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.

Bury the Bloom

Bury the bloom

Bloom

Exuberantly,

Extravagantly

Unashamedly.

Fill the air

With fragrance and colour,

Light and joy.

Catch the eyes

Of all who pass.

Stand proud,

Juicy-stemmed

Head held high

Filled with flowers.

Fade.

Wilt at the edges

Lose your freshness,

Wither and brown.

Droop.

Dry up

Drop petals

Shrivel.

Die.

Eyesore & dust-trap,

Wait to be thrown out,

Discarded.

Rot.

Not rot.

Buried deep, covered

In cold soil

And darkness.

Silence.

Moisture seeps,

Drips softly

Into the grave.

The corpse plumps,

Swells a little

Sends out snakes of root

White and thin and hairy,

Seeking nourishment,

Anchoring the body.

Wait.

Slow.

Slow.

Slow.

An itch begins,

An ache for light.

Stretch.

Strain,

Break the skin,

Breach the shell,

Reach, reach up.

Light

And cold.

Seek the light,

Grow upwards

Reach outwards.

Break.

Open.

Bloom.

Live.

Things of Winter Beauty and Wonder: Advent Day Fifteen

Day Fifteen

Evergreens

On a bright day in winter, a full grown holly tree can seem almost dazzling. Each shiny leaf reflects the light so that the entire tree seems to glitter. It’s no wonder that even without the symbolism, holly and ivy were brought inside during the Christmas festivities during the many centuries before tinsel took the place of more natural decorations. Holly and Ivy were seen as representatives of the two polarities one male, one female.

Mistletoe is a strange thing, a greenly growth amid the sleeping trees. Contrary to popular belief, it grows very rarely on the oak tree (and was therefore much prized by druids if it was found on an oak) but prefers apple trees. As a parasitic plant, it weakens the tree it uses as host, so introduce it to your orchard with caution. Linked to Norse myth, mistletoe was the instrument of death (in the form of a dart) for Baldur the Beautiful, but we associate it now (yawn) with the romantic practice of kissing under it. Traditionally you are meant to remove a single berry for each kiss, but no one ever seems to. The plant is being researched extensively for potential cancer-fighting properties; it has been used in herbal medicine for a long time, though it is actually quite toxic. Like yew (used in medicines for breast cancer) some of these mysterious evergreens contain more than just the symbolism of life and death; they may actually hold the key to them.

Things of Winter Beauty and Wonder: Advent Day Fourteen

Day Fourteen

Winter Trees

Trees have a very different beauty during the winter. Stripped of leaves by now, they stand starkly naked, skeletal and dark with rain. Sometimes they acquire false leaves when flocks of birds come to roost in them, like rooks. There’s something poignant about a winter tree; it looks dead, but if you examine it closely, you’ll see that at the tip of each twig is a tightly furled bud. If you listen to a winter tree, placing your ear against the bark, you may sense it dreaming. Winter to a tree is like night is to us: a time to rest, recuperate, consolidate and dream.

The evergreens have the stage all to themselves in winter.

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.

Grey Heron as Night Falls in Paris

Grey Heron as Night Falls in Paris

The leaping of a fish makes a soft splash that would be inaudible amid the hubbub of the area around the Eiffel Tower, but for its incongruity. It’s that which makes me turn, that surprising sound of a creature entering the water, the caress of murky water on scales. Voices, sirens, footsteps, music and the general loud hum of a huge city do not drown out this silken sound, and I gaze to where ripples in the dark water radiate outwards. This is confirmation enough of the event; a second fish leaps, after insects I must assume, and the falling twilight catches for one millisecond on the slick skin. My tired mind registers the size of the leaping fish, does a swift search for a possible candidate: carp, for sure. These ponds must be receptacles for all kinds of rubbish, and carp are the most resilient of watery beings.

I turn, to focus on what I am meant to be doing, turning my back to the water. Yet as I do, out of the corner of my eye, I see her, perfectly poised and unconcerned by the tumult around:

A grey heron, feathers shades of grey and white, long beak sharp and angled ready to strike.

She watches the water, seeking her meal amid the coffee coloured murk of the city pond. I sense that she is aware of us, but is unconcerned and finds us of no relevance, and she does not turn from her fishing.

I watch for a few moments; it occurs to me that should we all vanish, the herons and the other birds and beasts, would soon take back territories that were once theirs alone.

In a city that is pushing to 11 million people, I cannot help feeling that the flora and fauna we marginalise still have more claim to the land than we do, and they live more lightly than we.

“Where springs not fail” ~ on not losing hope

Where springs not fail” ~ on not losing hope

I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail,
And a few lilies blow.

And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.

Heaven-Haven Gerard Manley Hopkins

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If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then you’ll know that the poems of Hopkins have always spoken to me. I think this was the first poem of his I read as a teenager and I’ve always loved it.

Perhaps the concept of the wellspring began here for me. I do not know. I have written extensively about springs, wellsprings and the metaphysical meanings and implications of both. I’ve used the idea of groundwater seeping deep and then eventually springing back up, purified and revivified, as a metaphor for the creative process. I’ve written an entire novel (Strangers and Pilgrims) about a healing spring, the waters of which will heal broken hearts and spirits.

But I have begun to lose heart and hope. In the wake of the general election, in the face of the continued wall of horror that is the news, and in the constant onslaught of things I can do nothing to mend, I have begun to buckle. I cannot carry the world’s woes; I cannot even manage to carry my own personal woes very well now, and they’re trivial by comparison to what many bear each day.

A few weeks ago, though, I found a wellspring. I didn’t happen upon it; rather my husband had been taken to it as a part of something else entirely and he was so struck by it that a few days later we went back. You would not find it readily; deep in woodland, with no visible paths, you had to know it was there to find it. At one time, this spring and others in the same lands, supplied all the freshwater needs of Ipswich.

Around six feet across, roughly circular, and entirely unexpected, it was filled with water so incredibly clear it was invisible. At the bottom of the pool, perhaps three or four feet deep, the spring itself bubbled up in a constant and quite mesmerising pattern of churning up the sand. Viewed from above, it looked a little like a volcano erupting with ash. Shining specks of mica and quartz gleamed as the spring poured into the pool; pure white shells of ancient molluscs turned over and over before being lost. The pool spilled over into a stream that chuckled and sang and ran on under moss covered branches. It was like another world, and one I’d forgotten existed. The water was icy cold, and sweet to taste and if the day had been warmer I might have bathed in it.

I cannot rationally explain why this place lifted my spirits and the memory of it continues to do so. Nothing in my world is changed materially by it. Logically I know that such springs exist but it is the experience of being close to one that reminds me that there are things that do not fail and fall away when we do. I do not know whether my own creative springs will ever be restored, but I still desire in my heart of hearts to go “where springs not fail.” And that, with faith, has to be enough.

Film of the spring on my Facebook author page:

https://www.facebook.com/vivienne.tuffnell/videos/10153208806181306/

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