Saturday, 26 December 2009

The landscape is calling to me

The landscape is calling to me
- from the darkness of the inside
into the brilliance of the cold sunlight
I step into a sharp and bitter landscape
that now gradually reveals its colour
from beneath the melting whiteness.

From the high expanse of blue
light warms when sheltered from the biting wind
crystals fade to reveal the greenness of corn
and the saturated leaf blackened earth.


The landscape is calling to me
Where snow lies and creates form
the land reveals its essence of hollows and ridges
and the lowness of the morning light
brings places of cool shadows
in contrast to the melting warmth.

I see gliding red kite, buzzard and kestrel too,
long tailed tits chatter in the cold branches
and then, just a few paces away, beneath a tree,
a squirrel: gnawing a yellow maize cob
as in stillness I sketch the spirit of the land.


The landscape is calling to me
with subtle water trickling with graceful bubbles
sneaking their way from the confines of the frozen
- an element of such surprise and change
it creates movement, mirrors and presence
where usually, seemingly none.

It seems to take a long while
to adjust to hearing the voice of nature
and to quieten to the senses around me
- I feel overwhelmed with awareness.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Winter Solstice

The landscape of snow before me - white, sparkling with diamond-like ice crystals that reflect the blueness of the cloudless sky above. Light seems wild and demanding, even the shadows cannot hold any secrets. Against the silvery and almost glossy white, bramble leaves - between me and the sun - reveal their transparent colours: greens, reds, oranges and yellows. And against the whiteness the enhanced shapes of trees stand - revealing their deep forms and colours with enhanced presence.


We sit around the candles that we have lit and, like their peaceful and warm light, we find a spirit of sharing and like-mindedness. Ten souls have gathered to reflect on the past year and to look to the new. In the warmth of our special place we drum for each other and for others - particularly those who may not be able to celebrate this festive time as we are able. Through times of silence and meditation we are able to journey in our minds or reflect on our path. Through the enjoyment of warming and delicious food we feel a sense of sharing and belonging that many of us have be patiently waiting many weeks for. We acknowledge each others presence and share a spirit of connection and encouragement. We all have our own path and yet today, amidst the cold and snow outside, we have found warmth, fellowship and friendship and, hopefully, something to take away with us that will bring the sacred into each and every part of our lives.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Living Universe

Reflections based upon an article in Resurgence magazine, No. 256 (Sept/Oct 2009): A Journey of Awakening by Duane Elgin. www.awakeningearth.com

My summary of the main points in the article:
The Universe has usually been perceived as being inert and non-living. This has led to our materialistic, consumerist, unsustainable lifestyles and environmental destruction. What if it were, instead, unified and uniquely alive? This would change our perspective and transform our understanding of the cosmos, the nature of human identity and our evolutionary journey.

1. Where are we? The universe is almost entirely invisible and is continuously regenerated by the flow of large amounts of life energy which include consciousness or a reflective capacity enables systems at every scale to exercise some freedom of choice. It is a living and learning system that is alive, subtle, intelligent, purposeful and free. We need to discover the humility of a living systems perspective to rediscover our home.

2. Who are we?: We live within a living universe that arises, moment by moment, as a unified whole. We are beings the universe inhabits as much as we are beings who inhabit the universe. Our life is inseparable from the aliveness of the living universe. Our aliveness and consciousness extend beyond our biological bodies and reaches into the living universe. Our bodies need soul-growing experiences and we can open to a larger sense of self that connects into the subtle aliveness of the universe.

3. Where are we going: We need big changes to live sustainably. We need to discover a common sense of purpose for pulling the human family together: reduce needless clutter, develop authentic relationships, have meaningful work build caring communities and develop creative expressions.

We need a living universe paradigm and understand that our bodies have biological and cosmic dimensions. We need to communicate with the depths of the universe.


I found this an inspiring and thought provoking article that led on from a housegroup discussion last week where I was talking about the creativity of God within the universe and in creating man and Jesus. Although I might question some of the points made above, I thought the idea of a living universe fell neatly into place within an ecological framework. Could it not be said that the underlying life energy is the spiritual energy of the Creator God with the eco-Holy Spirit enlivening all living things and Jesus the embodiment of the earthen elements (air, fire, water, earth and spirit) in human form.

This next passage is copied from the article 'Christians and Druids' by Richard Thomas (http://druidnetwork.org/en/interfaith/articles/richardthomas.html):

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.

This is something that most Druids will recognise. The ‘Awen’, or inspiration, is both the driving force of the creation, and is also responsible for its beginnings. One of the central features of Druidry, the desire to understand the energy of life itself, to honour ‘Awen’ and to draw it into oneself, is also a central feature of Christianity. The language is different, but the meaning is strikingly similar. This is prayer, and prayer, for each of us, is a desire to enter into the sacred, the divine heart of the Universe. For each of us, prayer can be song or silence, action or stillness. For each of us, it is a sacred space where we are called into a relationship with the sacred.

So from the very first words of scripture, Christians and Druids begin to find common ground. The ‘Breath of God’, the Inspiration, the ‘Awen’, moves across the darkness and chaos of matter. Those two small words, ‘moved upon’, barely reflect the strength of the original Hebrew. They are words of storm and power, and reflect an imagery that itself creates movement and response. The language is both mystic and sexual – the Spirit of God penetrates the chaos of unformed matter, inseminating it, bringing it to life. These same ideas are echoed at the start of the New Testament, when the Spirit of God ‘overshadows’ Mary, bringing about a conception that is both human and divine. And so Christians, as well as Druids, can understand the formation of our universe as a form of birth. We can speak of the Spirit of God making chaos pregnant with meaning, form and purpose. We can speak of the dark warm woods, the wild animals, the buzzing insects, even the great seas and mountains, as both spirit and matter: rich and pregnant with the divine nature. Druids and Christians have common ground not simply because we share the same humanity, but because we have a similar understanding of our nature: we are creatures of both matter and spirit. And in speaking of the things that are sacred, our spirits reach out together towards this ‘something’ that is common to us both.


Both of these two explorations of the nature of the universe seem to have much in common and speak of connections and interconnections between ourselves and the universe that surrounds us. I am left with wondering how a purely evangelical Christian perspective might fit into the equation. With an emphasis on a mostly paternalistic God, required personal relationships with the Trinity; literal Biblical interpretation and sinner/saved duality, something somewhere seems to have lost the beauty, mystery and magic that is present in this great created cosmic creation in which we find ourselves. Both passages also speak to me in a language that I can understand and relate to and it is a great joy to find writers who can express thoughts and ideas in such a way. There is a weaving of words, ideas, story, history, nature, mysticism, possibility and creativity that allows room for one to reach out into the realm of personal exploration without the anticipation of judgement or wrongdoing. This is my spiritual path and from time to time it draws me in to explore inwardly and outwardly - to connect with myself and with all that exists around me.

One query I have is how much of our body, consciousness, soul or whatever exists externally to our physical bodies. The first passage alluded to this and I come across it from time to time - is it energy, an aura, prayer....?

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Communication

What is the distance between you and God? Can you close the gap?

If God didn't speak to you for a while what would that do to your faith?

Should not the living God speak living words into your life?

What do you rely on to maintain the spiritual energy of your faith?

What is your spiritual life anyway....?

Why do I love to draw hills and trees?


Well there are some thoughts from church this morning. I'm not going to answer these questions now but they were thought provoking... depending on how you view God, communication between you and Him/Her and what actually is a 'spiritual life'.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Dreaming of Stones

I'm remembering a landscape of stones. Stones of size and stature that embody a landscape with form and shape. Stones that hold mystery and meaning. Stones that integrate with other beings and elements to create diversity. I imagine it is beckoning me and awaiting the feel of my fingers and tread of foot.

The winter arrives with a promise of cold and darkness, and a landscape that opens to allow the wind and rain to permeate to every place and being. To me, the winter brings another source of life and energy. Not that of spring or summer, but one that dwells in the secrets that the wind whispers in the trees, in the transformations that winter light can bring to the hills and in the scents that arise from the dampening earth. It is strong, earthy and wild, yet possibly lonely but adventurous. You have to take yourself out of a comfortable place in order to seek it and be energised by it. It isn't for the unprepared - being cold and wet is not a good place in which to be.

In about four weeks I'll be back in a landscape that owes its being to the commanding nature of stones. Dartmoor. It will only be a short time there - just a couple of days. Not nearly long enough to retreat into it from the busyness of life and to get to know its subtle qualities of existence. For some reason my mind is dwelling on the bare rocks and stones that form the high wind swept tors, the softness of the mosses that cover rocks in the woodland and the cold colourful stones in the beds of clear streams. I am eager to meet them again - to touch, hold and smell them, and to acknowledge their presence in the landscape. Just like the ancients who created stone circles, the people who made hut circles, the farmers who built eternal walls and the destructive quarrymen have all done in the near and distant past. Stone is the landscape there and it has connected with the lives of humans for thousands of years in many differing ways.

I want to learn something from the stones this winter. I know I cannot hold more than just dreams nor expect nature to give up secrets just when I am there. I just have to be, to just observe and see what guides me.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Allotment Beginnings

It has been a good couple of months now since I first stepped foot onto my allotment. It was a bare patch of rotovated soil that gave me a blank canvas upon which to start my journey into food production on a grander scale. The plot is on a fairly secluded site surrounded by high hedges about half a mile from the runway at Luton Airport.

