Thursday, 11 February 2010

Gone to Earth

A passage taken from Gone to Earth by Mary Webb (1881-1927). Mary Webb poet, mystic, and lover of nature was born in Shropshire, the county where she spent most of her life and about which she wrote in all her novels.

Hazel expressed things she knew nothing of as a blackbird does. For, though she was young and fresh, she had her origin in the old, dark heart of earth, full of innumerable agonies, and in that heart she dwelt, and ever would, singing from its gloom as a bird sings in a yewtree. Her being was more full of echoes than the hearts of those that live further from the soil; and we as are all as full of echoes as a rocky wood - echoes of the past, reflex echoes of the future, and echoes of the soil (these last reverberating through our filmiest dreams, like the sound the of thunder in a blossoming orchard). The echoes are in us of great voices long gone hence, the unknown cries of huge beasts on the mountains; the sullen aims of creatures in the slime; the love-call of the bittern. We know too, echoes of things outside our ken - the thought that shapes itself in the bee's brain and becomes a waxen box of sweets; the tyranny of youth stirring in the womb; the crazy terror of small slaughtered beasts; the upward push of folded grass, and how the leaf feels in all its veins the cold rain; the ceremonial that passes yearly in the emerald temples of bud and calyx - we have walked those temples; we are the sacrifice on those alters. And the future floats on the current of our blood like a secret argosy. We hear the ideals of our descendants, like songs in the night long before our firstborn is begotten. We, in whom the pollen and the dust, sprouting grain and falling berry, the dark past and the dark future, cry and call - we ask, Who is this Singer that sends his voice through the dark forest, and inhabits us we ageless and immortal music, and sets the long echoes rolling forever more?

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Life's teachers

Just thinking about taking a break from blogging; the internet is a double-edged sword in so many way and I always vowed I would never let it become a substitute for reading a book, going out to enjoy the natural world whatever the season, and spending time with friends. Some will claim you can make friends on the internet and yes I've seen it happen - I too have made friends this way.
So this is not goodbye to wrens-and-hedgesparrows, just perhaps a break for a while. Meanwhile I thought I'd pick the three posts that mean the most to me - 'life's teachers'. I could, and perhaps should, include parents, sons, small grandchildren, other life-partners and friends though I would have to start a whole new blog ...
For now this is my choice:

i) Christopher - my best friend for a decade until he died, far too young. He opened so many doors of knowledge though I wasn't ready to walk through them back then. He never judged or gave up on me and he remains one of the best people I have had the privilege to know.
http://wrens-and-hedgesparrows.blogspot.com/2009/04/christopher.html

ii) Michael - another dear friend, who didn't make the full distance.
http://wrens-and-hedgesparrows.blogspot.com/2008/11/he-was-friend-of-mine.html

iii) The Real Middle Earth - this is a thread that is woven through my life.
http://wrens-and-hedgesparrows.blogspot.com/2008/12/real-middle-earth.html

Thank you for reading - hopefully we will meet again soon ...

Friday, 20 November 2009

Greywethers

Sunset - on the way back from Devil's Den our little group pondered a while on what looks like a ruined long barrow situated at possibly the highest point on Fyfield Down.
********

Back in August a friend from the Avebury Forum, Pete Glastonbury walked with me up to Fyfield Down to show me the Polisher Stone (thought to be where axes were sharpened by the prehistoric people who lived in area). Last weekend, after a wet, windy Saturday, Sunday dawned bright and crisp. I was invited to join Pete once more with others from the Avebury Forum who had travelled down from Yorkshire on the previous Friday. I had never met any of them before but had no hesitation in setting my alarm to ensure I caught the first Sunday bus out to Avebury. As ever, Avebury in the early morning is a peaceful place to be - the wet grass glistening in the morning sunlight, the magnificent sarsens shining, hardly any people or traffic.
We started our walk up Green Street towards the chalk track that leads to the Ridgeway, what followed was a memorable day for all present. Somehow time seemed suspended - the enthusiasm of the Yorkshire three was energising and inspiring. We walked to the Polisher again, then onto the rare cup-marked stone (see photo above) courtesy of Pete who must be one of the most knowledgeable people around when it comes to the Avebury landscape. It is doubtful that I could find it again on my own.
Follow the link for an account of the August walk
http://wrens-and-hedgesparrows.blogspot.com/2009/08/finding-polisher-stone.html

Devil's Den, Wiltshire's only surviving dolmen
Follow the link to see dolmen surrounded by poppies and yarrow
The sarsen drift in the valley of Fyfield Down en route to the Devil's Den dolmen. The stones are called grey wethers because of their similarity to the sheep who pasture along side them - it is sometimes hard to tell sheep from stones.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Dreaming Spires

Christchurch College and meadows
******
Runs it not here, the track by Childsworth Farm
Past the high wood, to where the elm-tree crowns
The hill behind whose ridge the sunset flames?
The signal-elm, that looks on Isley Downs
The Vale, the three lone weirs, the youthful Thames? -
This winter-eve is warm
Humid the air! leafless yet soft as spring,
The tender purple spray on copse and briers!
And that city sweet with her dreaming spires
She needs not June for beauty's heightening.
(taken from the poem Thyrsis by Mathew Arnold 1822-1888)

