S is for Spring (s)

S is for Spring (s)

S is for Spring(s)

I’ve written a lot about springs over the years I’ve been blogging. Indeed, I wrote an entire novel about a very special spring, the waters of which heal broken souls and mend damaged psyches. (see Strangers and Pilgrims)

But a spring is a magical thing. Water welling up through deep layers of rock and earth, bursting into the light in torrents or trickles. For early peoples as much as modern ones, a spring was somewhere both practical and supernatural. The symbolism of the well-spring is embedded deeply in both my creative and my spiritual life. When I have visited famous springs like the Chalice Well, or the White Spring, I have felt myself to be in the presence of a divine mystery, a holy thing.

Yet for all that, my creative flow and my spiritual journey have dried up, become fallow and unfed by springs flowing within my soul, within my self. Sometimes springs do dry up; sometimes they reroute. Some only flow in certain times and seasons, like the Swallow-head Spring that feeds the river Kennet in Wiltshire close to Avebury. I would like to hope that the period of dryness will one day end but whether it ends with a torrent or a mere trickle, I do not know.

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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.

H is for Heresy

H is for Heresy

H is for Heresy

Long ago (and perhaps not so very long ago) I’d have been burned as a heretic or hanged as a witch, because my expressed beliefs do not conform to the required norms of Churchianity ( a term I believe was coined by Dion Fortune, who was a devout, if unorthodox, Christian herself)

I’ve always been drawn by the numinous, since quite early childhood. I remember making a shrine in my bedside cabinet when I was about six or so, using a Christmas card with a nativity scene on it as a kind of altar piece, and surrounding it with things I felt to be beautiful or holy, like flowers and stones and so on. I learned the Lord’s prayer around the same time. We weren’t a church-going family so I am not sure where this interest came from. I conducted a funeral for my beloved pet mouse (when he died, of course) that involved holy water and flowers and so on, despite knowing nothing about funerals or ritual. But when I did start attending church by myself, aged 11, I can only say I found it dull, bound by rules and by unspoken assumptions about life that I had no clue about. There was nothing of the hidden glory that I felt existed beyond the mundane, which was the whole reason for my search.

The journey to find that glory has been a difficult one, and I’ve found it, that shining, singing, wonder, in places that are far from cosy fellowships and regulations and restrictions. It’s found in birdsong, rain falling on dry earth, the rustle of a mouse in the hedgerow, and in the flash of electric blue as the kingfisher flies downstream at dawn. It’s found amid the ancient stones, forgotten bones, and the trees that bud and bloom, and at the graveside of ancestors and avatars. It’s found in the wordless keening of grief, and at the joyful song of celebration. It’s found in the endless silence, in the light between the worlds, and in old books.

I’ve begun to understand that my aversion to fellowship is perhaps neurological; introversion is not a crime but in organised faith, it is often misconstrued. It may be why anchorites and hermits chose to go far from the madding crowds, because so few accept that one can be alone and be filled with the numinous. One is seen as stand-offish at best. The truth is that being among people can become physically and emotionally unendurable at times, yet to admit this risks having the admission taken personally and as an offence. It’s seldom seen as acceptable to be alone within a busy society; our culture does not understand it, and perhaps never will. So the erstwhile hermits suffer or they go away into the distant, quiet places, where they can hear that silent song, and see God within the creation and not in the works of human hands.

Yet the creation itself is at risk, under immense pressure and threat from those human hands. It’s treated as a commodity to be plundered and despoiled for our convenience and gain. As humans relentlessly pollute, destroy and desecrate the natural world, we also damage our relationship with the divine, immanent in every living thing, and every stone, grain of sand and soil, on this planet. The often forgotten fifth mark of mission of the Anglican church is to: To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth http://www.anglicancommunion.org/identity/marks-of-mission.aspx .

So perhaps my heresy is only such when viewed from certain quarters. I’d rather not burn or hang for it, but I’m already suffering.

God 1

God 1

I do not want your slot machine god

Powered by caprice and uncertainty.

Nor do I want your vending machine god:

Pop in a prayer and out pops a reward.

I want the untamed god

Unknowable as the badgers

Deep in ancient yew woodlands,

Wild as the flight of goldfinches

Bathing exuberantly in a forest pool.