With no real idea what had been on the plot before hand, nor any idea what the soil was like there, my main initial task was to lay out a path up the middle. This was easy as it just involved marking a pleasing curvy path and throwing down some grass seed. Then came the digging by hand. This was my only way of really getting a feel for what the earth was like. When I first started in September, the soil was dry, very hard, full of flints and impossible to dig with a spade. There had been no rain for many weeks and the spade was soon abandoned in favour of a garden fork. Over the past couple of months the plot has now been dug and I completed the task a couple of days ago after a spell of rather wet weather. The contrast in digging conditions from when I first started was amazing. In parts soil was completely waterlogged with standing water at the bottom of the trench and almost impossible to do anything with. All I could do was just loosen the earth and let a bit of air in. Now that the earth has all been turned I can let the winter do its weathering job and I should be ready to plant in the spring. The soil seems very lacking in organic matter and what with all the stones and flints present will probably dry out quickly. I did start to remove quite a lot of the stones I found and quickly managed to build quite a large pile, but there were so many that I then began to only remove the biggest ones that my fork hit. At least I've got some air into the soil and found a few worms - though not that many. A mole has even dug a tunnel under my path - I don't get them in the house garden at all.

I keep hearing people say how time consuming allotments can be. I hope to prove them wrong by careful planning of low maintenance crops and efficient weed management. I've already got a small and very cheap push mower to cut the path, and I think that a good quality hoe will keep down many of the weeds - as well as intensive planting of a wide variety of crops. I am mainly planning to grow root crops, though the stoney nature of the ground will be a problem. I don't want to grow things that require a lot of regular watering, spraying against caterpillars or protection from slugs. I gather that pigeons are a problem on the site so I may have to invest in some wire netting for young plants. With the dark winter evenings ahead of me I'll have to sit down and do a bit of research to find out how best to utilise the plot.

I am surprised at how little composting goes on in neighboring plots. A huge amount of topsoil and organic matter is just piled up with other rubbish to be taken away by the council on a regular basis. I'm am quite amazed at this and will probably go and remove some of it to start my own compost heap so that I'll have something to add to my soil in the spring. The topsoil seems very thin on my plot and the last thing I want to do is remove anything from the site! I know that I'll remove vegetables, but any other organic matter that the system produces must be recycled back into it to help improve soil quality and fertility.

About two-thirds the way up the plot I've created a large circular patch of grass. Turning some of the plot into lawn is probably cheating a bit in the sense in that it is reducing the area in which I need to do much, but I wanted to create a space in which to sit, have picnics or become a play area for my daughter. In fact, when I look at the photo it does seem as though there isn't much space that isn't path, but I am sure the perspective is deceiving as there was a lot of digging involved! I'll probably be narrowing the path anyway in the spring when the soil has settled down a little.

I'm not really planning to blog much about the allotment unless there is something significant to say. This is really just a summary what i've done so far.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Being Still


'To create is always to learn, to begin over, to begin at zero. Part of the discipline of art as meditation is the discipline of struggling always from the beginning - "In the beginning," one might say.' Matthew Fox, Original Blessing, p198.


Somewhere in North Hertfordshire on a Sunday Morning...

This feels like the first time in months I have been able to just sit. To sit quietly. To sit without the feeling that I should be doing something else. To sit without being anxious about anything. To sit with only a very slight chance of being disturbed. Just occasionally I seek out a place like this. A place where time has no value and where I can place to one side all the things that demand my attention and just give myself permission to just 'be'. I am away for the demands of work, I know my family are safe and I have just finished a run of busy, but very creative and inspiring weekends. I am here, alone - apart from the presence of many non-humans who surround my temporary sacred place.

I have been in this place for about an hour now and I've decided to get out my sketchpad and write. It seems impossible and so idealistic to "go-slow" and to savour the more natural side to life amidst the demands and anxieties that abound in work, the family and life in general. I'm not going to explore these here as I am reluctant to dwell on the negative things that can occupy my thoughts at times. All I will say is that trying to live a positive and empowered life as encouraged by so many personal development advocates can be very hard work! I've stepped out of my comfort zone several times recently by volunteering to organise a grass maze and children's quiz at the Luton Hoo Walled Garden Apple and Pumpkin Gala; and running a craft activity in Hitchin's Market Square for the Triangle Community Garden. Both left me incredibly energized and I didn't enjoy coming back down to earth again! Some people seem to have so much energy and a seemingly insatiable appetite for doing stuff and achieving things. I know I am very hard on myself when I look at the skill-set of other people and I have to learn how to be constructive in such situations.

I am in my lonely place, a sacred place I'd call it, just for a few hours this morning. What will it teach me I wonder? I am not alone here. Although I am in a place where no people will pass me, I am conscious of the many non-humans that surround me and so I don't feel alone. A moth flutters on my umbrella; a spider crawls up my sketchpad; several other small beetles and invertebrates either crawl over my hand or over the white pages. There is a ladybird too. A few birds are tweeting in the trees and I am surrounded by trees. Trunks blackened by the pouring rain - stark against the bright golden yellows and browns of the vivid carpet of beech, oak and sycamore leaves. Even in this wetness beneath a heavy grey sky the woodland is awash with dense colours that the spirit of autumn brings. It is a time of death, of harvest, of fruitfulness; of shedding unwanted things, preparation for hard times and of giving back to the soil. Mosses look a deep healthy green and beneath the carpet of leaves I know there is a thriving community of fungi, invertebrates and microorganisms. I see some very tiny toadstools that have forced their way through the decaying organic matter up into the freedom of the space of the woodland floor.

It is warm for the first day of November, about twelve degrees centigrade according to the weather forecast yesterday. I'm feeling quite cosy, though I have a good few layers on and a wind-proof coat which I certainly need today. I'm on the lee side of the hill and up above me the trees are facing the fullness of the very strong wind and rain that is pouring in from the south-west. Where I am, blades of grass are just gently swaying, but later I am sure I will feel the full force of the wildness. I'm glad I have a large umbrella to shelter me from the wind and the rain, I know that I need to keep as warm and dry as possible if I am to stay here for any length of time. The wind and wet can soon cool the body, so I huddle up tight and keep warm.

I've just been re-reading Matthew Fox's Original Blessing. I wish it wasn't quite so heavy going, one day I'll get round to trying to write a more easily accessible version of it! It is basically a book about 'rediscovering' the blessing of Creation given to us by God.

As I look out at the woodland around me, the following things come to mind:

  • Escapism is key to renewal

  • There is colour even in death

  • You are never alone in nature

  • Man's survival should not be separate from nature

  • Weather waits for no-one

  • Growth is always present

  • Beauty is always present

  • Patience

  • Do I prefer shelter or do i like the wind and the rain? How do I deal with comfort zones?

  • What can I share with others?

  • A tree has its own leaves and yet when it sheds them they mingle with those of trees around them (to ensure a mix of organic matter?)

  • Journeys involve leaving, separation and time of returning home

  • How can I change on my return home? How can I maintain that?

  • How can I be a change

  • How, ideally, should I deal with work and family?

  • Being peaceful and strong is a gift (like a tree)

  • Giving of that which has sustained you may be a sacrifice, but it may ensure your survival in the long run (leaves, money, love....?)

  • How does nature cope with rain? Growth, waiting, indifference...?

  • Nature is always creating, transforming and never static? How is that reflected in me? Was Jesus like that?


I watch the leaves tumbling down though the branches and give thanks for this place. It is time for me to leave and see what else the day has to offer me.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

And when the mist comes down

An October afternoon up in the woods above Croft Castle, Herefordshire

And when the mist comes down
The silence of this grey shroud
subdues all sound and heightens
the call of the tiny goldcrest.

And when the mist comes down
the memory of the morning's
orange sunrise seems distant
and the brilliant moon
that kept the landscape wake
will not be seen tonight.

And when the mist comes down
the soft drip, drop of water
off the dense, darkest green pines
surrounds the lonely traveller.

And when the mist comes down
a gentle breeze waves
the golden bracken fronds -
the only movement in this shaded place.

And when the mist comes down
I walk with meditative footsteps
on the long awaited dampness
that the autumn now brings.

And when the mist comes down
the landscape hides its form
and only my feet and my soul
can guide my solitary path.

And when the mist comes down
My world has shrunk to that
which I can only see ahead -
the distance is no longer visible.

Lyngham Vallet: A Place to Be.


An October morning on the edge of Bircher Common near Croft Castle, Herefordshire

A place to be: where the valley lies, awakening to the cool, almost imperceptible pale salmon light of the new day.

A place to be: where shelter from the cold morning breeze is given by a thick gorse bush looking out over the trees below.

A place to be: where waves of bracken cascade down the valley sides under the birch and oak.

A place to be: where blackbirds and others call through the silence.

A place to be: where deep in the dark conifers the grunting of dear echoes over the landscape.

A place to be: where the subtle changes in the colours of the leaves call to the onset of autumn.

A place to be: where this small valley seems to hold treasure and peace.

A place to be: where, earlier, in a car sleeping. Cold and uncomfortable, yet beneath a moonlit sky.