The Cherwell - a tributary of the Thames
*****
Yesterday I boarded an empty bus that took me to Oxford - probably my favourite city. When I lived in London I could take a bus there from Marble Arch so it became a bolt hole from the ever crowded, teeming metropolis. Now I live in Swindon, a still busy but smaller town along the M4 corridor, Oxford is my escape from the ordinary. An atmosphere of learning pervades the beautiful architecture of the city's centre along with a sense that life is an adventure after all. A walk along the Thames towpath to Iffley Lock on a Sunday afternoon was to observe the rarefied world of Oxford's students as rowing boat after rowing boat passed on river with their coaches calling instructions from cycles as they also passed along the towpath - at a more ponderous pace.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Amber and gold - an old quince tree

This beautiful old quince tree stands in a meadow out in Avebury village. On my meanderings I think I have seen quince growing in hedgerows but this is the only solitary quince tree I know of. There was much to enjoy yesterday in Avebury as everything, including the ancient stones, seemed to be bathed in golden light ... almost Samhain when winter starts to close in, daylight diminishes and the branches have yet to be laid bare by a sudden storm - golden afternoons (it is an afternoon light) in late October seem like a gift from the universe.

Kestrel over a long barrow

West Kennet Long Barrow is my bolt hole; its the place my feet take me to when there isn't another plan. The walk from Avebury via Waden Hill and Silbury never fails to recharge my batteries whatever else may be going in 'life'. I always without fail encounter a bird or birds that somehow seem special to the occasion; once a wren flew out of the barrow, perching for a bit on one of the entrance stones. Summer brings skylarks, goldfinches and the swallows swooping over the river Kennet. Buzzards can often be seen hovering high in the sky over Waden Hill.

Visiting yesterday with a few friends, we had walked to the end of the barrow when we saw what we thought was a sparrowhawk hovering over the entrance of the barrow. One of our small group quickly named it the barrowhawk as apparently it makes a regular appearance. I have since been told it is a kestrel as sparrowhawks favour wooded areas whilst the kestrel always hunt over open farm or heathland. This kestrel seemed to track us as it moved from its position at the front of the barrow to where we were standing at other end. I had put my camera away and was reluctant spoil the moment of the kestrel hovering in the sunlight ... as you can see my photo doesn't do the moment justice. More and more I find nature is best observed fleetingly and captured in the mind's eye.
Note: Kestrels belong to the falcon family of birds.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Geese in flight

It was late afternoon today, I was returning home from running a few errands in the town centre, it was still light though with a with sense of evening drawing in. I was thinking how disconnected I had felt from the town today, everyone seemed to be pointlessly rushing around. Then, just a couple of streets from where I live I saw them ... a flock of geese flying in formation towards the western sky. Some of them were calling, that unique call of wide-open-spaces-and-freedom. Transfixed, I stopped in my tracks and watched them in wonder, expecting one or two others to do the same ... no one seemed to notice. For me though, in a few fleeting seconds it was an experience of connection with nature. Nature's song can never be completely muffled, even in a town it can still be heard if you listen to the sky.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Manorbier

I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
(from the poem 'Do not stand at my grave and weep' - author unknown)

The King's Quoit - Manorbier
Just returned from a week in Pembrokeshire - arrived by train then relied on feet and the small buses that ran to most places at hourly intervals. The coastal path walks were spectacular, a pair of ravens spotted on one occasion; the tiny city of St David's and a visit to St Non's healing well -another coastal walk before going to look at the beautiful 'hidden' cathedral; a ferry across to Caldey Island, one of the Celtic holy islands. Such a lovely week, out of season in Tenby, itself built on and around a medieval castle. The place that moved me most though was Manorbier and the Neolithic burial chamber of King's Quoit on the coastal path up from the white sand cove.

This was the first ancient burial site I encountered in Pembrokeshire; it drew me back to Manorbier for a second visit. King's Quoit is made from red sandstone and sits in a sheltered spot just before the brow of the cliff. Directly behind it there were five or six large sandstones set into the bracken covered cliff. Apart from the path up from the beach there is a second cliff path that runs from the quoit directly to the village's Norman Church of St James the Great - a leaflet about the church says "The foundation date of the church is unknown. However, the oval shape of the churchyard suggests a religious site of great antiquity". It is not hard to imagine that in times when people believed we are spirit as well as flesh, this was a place to set the spirit free - into the wind, sky and sea. We cannot know anything about the prehistory of these British Isles, we can only look for clues at the ancient burial sites and stone circles. Only imagine that the four elements of wind, water, fire and earth were all important; this poem from the Book of Leinster (compiled 1160 but thought to be a collection of the oral tradition and far older manuscripts) reflects this.
I am the stag of seven tines
I am the wide flood on the plain
I am the wind on deep waters
I am the shining tear of the sun
I am a hawk on the cliff
I am fair among flowers
I am a god who sets the head afire with smoke
I am a battle-waging spear
I am a salmon in the pool
I am the hill of poetry
I am a ruthless boar
I am a threatening noise
I am a wave of the sea
Who but I knows the secrets of the unhewn dolmen?
(This version of the ' Song of Amergin' was taken from White Goddess by Robert Graves)
To reinforce the sentiment that life goes on and is all around us, on the second occasion of visiting Manorbier, while waiting for one of the small buses in the village centre, a flock of goldfinches appeared on the railings and grass verge. Completely unfazed by human presence, I believe these foraging flocks are called 'charms' and charming they were.
http://www.britishbirdlovers.co.uk/british-birds/goldfinch.html