In one glimpse you see more of eternity

And the vast untouchable sweep

Of a deity too broad

To be trammelled by walls and words,

Yet tender to his creatures who

He holds cupped in his wounded palms.

On Invisible Fish

On Invisible Fish

On invisible fish

I’m lucky enough to have a large pond in our garden; we’ve never had a pond before we moved here and I’m not sure I’d do without one now. There’s something deeply attractive aesthetically as well as environmentally about a pond; the two are intertwined as the pond brings a lot of wildlife into our sights. My heart sings (albeit briefly and its own rather quirky out-of-tune song) to see flocks of goldfinches coming to bathe, and the many other denizens of our garden coming to drink, bathe or possibly admire their own reflections.

And there are fish. We’ve put in several batches of goldfish, because they are beautiful and graceful and to me, a symbol of the soul. At the weekend, I was gifted with a bucket of fish from an old colleague whose mother’s pond had become too crowded. There were a dozen fish in the bucket, mostly golden ones, some with fan-tails swishing out behind them like gauzy scarves in a breeze, and as well as one lemony fish, there were two green fish. Identical in form to the golden ones, these two vanished like ghosts into the deep green waters; their colour makes them hard to see unless you know they are there. When we feed them, the green ones rise with the others and gobble up their pond sticks, before vanishing again. They are, to all intents and purposes, invisible.

But I know they are there and I keep an eye out for them, feeling something resembling joy when I spot one amid their flashier, more in-yer-face comrades. It’s made me think of those humans who have become invisible fishes; there, yet ignored mostly, because they lack the bright colours that are deemed essential to being noticed and admired. I think that as I age, I am becoming an invisible fish too, becoming unnoticed whether in so-called real life and in the virtual world too. Humans are drawn by the bright, the new, the shiny, and by bling; we look for innovation in our lives, and are driven to seek it by the unconscious pressures of the media, of our peers and of our own desires to be popular and up-to-date.

Yet the good old things, whether art, or literature, or music, or simply people do not go away because we turn away from them to chase the new and shiny things. Like the invisible fish in my pond, they remain themselves, unseen and unheeded perhaps, but still what they always were. You just need to know they are there so you can keep an eye out for them. I’ve often listed writers here whose work has dropped out of favour, or which has never hit the heights of popularity it deserves but I’d be interested if those who read this would like to share artists, writers, musicians and others whose work they love but who have become (or have always been) invisible fish.

golden fishes

golden fishes

Give Me Wild – for the Summer Solstice

Give Me Wild – for the Summer Solstice

Give me wild

Take me where the boughs bend low

Take me where the waters flow

Take me where the clean winds blow:

Give me wild

Show me where the bluebells sway

Show me where the otters play

Show me where the edges fray:

Give me wild

Teach me why each day is new

Teach me why the sky is blue

Teach me what we all can do:

Give me wild

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Escape to the Paradise Garden

Escape to the Paradise Garden

The word paradise means a walled enclosure or garden and has long been used to mean the place souls go to when we die or the place where God lives. The garden of Eden in the Old Testament is the example many of us think of when we think of the word Paradise. I’ve always loved gardens but health issues mean that my participation in the process of creating and maintaining a garden is limited. An hour of hand weeding leaves me in such pain for days that I rarely risk it. Yet my mind goes inwards, to gardens I have known and gardens I would have liked to create. During the early stages of labour I spent time reading a book on herb gardens and daydreaming about creating such a place for meditation and contemplation. Unless I become wealthy it’s unlikely to happen but I still dream. When I am feeling low and in pain, I go to my paradise garden, in my mind and it refreshes me enough to keep going.

I share the following extract with no comment about its origin or intention:

Dressed and shod in light sandals, she made her way down the garden, her morning pilgrimage. The leaves were almost fully open now, and the grass was thick with bluebells, their smoky smell rising fresh and clean as she passed them. The blossom on the trees was at its peak, the first few petals starting to drop now. If there was a heavy frost now, there would be little fruit that year. Birds hopped from branch to branch, largely ignoring her now; she had begun hanging fat-balls and seed-filled feeders on a bird table near the house, and the birds seemed to appreciate the extra help. She took it as another sign of welcome that the birds did not react to her presence much now; at first there had been alarm calls and a mass exodus of the flocks of goldfinch and long-tailed tits each time she or Alex had gone into the garden.

