Monday, 25 August 2008

Wisdom Seekers

The wood has drawn me in,
in from the sunshine
in from the August breeze
to sit on the damp earth
to shelter, quieten, to be still
to exist in almost nothingness
to hide from all that fills my thoughts.

From awakening in the East
like the rising sun they came.
Those who inspire and dream dreams
and those who bring passion
Sages and wisdom seekers:
born of the Earth.

As I stand in the wood
with sunlight dappled
through the high canopy
and the harmony of the wind song
all around me,
I have a deep sense of awareness
peace, that welcomes me
and seems to be saying that
everything will be alright.
When the winter comes
and darkness prevails
Spring will be my hope.

There will always be a Spring.

A sycamore sapling
on the woodland carpet in front of me
is bathed in sunlight
perhaps for the first time this day
just for five minutes.

The Masters of wisdom
have given their light
to shine to people
who accept or reject
their grace and understanding.
Long do I wish I could
shed my burdens
and speak to inspire.

There are two parts of me:
the Hare that runs and chases,
the Hare that sits and listens.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Reflection

Having been to the Resurgence Summer Camp and then spending a week back in my 'home' area of Herefordshire, my big summer adventures have drawn to a close and I now seem to be preparing for the long autumn and the draw up to winter. It feels like the end of September: the mornings seem dark, the sky is forever filled with rain laden clouds and even winter clothes have found their way out of the wardrobe.

I enjoyed my week in Herefordshire but somehow, as always, I expected too much from it. I happily admit that finding a right balance between what I want to do and what I should be doing with the family hard. 'My' time can be so precious that fully entering into it without trying to do too much can be hard. It was great having the focus at looking for wild flowers though. I had read Bill Plotkin's 'Soulcraft' before I went and was really looking for something more 'otherly' from my week away. Perhaps it will appear through some more subconscious form of expression and outworking. As with all things, people tune into things in different ways and in Soulcraft I was amazed at the journeys and experiences people have in working with nature.

Now I am back in normal life and feel fairly relaxed for once! I seem to have a deep sense of wanting to do something. Somehow I feel as though I have let the world pass me by. I know I often look back and wish I had done certain things in the past but now I feel as though I am in a transition period. I enjoy my work but, for once, I am not complacent and I have a feeling that I am meant to be moving in another direction - not this year, perhaps not next year. I'm not sure. Something within me is yearning for learning and discovery again. I would really like to develop my people/communication skills somehow, but that is one of the hardest areas I feel I have to deal with. Part of me would love to be a teacher, a life coach or nature educator. Perhaps the latter is what what I feel I am getting drawn to in some small way. It isn't too late to learn but, when I look back on my previous job with the youth charity, I had all the opportunities to learn the required skills right in front of me. And did I use really use them? No. I had no vision then, no bigger picture to work towards. But that's not quite true, because at that time I just wanted to develop my artistic skills, which I did. Now I have moved the goal posts and feel like starting over again. I don't wish to be negative about my current job, but it is very isolating - but perhaps that is what I now need to help me look outwards.

So, what shall I do...? I'll have a look and see what evening or training courses there are that I can do to get some sort of ball rolling.


* * * * * *

Oh, one thing that was quite special about a being away with my daughter for a week was just spending time with her. She will be off to big school in a week or so, and it was good to just spend quality time outdoors with her. We all went up onto Croft Ambrey which was quite a decent walk. I carried her up most of the way as it was a steep climb, but she happily ran down again. We also went for a beautiful walk one evening down to the river. I love being out in the evening anyway and just watching the sunset and the moon rise was an amazing experience to share with her. She is just getting to the stage of properly being able to appreciate such things.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Walking with Flowers

Here is picture of Harebells on Croft Ambrey. Whilst up in Herefordshire last week I took the opportunity to rebuild my long forgotten knowledge of wild flowers that my Father inspired me with as a teenager. On one day I went out for reasonably long walk (Titley to Wapley Hill and back) with the aim of drawing all the flowers and plants I didn't recognise. However, as it took me about an hour to cover the first mile with so much stopping, bending down and drawing something, only to repeat myself a few yards further on, I decided I needed a better approach. Ah, the joys of digital cameras! I was soon snapping away as well as doing the odd sketch. I was amazed at how much I found.