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Conkers and Cobwebs

At the close of September these golden days have been a gift to replenish us after another uninspiring summer. Spiders in great numbers have been weaving their webs across the back garden - spun gossamer in the chilly morning sun light.
Autumn is very much in evidence as squirrels are seen collecting and hoarding the shiny brown conkers lying under the horse chestnut trees in the local park.
It is time to get ready for October Gold again ...
http://wrens-and-hedgesparrows.blogspot.com/2008/10/colour-gold.html
and so the year turns.
"Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!"
Sir Walter Scott, Marmion, Canto vi. Stanza 17, Sir Walter Scott (1771 - 1832)

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Woodland walking and the night sky

West Woods, Wiltshire
*****
Yesterday was a warm, sunny late summer day. I had the pleasure of walking with a couple of friends through West Wood in Wiltshire, a county better known for its rolling downs and almost mystical vistas ...
In the evening, with the same two friends I went out to an 'open mic' music evening held out at Avebury. As we made our way out onto the downs in Cathy's ramshackle car (new one pending) we were going at a speed that allowed us to observe the sun going down, spreading that nameless sunset colour across the sky and bathing the downs in golden light.
One of the reasons I love to attend these music nights is that I get to see the breath-taking stars in the night sky at the end of the evening. Last night did not disappoint ... astonishing, amazing; these words seem inadequate. I saw the Milky Way for the first time.
On the journey home, my friends discussed the musical merits of the evening while I sat quietly in the back of the car and watched the orange crescent moon rise above the dark hills. As the neon lit town of Swindon came into view, the moon appeared to rise and was suspended in the sky above the plain below ... a strangely beautiful sight.
I am aware that I miss so very much of the night sky by being a town dweller ... the trade-off for not owning a car.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The woodpecker on the bowling green


This evening I took a little detour through the Victorian park near to where I live, there standing perfectly still on the centre of the bowling green was a green woodpecker. Because of its very appropriate camouflage, green with a red on the top of its head, I usually just see this woodpecker out the corner of my eye while it is in flight.
There it was though; no camera with me today so I just watched. It took off across the green and landed by the club house. I watched it hop over to the glass door and tap on the window with its beak. It must be almost tame, alas however, the clubhouse was closed and locked so the woodpecker returned to the centre of the green, unearthing insects from the well-watered lawn.
I walked around the perimeter fence to try and get a clearer look - the woodpecker had now been joined by a pair of magpies and a squirrel … completely unperturbed by each other. An unusually relaxed green woodpecker out for an evening hop, skip and peck on a well manicured bowling green. What a joy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3T6YQAXE5A
http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/g/greenwoodpecker/index.asp

Friday, 4 September 2009

Memories of Lamorna

I have recently been reading about the Cornish stone circle Boskawen-un which I was able to research with the aid of Julian Cope's influential work The Modern Antiquarian (there is also a web-site inspired by the book).
However, it was while reading about The Merry Maidens, a nineteen-stone circle quite close to Boskawen-un, that I started thinking again about Lamorna.
September, some years ago (1990s) while I was still very much a Londoner I travelled with a dear friend to spend a week based in Penzance - though at that time I knew nothing of ancient stone circles. On a visit to Mousehole we attempted the cliff walk around the coastline to Lamorna. After a fairly arduous walk our destination came into view, we only had to negotiate a narrow bit of the cliff path to start our downward descent into the cove ... and a cup of tea. It was then that my dearest of all friends admitted he was terrified of heights. After trying to talk him round it became clear we couldn't go on and made our way back to Mousehole. I confess, to my shame, I was a bit grumpy by the time we arrived back Mousehole ... we had been caught in a sharp, slanting shower and were somewhat bedraggled.
The next day we caught a small bus from Moushole to Lamorna; I have managed to locate the written impressions of our visit, recorded on a scrap of paper ...
Lamorna Cove - Friday 17th September (a good wee while ago)
An exquisite perfect day, if this were to be the last day of my life I would want to take Lamorna Cove with me.
Water cascading down from the wooded shady hill-side falling over rocks into the sea.
The sea blue; the sky blue - a jewel in the crown of Cornwall. Peace and tranquility.
All the seas, all the rivers flow into each other - the connection of life. How can this help me get through life if this is not to be the last day, I must go back tomorrow to the stress and strife of London.
I will take this with me, the warmth of the sun, the sound of the water-fall, flowing into one - coming from one source and returning again. The air we breath, so clean here is the same air we breath in noisy, congested London.
Well, it seems I am still around, although sadly my dear friend Chris is not. I no longer live in London but in Swindon, Wiltshire. Earlier today, as I hurried along a busy road, Lamorna came back to haunt me. In between the sound of passing cars I could hear the gentle waves, on that peaceful September day, washing into Lamorna cove.
I must go back soon .... (to be continued)