Her daily exploration of the little wilderness that was her garden had begun to form paths through the long grass; Alex had offered to strim paths for her but she said to wait. The contact with the earth was her way of finding out what the garden held for her and what she could bring to the garden.

It had been the garden that had been the reason for moving here, though the house was precisely what both of them had wanted. They had spent months house hunting, and had begun to despair of finding the right place, before this one had come up. In need of serious renovation, it had charm and was in the right location but it wasn’t until Ginny had taken a walk through the jungle-like expanse of green at the back that it had become clear to them that this was where they were to live.

The estate agent showing them round had wanted to gloss over the wildly overgrown walled garden, explaining the extent of the grounds and mentioning a few days with a gardening company and a skip or two. Ginny had ignored him and had pushed her way through the thigh-high undergrowth with scant regard to the integrity of her clothes. After a few minutes, Alex heard her shout in excitement and had followed.

He found her standing in a dank clearing, close to the archway in the wall that held an ancient and forbidding looking door. Trees almost touched above their heads and at mid afternoon, it seemed they were in a green cave. Moss clung to the worn surfaces of the old bricks that made up the wall; the air felt moist and cool and he could see that the ground cover here was made up of ferns and mosses and other damp-loving plants.

Can’t you feel it?” Ginny exclaimed. “Close your eyes and listen!”

Obediently, he shut his eyes and tried to listen. It was faint but he could hear the movement of water somewhere close to them. He opened his eyes and looked more intently at his surroundings. The ground near the gateway was boggy, waterlogged even, and as his eyes became accustomed to the dim light, he saw that there was a tiny metal grille, almost rusted to one piece, set below the threshold. He moved closer and saw that it protected a slot cut into the stonework and a dark oblong was visible. This close he could see the water trailing into the slot, draining away. Doubtless beyond the door, the water flowed away in a tiny streamlet.

Ginny pointed back to the marshy area and he took a few careful steps that way. The spongy ground seemed to whisper, a wet mouthing of sounds, and when he bent down, he could hear a faint bubbling noise from the wettest area, where moisture puddled, in the middle of the clearing.

It’s a spring,” he’d said, his disbelief and joy clear to Ginny, though to another his calm face wouldn’t have betrayed much.

They’d put an offer in on the house that day, and when it was accepted they had commissioned the work needed to make the house habitable. During the work, Ginny had not allowed anyone to touch the garden. She had taken Alex down there, each time they’d visited while the renovations were in progress, and they had excavated the area with painstaking gentleness. The removal of the mud and debris had revealed a stony basin, placed there centuries ago, that the spring filled and then spilled out of into a rill that travelled under the door and out into the woods beyond. Once this water had been perhaps the only source of fresh drinking water for this area; Alex kept talking about having it tested for purity but Ginny just shook her head. The revelation of the spring had brought greater numbers of birds and small animals to the garden.

As she reached this private sanctuary, she saw that a pair of goldfinches were splashing in unrestrained enthusiasm in the spring and she stopped to allow them their bath undisturbed. Birds had started to nest weeks ago and she suspected there were many eggs and chicks hidden in the trees around the garden. If she woke early enough she would stand here and listen to the chorus that greeted the rising sun. Mixed with the trickling of the water, pure and clear, the music of nature blocked out the world beyond the garden walls.

After a few moments attending to their plumage, the tiny birds flew away in a bright sunburst of colour and she was alone.

I’m never alone. Not truly.

She took a few more steps and reached the bench Alex had made for her from two slices of a fallen tree and a section of the wood made into a rough plank. It was redolent with the beeswax he’d coated it with, and the surface was starting to achieve a sheen on the lightly smoothed surface. He’d not attempted to polish it, just to render the wood usable without getting splinters. Every day, rain or sun, Ginny sat here for a few moments at least. Some days, she would be here when Alex came home in the evening and he would never be sure if she’d been there since he’d left that morning. When he asked her once what she was doing, she was silent for so long he had to ask it again.

I’m listening,” she had said and did not explain further.