A place to be: where a welcome can be given to the new day.

How the mind can play with words.

I was walking down from Croft Ambrey towards Croft Castle recently and happened upon a time when the poetic side of my brain seemed to awake from deep dormancy to intense creativity. Every part of the landscape seemed to speak to me and I responded with my voice in words that flowed with ease and freedom. I was reluctant to stop and try and write everything down as it would spoil the presence on the experience, so I sat down in the walled garden a short while later to try and jot things down. Alas, the creativity had gone and I was left with only a few memories that in no real way captured the real essence of what I had thought. I don't why this happens - perhaps it is to do with stimulation from the natural world or a relaxation of the mind when time is spent away from day to day thought processes.

Anyway, this is what I will write after looking back at my notes a day later:


Down the grassy hill I walked
towards the great old spiralling chestnuts
and now beneath a fruitful apple tree
the poetry I sang seems faraway.

I'll never understand the poetry of life.
The twists and turns like the falling of leaves
and the breeze that carries thoughts
like a bird on the wing
with freedom it flies in the wilderness of space.

A jay - from branch to branch
with a flash of white;
and a pigeon a fluttering of grey.
The crow, dark and heavy with steady flight
and a squirrel hurrying away
with chestnut to a hidden place.

....

And I can't remember anything more - but it went on for ages.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The Vine

The Vine
Reflections on the sermon given at Stopsley Baptist Church on Sunday 6 September 2009



Building a church based on New Testament principles.
What does the word church really mean to us and how can we engage with a new vision of the meaning of church in our lives? If the we take the definition of church to become one that is a body of people, and the physical building that we all call church becomes a community centre, how will that change the way Christians relate to others within their own body and with those in the wider community at large? How will it effect their relationship with Christ?

Some people may immediately wonder how much more is it possible to do because, surely, SBC is already a very missional and many members are active in the local community. Others may be so tied down to work and family responsibilities that forming a more outward perspective may be hard. Others may be terrified at the thought that it may involve loosing security and comfort.

I suppose alot of it depends on your relationship with God and your spirituality. If going to church on a Sunday fulfills your needs and this is your "God time" then that is Ok. I've no idea how many, but I expect a large proportion of the church do take their Christianity seriously enough to give it a certain amount of attention over the rest of the week. Some, at the extreme end - and I am one of those - may find Sunday church to be the time when they can feel distant from God because little there relates to their own experiencial perspective of God.

I liked the illustration of church being a interlinking network of elements rather than being and isolated box in the darkness. A very ecological perspective! All of nature is an interconnected set of systems and processes where nothing exists in isolation. These connections enable life to exist and perpetuate. I'd even say that inanimate objects have their place and form part of the ecosphere. An analogy was used regarding the potential of an acorn that contains all that is needed to produce an oak tree. When an acorn begins its journey of transformation it won't even start to grow unless it has various combinations of light or darkness, heat or cold, water, oxygen, time.... A gardener may love his acorn that he holds carefully in his hand, but unless he does something with it it will not release the potential locked up inside. God, the ultimate gardener and carer for his vine, Jesus, would have expected even him to bear fruit. I wonder how Jesus felt and how he was pruned? To me, faith cannot just be a "Jesus loves me, I'm alright" affair. I can't just be an acorn thinking that all is alright and that I'll grow into a magnificent tree. I need earth, light, energy and a habitat in which I will thrive.

Church should very much be the framework of people and community networks in which we relate to the world around us. It should be everything from formal meetings and home groups to social networks and work structures. I would call the times I spend with friends drumming around a log fire 'church'. It is there that we meet, share, talk, pray, realise intentions, seek guidance and value fellowship in a safe and unthreatening environment. We can be who we want to be, we can sit beside differing beliefs and share a welcoming smile. It isn't a 'Christian' group, but for me that doesn't matter. I can take it on my own level and be enriched in ways that are meaningful to me.

The Vine (John 15:1-7)
There was a quote along the lines of "Fruit bearing is not a human possibility; it is Christ's work through us". This seems to imply that you may not really be able to bear fruit unless you are a Christian. It also contains the idea of original sin which I struggle with - I am more of an "original blessing" sort of person (see Matthew Fox's work on the subject). Many people bear fruit and having a diversity of "vines" keeps a well balanced system in order as happens in nature. Rely too much on one thing and the whole ecosystem can collapse. Nature always promotes and thrives on variety, whereas monoculture needs an unhealthy input of unnatural elements to make it work. If we remove ourselves from the ecosystem that supports us, we will not last very long. We need to belong. Jesus' anaology here with how systems are found in nature is something I hadn't really seen before. "Remain in me" (John 15:4) belongs in quite an ecocentric passage, for it warns about the dangers of ignoring that which sustains us, supports us and gives us life. From a Cosmic Christ point of view, we ignore Christ, the animating Spirit of the Earth, at our peril.

Being and Doing
How should we go about "Being and Doing Church"? I am sure there is much that could be drawn out of that phrase...

I face a huge battle personally with the concepts of being and doing in my life. Half of me is always wanting to be "doing" something: gardening, walking, cycling, working, exploring personal development ideas, being dissatisfied with where I am at and getting depressed at not being like others whom I perceive as more successful. Then there is the quiet "being" half which is the mystical, quiet, listening, observing, meditating, solitary, nature aware spiritual side. The two always seem to be antagonistic with each other. Getting the 'being' balance right is hard because taken to its extreme you could 'be' so much and exist in such a state of relaxed ease and contentment with the present that you would never get out of bed in the morning. How you go about being active for your faith, missional, a learner and a disciple in a state of being rather than doing would probably provoke an interesting discussion at a workshop or talk on the issue. I think that it is a core principle of much Celtic spirituality and personal development work and is an interesting area which I find fascinating and could go on for hours about.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Night-time and The Gift

I've recently spent a few days camping near Fordingbridge in the New Forest. It was very much a family holiday and so I didn't get much time to myself to explore places and ideas at a deeper level. I like to be comfortable in a place so that I can explore it at my leisure and see in what way it might speak to me. There was an area of woodland near the campsite which I was able to explore - mainly it seemed late in the evening once "Piglet" had gone to bed and we had cleared up the tent and had coffee. Then I had a bit of 'me' time.

Going out into woodland in the encroaching dark is an interesting experience in examining what fears we have of dark unknown shapes and things that suddenly dash off in the undergrowth. Our minds are so programmed with scary thoughts, but in reality there is little or nothing, naturally speaking, that can harm us on a night's walk.

The woods were generally very quiet - just the soft swish of bats, the rustle of leaves in a breeze and the occasional hoot of an owl. Once, where I could walk out to meet the river that flowed silently through the still meadows, again all was quiet. But in the darkness I heard a gentle splashing sound and though the dim light of the lowering moon three swans swam down to river to where I was sitting and then cautiously turned up a small stream and into the tall vegetation and willows of the river bank.

With a couple of nights of clear skies I was able to lie down and gaze up at the stars above me. I don't 'do' stars so I have no idea where I was looking - apart from straight up! I am sure an occasional meteor streaked above me and are those satellites - the ever so tiny fast moving pinpricks of light that are almost imperceptible?

The Gift
So there I am gazing up into what we think of as the infinite expanse of space. For once I don't feel frightened at the thought of all that up there. I feel that I am on a gift, a gift given to us that gives us food, shelter and somewhere to exist. It is our protective sphere of earth that enables us to be part of this huge evolutionary experience. Is it a Divine gift? You could look at it that way. There may be other alternatives that are proposed but to me, in this place, the word "Gift" was true to me. A gift is treasured, valued and given thanks for. The giver is respected. We are receivers. How could I think otherwise when I was surrounded by lush meadows, deep woodland and hedgerows bursting with berries.

I didn't want to go to bed. I wanted to stay up, enjoy the darkness, listen to the breeze and just sit by candlelight.

Experiencing the Woods
Sometimes I am intrigued at how silent and un-wildlifey woods can feel. Occasionally I would do an exercise of thinking "what would a Druid do or feel?". How would they view or feel about a particular place or event. It is a bit like the "What Would Jesus Do?" sort of thing. To my mind I find it easier to think about the former as I can identify with that more easily - and I'm not here going to explain or justify my thoughts or how I wouldn't necessarily differentiate between the two, and anyway I use the term 'Druid' loosely to mean "a deep nature lover of great wisdom" and as it only has five letters it is quicker to write than "a deep nature lover of great wisdom"!

So in the wood, at night, how do I feel? What can I hear? What can I smell? What can I sense? Well, only the obvious things really - nothing too enlightening, but then you can't always force things just when you want to experience something new. As I have said above, you need to tune into a place.

And not just in the wood. What about when things are stressful in the family or when work isn't going too well? How would "a deep nature lover of great wisdom" deal with things? Theory is easier than practice.