Monday, 31 August 2009

Finding the Polisher Stone

The axe-sharpening stone - grooves made by the Neolithic (Stone-Age)

My first attempt at finding the almost mythical Polisher stone was Lammas weekend last year. A small group of us, with a reluctant child and two dogs in tow, trundled up Green Street looking at wild flowers and insects on the way. None of us has seen it before and although we knew it was close by we were unsuccessful on that occasion. A few more lone attempts followed but I always seemed to instinctively turn right instead of left up on Fyfield Down. However, each walk in the Avebury landscape was rewarding in its own way; the clouds, the hills, and the wildlife complimenting the scattered sarsens.
Earlier this month the sun came out and an Avebury friend, PeteG, offered to show me the Polisher … as we headed up Green St we watched a flock of swallows give an amazing aerial display – they were in fact successfully chasing a predatory sparrowhawk away. Pete, being Pete, didn't take me by the straightforward route but down across Fyfield Down and through a private wood. He assured me that it was not grouse shooting season but we proceeded cautiously anyway. A barbed wire fence to climb the other side (walking with Pete usually involves a fence or two which is what makes it challenging but fun). As we picked our way through the greywethers it started to feel very warm so it was a rare occasion when my sunhat made an appearance. On the slope leading up to the Polisher we spotted and enormous circle of mushrooms (*parasol mushrooms I believe). A Fairy Ring – we stepped in a Fairy ring … neither of us disappeared so we continued uphill.The Polisher was everything I imagined … ancient, lichened, smooth like marble in places. We sat for a while soaking in the silence and peace, the only sound being seeds popping on a nearby gorse bush.
I took some photos then asked Pete to take one of me by the large triangular shaped stone nearby, with the Polisher in the foreground. A couple of photos and then Pete said excitely 'look behind you'; I turned to see the legendary Red Arrows fly past … they were on the flight path to RAF Lyneham where an air display was taking place. Eventually, we walked back down; me … hot but happy at having finally found the Polisher.
After I parted company from Pete over near East Kennet I walked back to Avebury via Waden Hill through the newly cut grass … a wonderful smell from childhood. At the top of Waden I usually stand and reflect awhile, on Silbury and the stunning land/sky-scape. That afternoon there were two men, Buddhists perhaps, sitting quietly chanting, we smiled at each other as I walked past.

Monday, 27 July 2009

The Circle Game

Sam holding on tight ... his first ever carousel ride
******
Yesterday a child came out to wonder
Caught a dragonfly inside a jar
Fearful when the sky was full of thunder
And tearful at the falling of a star
Then the child moved ten times round the seasons
Skated over ten clear frozen streams
Words like, when your older, must appease him
And promises of someday make his dreams
------
And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captured on the carousel of time
We can't return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round
In the circle game
------
So the years spin by and now the boy is twenty
Though his dreams have lost some grandeur coming true
There'll be new dreams, maybe better dreams and plenty
Before the last revolving year is through
------
From the song 'Circle Game' by Joni Mitchell
first published 1966
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6XOV34vsjfg

*******
The circle of the year has turned many times since I first heard Joni Mitchell's song on the Ladies of the Canyon album. My sons have both grown into men and, in spite of the odds against, are well adjusted, hard working, fine people. This weekend I had the joy of spending the weekend with them both in celebration of my little grand-daughter's first birthday. We met on Brighton beach near the carousel and young Sam (who reminds me so much of his father as a child) was shown how to fly a kite by his uncle. We left father and uncle untangling the kite and wandered over to the carousel - up Sam climbed, fearless. 'Hold on tight, little fellow - don't let go'. He held on very tight.

This blog has been partly about internal landscapes of musing, ideas, favourite poetry and the remembering of loved ones. I consider myself fortunate indeed to gather together with on a chilly beach in Brighton with the my grown up children, their friends and several small people - who are just starting out on the great adventure of life.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Liminal places - dimensions in time

Stonehenge today - visitors come by coach and car. A busy road, fences, carpark, and visitors centre keep this most mysterious of monuments fixed in the material world. Stepping away from the modern day trappings, it is easy to imagine that time stays the same moving in a seasonal cycle - we on the other hand move through time like dream walkers.

Walking towards Stonehenge along the route of the Avenue - the magical moment when it first comes into view, without visitors, cars or carpark.

The river Avon at the start of the Stonehenge Avenue

Today a friend from the Avebury Forum, took me into the Stonehenge landscape; it was a wonderful elemental sort of day, the sort I experienced on the Orkneys, only right here in Wiltshire. We went to Durrington Walls and walked across what had once been a Neolithic settlement, the hairs started to tingle on my arms, a strange sensation.
Then round into Woodhenge to stand and stare for a bit ... before a shower blew over.

I was thinking it couldn’t get any better when my friend showed me a hidden spring by the river Avon right at the start of the Avenue to Stonehenge. I am trying to find the right word for such a place apart from the usual mystical, sacred; it was both of those things. Walking across the Avenue, which is still intact as a raised grassy ‘road’ the word liminal came to mind. Limen is from the Latin meaning ‘threshold’ - it was that sort of place.

