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

Saturday, 21 March 2009

A perfect day - spring Equinox

My three companions walking on ahead on the ridge of Fosbury Camp Hillfort

Walking today with three friends we spent a few hours out in the glorious spring sunshine at the vernal equinox - we walked to beautiful and peaceful village Lower Chute where we stopped at the village pond for lunch - then onto Fosbury Ring, 26 acres, Iron Age hillfort via the lovely village of Chute Standen. We found an ancient beech on one of the ramparts which, with a girth of six and a half metres, is thought to be one of the largest in the country.

Frog spawn (and a frog) in the village pond of Lower Chute on the Wiltshire/Hampshire border. On the quiet village lane there was a road sign saying "Caution, frogs and toads in the road".

Wild primroses growing in the mossy undergrowth of woodland

Wild violets spotted along a bank on our walk today

A poem for Equinox 'March morning unlike others' by Ted Hughes
Blue Haze. Bees hanging in the air at the hive-mouth
Crawling in prone stupor of sun
On the hive lip. Snowdrops. Two buzzards,
Still-wings each
Magnetised to the other
Float Orbits.
Cattle standing warm. Lit, happy stillness.
A raven, under the hill,
Coughing among bare oaks.
Aircraft, elated, splitting blue.
Leisure to stand. The knee deep mud at the trough
Stiffening. Lambs freed to be foolish.
The earth invalid, dropsied, bruised, wheeled
Out into the sun,
After the frightful operation.
She lies back, wounds undressed to the sun,
To be healed,
Sheltered from the sneapy chill creeping North wind,
Leans back, eyes closed, exhausted, smiling
Into the sun. Perhaps dozing a little.
While we sit, and smile, and wait, and know
She is not going to die.
Ted Hughes (1930-1998)
It was one of those perfect days, I felt completely at ease with my three companions - the cool breeze and warm spring sunshine combined to make ideal walking weather. Sitting by the village pond in Lower Chute I was in harmony with the world as we watched frogs rising to the surface of the pond in the amongst the frog spawn. (I still haven't managed to kiss one, oh well, too late now).
We walked on to the Hatchet Inn where we sat outside with a drink - as we chatted I watched a buzzard soar overhead and had the best view ever of their beautiful under-feather markings.

Later, as we made our way down from the Iron Age hillfort of Fosbury Camp, I was treated to a rare sighting of a barn owl in flight - looking snowy white in the sunlight.
A perfect spring Equinox day!

Thursday, 19 March 2009

The fragility of butterflies

The Brimstone (image courtesy of Internet butterfly images)
This week spring arrived, bright chilly mornings turning into warm sunny days. Earlier in the week on my lunchtime walk I saw the first butterflies of the year - yellow Brimstones and a Red Admiral, so delicate and lovely, the very sight of them can only bring joy to the beholder.

I've watched you now a full half-hour;
Self-poised upon that yellow flower
And, little Butterfly!
Indeed I know not if you sleep or feed.
How motionless! - not frozen seas
More motionless! and then
What joy awaits you, when the breeze
Hath found you out among the trees,
And calls you forth again!
~William Wordsworth, "To a Butterfly"

Last night I watched a French film called The Diving Bell & The Butterfly (Le Scaphanfre Et Le Papillon) a very moving film about a 43 year old editor of the fashion magazine Elle, Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffered a stroke leaving him with 'locked in' syndrome. He could hear and see but could not speak or move. However, with the movement of his left eyelid and the use of a special alphabet code he went on to dictate his moving memoir and died 2 days after it was published. The film affected me deeply and I came away reflecting on the strength of the human spirit. How it can lift itself out of the most deadening of physical imprisonments to soar like a skylark. As fragile and resilient as the first butterfly of spring.
Notes on word association with butterflies:
Chrysalis from the Greek Chrysos meaning gold - the name for the gold coloured sac the caterpilla is coccooned before its metamorphosis into a butterfly.
Metamorphosis - meaning transformation. This is a word I like a lot, it seems to define all sorts of possibilities for creative or artistic change.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Ancient woodland in north London

I was visiting north London this weekend and found our capital city never looked lovelier in the spring sunshine - cherry blossom and daffodils suddenly appearing everywhere. Having spent nearly two decades living in Highgate, near to both East Finchley and Muswell Hill - going back to visit one of my sons and his family often feels like going home. Although I now live within a short journey of some spectacular and ancient downland scenery in Wiltshire which I much love, I still miss the ancient woodland of this part of London. There are four woods all within a square mile of each other - Highgate Wood, Queens Wood, Coldfall Wood and Cherry Tree Wood - a small wooded park which I visited yesterday with my little grandchildren.