Summerhouse
The nights are closing in. It is 8.30pm, dark and pouring with rain outside the summerhouse. I can hear it beating on the roof and dripping off the sides. I like being here in the rain as it masks out the sounds on the traffic and neighbours and I feel quite cosy and isolated here. I could do with more light though but I do like my candle.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

More on the Christian Druid

Here is a passage from What is Druidry (first published as Principles of Druidry) by Emma Restall Orr . It is available at www.whatisdruidry.org


The Christian Angle

A significant proportion of Druids do not identify themselves as primarily Pagan. There are those who declare Druidry is not a spirituality or religion, and many hold that it is a path of mysticism, a wisdom school, within which one can hold any religious belief. This allows for Druids who are purely searching through the mind, without an acknowledgement of spirit other that as life force energy. A good number of these non-pagans blend the philosophies of Druidry with those of Christianity.

For a Druid Christian, the Earth and all creation is an expression of the deity as presence, and therefore deeply sacred. While there are Christians who acknowledge this without moving into Druidry, others find that the philosophy significantly strengthens and broadens their faith. Deepening the acceptance, within the framework of Christianity, of the power and Beauty of the divine gift of the physical, there is opened up also the respect for sexuality, for birth, our genetic inheritance and with it reverence for our ancestors. The Earth, its flora and fauna, humanity and all creation become an altar to God. In an age when environmentalism, the importance of family and community, interest in folk traditions and natural medicine are all increasing, the point at which Druidry and Christianity meet becomes clearer.

The openness of the Druidic language, which allows for any colour and mixture of god and ceremony within its essential philosophy, invites the Christian to relate his own imagery into Druidry. There are many points of meeting; for instance, the Mabon. The sacred child, the sun reborn in the darkness of Midwinter, is comfortably woven with the birth of Jesus. The importance of divine sacrifice is also shared, acknowledged in Druidry at the harvest with the death of the corn god, the cycle of decay and regeneration through the seasons of the year, and the process of dying to the self in the mystical journey to inner peace.

Christians within Druidry come from many different churches, from the simplicity of Quakerism to the highly ritualistic, from the focus on Jesus to the honouring of a thousand saints, and each interacts with the Druid philosophy in a different way, each creating a different Druidic practice. Some strands of Christianity are easily plaited with Druidry, such as those where particular saints act as spirit guardians at, for example, healing springs.

There are some Druid orders who only accept Christians into their membership, while others would accept non-pagans. The vast majority, however, are not restrictive in this way and, indeed, many Druids actively work on the borders where the traditions meet, bridging the gaps and addressing the issues where misunderstandings have arisen. Interfaith conferences held over the last five years have inspired an increasing tolerance and understanding, not only at the border points but also more deeply within each tradition.

A number of those who blend the two do so from a point outside the Christian Church, although remaining within its faith. These Christians or Christic Druids retain a clear understanding of the Christian deity, honouring Jesus Christ as the saviour, the key and the gateway in whichever way they are most accustomed to or inspired by, yet stepping away from the structure of the religion which they regard as political.

For the wider Pagan and polytheistic Druid community, these Christic Druids are acknowledged and respected simply as revering another of the numerous gods.

Some Christians within Druidry describe themselves as of the Celtic Church.

The concept that a unified and peaceful Celtic Christianity existed in these islands long before the arrival of Roman Catholicism is one that was contrived in the sixteenth century by those seeking to justify the Reformation. The Protestant reformers claimed that the older church, which had been overwhelmed by Rome, was a simpler and purer form of Christianity, and therefore by rejecting Catholicism they were simply embracing an older native version of the faith.

It is understood now that this was a political argument with no foundation. The Christianity that did reach Britain and Ireland from the fifth century CE and before the spread of the Holy Roman Empire was a chaotic and fractious affair, filled with evangelical fervour and a horror of Paganism, of nature and sexuality. The idea that many Druids and Pagans were naturally and easily drawn to the faith because it resembled their own is an extension of the myth of the purer, peaceful Celtic Church. The conversion of kings took place as an acknowledgement of a more powerful god of battle, not a move to a god of love.

For those eager to find inspiration within Christianity and through the earliest texts, the tale of the Celtic saints, men and women who struggled and succeeded in finding peace and harmony in this era of intense violence and uncertainty, are a rich source of inspiration.

The notion of Celtic Christianity is nowadays an issue quite separate from the imaginary ideal of a romantic pre-Catholicism. For many it is that part of the liberal Church which stands on the borderline with Druidry and Earth spirituality, acknowledging the history of these islands, bringing to the fore the saints whose faith influenced our ancestors, honouring the power and beauty of the land and seas.


Monday, 17 August 2009

The Druid Christian

I have been pondering on whether my term for there being a 'Christian Druid' was inaccurate and, as I have come from a mainly Christian upbringing, so perhaps the term 'Druid Christian' would be more helpful.

But I hate labels, even though they help to form an identity around who or what you are. It is like having a coat hanger upon which you can hang all your favourite bits and pieces so that they don't get all scrumpled up and dusty at the bottom of the wardrobe.

To all those who have commented on my previous blogs about Christian Druidry I give a big thank you. I really ought to sort some stuff out and try and build a proper framework around the subject - as I have probably implied, it would not be Druidry as such, nor Paganism but fairly general and holistic view of a practical natural spirituality.

We all want identity, we all want hope, we all want security; some of us need the 'spiritual'. But the 'spiritual' has to be real to us. It has to be real, authentic, trustworthy, boundary-less and true to our soul. It may well have to be kept private if we are not in a secure place of sharing. I find it hard work, mentally and physically, to embrace a lifestyle that I perceive would be true to my spirituality. Some people may find it easy to walk their chosen path, but I don't. But that spurs me on to learn more and to try and incorporate something practical in my daily lifestyle.

It is a place of mystery when art, poetry, music, writing, nature and the desire for the 'other' meet and explore in creative playfulness. It is a place of unknowing where the unexpected may happen. It is a place of prayer when you reach out from within into the space of the otherness. It is a place of slowing down, when the time of our world meet that of the earth. It is a place where fear of darkness or the unkown lessens. It is a place where your inner soul finds strength and belonging.

I don't know what to write
I want to explore with words
I want to touch the cool leaves
I want to run through the fields
I want to sense prayers that call
to the unseen and receive the
gifts of the mysterious.

I want.
How unfortunate a phrase
typical of our unsustainability.

I am what I write
I am exploring with words
I am touching the cool leaves
I am running through the fields
I am sensing prayers that call
to the unseen and receiving the
gifts of the mysterious.


Sunday, 16 August 2009

Summer Path

A warm summers morning with high cloud and a mostly blue sky sees me walking along a wide footpath between two hedges. This may once have been an old trackway, now it is a place that allows nature to bear its precious goods. Between the corn fields this old trackway is warm with a gentle breeze floating over the closely trimmed hedgerows. Shadows of tall grasses and herbs ripple over the grass upon which I am sitting. There are bees on the purple knapweed, and many white butterflies dancing around the flowers - yarrow, clover, and so much more.

I've met hardly anyone on my walk today but in the space of perhaps just ten minutes of my sitting here two separate couples have walked by, one single person and a group of about 5 cyclists. And then no-one else. Who is this person sitting with a notebook on the grass in the middle of nowhere they must wonder.

The wind whispers around me, cars hum in the distance and flies buzz here and there. It is peaceful. Blackberries are turning from red to black. Tall hogweed stems reach upwards, now brown and dying, holding their fragile seedheads above the surrounding grasses. These strong verticles are reflected in the vapour trails that cross the sky above me.

Today my mind feels bogged down, dull, heavy and struggling to think about anything clearly. I hope the fresh air and the exercise will free some creative energy. I need something.

There is a huge richness around me that looks so easy and natural to nature. Yet it has to have a place to thrive and grow creatively. Creativity needs a place in which to grow, to be nurtured and to be fruitful. The fields around me are so managed with almost enforced ecosystems, and yet this broad pathway is a place of freedom and refuge for the plants and insect life to do what they need to do. All too often I feel as though i am not able to grow and flourish as much as I could. I know that is a negative thought, but it gets to me at times and I always seem to struggle with it.

This pathway is a beautiful place to be. The path is well worn and it looks as though it may be mown one in the spring or so. There are occasional gaps in the hedges where I can look outwards into the surrounding fields and countryside. It can be too easy for me to concentrate my view in the near and tangible. There is so much to look at and be stimulated by at whatever is close to hand, but sometimes I must look outwards - beyond the comfort zone - into the outer environment. I step aside from the path temporarily and walk into the field. It is bounded by bright red poppies, invisible from the path. The harvest has passed through this field year but it will be back another time. It is place where birds (pigeons and crows) fly with freedom - way from the boundaries of the hedgerow. I walk onwards, slowly. Soon my path will end, but it will open out into another path with new things to look at and new views and experiences.

I am writing this later in the evening at the top of the garden as the light fades. I feel more rejuvenated and responsive now. Being outside has really cleared my mind before another week of being chained to the computer at work.

Thank you for my walk.
Thank you for the freedom
For the flight of the butterflies
and the lightness of the post-combine straw.
Thank you for the breeze
That holds the smell of the sweetpeas
the flight of the bees
and the whispering leaves.
Thank you for the path
that took hold of my burden
and took me on a journey.
Thank you for my family
for the delight they bring.
May my mind find clarity
when words fail to appear.
May I know my path
and the joy it brings.
And for the other things
that are known by you
I ask for blessings
wisdom, truth and wisdom.

Thank you for this day.