The same experience occurred walking back towards Stonehenge in the long wild grass of what was once the Avenue. Wonderful … it was a day I will not forget.
There is a quite long article on a similar theme at the link below - "Why Christopher Robin wouldn't walk on the cracks"
Many thanks to Pete Glastonbury, the friend who took me on a magical mystery tour through time ... a memorable few hours indeed.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Summertime in Wiltshire

"Fields Of Gold"
You'll remember me when the west wind moves
Upon the fields of barley
You'll forget the sun in his jealous sky
As we walk in the fields of gold
(Sting)
Ripening barley field
--------
Walking with a friend on a hot summer summer afternoon in Wiltshire. A profusion of butterflies everywhere, a buzzard flying low between the trees, a muntjac disturbed takes off through the undergrowth - not sure which of us was more startled. It is good to be back in my familiar woods, waterways and fields. We wandered through the shady forest, made our way along a section of the Kennet and Avon Canal coming out by a green-gold field of barley. A meadow of wild grasses stood five feet high as we walked into it, reliving the joy of childhood for a few moments (when everything seemed taller than us).
My trip to Scotland and the northern isles of Orkney and Shetland was memorable in so many ways but the ripening grain fields of this southern county will always beckon me home.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Seascape

The Old Man of Hoy - the Orkneys

Seascape: The Camera at the Shore
-------
In the rockpool a child dips (shrilling)
Fingers, toes.
Below the widest ebb it opens,
The lost sea rose.
Then, drowning rose and reef and rockpool
The west inflows ...
The Atlantic pulse beats twice a day
In cold gray throes.
Shy in a rock-caught crumb of earth
One seapink shows.
Scotland, scattered saw-teeth, melts like petals
In the thin haze.
Lucent as a prism for days, this shore, until
A westerly blows.
Then stones slither and shift, they rattle and cry,
They break and bruise.
Shells are scattered. Caves like organs peal
Threnody, praise.
Tangles lie heaped in thousands, thrust and thrown
From the thunder and blaze!
Silence again. Along the tidemark wavelets
Work thin white lace.
Among that hoard and squander, with her lens
Gunnie goes.
-------
George Mackay Brown (1921-1996)
-------
George Mackay Brown was born in Stromness in the Orkney Islands where he spent much of his life. Before his death in 1996 he published, to great acclaim, over fifty works, including poetry, plays, novels, short stories, essays, children's books and his autobiography.
Last week I travelled to Orkney by ferry in the early morning mist, by midday the mainland island was bathed in crystal clear light. I bought my copy of The Collected Poems of George Mackay Brown from the Stromness Book shop at 1 Graham Place, Stromness. The owner of the shop sat quietly with an aura of stillness about him - I was struck by the similarity in appearance he had to my dear friend Michael who died in late 2006. Strangely, the bookseller was also American and shared the name Campbell, he showed me a photo of a beautiful Swedish woman who had been his wife until she died just over two years ago. Our conversation lasted only minutes before I had to rush off but the encounter stayed with me.
This post is for Ian and his wife Pen ... happy beachcombing!

Sunday, 28 June 2009

The mist lifted ....

At last I see a puffin close up - at Sumburgh Head on the Shetlands

Seabirds on the cliffs - Sumburgh Head

Common seals with pups - Mainland, Shetlands

Looking down on the beach with seals

The Ring of Brodgar on Orkney - looking towards the nearby mound

The Ring of Brodgar looking towards the loch
----------
Over the past week I have fulfilled a long held desire to visit the Orkneys and Shetland Isles; the long journey up to Caithness was made over two days through spectacular scenery and an overnight stay in Stirling, arriving at the northern most tip of Scotland only to find everything concealed by dense mist. The plan was to stay a couple of days in the small coastal town of Thurso to relax after the journey and then to catch a ferry over to Stromness on Orkney, continuing on to the Shetlands.
On the first full day in Thurso the mist lifted and a few wonderful hours were spent walking along the cliffs which were covered by a myriad of wild flowers, including orchids.
The Orkney day finally dawned. Although misty and chilly for the ferry journey across, it quickly became bright, blue-green and beautiful. The first place to visit was Skara Brae, which was everything I imagined set against the backdrop of a sparkling sea. Then back to Stromness where I was directed to the local bookshop in my search for a compilation of poetry by Orkney poet, George Mackay Brown. My brief encounter with the owner of the shop turned out to be a strange and compelling few minutes - a story I will save for another time.
Back with the people I travelled with, there was still so much to see, the Stones of Stenness, Maes Howe, and finally the stunning Ring of Brodgar. I was not prepared for the elation I would feel when walking around this remote heather covered henge by the sea, surrounded by the distant hills of neighbouring islands. In many ways it seemed to mirror the Avebury henge back in Wiltshire (and home) - Orkney was definitely the highlight of the trip. The Shetlands were still to come, however, and the time spent there was sunny, warm with the bluest of seascapes, seals basking on the sands, wonderful puffins, gulls, cormorants, and shags flying in mesmerising profusion around sheer cliffs. Then on to the fascinating archaeological site of Jarlshof. I cannot do Skara Brae or Jarlshof justice here but will come back to them later.
Perhaps the most memorable aspect was the daylight. I did not experience the darkness of night for the duration of my trip though had no trouble sleeping - travelling from Orkney to Shetland on an overnight ferry it was a little weird to be looking out at the sea at midnight, while still light.
(music of the Shetlands)

Friday, 12 June 2009

A bat by twilight

This evening I experienced a 'first' in awareness of the natural world that is all around us. Almost midsummer, at 10.00pm this evening it was still light when I went into my little back garden. I had been wondering where Sam the cat was as hadn't see him for a few hours; he was of course fine, sitting in his usual meditative position on an upstairs window ledge.

