehog is the badger; they turn them inside out and eat them. I imagine that these new pricklier versions may well be harder to do that with. The other curious thing is the fact that FIVE babies have made it thus far from a late litter. Hedgehogs can have up to ten babies at a time but it’s rare for more than three or four to survive to leave the nest. All of ours have this new pattern of prickles and so are almost certainly litter mates. This gives me hope that they are somewhat better protected than others.

In terms of personal psychic protection, the use of metaphysical prickles is the same as for literal ones. No one gets hurt by prickles if they are not actually attacking the hedgehog; psychic prickles are the same. You are not choosing to attack anyone else, but should they attack you, it will hurt. If you are curious about protection, there are a lot of excellent books I can recommend, but I’ll leave you with some medicine information about the hedgehog as totem or guide or guardian.

Wisdom of the female elders

  • Fertility

  • Defense against negativity

  • Enjoyment of life

  • Understanding weather patterns

http://www.animalspirits.com/index18.html

The Hedgehog teaches how to be on the defence and how to protect yourself.
It shows how to protect the soft inside – your inner self.
Hedgehog shows how to be gentle, yet protective at the same time.
How to build defences and protective barriers that discourage negative people.

It also is the symbol of the Wisdom of the Female Elder, with close ties to Mother Earth. People with a Hedgehog totem often understand weather patterns –
they know when it will rain.

http://www.linsdomain.com/totems/pages/hedgehog.htm

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?

Of Mice and Men… and Women too.

Of Mice and Men…and Women too

Of the many things that baffle me about life, why people fear and hate mice is one that I’ve grappled with on numerous occasions. I could never understand as a child why the maid in Tom and Jerry could leap in terror onto a chair at the sight of Jerry, a creature thousands of times smaller than her.

My first ever pet that was solely mine was a mouse, a sleek golden-coated little fellow who I loved dearly. As pets, mice have their drawbacks: their short lives that mean that they are with you probably less than two years, the fact that they urinate constantly and that their wee smells very pungent.(Incidentally, the poisonous plant hemlock smells powerfully of mouse urine!) But as a six year old, these were never a concern.

In recent weeks mice have been cropping up in my life. I’ve been dreaming about them and I found a moribund mouse in the garden who I tried to revive (I failed). I’ve revived many stunned and petrified mice when our cats have brought them in to play with, and I’ve never worried about handling them (one did bite me but didn’t break the skin). Yet for much of human history mice (and rats) have been considered our enemies. It’s why cats became revered as gods in ancient Egypt (cats have never forgotten this) because they could keep the precious granaries free of the pestilence of hordes of mice and rats.

So while I understand that mice as a force are to be reckoned with, a single mouse has never made me feel fear.

This morning, though, I dreamed again of mice. I was handed a bag of black mice, a plastic zip lock food bag and I had the impression that the mice were to be food for a snake. The squirming mass of tiny creatures filled me with concern. They had no food or water and would surely die. So I found a tank to put them in, that had a kind of adventure playground of hillocks and tunnels much like one I used to play on as a child, and then was concerned that transferring them to it would mean they would all disperse as I was trying to contain them. They all went in to the new home, though I think a few tails were damaged as they did. Then I brought food, chunks of cheese and cake cut into small blocks, and filled the little plastic ponds with water. All the little animals were hungry and thirsty.

I decided to do a little thinking. As a totem, these are some of the suggestions for the meaning of Mouse:

Examines life’s lessons

Shyness

Quietness

Understanding details

Seeing double meanings in things

Invisibility

Stealth

Guidance in signing contracts

Discovery

Ability to be unseen

http://www.animalspirits.com/index21.html

In most dream dictionaries Mouse is seen as a bad thing, something that gnaws and nibbles at the soul or the confidence. Yet I believe that the best interpretation of dreams come direct from the dreamer’s own consciousness and I have always had a deep affection for mice (even the one that bit me). Because (like rats) mice reproduce exponentially when food is available, we fear them but I think the fear is rooted in our sense of kindred. We too will reproduce until the world is choked with our kind and all the food is gone. We fear mice because they are like us; they mirror back our greed to us and we hate them for it.

I’d like to share a passage from C.S Lewis (himself surely a man who had a fondness for mice; he ennobled them and made them Talking Animals in the Narnia books for their role in nibbling away the ropes that held the slain Aslan.)

In this passage of That Hideous Strength (really worth reading) crumbs of cake have been spilled deliberately on the floor, a whistle blown and mice have arrived to clear up the mess:

Thanks to this effort she saw mice for the first time as they really are – not as creeping things but as dainty quadrupeds, almost, when they sat up, like tiny kangaroos, with sensitive kid-gloved forepaws and transparent ears. With quick, inaudible movements they ranged to and fro till not a crumb was left on the floor.”

…Humans want crumbs removed; mice are very anxious to remove them. It ought never to have been a cause of war. But you see that obedience and rule are more like a dance than a drill – specially between man and woman were the roles are always changing.”