Climate Change

I think that the phrase "Global Warming" is not a good phrase to use and I would much rather talk about "Climate Change". Whether or not man is responsible for the various manifestations that are perceived to come from the change in climate may be open to scientific debate but, to a deep ecologist, there can be no removal of the effects of man's activities on the environment from the impact this may have. Can the earth continue to self-regulate itself purely to the advantage of mankind? I believe that even small changes in a local microclimate can change the wider macroclimate. There are no closed systems in the natural cycles and rhythms of the development and running of the earth. Perhaps the earth is doing 'her own thing' irrespective of man's activities, but does that absolve us from any responsibility for our actions...? Have we evolved to such an extend that we can exist separately and independently from the natural world?

Garden thoughts

I'm out in the garden on a warmish August evening. We've yet again moved things around and the garden table and chairs have moved to the top of the garden by the summer house. We wanted to put up our family tent and the only way we could do it was to move the trampoline to where the table was, move the table to the top patio, move the tomatoes there to where the trampoline was earlier on in the year and then put the tent up on the lawn - and it only just fitted!

From this new place for the table I am now sitting: hidden from view from the house and our neighbours but still able to look out over the top of the garden.

I'd like to live outside in the garden more but it takes a bit of effort and it isn't always practical around the family but like all things it just needs a bit of re-visioning.

The garden, like last year, is full of growth. With a wet summer around us the garden seems full of vigour and creativity. The earth that seems so cold and bare in the winter is bearing huge amounts of greenery. I'm not sure if the tomatoes will ripen, but I'll certainly get many jars of chutney off them nevertheless. I've already got about eight jars of runner bean chutney which I am looking forward to tasting in the autumn. The garden has never been a place to explore artistic creativity but I hope to gradually change that by accumulating a few odds and ends and adding a bit of alternative interest here and there. Not quite sure yet what though.

The mint and lavender were covered with bees, flies and butterflies today. I'm now watching 2 female blackbirds on a fence just a few yards away. One looks like a juvenile, both seem to be wary of me but not unduly concerned as I tap away at my keyboard.

Is God a plant?

I've just finished reading 'The Voice of the Earth - an exploration of ecopsychology' by Theodore Roszak (Phanes Press, 2001). A big juicy book that delved into the realm of psychology, ecology and an exploration of ideas into how we came into existence on this earth and where we might be going.

To be honest, much of the book was too deep for me and difficult to absorb in many places. I have often said that the subject of ecopsychology interests me, but the book did reveal how I only understand it at a very superficial level. Without a deeper and more technical understanding of Freud, Jung and psychology in general I just have to take what bits I can understand and see how it adds to my awareness of an ecological self. I am, though, glad I read the book as it was quite enlightening in parts. And odd bits of it will sink into my thoughts and writings anyway.

It is a big question - does our mind exist solely within us or is does it somehow have a wider field of operation? Is there a wider creative 'mind' that belongs in the universe? And do the two minds have any interraction?

When I look at the plant life around me, and then consider the fact that throughout the whole of creation humans have only occupied a small timeframe of existence in Gaia, then I wonder how human-like that cosmological creative spirit might be. Does a humancentric idea of "God" reinforce the ecological separation that we face in our lives - the paternalistic industrialisation of society, consumerism of desirables, ecological unsustainability, financial greed and political and social instability? Is God a plant? A bizarre question indeed but, at a superficial level, if the world has a creator God then it must surely have some 'plant' characteristics. After all, we humans have only appeared on the earth in the last tiny fraction of the time it has existed.

I know I keep struggling with all this God stuff and keep looking for ways to help me frame an understanding. Sometimes I think I have I have it all sorted but then something will happen or someone will say something that gets me questioning again. Should I bother thinking about it? Is it ultimately all a waste of time? No, I think not. I have my time here on this green planet and I should respect both as a gift to me. When I look around me all the things I see people believe, I don't see one set of people who have obviously got it right at the expense of all the others. I see people who do amazing things because of their deep beliefs - whatever their religion. If my belief system can empower me to do value things in my life, then that is a place I want to be in.

My mind seems very much attuned to the ecology and presence of plants. I'm not an animals person, nor an insect person, and nor at times a human person. But stick me amongst plants and I feel very much at home. They inhabit a very different world to the one in which we live and one that I can only observe from the outside. I admire people who know a lot about the folklore of plants and have learnt to work with them.

When I awake my ecological self and take my mind of the busyness of work, family and all that is going on around me, I feel a deep sense of peace and belonging in the journey that I am walking. It feels like a return to home, but also to a place of deep mystery, challenge and unknowing. At times it may feel like a refuge, but at times it feels like entering a den of lions.

How do you bring about global change and environmental respect to diverse cultures where there is little awareness of a personal responsibility to the environment? I don't know whether we have the ability to do that. With so many people striving to work, repay mortgages, own cars, shop more, compete for jobs, seek western affluence, satisfy personal 'wants', fit into business, political and social structures etc, there may be little time for more 'earthly' needs - whatever they may be.

Not sure if this is all very coherent.... I just wanted to jot down a few things.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Camping and Drumming

Recently I spent a few days camping. I spent one night at Eastnor Deer Park campsite near Ledbury in Herefordshire and then three nights at the Resurgence Readers Camp held at Green and Away, a tented and 'green' conference centre near Worcester. With four days at my disposal I wanted to make sure that I used them wisely. The Resurgence camp was a great opportunity to meet a diverse group of people but, as I had found last year to be so emotionally challenging and inspiring, I decided not to attend any of the talks or activities this year. I talked lots, did quite a bit of washing up and enjoyed just sitting around chatting to people. It was great to spend time with people who shared many of my interests and ideas and I appreciated not feeling quite so isolated.

There were some things that were inspiring to me about my time way and I will just recount them here. I don't want this to be a diary as such so I'm just going to write what comes into my mind and not focus on times, places or people as such.

I had pitched my tent in Eastnor Deer Park on the south-western edge of the Malvern Hills and walked up to the monument on the hill above the campsite. During my tea I had been watched by two doe Roe Deer and five stags then appeared out of the woods to watch me as I left the tent and began to walk up the hill. It was about 9pm and the light was just beginning to fade. The rain laden clouds were giving way to a much clearer sky and there was quite a cool breeze. I took my drum with me and enjoyed a decent time drumming in the approaching darkness. With the air being cold and damp, my drum was distinctly sounding flat but it was wonderful to play it and listen to how it sounded with the breeze in the trees. This was the first night of my holiday and I felt a great release of freedom from the isolation and restriction I had felt at work. I had driven three hours to get to this place and now I was at home in the landscape, the wind and the rain. There was one moment of looking up when I was thinking about light and immediately seeing the only star in a patch of sky that was very moving.


I took my drum on a gloriously warm and sunny morning up onto Midsummer Hill on the southern end of the Malvern Hills. Walking up to the hilltop just after 6am was a wonderful experience and the views were superb - so clear under a cloudless sky. There was a strong breeze, but in the lee of the hilltop and the concrete seat, I enjoyed a great time of drumming. Weaving seemed to be the theme - weaving the sound of the drum through the landscape. I find that small chants can come naturally to me in places like this. I can't always remember them as they come and go with the flow of my drumming and whatever I am thinking or praying about. It is a very "in the moment" sort of experience.


The River Teme runs beside the Green and Away camp and I took my drum down the river bank one morning after breakfast. It was warmish, mostly sunny and no-one else was about. The river was significantly higher than last year and the water a muddy brown with silt from recent rains. The Indian Balsam was in full flower and long-tailed tits fluttered around seemingly unperturbed in the willow trees just beside me as I drummed. I then sat down and spent an hour or so drawing my experience, by which time other campers were out walking and enjoying the river too.


I spent an hour by myself in the yurt 'sitting room' drumming. This is almost one of my most favourite places in which to be. Quite, surrounded by soft cushions, warm in the summer sunshine and very welcoming.


I had a good walk up onto Croft Ambrey and then a few hours drawing in the walled garden at Croft Castle. Between the many rain showers there was lovely sunshine, but it was so intermittently wet that I didn't get as much drawing done as I would have liked.


Driving from Leominster with my mother to our old farm. It was a beautifully warm, clear and sunny evening and the countryside around Tenbury Wells and towards Hanley Child looked stunning.


I'm not used to talking so much and so when faced with so many interesting people who all share many of my different interests it was fun but quite tiring to practice quality communication. I did appreciate that some people sought me out from time to time as I felt I was always giving, always being the one to initiate conversation - and I was trying very hard to be pleasent, chatty, respectful and friendly to all whom I met.


Visting the Knapp and Papermill Nature Reserve. This has to now be one of my favourite places on the planet! I went there twice this year having fallen in love with it last year. The river, the old apple orchard, the woodland, the meadows.... sigh!


Finding time to do some drawing that wasn't rushed was wonderful. I did a couple of pictures at the Resurgence camp that I put up in the yurt and those that saw them and realised I had done them were quite appreciative of them. I felt I had contributed something in a quiet, sort of unseen way to the camp. If i go again next year I might draw upon this and do something a bit more.


Sunday, 19 July 2009

Woodland Evening

Against the oak tree I sit, my mind cluttered with flirtaceous thoughts: things dipping in and out of my thinking, teasing and all competing for my attention. The day, past, has devoured my energy and so I have stepped out on a small journey to find settlement and calm from all that clusters around me and space that sits outside my immediate needs.