As I looked up I spotted a tiny pipistrelle bat flying around in a circle just above my head, it flew into the branches of a nearby lime tree which stands in the old cemetery behind my house, then out again and around again. A twilight ballet went on for several minutes as I stood transfixed ..... just quietly watching and listening to the almost indiscernible swish of the tiny bat in flight. A magical few moments which made the minor irritations of the day fade into triviality. I have seen flitting bats before but have never had such a close up encounter as this evening ..... and in my own back garden.
http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/wildlifegarden/atoz/p/pipistrellebat.asp
http://www.bats.org.uk/

There are many excellent educational web-sites about bats; at http://www.batcon.org/ I found this evocative poem.
Summer Bats
Leatherwing fluttering, cut-outs in black ink
Against the fading fluorescent sunset sky;
Leaf-spiraling with purpose and hunger,
Cries shrilled out of hearing, sketching their world.
Replacing the swallows, the night-shift pours forth
From crevice and eave. The host of shy hunters
Fills the middle air with their dance.This show
Is unseen for the most part, yet the insect-seekers
Are not invisible. It is our lapse of attention:
How few of us look up for quiet wings at twilight!
(by Hugh Eckert)

Friday, 5 June 2009

Kingfisher- Fisherking

The elusive kingfisher. I have only seen it once some years ago; ironically while walking along the Barnet Open Space by a brook, near Whetstone in north London. A flash of blue, then gone .... I have been haunting watery places ever since in hope of another sighting. A quest for the allusive, the fleeting, the dancing harlequin of life.
The legend of the FisherKing is in some ways symbolic of this quest. It concerns the legend of the 'Holy Grail', a mythical concept; some think it is the lost chalice that is associated with the life and death of Jesus. For myself, I think it is the quest for something allusive, just out of reach. It is the coming of spring with its blaze of light, blossom and birdsong. It is the kingfisher swooping across a stream; the call of the swallows when they return in May; wild swans in flight; my one and only sighting of a pair of goldcrests (the tiniest of all birds). It is so often hidden in the ordinary .....
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And a man stood there, as still as moss,
A lichen form that stared;
With an old blind hound that, at a loss,
Forever around him fared,
With a snarling fang half bared.
I looked at the man; I saw him plain;
Like a dead weed, gray and wan,
Or a breath of dust. I looked again--
And man and dog were gone,
Like wisps of the graying dawn...
"Wasteland" Madison Cawein
---------
The Myth ofThe Fisher King is one of the many 'Holy Grail' legends.
The Fisher King is the guardian of the Grail, which, in medieval legends, is the cup used by Jesus at the last supper and which was used to collect drops of his blood at the crucifixion.
The Fisher King is dying, his kingdom is dying around him, he's a man who's probably seen too much of life - he's experienced betrayal and tragedy. His life is slowly crumbling, and his kingdom goes barren. He has also lost the Grail. It's the one thing that can save him, but he's lost the ability to see it and experience it.
A fool comes along and finds the Grail right next to his bed and restores (it to) the king; the fool, a pure and innocent soul, demonstrates the kind of compassion that can free the king from mortal anguish.
The Kingfisher Hide at Slimbridge, though sadly no sightings on this visit, the search continues .....
Note: the photo image of the kingfisher is courtesy of the internet (BBC site).

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

The Willow Grove

The river Cole and willows
******
This is one of my favourite places, a cycle path near to where I have been working for the past nine years; a little river, willows, butterflies, bees, birds, a profusion of wild hedgerow flowers and trees (including a few elders that I have grown fond of). I have been to this spot in snow, rain, wind, and sparkling sunshine. When I felt like a prisoner chained to a computer and telephone, with just a patch of sky to be glimpsed through window, I could escape for half an hour and come here. It has kept me sane; next month I am leaving my job to strike out on my own - navigating the uncharted waters of self discovery, my only compass being a deep sense of connection with the natural world.
I look forward to Life's continuing adventure with anticipation, meanwhile this is a homage to my lunchtime sanctuary.
[Jon Dathen writes in his little book of Ogham the following: To see the willows in their true light, choose a midsummer night when the moon is full]

I could write many words about the willow, would have no difficulty in finding a poem to quote; though may well be repeating myself, as I know I have written about willows before. What I love about them is that when you see willows you know there is a stream or river nearby.

