Monday, 19 November 2012

Long Shadow

After the dark mornings of mist and rain a frost has arrived. The silvered landscape of grasses and leaves, crisp in the new sunlight, cannot escape the oncoming winter. Across this cold earth I silently move, reaching over ploughed furrows and emerging corn. A glossy backbird on scarlet hawthorn watches me from above as the golden light brings brilliance to the fiery colours of tree and hedgerow. I reach out to the wary pheasants, the chattering fieldfares and hunting buzzard. Beneath the cloudless blue sky I belong with the sunrise for a few minutes before I gradually retreat back to hold the frost in the hollows and shade.

I am Long Shadow.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Inspiring Writing

I have just finished reading "The Spell of the Sensuous" by David Abram (Vintage Books/Random House, 1996). An interesting book though rather a heavy read. It looks at the disconnection humans have from the natural world. This is partly due to the development of language and the written word which has enabled us to somewhat dissociate ourselves from active natural experiences.

Here are three passages I liked. They have been slightly paraphrased and edited.
As the technology of writing encounters and spreads through a previously oral culture, the felt power and personality of particular places begins to fade. For the stories that express and embody that power are gradually recorded in writing ...this renders them separable, for the first time, from the actual places where the events in those stories occurred. The tales can now be carried everywhere...
Once the stories are written down, however, the visible text become the primary mnemonic activator of the spoken stories - the inked traces left by then pen ... replacing the earthly traces left by animals, and by one's ancestors, in their interactions with the local land. ... The stories and myth, as they loose their oral, performative character, forfeit as well their intimate links with the more-the-human earth. And the land itself, stripped of the particularizing stories that once sprouted from every cave and streambed and cluster of trees on its surface, begins to loose its multiplicitious power. The human senses, intercepted by the written word, are no longer gripped and fascinated by the expressive shapes and sounds of particular places. The spirits fall silent. Gradually, the felt supremacy of place is forgotten, superseded by a new, abstract notion of "space" as a homogenous and placeless void.

Also:
 ... The new recognition of nonmythological, nonrepeating time by the Hebrew scribes can only be comprehended with reference to alphabetic writing itself. Recording cultural stories in writing ... fixed the storied events in their particularity, providing them with a new and unchanging permanence while inscribing them in a steadily accreting sequence of similarly unique occurrences. A new sense of time as a non-repeating sequence begins to make itself felt over and against the cycling of the cosmos. The variously scribed layers of the Hebrew Bible are the first sustained record of the new sensibility.

Lastly:
In the interior of the island, in the depths of the forest, things are quieter. Huge and towering powers stand there, unperturbed by the winds, their crusty bark fissured with splitting seems and crossed by lines of ants, caterpillars and beetles of various shapes and hues. A single woodpecker is thwacking a trunk somewhere, the percussive rhythm reaching my ears without any echo, absorbed by the mosses and the needles heavy with water drops that have taken hours to slide down the trunks from the upper canopy (each drop lodging itself in successive cracks and crevasses, gathering weight from subsequent drips, then slipping down, past lichens and tiny spiders, to the next protruding ridge or branch). Fallen firs and hemlocks, and an old spruce tree tunneled by termites, lie dank and rotting in the ferns, the jumbled branches of the spruce blocking the faint deer trail I follow.


Tuesday, 25 September 2012

September

The cool dark evening holds my thoughts for once. After the busyness of work I have found a time to sit in the summerhouse and welcome a time of peace and reflection. I haven’t been here much this year and the summer has been a time for doing many things and not much has inspired me to keep my journal or to take time out for formal writing. Now the nights seem to have drawn in quickly and the feeling that warm summer days - what few we had - are now a thing of the past.

Writing, for me, is about being inspired by something. Tonight I have the light of a candle flame and a gentle breeze brushing through the trees to give a sense of peace and calm after a long day in front of my computer screen getting artwork ready to print. Places inspire me. My summerhouse inspires me, unless I am driven back indoors by the cold. Here I am detached from all that I have in the home and at work. Usually I will write in my sketchbook, but today I have decided to compose directly onto my laptop mainly as a disciplinary exercise. Here I am open to anything that I feel led to write about. Distractions are few and I can focus on the act of creativity in a space of my own.

In the past few weeks I have surrounded myself by odd bits of reading material: an online subscription to ‘Resurgence Magazine’; two books - ‘The Spell of the Sensuous: perception and language in a more-than-human-word’  by David Abram; ‘Deep Ecology - living as if nature mattered’ by Bill Devall; and the ‘Economist’ magazine. I am trying to get my brain thinking again and so looking for things that bring ideas into my focus rather than just dipping into the internet in an unstructured way.