In this place I am amongst my 'other' friends. The greenery around me seems so distant from the busyness of my work, family, and various preparations for creative experiences. I ask for a touch of the other; the language of the landscape and the poetry of the breeze in the trees around me. Here, with only a slight breath that moves the leaves of bramble and oak I absorb the cool stillness. Stillness like the presence of the silent trees whose sense of time seems to belong in another perspective - their slowness of being shames our competitive spirit.

And the song of the birds carries through the dimming light - not songs of high energy like in the early morning, but songs of passing, patience and subtlety.

How small I am in this place, where tallness draws from the undisturbed earth and which is reflected in my new expressions of artwork. How weak is my ability to exist here unaided. How much I have lost though my ancestors and the desire of the world to take nature away from existence.

One day I will return.

I leave, settled.

I give thanks to this place of blessing.

* * * * *

I see four hares as I leave the wood.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Reflections

I'm sitting in the summerhouse on a cool and overcast July evening. I'm not sure what I am going to write about, I will see where I am lead.

Direction
I've thought a lot about direction over the past few months, mainly in terms of career and personal development, and have found it a bit stressful as I really don't know what to do and so much interests me!

Creative Energy
My focus now seems to have returned to my creative side. Perhaps because I know I ought to make the best use of the warm summer months when being creative is easier. There is more time and space to appreciate all that the earth can show me and I know it will pass by all too quickly. I seem to have found some positive focus for my own personal artwork. For me, things seem to evolve slowly and I seem to be feeling a sense of a more definite connection between various things around me and my creative energy. I won't expand on it here as I don't want to try and spend writing time describing things that are very visual. Through my job designing greetings card I have taken my artistic skills into new territory and I feel things are beginning to merge in my creative side that incorporates nature, spirituality, gardening, imagination, drawing, sculpture and much more.

Blog
Being inspired to write and to keep adding to this blog is not always easy and I could so easily give up! I don't feel as though it has had its time though, I think I have to dig deeper to get material and to keep the mind thinking and the soul nurtured. I am not in a very stimulating environment that keeps the blog-fire burning! Time is also precious.

Prayer
I'll end this note with a sort of prayer. Excuse any vagueness, but I am always cautious about bearing some specific details or mentioning names in public.


There is a stillness in the garden
a stillness that awaits, listens, welcomes and yet
bears strength and growth that is unseen
by the minds that are excited and seek stimulation.
May my spirit dwell in the garden of my soul,
to be calm, to not anger, to not worry, to not grow weary:
may there always be a silent inner strength
to be who I am meant to be, to grow,
to create, to love, to honour and to respect.

To all persons, human and non,
may I give myself freely and yet with wisdom,
understanding and strength.

To my family, J and E
I pray that we will be close and loving
like the creative love that gifts us with this earth.
When tired, sick, angry or frustrated
may peace fall like the raindrops
that have now gently begun to fall
upon the garden around me -
touching, cooling, refreshing, healing:
a presence that absorbs all incongruent energy
giving freely and with the knowledge of
its passing and revealing the new.

I ask for blessings
and the welcome of others
to guide and inspire us
in the dreams of our souls.


Monday, 13 July 2009

July Morning

(I am sitting at the edge of some fields near Lilley)

Morning clouds reveal an increasing blueness from above their grey, rain-laden shrouds that hugged the summer landscape over night.

A warm westerly wind waves the oak branches above me, pushing eastwards to leave a dampened earth that begins to give up its moisture to the warming breath of air.

Grasses and cow parsley, with seed-heads gold and blackening brown, fill the verges and bow to the promising sun.

A slow slug delights on the dampness of a carpet of dying grass.

Wren, skylark, crow, yellowhammer, tits and others give their song to that of the breeze and a distant, high up plane.

Hover flies dart and zigzag around the grasses and black flies buzz their presence in an instant.

The golden barley, with down-turned heads and long fragile awns will soon be food for the growling combine. I hold and smell their presence, soon to dry to golden treasure, or so the farmer hopes.

The hedges, trees and woods are now an almost uniform deep green - like the single colour upon an artist's palette with just the shadows and highlights in separate tones. The greens are merging; the flowering plants are merging into their golds and browns. The highlight of summer is the culmination of the flowering season - diversity becomes one in the processes of post-flowering and seed-setting. Softness of growth becomes hardness of seed and brittle stems. This is a time of preparation and formation, an awaiting of the harvest of fruit and seed.

Purple is all around me in the subtle light that waits the full sunlight that will later bathe the land: blackberry flowers, hogweed seedheads, goosegrass seeds and leaves, thistle flowers and rosebay willowherb.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Birthplace

A few days ago I found myself driving along a Worcestershire hilltop and then turning into a small country lane that would take me down a steep road towards the farm where I was born.

I hadn't been back for a few years and it was a hugely emotional moment as memories of my childhood came flooding back. I had my daughter with me and it was the first time I had taken her there. After a good descent the road levels out at the farm to give superb views over towards Clee Hill that rises majestically from the distant Teme Valley and Tenbury Wells. The valley bottom is still much further on but here is a tiny hamlet here of one working farm, a chapel, a few houses and our 'farm'. The surrounding fields, mostly taken over by surrounding farms, now probably have little memory of the acres of apple trees that once stood on this quiet hillside. Although the house has been altered and the surrounding buildings are used for domestic/office uses or to stable horses, the essence of the place is still there. The first nine or so years of my life where spent in the great farmhouse and in the surrounding fields. Such freedom I then had to play and explore and to be part of the local farming community.

It is a life that seems so distant now. We all have to move on. Time does not hold us captive to anything but our thoughts and memories. We are transient in so many ways. I cannot relive my past. I can only experience the present in the context of past experiences. The farm was my birthplace, literally, and my formative childhood. It held me through those early experiences that made me who I am today. My journeying this year seems to be taking me to places that are emotionally thoughtful, longing for change/development and, hopefully, taking me to a more mature awareness of my path. Going back to my 'home' area is always a struggle emotionally as I seem to have a deep attachment to that part of the world. I probably have my father to blame for that! I feel as though I want to draw upon the energy it gives me, but I am not sure how to do that, or if it is right. It is a creative energy of poetry, art, growing/farming, landscape, growth, nature, and belonging. It can be easy to wish that some parts of life had been different and that we could choose an 'alternative universe', but we know we can't. I am here today, where I am, because that is how things are. How I face the future, that I can change or influence.

Visiting the farm was hard - perhaps I feel a deep sense of grief - but it was enlightening in a positive way. It gave me a sense of energy that if I want to change, I have to initiate it. I can't hang on to the past but I have to ensure that when all my 'presents' fade into the past, they enhance my memories and soul in a way that will make me feel that I have achieved something.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

The Hovering Kestrel

I watched a Kestrel this morning. It was a warm and sunny morning and I had just entered a smallish field of rough meadow - full of tall grasses and flowers/plants. A kestrel hovered not far away. High above the field, at about tree top level, it was facing the oncoming warm breeze and making continual fine adjustments with the delicate fluttering of its wings. It would glide to a new location, hover, survey the ground below then move on a little. Then it would sweep back over the field to begin a new transect and begin its search from a new location. I watched it for around ten minutes before it moved away to perch in the nearby trees.

Is there a lesson an patience and perseverance here I wonder?

On reading a little on the web I discover that although hovering requires more energy than, say, gliding it can be more productive food wise. Apparently they can see into the ultra-violet which makes tracking the urine trails of their favourite food, the field vole, easier.

Song of a Robin

A robin sang beside me one recent evening, its song filling the cool, still and darkening air. Why, my friend, do you sing so close to me? Surely you can see me just a few feet away writing in my sketchbook, whilst you sing your presence from atop the trampoline safety net? You have chosen that spot from which to give the garden your song this evening. Your tuneful phrases weave through the other sounds that I notice: the sound of traffic, the rumble of aeroplanes at the airport, dogs barking, the songs of other birds in the neighbourhood, the subdued deep thump, thump of next door's party music and the chattering conversation of friends among friends.

I hardly noticed you at first, but now I am aware of you. Your song was almost too loud and sharp for me to focus upon, but now I welcome you as your presence seems almost incompatible with the man-made sounds of man in the landscape. But then you choose to depart, to leave your perch and head for the top of a nearby tree; and then you are gone. You gave me a moment of peace and otherness that only nature can bring. You leave me a memory that lingers on amongst the other discordent sounds of the evening.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Bracken

The woodland floor is damp from the morning rain. The soft mass of leaf litter and other decaying organic matter forms a cool carpet beneath the tall oaks. I sit facing a small clearing and look out over the tall bracken that arises from the earth and uncurls towards the sky. Its dark green stems rise straight up with large fronds branching out horizantally. The apex is formed by a tight mass of intricately curled up new growth that will rapidly unwrap into the woodland space. Now, at around 4ft tall, this mass of strong verticals contrasts with the diagonals and horizantals of nearby bramble plants which tangle through the field layer. These are perennial whereas the bracken will entirely die down to soil level at the end of each year.