The plaque on the drinking fountain in Highgate Wood has a quote from the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) he lived his latter years out in Highgate and died there on July 25th 1834.
"Drink, Pilgrim, here! Here rest! And if thy heart
Be innocent, here too shalt thou refresh
Thy spirit, listening to some gentle sound
Or passing gale or hum of murmuring bees!"

Spring sunlight in Highgate Wood today - surely as lovely as Paris, as the smiling people of London wandered through the woods enjoying the warmth of this beautiful mid March day.

One of the entrances to Highgate Wood

Coldfall Wood

I visited here for the first time today - a lovely little wood tucked away in Muswell Hill. Unlike Highgate Wood which is so very popular this little wood was empty except for the occasional dog walker.
For Samuel and Hope my dear little grandchildren - I didn't expect to care for them quite so much. They will probably grow up in this part of London as both their parents did before them - may they enjoy these ancient woods, rare enough to find but so very rare to find in a city and the reason why this part of London is actually quite beautiful.

Friday, 13 March 2009

The magical yew

Taxus baccata Linnaeus - the yew. Yesterday I was in the churchyard of Avebury's St James's church when one of my companion's pointed out this pollen laden male yew. I don't think I have ever seen this phenomena before, or at least have never noticed. Male yew trees flower later winter/early spring producing small catkins with abundant pollen which is borne on the wind. The friend who pointed out the tree yesterday shook one of the branches and a cloud of pollen drifted into the air. On the other side of the path the female tree stood awaiting pollination to produce crimson berries in late summer. Another friend tells me that on a hay-fever calendar of when pollens are released from spring onwards, the yew is shown as the first.

Although the leaves, bark and seeds of the yew are poisonous, the leaves are now used to produce the drug Taxol which inhibits cancer cell growth permanently. The berries, however, are edible - just don't swallow the seeds. So, although toxic if ingested, with the right knowledge the yew's chemistry can be turned into a healing drug for cancer - that's more than a bit magic.

Almost all churchyards have a yew growing in them - the yew is considered one of the sacred trees of the British Isles and has associations with the ancient druids. The yew was planted outside farms and homesteads to act as guardian spirits and they also perform this role in churchyards symbolically watching over souls passing to the Otherworld and protecting from evil. Yews are extremely long lived and there are examples of yews that have survived 2000 years.

Yew wood is strong and elastic and was once used to make long bows and is still much sought after today for wood carving. In the ancient tree alphabet of Ogham it represents the letter I (Idho) and is associated with the eve of Winter Solstice.

I found website about ancient yews - where two poems about yews can be found:

Friday, 6 March 2009

The business of Spring

The busy wind opening a tulip for a bee
A children's illustration by Frank Pape from 'At the Back of the North Wind' by George Macdonald
This spring morning broke bright and chilly - I awoke to the sound of birds singing, the dawn chorus so beloved of the summer months. As I walked along later, I noticed how busy the birds have become, nest building - a blackbird with a piece of dried fern, a magpie with twigs - there was a large magpie nest in the tree-lined street I walked along on my way to work.
I thought about how birds are so synonymous with spring and life - every year the same birds appear with their birdsong and business. I saw a robin today on a high branch, its trill song no doubt calling to its mate. The blackbird, tit, chaffinch, sparrow, wren - the crow, jackdaw and magpie. Townie birds all busy and yet .... though they seem the same, they are not the same birds of a year or two ago. I do not know the life span of garden birds but I suspect it is not that long. Their springtime song reminds us that the lifeforce continues, the same renewing cycle - though not the same ..... and we really only have a walk on part.
Work Without Hope
All Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair -
The bees are stirring - birds are on the wing -
And WINTER slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring !
Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.
Yet well I ken the banks where Amaranths blow,
Have traced the fount whence streams of nectar flow.

Bloom, O ye Amaranths ! bloom for whom ye may,
With lips unbrightened, wreathless brow, I stroll:
And would you learn the spells that drowse my soul ?
WORK WITHOUT HOPE draws nectar in a sieve,
And HOPE without an object cannot live.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge - written 1825
Note: the capitalization in the poem's text is as the poet wrote it.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

The March Wind

An illustration by Frank Pape from the children's book At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald.

I read a page this morning from a book of daily meditations for the turning of the year called The Celtic Spirit by Caitlin Matthews. The passage was called Colours of the Wind and and made the point that the weather vane of our emotions and moods is very much attuned to the winds. March has just arrived and, after the coldest winter in quite some years, there were no daffodils for St. David's Day.Today we have had wind and driving rain and my mood feels somewhat indigo and mauve - yesterday when it was bright and springlike, it felt silvery like the colour of dew in morning sunlight.

As the month progresses towards the equinox and spring, the occasional rainbow will appear across the sky in between showers - and once again the land will be flecked with blue, green and yellow as warmth returns to the northern hemisphere.