The life-force and song of the land - a silvery breeze whispering through shimmering leaves.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

The first swallows of summer


(Illustration by Frank Papes from At The Back of the North Wind by George Macdonald)
********
Earlier today I decided to apply some stain to my very-small-wooden-shed in an attempt to undo the damage done by Sam the cat who uses it as a scratching post. Not to mention neighboring cats who use its roof as a sun lounge. A peaceful pottering activity, listening to the radio; then I heard that wonderful sunshine sound of swallows over the old cemetery. They were back, these astonishing birds return each year to the same Old Town area of my town. Later in the day, I saw them swoop over a Victorian terraced street, the same one they always seem to return to. (Its possible my swallows are swifts because I find it hard to tell the difference when they are in flight).
Summer is finally here.
********
Swallows travel to and fro,
And the great winds come and go,
And the steady breezes blow,
Bearing perfume, bearing love.
Breezes hasten, swallows fly,
Towered clouds forever ply,
And at noonday, you and I
See the same sunshine above.
Dew and rain fall everywhere,
Harvests ripen, flowers are fair,
And the whole round earth is bare
To the moonshine and the sun;
And the live air, fanned with wings,
Bright with breeze and sunshine, brings
Into contact distant things .....
incomplete poem by Robert Lois Stevenson
*********
I found the extract below at:http://www.egyptianmyths.net/swallow.htm
In Ancient Egytian mythology Swallow means menet (soul).
"Meaning: During the Old Kingdom, swallows were associated with stars and therefore the souls of the dead. ... The imperishable stars were those near the North Star that never seemed to rise or set, and therefore were "constant".
The swallow also appears in paintings of the solar barque as it enters the underworld. The swallow is usually shown on the prow of the boat. In this context, the bird appears to be an announcer of the sun's approach."
Click on internet link for the complete text
The swallow heralds the coming of spring and happiness, poets praise it, and it appears on the flowering peach branch in classical Chinese painting. In Egyptian love poetry, the swallow sings of the first signs of a new love. For some, it’s a symbol of fertility and renewal, a harbinger of good and a symbol of transformation. For the pilgrim to Mecca, the swallow is the symbol of constancy and faith, and is said to fly to that holy city each year. Swallows mate for life, and therefore represents fidelity and loyalty.
The swallow must be one of the most joyful of all birds.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

May Day

Song on a May Morning
"Now the bright morning-star, Day’s harbinger,
Comes dancing from the East, and leads with her
The flowery May, who from her green lap throws
The yellow cowslip and the pale primrose.
Hail, bounteous May, that dost inspire
Mirth, and youth, and warm desire!
Woods and groves are of thy dressing;
Hill and dale doth boast thy blessing.
Thus we salute thee with our early song,
And welcome thee, and wish thee long."
John Milton, Song on a May Morning, 1660
**********
The first of May, May Day or Beltane, named after the Celtic god Bel or Belenos, meaning the Shining One. Today the hedgerows were burgeoning with wild flowers, blossom and new leaf, truly the best day of the year. Children dancing around a smaller Maypole in the old Tithe Barn at the village of Ansty (south Wiltshire). Earlier in the evening there had been celebrations around the large Maypole which is in the centre of the village. As evening drew in families gathered in the tithe barn; I had the most delicious serving of chips from a little fast food van that I have ever tasted. A memorable May Day indeed.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Blue

Blue
Blue, songs are like tattoos
You know I've been to sea before
Crown and anchor me
Or let me sail away
Hey Blue, there is a song for you
Ink on a pin
Underneath the skin
An empty space to fill in .....
Joni Mitchell
******

I love blue of all shades and hues but perhaps my favourite is the indigo of the evening sky followed closely by the deep delicate blue of the bluebells in the peaceful wood where I walked this morning.
Later in the day, I went out with the intention of buying some wood preservative for my rickety little shed. However, I somehow managed to avoid going anywhere near shops where such a product is sold and came back instead with a lapis lazuli necklace. Now how did this happen, I asked myself as a wave of guilt washed over me, it usually does when I buy myself some non-essential item. As I fastened the string of small lapis beads around my neck they felt instantly right and I knew that for some reason they were a more essential purchase than wood stain (that will wait for another un-bluebell day).
The name Lapis Lazuli comes from a variety of words meaning "blue" (azure) or "heaven": the Latin "lazulum", stemming from the Arabic "lazaward", and the Persian "lazhward" constitute the Lazuli part. The first part of the name, Lapis, is of Latin origin meaning simply "stone". And this stone was named after its likeness to the heavens and of course because of its color -- a brilliant deep blue which is usually veined with small flecks of yellow-gold color from its most common mixture with Pyrite (Fool's Gold) or white streaks from its mixture with Calcite or other minerals.
(taken from one of the many internet sites on Lapis Lazuli)

The woman in the Crystal Shop told me that Lapis Lazuli represents enlightenment (the third eye) and my own book on crystals says it is associated with all forms of communication, expression and learning. It is also known around the world as the stone of friendship and truth.
Lapis Lazuli has an amazing history in its use as a pigment for many of the materpieces we see in art galleries, to find out more see:-
www.gemstone.org/gem-by-gem/english/lapis.html

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Rambling on .... beautiful Wiltshire

This morning I joined my local Ramblers group for a 10 mile walk out around the always beautiful, ever inspiring Wiltshire country-side. I have been dipping in and out of this group for about two years now - some faces are consistently there each week, some faces are new. Conversation ebbs and flows, there is no pressure to divulge anything about who you are or why you are there. We just walk ..... today we started off at Martinsell Hill, along to West Wood which was just stunning though the bluebells are not yet fully out. We followed the group leader down to Oare where we came upon a meadow with rare snakeshead fritillaries growing then passed by Giant's Grave Hill then back up to Martinsell hillfort.
A lovely, therapeutic and physically tiring walk - I ache a bit as had to go off elsewhere after I returned home but it was all so very worth it.