I look more closely at the bracken stems. I did down into the deep leaf litter, and see where it arises from an bulbous part of the rhizome that reaches throughout, and deep into, the woodland floor. There can be a sizeable amount of the plant buried beneath the surface and we see only a superficial part of it. I break open one of the main stems. It is tough and can easily cut the skin. There It is made up of many large strong fibers which separate to reveal a thick syrupy sap that covers my fingers. There must be a large amount of moisture held within these young plants. Some of last years decaying stems are still standing and these are now dry and brittle and can easily be crushed in my fingers.

The large flat and spreading fronds begin to shade all the woodland floor - taking advantage of the available light before the leaf canopy fully forms above them. The fronds have a strong mid stem and then the soft and delicate parts of the leaf reach outwards. They are beautiful to touch. The outer edges of the fronds are a more yellowy green than the main parts of the frond. They are almost like huge feathers.

Bracken always feels cool and has a wonderful fragrance. I wonder what ecological value they have. I do some research on the internet at home and find out more details that I'm not going to repeat here.

They are plants of strength and beauty but, like the bramble, they persevere, they compete, they dominate and form an important part of the ecology where they are present by changing both micro and macro habitats in may ways. Here they will significantly add to the biomass of the woodland and through their decay will add to the organic matter in the ground layer. It has no predators and so is a great coloniser where conditions are right.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Hawthorns

We recently had a holiday in the small village of Farnborough just north of Banbury. It was mainly a time to be outdoors, going for walks and spend time with the family. I didn't find it easy to create space for anything really deep and meaningful. I had a few walks by myself, but these were mainly a time to just enjoy the exercise, to try and do some drawing and just to "be" away from the office. There was one moment on one of my walks when I really felt something tug at my deeper spiritual psyche and this is described here.

On a warm, sunny, still morning I find myself walking over a field of pasture with grazing cattle scattered around me. As I walk down off the top and over the crest of a small rise I come across a group of around fifty or so large hawthorn trees that seem to draw me into them. I wonder why these trees are still standing here? There is a patch of gorse not far away, but otherwise this is a large field of probably quite ancient pasture bounded by old and mature hedges. There is a farm just on one side of the field and I wonder if this patch of ground has a long history of settlement and a long disappeared more functional use. Did this patch of trees once cover the whole hill? Was there an old barn or house that once stood here? These trees feel like a site of antiquity and memory, but I seen not direct evidence of any building having been here.

Here is a place that draws me into its presence - to sit down at the base of a tree, to get out my sketchpad, to observe and to write.

The hawthorns stand amidst the new green spring grass, their heavy and fragrant blossom bright in the sunshine. Each tree has its own character and presence within the group. Their trunks are old and twisted - some single others an intertwining of multiple stems that form many variations in shape and form. It is like each tree has a different pattern to follow in its design. For some, the trunks rise straight up, others have gentle clockwise turns - some even seem to have knots with branches criss-crossing over and under each other. Some look like a thick rope of woven cords.

Hawthorns are often a symbol of dark and impenetrable hedges and thickets but here I can walk freely on the grassy openness between the trees. Here, cows will seek shelter from the sun or the rain and there may be rabbit holes here and there. The earth may be always damp and cool here. In winter, hawthorns can create an unwelcoming place with cold dark shapes, defensive thorns and bare soil beneath black rotting leaves.

Apart from a gentle breeze in the leaves and blossom this place makes little sound. In the distant hedges birds sing and the gentle murmur of the M40 a couple of miles away always intrudes on this landscape.

There is a solitary oak tree in from of my sitting place. Like the hawthorns it is misshapen and seems out of place here. Its main trunk lies at around 45 degrees and then divides into double trunks, one of which bend down to the ground. The churned up mud at its base shows that it is used as a scratching post by the cattle and, indeed, there are patches where the bark has been totally removed.

I touch the trunk of one tree, examining it more closely. Devoid of the sharp thorns that cover the branches and twigs the bark is soft and warm and strongly textured - home to spiders and other invertebrates.

A small group of buttercups add a touch of yellow to the ground which is strewn with cowpats, fallen blossom and hoof holes in the soft earth. Perhaps a small spring arises here, just enough to dampen the soil.

A few chaffinches dart amongst the branches around me, singing unseen.

I give thanks to the place and leave. I don't know why this place attracted me. Some places just seem to be a source of inspiration. For me, it isn't usually a beautiful view that inspires me or something else of wonder in the natural world. It is sensing something in what could be very ordinary and missed by many people. Perhaps it was just the shape and form of the trees that I perceived as something unusual; perhaps it was a sense of discovery; or perhaps a deep tuning in to a moment when the boundaries between spiritual worlds became thin.

* * * * *

Later on my walk I pass within about six feet of two young fox cubs staring a me from an earthen hole in a bank under a hedgerow.

As I stand in a wheat field, a hare appears and walks towards me, stopping every so often to eat a leaf of the growing wheat. Motionless I watch it. It almost seems oblivious to me and quietly passes by about ten feet away. Another close encounter with a hare.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Wheelbarrow Oven

Today I built a small oven in the garden. I had salvaged some bricks from a recent bit of wall demolition in the garden and I used these, plus some chicken wire and tiles, to build a small oven on my wheelbarrow. The wheelbarrow I obtained from a pile of fly-tipping on a local road last year and yesterday I had bought a bag of charcoal from Croft Castle in Herefordshire. I made some bread dough and was successful in baking four bread rolls and also cooking a barbeque for the family evening meal. Although only a small oven, it worked very well but I need to be more careful about stabilising the temperature. The first two rolls took an hour to cook whereas the second two burnt in under 20 minutes! The barbeque worked well: sausages, home-made burgers, warmed ciabatta rolls and a fresh salad.

I had been wanting to do something like this for a long time and, as I am currently thinking about the element 'Fire', this was an ideal project to attempt.

Drumming on Croft Ambrey

On Sunday 3rd May at about 8.30am I arrived at the car park at Croft Castle. It was empty which was a good sign as I thought I might then have the chance to be up on the hill by myself. It is the Bank Holiday weekend and there will soon be many people visiting the castle and the hill.

I walk up to the top of the woods and take off my walking boots and socks. The long dew-covered grass which I first walk though is freezing cold but on the main path the shorter grass and dry earth is much more comfortable. I have my drum with me and I begin a meditation walk that takes me up to the hillfort, around the main rampart and up onto the top of the hill. It is cool, but the sunshine is bright and clear between the clouds. It is an amazing morning. The light is so clear and the colours are beautiful. I look carefully at the views, trees and the landscape around me as I walk slowly and steadily, carried by the gentle beating of the drum. The drum performs superbly in the warming sunshine. Its sound seems to resonate with the wood of the trees. I watch a buzzard in the distance and try and work out how to mirror its flight with my drum. This is a wonderful place to be and, as I complete my playing and meditation, the first of other walkers start appearing on the footpaths around the hill. I set my camera up on a sock and walking boot and take some pictures of myself with my drum.

I wonder when the last time a drum was heard in this landscape. I am sure it would have been common in Iron Age times, but who else has drummed up here? It is a superb location to listen, to watch, to observe and to meditate. The views from the hill are magnificent and, on a bright spring morning like today when the leaves are coming out and the landscape is in full spring awakening, they are probably at their best.

Hopton Titterhill: Part 2 - Sunrise

Continuation of previous blog entry...



Sleeping in the car was uncomfortable, but well worth trying even though I only had arund a couple of hours sleep. I got up at 4am just as the sky was beginning to lighten and decided to climb up to the top of Hopton Titterhill. The sky had clouded over but there were a few promising signs that it might be clearing. Apart from the hooting of an owl and the singing of a skylark over a nearby field, the woods were fairly silent. I could easily find my way in the dim light up the forestry tracks and I eventually walked out into the clearing at the top of the hill. The light was improving rapidly now and I climbed up the final steep slope onto the top of the sort of mound that forms the hilltop. The air around me was now filled with birdsong - robins, blackbirds and anything else. The sounds were wonderful. The grass was heavily dew laden and small cobwebs were scattered everywhere. Bilberries were in flower - beautifully delicate pink bell-like flowers on yellow-green leaves. An occasional bumble bee could be seen buzzing around and braving the coolness of the morning. It wasn't too warm. I walked down from the summit and followed a small circular route of forest tracks and mountain bike trails back up to the top again.

Although the cloud cleared from above me and to the West to leave a clear blue sky, a long bank of cloud to the East obscured much of the sunrise. Hills to the West a few miles away did see the morning sun on their tops but I only had a few minutes of fleeting sunlight to awaken my hill. The cloud was increasing and it didn't look as though I would be seeing much sun for a while now. I played my drum for a while but the cold and damp made it feel as though I was playing a pancake! Some warmth would have been good as my hands were frozen.

Although the view from the top of the hill is mostly obscured by trees this was a great place to visit on a May morning.

Saw blackbird, blue tit, buzzard, chaffinch, goldfinch. Wood sorrel was everywhere.

Hopton Titterhill: Part 1 - The Journey

Hopton Titterhill is a hill a few miles west of Leintwardine in south Shropshire. Like many of the hills in the area it has been planted up with conifers but the top remains open. Here there is a small but steep rocky hilllock that rises out of a patch of open heathland of mainly grass, billberries and bracken. Much of the view has been obscured by the surrounding trees, but it is still a spectacular location commanding views for miles around. My Father would have taken me up here as a teenager and it would a have been a much more open place back then. Now I am making another visit to the hill to await the sunrise on a May morning.