I did another walk, a couple of days later, about 10 miles or so, and again had my head focused on the ground for much of the time (Titley to Wapley Hill, Shobdon Hill Wood, Sned Wood, Croft Ambrey and ending at Croft Castle). The photo is taken from Croft Ambrey, looking back to the hills I had just walked over. In covering so much ground and passing through so many different habitats such as river banks, conifer plantations, open heath/grassland and arable fields, I began to be accutely aware of what plants prefered which habitats and what I would be likely to find where. There were often surprises as sometimes I would find something completely new in an unexpected place. It was actually quite hard work - always looking and trying to remember what I'd seen elsewhere, but very rewarding.

Although I have recently bought a new flower book it wasn't until I was back in Luton several days later that I really began the task of identifying what I saw. I had forgotten that, even with four main flower books it is not easy deciding what is what. In the field some things look so much as if they should be easily identifiable and yet the books don't quite have the perfect match. I have begun to look more clearly for the sorts of things that really identifies a plant. Umbellifers can be confusing unless you know what to look for, but it is the sort of self-heal/woundwort/calamint type of flowers that seem to get me. And even the flower books seem to illustrate the same species differently - one picture looks distinctly as if it is the wrong illustration compared to another two books! It took me hours to plough through all my drawings and photos and I only have a few plants left which I am uncertain about.

On ploughing through the flower books I was amazed at just how much folklore was attached to plants in times gone by. So many were medicinal and a good number are poisonous to varying degrees. Even some of the smallest plants seem to have had some medical property attributed to them. How on earth did people find out that a tea made from a bedstraw could clear a nosebleed? Why not just stick a wadge of grass up your nose? People must have been so much in tune with plants in the past, but then I suppose we nowadays would instinctively know that lemon squash tastes better than bleach even though both may look the same, come in the came sort of plastic bottle and come from the same supermarket.

One final thing. After my first long walk, and a day spent with my face in the middle of hedgerows and my nose to the ground, I came across a beautfully and immaculately trimmed hedgerow that had only just been cut by a tractor and flail mower. This represented everything I had been looking all day, now all mulched up in its prime. I know the farmers have to do it, but somehow it just showed how fragile nature's existence around us is and how much we shape it for our convenience and need.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Riverside

The River Arrow runs north from Kington in north Herefordshire and I walked down to sit on its bank near Titley one August evening last week. It isn't a large river, probably around 20 to 30 feet wide around here and you could probably walk across it in the shallows in a dry year, but there has been much rain recently and the water was rather brisk moving and muddy.

I've found a place to sit just near the water's edge. I had to walk through a puddled corn field and then find my way through the riverbank, here a tall feast of nettles, comfrey, docks, grass, willowherb and bindweed. I'm sitting on a piece of discarded plastic as the earth is too cool and damp for a long wait. My back rests against one of the many alder trees that line the riverbank. It is the end of a very intermittently showery and sunny day. It is a private place though I am not far from a small stone road bridge, but no cars break the peace of the quiet country lane this night. I am wrapped up warm, a thick winter shirt keeps the cool breeze away form my still form. A rainbow led to me to this place. As I walked here it appeared on the hill in front of me - bright, against the dark grey clouds. I am now sitting below the place where I perceived it to exist.

Will there be any different about this place tonight? What will I observe?

All I can hear is the fast tumbling and swirling of the water over the stones and the gentle rustling of leaves in the tall alders.

Ooops, I absent-mindedly squash a tiny weeny spider on my sketch pad that I see out the corner of my eye!

I face downstream, the cold water just a couple of feet away. I give thanks to this place.

A wren chatters. Was that a dipper flying past?

A pile of flood debris forms a wall against the alders on a small island in front of me. A large pale blue plastic barrel, incongruous in the field of view sits there too, washed down by floods earlier in the year along with tree trunks, roots and branches.

Not much really happens does it? I feel a little awkward being here with an expectant heart. Perhaps my perception of time and timescales is at fault. My 'time' feels so inconsequential to Nature's. Should I have done a little ceremony on arrival I wonder?

I am suddenly aware of a low sort of thunderous noise seemingly getting louder. It isn't thunder and, as my view to the field on the other side of the river is obscured by the alders' I wonder if it is a herd of cattle running down down the steep hillside. It gets louder and through the trees I glimpse a herd of ten to fifteen brown and black cattle approach the river bank. Some climb down the six foot muddy drop to the water's edge and stand in the mud and the river. I can smell them, even from around fifty feet away. Then, after ten minutes or so, the slowly and silently return back to the field.

A fish jumps.