Trying to live a spiritual life isn’t that easy. In some ways I think there are three paths that I could follow. Firstly there is the ‘supernatural’ type of path that has a deep sense of connection to an otherness that could take the form of any type of spiritual awareness of other beings, entities, powers or happenings. My Christian background has seen much focus on this and subsequent meetings with other people have also shown me how people view a more tangible spiritual world in other contexts too. Secondly, and a path that I find more easy to follow because I can identify with it more is a ‘personal development and well-being’ sort of path that looks more at how the person fits within the world around themselves. The supernatural element is not seen as obvious but yet not denied as it seems to account for a more mysterious, poetic, natural, observational and mystic approach. Thirdly - give up, grab hold of the ‘God delusion’ and forget about trying to touch the non-existant. This seems so tempting at times!

I want to carry on. I feel there is more for me to contribute and to learn about than I can currently grab hold of and I don’t want to pass it all by. There are genuine people out there who want to follow a path for no reason other than to better themselves, to find a place on this fragile earth, to gain a sense of well-being and to find a way of dealing with all of humanities successes and failings.



Thursday, 9 August 2012

I Am Still Here

Last week we went on holiday to the Gower coast in South Wales. We had been there last year and this year we went back to stay in Port Eynon, just  a few minutes walk from a beautiful beach.

On leaving, I was surprised to find myself grieving over the leaving of a piece of landscape. I am fond of places in Herefordshire, but I can’t remember finding myself becoming attached to a place elsewhere to such an emotional extent. There is a coast path that leads up from just above Overton westwards along the top of the cliffs towards Mewslade  and Rhossili. I explored the area last year and recall writing a poem about the ‘Edgeland’. On one side of the path are small cornfields with high stone walls and fences that are a reminder of the small scale agricultural history that once covered much of our landscape. Then there is like a plateau of common land -sheep-grazed grass, bracken and gorse that then gives way to the limestone cliffs that drop down to the rocky sea shore below. I had heard about Paviland cave and tried to find it, but as it was tucked away in a location that required a bit of certainty about tides and sure footedness I decided not to risk the search. The cave is one of the best known prehistoric burial sites in the country and so I sensed a deep sense of mystery and history in the area.

I took no photographs of the path, which I now regret but, really, there is not much to  focus on. It is just a wide path that carries wandering souls along an edgeland between the land and sea. It has been a week since I left it, but yet I feel part of me is there part of me has felt a deep sense of belonging to that place. It was a place of peace; a place away from the intense concentration of computer illustration work; a place away from the demands of modern living. A place of freedom. 

I know I have only visited the place on warm sunny days in the summer so my experience of it is slightly biased to the positive, but perhaps carrying this intense memory of the place is a subtle lesson to me. Perhaps there is something I should be learning or remembering here. The words that came to me are “I am still here”.

The tiredness and headaches in the first few days of being back at work are a reminder of how draining sitting in front of a computer screen can be. I spend much of my day focusing in on the digital necessities and interests that fill my life. On holiday I longed to just walk and explore and free my body of the confines of my desk and sketch with freedom and my genuine personal creativity. With little spiritual inspiration around me I have not had much on which to focus and I seem to just be waiting for something to revive me again. “I am still here” is perhaps a subtle whisper from the Nature that inspires me. It held me close for a while and now we have parted. I must not loose sight of things that inspire me and should seek out ways to enliven my spirit particularly now that the summer will soon draw to a close and the year will start to turn to harvest and autumn.



Sunday, 15 July 2012

Croft Ambrey Sunset

Writing based on notes made Thursday 5 July 2012
I’ve just driven up from Bedfordshire and now, at  around 8.30pm I have parked at Croft Castle. It is a superb evening - warm, some sunshine between the clouds and everywhere is so green after all the rain we have had. Little did I know that the next day would bring a day of almost continuous rain and many flooded roads.

I walk up onto Croft Ambrey and sit at the western promontory. The sun is a glorious bright red and within a couple of minutes it has dropped below the western welsh hills. I manage to do a quick sketch on my iPad of the view before the light begins to fade too much.