West Wood long barrow - with the bluebells just coming out

Half a dozen vintage tractors trundled by as we stopped for a break

We passed a beech wood - and more bluebells

Rare snakes-head fritillaries in a meadow near Oare

Giant's Grave Hill

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Christopher

Christopher
*******
This blog is for Christopher Johnson who gave me now cherished books of poetry by 'AE' and Fiona Macleod (see previous posts). This morning I reluctantly went to work with a heavy head cold and the niggling feeling that today was an important anniversary. I found myself thinking of Chris, one of my dearest of all friends; a musician, writer, publisher and one of the kindest men I had had the privilege to know - so strong was his sense of presence, I typed his name and that of Skoob Esoterica, the publishing company he helped to set up, into Google's search engine. Up came an obituary which had been published in the Independent - Chris had died on April 7th 1996, thirteen years ago today. This was the first year I hadn't consciously remembered .... the past few weeks having been somewhat up and down as another close person became seriously ill, threaded together with more life affirming activities such as walking over the downs in the spring sunshine - with new friends.
But I hadn't forgotten Chris - all that he loved returns in each new spring.
*******
In the hollows of quiet places may we meet, the quiet place where is neither moon nor sun, but only the light of amber and pale gold that comes from the Hills of the Heart. There, listen at times: there you will call, and I hear: there will I whisper, and the whisper will come to you as dew is gathered on the grass, at the rising of the moon.
From 'Silence of Amor' by Fiona Macleod.

Monday, 6 April 2009

The Golden Age

A chalk water stream in a magical wood, leaves of new growth unfurling almost before our eyes

One of the many chalk water springs - in an enchanting place, which for now will have to remain unidentified.

This little blog has almost done a full circle, I started in May last year and now it is another spring - perhaps I have completed what I wanted to say, perhaps not quite yet.
The Golden Age
When the morning breaks above us
And the wild sweet stars have fled,
By the faery hands that love us
Wakened you and I will tread
.......
Where the lilacs on the lawn
Shine with all their silver dews,
In the stillness of the dawn
Wrapped in tender primrose hues
.......
We will hear the strange old song
That the earth croons in her breast,
Echoed by the feathered throng
Joyous from each leafy nest.
.......
Earth, whose dreams are we and they,
With her heart's deep gladness fills
All our human lips can say,
Or the dawn-fired singer trills.
.......
She is rapt in dreams divine:
As her clouds of beauty pass,
On our glowing hearts they shine.
Mirrored there as in a glass.
.......
So when all the vapors grey
From our flowery paths shall flit,
And the dawn shall begin the day,
We will sing a song to it.
........
Ere its yellow fervour flies: -
Oh, we were so glad of youth,
Whose first sweetness never dies
Nourished by eternal truth.
George William Russell (AE) 1867-1935
...........
For the small group of people I walked with on Saturday - each one eloquent in their own way. Thank you for showing me the springs and wood, alive with birdsong and the first dragonflies of the year - an enchanted place.
**********

Sunday, 29 March 2009

To Blossom

One of the esoteric writers I hold in high esteem is someone called William Sharp who used the pseudonym of Fiona Macleod, he writes of the luminosity of spirit in nature. Here are some of his thoughts on Spring.

The tides of Blossom have begun to flow. The land will soon be inundated. Already a far and wide forethrow of foam is flung along the blackthorn hedges. Listen .... that chaffinch's blithe song comes from the flowering almond! ... that pipit's brief lay fell past yonder wild-pear!

The shores, the meadows, the uplands, on each there is a continual rumour. It is the sound of Spring. Listen ... put your ear to the throbbing earth that is so soon to be a green world: you will hear a voice like the voice which miraculously evades the hollow curves of a shell. Faint, mysterious yet ever present, a continual rhythm. Already that rhythm is become a cadence: the birds chant the strophes, flower and blossom and green leaf yield their subtler antiphones, the ancient yet ever young protagonist is the heart of man. Soon the cadence will be a song, a paean. The hour of the rose and honeysuckle will come, the hour of the swallow hawking the grey gnat above the lilied stream, the hour when the voice of the cuckoo floats through the ancient woods rejoicing in their green youth, that voice which has in it the magic of all springs, the eternal cry of the renewal of delight. [from the Silence of Amor 'The Awakener of the Woods' by Fiona Macleod aka William Sharp]

To Blossoms
........
But you are lovely leaves, where we
May read how soon things have
Their end, though ne'er so brave:
And after they have shown their pride
Like you awhile, they glide
Into the grave
........
What! were ye born to be
An hour or half's delight,
And so to bid good night?
'Twas pity Nature brought you forth
Merely to show your worth
And lose you quite.
.......
Fair pledges of a fruitful tree,
Why do ye fall so fast?
Your date is not so past
But you may stay yet here awhile
To blush and gently smile,
And go at last.
..........
poem by Robert Herrick (1591-1674)


Ephemeral and fragrant - blossom in the afternoon sunlight