It is Friday evening on the 1st of May and I leave Luton at 7pm on what feels like a mini pilgrimage. I am always amazed at how long it takes to prepare to go away, even for a couple of nights and now, after a busy week at work and an almost impossible wait, I set off up the M1. This is my time, my time to enter a wilderness, my time to journey and my time to see what nature will bring to me.

It is cloudy, with sunny intervals. I drive steadily with the busy traffic, seeming to head towards the setting sun and a distant clearing western sky where a bright band of cloudless sky hugs the horizon. At one point the sunshine is dazzling even though the rain clouds are dark above me and raindrops cover the windscreen. I am surrounded by the brightest of light, turning newly formed leaves into almost un-natural greens and fields of oil-seed rape reflecting an impossible yellow. A few miles further and the brightness has gone - a blue landscape emerges under rainfilled clouds that have hidden the sun. In the dimming light everyhting has turned a shade of green-blue, all apart from yet more of the swathes of yellow. .

As I pass Coventry, another band of brightness on the horizon guides my way and a lightening sky shows huge cumulous clouds. Unfortunately I have to keep my eyes on the road more around here, but the last transformation occurs as I follow the M42 west around Birmingham to the M5. The great billowing clouds seem to flatten out into flat black forms with a lighter, clear atmosphere behind. These are the last clouds I see this evening. The light is fading fast and I have to concentrate as I join the twisting road the Tenbury Wells at Ombersley which seems quite busy with traffic.

Finally, as it approaches 11pm, I reach the hamlet of Hopton Castle and I can just make out the dark form of Hopton Titterhill ahead of me. I continue along the narrow country lane up into the hills and then turn onto the forestry track ascending to my destination. I drive up the rough track for about half a mile or so and enter the forest. There is a clear, starlit sky above me and, almost directly ahead of me and leading my way is a half moon lighting the landscape.

I park in the car park, eat a croissant and boil some water on my small gas stove for a hot chocolate. Then I sit to write my notes on a picnic bench by torchlight.

Here I am in a forest bathed in moonlight. As the moon dips down behind the trees so the long shadows of the pines begin to fade into a deeper darkness. All is still, just a whisper of a slight breeze surrounds me, but I can hear a more distant ripple of the trees on the more exposed higher edges of the forest. I can hear a sheep, a dog, an owl. Something patters by in the nearby trees and then runs off - presumably scared by my light. A very distant aeroplane rumbles past way above me. Then all is quiet. A few occasional noises of birds in the trees and the scratching of my pen on my sketchpad. The trees are still whispering in the darkness, almost barely audible. I almost struggle to hear anything - I feel my body is making too much noise.

This evening has been a time of journeying, of seeing changing weather patterns and observing the light and the clouds around me and how they interact with the landscape. By covering a large distance myself I probably saw more varied cloud formations this evening than I would have done if I had stayed in one location.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

The Energy of Spring

A sunny and surprisingly warm start to the day finds me sitting beside a tall and mature hedgerow overlooking fields near Hitchin. Most nights recently have still been quite cold, even though the days have been warm. There has been little rain over the past few weeks so the ground is quite dry - on the surface anyway. This feels like the first warm spring morning although there is a coolish breeze.

The chestnut trees on the hill in front of me are well in leaf now and the remaining tress in the landscape are forming a distinct greenish tinge. In the past couple of weeks since I have been out there has been a dramatic change in the landscape as Spring weaves her creative dance over the earth. Bluebells carpet the woods and hedgerows are bursting forth with nettles, ground ivy, red dead nettle, white dead nettle, hedge garlic and 'cow parsley' (or whatever it is).

The grassed edge to the field here is buzzing with flies, hoverflies and other vague unidentifiables whilst a beetle and a woodlouse are spotted in the grass beside me. Life has exploded into the landscape. A white butterfly flickers by; I am sure I can hear some long-tailed tits nearby; I see a blue tit and several chaffinches; pheasants in the field and a couple of distant hares. Elderflower buds are forming well.

There is so much energy in the landscape now. I am now in a month of thinking about Fire - my final element to ponder over, in my four month vague study of the elements. The sun is providing so much energy to the landscape today. From the distant sun the radiation is pouring though the hazy atmosphere onto the landscape, warming the earth beneath my feet and supplying energy for the photosynthesis of plants. And yet the amount of cosmic light that reaches our small planet is only a fraction of that produced by the Sun. So much is just expended into the depths of space, and yet here, there is one planet that uses that radiant energy to create and evolve life. It is placed in what is probably a very unique location in space in order to receive just the right amount of energy to enable successful growth of life. The earth reflects and absorbs the light to such varying degrees. Soil, vegetation, water, clouds, roads and buildings etc all interact with the sun's energy in so many varying ways. Perhaps it is the leaves of plants that make the best use of the light energy via photosynthesis. I am surrounded by greenness that reaches out to the sun.

I watch several birds flying over the field: a crow, and something small and faster. I acknowledge that this requires energy expenditure. We humans like to be warm. We like to seek out warm sunny days, to our warm-bloodiedness the sun is welcome.

So much energy goes into growing crops in the landscape around me. Tractors and farm machinery burn fuel to enable them to pull ploughs, cultivate the soil, spray chemicals and harvest crops. Fertilizers and chemicals all required energy input into their manufacture as well as their application. Harvesting and processing of crops requires a large energy input to, in effect, enable the energy capture in the seeds by photosynthesis to be extracted by other purposes - feed or processing. There is always a transfer of energy from one form to another and of course 'entropy increases as matter and energy in the universe degrade to an ultimate state of inert uniformity' (a web definition of entropy).

This hedgerow is a concentration of energy capture and production. An organic system for taking the suns energy and producing the physical structure of the plants around me. It requires the presence of the other main elements, water, air and earth, to form the living structures of the trees and undergrowth. The whole hedgerow is designed to maximise the potential of the light and to enable a diverse range of plants to co-exist with each other on this sun-facing edge in unique niche habitats. It is Gaia working at her best. Somehow it seems as if the potential for the earth to be creative is so often ignored. The large flat mono-culture fields may be highly productive in crop terms and have a maximum output economically for production and harvesting, but it isn't how nature works. The earth may have a huge potential for creating growth and diversity but not for generating profit.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Easter and Sustainability

Firstly, a few random notes:

Easter church sermon notes: Surrounded by love that awakens in the light : man extinguished the light of the world : Man put to death Jesus : Man put to death creation and nature : we killed the light : the Easter love that grows from the earth and becomes a sacrifice for all : what response does this demand form me? : What is the sacrifice?


I am reminded of Satish Kumar's great analogy of the apple tree that provides an abundance of fruit. Many varied organisms will feed upon its apples and there is no discrimination on the part of the tree as to who should eat them. It freely gives to all who are hungry: birds, wasps, humans, fungi, slugs - a huge diversity of life will devour the fruit and release the precious seeds inside.

Sustainability is a word that is used a huge amount these days in many varied contexts. How can we relate to it? How does it tie in with the apple tree, and how can it be linked to the Easter story of love, sacrifice, death, resurrection and new growth? How is God linked to sustainability, the ongoing creation/existence of the earth and His intervention in the process of human evolution?

The culture we live in is geared to the supply of products that meet our wants and needs. We are always wanting more. Perhaps, until recently, there has been no real sense of there ever being a finite supply of food, clothes, entertainment, computer games, holidays and anything we may desire (for the majority of the Western population at least). The recession we are now in is, I hope, awakening many more people to the realities of our lifestyle based around economics of money, meeting needs, resource exploitation and selfishness. Development of a modern society has been based around fulfilling the needs that people have, There is little sense of doing with what we've got.

I wondered, as we are part of the divinely created universe, why God has allowed us to deplete resources and expand beyond our abilities. From my Christian perspective and background, I feel very much as if God has left us to get into the mess we are in. There seems to be something slightly amiss when I think about how God is perceived as a personal saviour and friend at an intimate level and yet globally seems to be absent. God is always in the 'people', rarely in the 'earth'. God is in the micro of our lives, but not in the macro, one could say? A more ecological view of God readdresses the balance. You become aware of just how linked your personal experience of living is connected to the bigger global picture.

Does the future look bleak? To every generation the future may look sacry - it is always a place of change, uncertainty and unknowing. The mechanics of society and culture are deeply engaged in a set process, visionaries seek alternatives to the present way of doing things, but how do you motivate and mobilise change across a country, millions of people and systems that exist.

I am uncertain of my role in all of this. What is my part in being a ecological self seeking to change the world for the better?

Going back to Easter, there may be a sense in which the crucifixion of Jesus represents the crucifixion of our earth. Exploitation and ignorance put to death that which supports, teaches, heals and sustains us. Nature becomes that which must be sacrificed, but it knows that it can never be fully put to death. It will always survive.

And what about the role of, and connections of, humans to Nature? Sometimes it seems as though we have evolved beyond that which the planet was designed for. We no longer seem to be living in harmony with the earth. I wonder if we are really part of it now - have we become like cancer cells that grow and grow and take over the host body? Who knows.