The sun has long gone over the horizon and the light is noticeably fading. Do I hear a robin? A faint shape moves in the branches on the opposite bank. Is that another dipper flying past? A dove coos. A wren is calling again, unseen and always on the move. A spider is on my hand. A buzzard calls far away.

Brrr, it's cold!

Alders: always in touch with the water or in the moist soil of the river bank. Tall thin trunks reaching upwards. Beautiful foliage silhouetted against the grey sky

I'll have to move, I'm getting uncomfortable. I give thanks to the place and then depart.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

On Wapley Hill

Wapley Hill is in the very north west corner of Herefordshire to the south of Presteigne. It is largely covered by conifer plantations and a large Hillfort covers the hill summit. As with many of the hills in the area the views are spectacular - if you can see them, that is, over the tops of the conifers. I spent a day walking there recently and this blog records my observations as I sat for forty minutes, just looking and watching.

I am sitting on top of the main rampart on the north east side of the hill looking out towards Presteigne, Stonewall Hill, Coles Hill and north towards Knighton. It is a fresh August midday with the sky full of grey clouds and a strong coolish breeze moves the trees. I sit on some soft grass sheltered by a wall of bracken. I overlook a series of huge ancient ramparts that were cleared last winter, or thereabouts, of invasive birch trees and undergrowth to create a more open outlook between me and the conifers that down on the almost impossibly steep hillside here.

It is quiet up here. Just the wind in the trees, the odd chirping of birds in the forest and the distant hum of traffic and farm work. The clouds are great grey, heavy, flat and dark bottomed masses moving slowly above me.

I am surrounded by a rich vegetation of bracken beginning to brown at the edges, birch and oak regrowth, grasses, ferns, Ragwort, seeding Foxgloves, Rosebay Willowherb, Wood Sage, Elder and much more. Everything is thriving in this wet summer. Occasionally a bumble bee hums past and several ants and other walking insects pass over my sketchpad or my clothes. A small bright yellow spider moves over a blade of grass and an invisible thread of silk next just next to me.

The hills remind me of my father, of the paintings he did and of the many walks we did in this area when I was young.

In the distance I hear some children enjoying the freedom of being up the hill and out in the open.

There is so much growing around me and I observe the huge variety in shade of green spread out before me. From the bright green, almost yellow, small herb (not sure what) to the dark green of the bracken and ferns. Then there are the yellow splashes of the Ragworts and the pinks of the Rosebay Willowherb, Foxgloves and Red Campion. There is a beautiful assortment of delicate grasses waving gently in the breeze. From my viewpoint over the ramparts below me I notice how all the plants are arranged: individually in isolation, clumps and in groups. There are numerous areas of colour and shape where each plant species has its own area or block of existence. There are patterns of randomness and order, all are natural. This just seemed like a place where it was so easy to see how different species of plants colonise an area of land - how they might disperse their seeds or reproduce vegetatively. And yet it was almost like looking at blocks of colour on a painting, with different brushstrokes and paint splatters here and there.

Watching Bats

After an afternoon and early evening of rain, some heavy, some just a light drizzle I walked out from Titley to brave the elements. Did I want to go out or not? Would I get absolutely soaked? With only about an hour and half of daylight left I was cutting it a bit fine but decided to go out and make the most of the first evening of our holiday.

The rain gently clears and I walk down the puddled roads and through rain-soaked fields. It was warm but still very overcast. I walk alongside a wooded, disused railway line behind me - I am on the lee-ward side, sheltered from the evening breeze that ripples through the high branches. Whoosh! Something flies right past me about six feet away at waist level. A quick dark shape. Too big for a bat I think - perhaps a sparrowhawk? The evening darkness approaches and I can barely see to write in my sketchbook. I sit under an oak tree at the corner of a field. I see bats darting above me against the heavy grey sky, flitting here and there - so fast. How do they see their landscape I wonder? Are they roosting in the old trees around me? They fly past with just a faint flutter. All is quiet, apart from the breeze and water drops falling off the wet branches above me.

Learn to observe, even in the most mundane places. I am in a simple corner of a field and yet surrounded by so much.

A light appears on a hill a couple of miles away. Why so bright? Why do I need to see it?

How is my perception changing of the way I interpret the landscapes I am in?

I walk back down the tiny country lane. I smell the bracken and honeysuckle. I notice the movement of the hedgerow leaves against the sky. The song of the breeze. The sound of my boots crunching on the loose road stones and swishing through the puddles; the rustle of my coat, the flapping of my wet trousers around my legs and my breathing. The distant thumping of music, probably from a car. A pale moth flutters past in front on me.

As I approach the stream and the road crosses over the old stone bridge, I slow my walk to a silent meditative pace, making as little sound as possible. I stop on the bridge and acknowledge the presence of the water below me; from it comes and where it is going. I listen to the sound textures as the water tumbles over the stones - different either side of the bridge. I bow and thank the river.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Breadmaking and the Soul

Satish Kumar was talking at the Resurgence Camp last week and launching the idea of Slow Sunday - regaining Sundays for the family and reducing the need for shopping, travel, computers, email, etc (good for reducing carbon emissions too!). He suggested that having a day off each week is an ecological imperative.

He was reminded us of the value of making bread as an example of the spiritual, aesthetic and art in practice. There are numerous things you can associate with baking bread: you are in physical touch with the ingredients, mixing and kneading them; you can think about the origin of the ingredients - particularly if you are using organic or traditional varieties of corn; you can smell it; it requires patience - waiting for the yeast to work, perseverance, you can't rush it, it's about slowing down; it can be like a meditation; it is like working with the body of the Cosmic Christ - Communion (can you imagine the body of the Cosmic Chris in a factory made wafer?). It requires love care and patience.

What was then great about the talk was that people were then given the chance to go out into the sunshine and actually participate in a group bread making session. I didn't because I had already spent an afternoon a couple of days previously in the kitchen making a bucket load of bread for the camp. People were so excited by it though and all making little rolls or asking questions.

This weekend I decided to make some more bread myself and not just use our breadmaker. We had a friend staying and when I said I was going to do that she got so excited. In the end she made two loaves - the first since being at school many years ago. She was so inspired by the experience and I found it quite amusing showing someone else how to do it. We made a couple of wholemeal loaves with mixed seeds in. I still can't seem to get things to rise too well as I don't really have an ideally warm place for it, and even waiting for nearly two hours didn't produce results I would have liked. But she loved it and it was a great sharing experience!

Perhaps I could hold a bread making party or a meal with lots of different types of bread. I'd love to make some outdoors in a brick oven or something.

In the Sweat Lodge

I had been very apprehensive about doing a sweat lodge at the Resurgence Summer Camp last weekend. I thought it might be a bit too "spiritual" in ways I would be uncomfortable with. In then end, having talked to a guy about his experience with one on previous years, I went for it and I really appreciated how well lead it was and how comfortable with the experience I was. It felt very neutral and that it was up to me to approach it how I wanted to. Being in a small tent, with some red hot stones, about ten people, a large jug of water and complete darkness was fun. With just our thoughts, singing, freedom to express ourselves and a good deal of humour we had a great time. Oh, and outside it there just happened to be a hole dug in the ground full of mud and water for us to fall into and gaze up at the star-lit sky!

In the blog "On my Dartmoor Stone", April 2007, I had been struggling to cope with the sense of immense darkness and loneliness I felt within and beneath a stone I often visit on Dartmoor. In the sweat lodge I returned to those thoughs but here I felt another experience that sort of healed those uncertainties - the absolute, yet safe darkness from which I come and will return to (physical or just the darkness of the unknown past/future); the immense heat of creation that formed the rocks now glowing in front of me and which dwells at the centre of the earth; the refreshing water and hot steam that cools and gives us life; the intimacy of other beings in a completely unshameful way; the music of our communal song and an intense moment of escaping to a different place.

Sometimes you just have to do things that take you out of your comfort zone.

Three Books

I have bought three books in the past week which should keep me going for a while:

Ecopsychology. Edited by Roszak, Gomes and Kanner. Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, 1995
A collection of esays on psychology, nature, Gaia, wilderness, ecology, earth. I'm only a little way into it. It's quite heavy going, but very inspiring and thought provoking. I had been looking for a good introduction to the subject and this seems ideal.


Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and the Psyche. Plotkin, Bill. New World Library, Novato, California, 2003.
Looks like a good general practical book on nature/soul work: imagery, animal tracking, silence, pathways, journalling, relationships.....


The Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland. Coates, Charles. Frances Lincoln Limited, London, 2008.
I have several flower books, but this looked a good buy as it had higher quality identification paintings and also good general notes on each flower that combine technical facts with folklore and other information. As I want to increase my flower identification and knowledge skills, this combines several books into one.