The top of the hill fort is awash with soft grasses and pink foxgloves. The ground is so wet and as there are no sheep grazing here at the moment the place is beginning to look a little overgrown. As I walk back down the hill three strong scents surround me. Bracken, barley flowers and freshly mown grass. In the dampness it seems as though the fragrances are almost overpowering. They fill the air which is saturated with the smell of nature. It is very quiet here - almost unbelievably so. How different to the inherently scentless towns we live in that only create their own smells though the activity of humans. In a place surrounded by bricks and concrete we create the smells of car exhausts, cafe’s, rubbish, cigarettes etc.  There is no innate natural fragrance. Only nature has the power to generate such things - and primarily it is the plant kingdom that has the upper hand here.

Often people seem to talk about the search for God. Where is he? How can I know Him? To me, when I am in a place like this there is no need to search for God. God is all around me. It is the natural world - its essence of being. The meaning of life becomes the gift of being able to enjoy its beauty and to share in it. Yet through selfishness we often seem to want something more aligned to a consumable faith.

Modern towns and cities are far removed from a sense of ecological living where small scale, low impact sustainable communities can live in harmony with the natural world without being dependent upon the superstructure of imported consumables and the problems of mass waste production. Unfortunately the demands of a massive population and economies of scale favour modernism rather than the ecological.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Roses

Hedgerow full of wild roses near to where I work. Seem very prolific this year.


Sunday, 17 June 2012

Unresolved Conflicts

It is almost the longest day and yet summer doesn’t feel s if it has arrived yet. Today was pleasantly warm and I decided to spend the evening doing some drawing up on the allotments. However, after about half an hour the rain began and I have had to retreat to the garden summerhouse and now I am typing this but I am not sure what I want to say.

This afternoon we visited a local ‘Open Farm’ which was interesting though, as usual with these things, it made me question what am I doing in life. Changes at work are still in the process of being adopted and I am unsure how my future will look. I am not worried about it, but it has given me the impetus to perhaps start re-evaluating what I am doing. There is a tension between the ‘Outdoor Me’ and the current necessities of the financial security of work and the ‘Indoor Me. This may be a conflict between male archetypal identity - but that is a personal journey and not for exploring here at the moment. I wonder how much this psychological tension could potentially cause ill-health? It is a tricky one to solve as you can’t easily just give up one job and try another life path just to see what happens - unless something extraordinary happens in external influences or personal abandonment of the status quo.

We have to deal with where we are at. The grass may look greener on the other side but we can often have misguided perspectives. We can only ever be in the present though we can try and influence what may happen when we reach future present moments. Life is full of unresolved conflicts - the things we want but can’t have; the things that happen to us that we can’t change etc.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Prayer

Prayer: the bridge between longing and belonging

This is my favourite quote from John Odonohue and I have hardly ever really meditated on it is such but it has been on my mind several times this week.

In the summerhouse I am sheltered from the strong wind that is sweeping over the garden.  It is 10.45 pm and the sky has just got dark though it hardly feels like summer. I’m wearing a padded shirt and a warm coat. I love the sound of the wind, possibly because it is a natural sound and it masks most of the man-made noises that seem to dominate living in a town.

A bridge spans two places and is a form of connection between them. Things may or may not traverse the bridge in either direction. Longing is looking at our desires - our wants wishes, needs, expectations etc. It is about the future. It is about us wishing to change or to understand that which we cannot control or know nothing about. Longing takes us from the present and our memories of the past and seeks to bring the future closer to us. We seek knowledge, answers and more enhanced awareness of what might happen to us. It is about relief from the present - the place we are in, the thoughts we are having, the pain we are in, the problems we face etc.

Belonging is the place where we find our home. It is where we expect to be in a better place of health, security, knowledge and understanding. A sacrifice might be involved in getting to that place. 

In prayer, we build a spiritual bridge through the use of words, thoughts, images or music etc that takes hold of what we long for and tries to form a connection with our desire to be in a place of belonging. We feel we are unable to do this work alone because what we desire is often not a matter of a simple physical task but it involves connections between unknown, psychological and temporal things. It is greater than our ability to do. We have to transform ourselves or be transformed into pray-ers that can begin to do something other-worldly.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Watching the Rain

I'm sitting at the dining room table on a cold and wet June evening looking out at the grey sky and the rain pouring onto the garden. I love watching the rain and often feel so detached from the elements now that I am working indoors so much of the time.

It has been several weeks now since I looked out one warm evening at the tall lombardy poplar tree just beyond the back of the garden and set myself on a new course for self improvement. It reminded me of the trees my father planted and I have since been back to the farm where I lived as a child and looked back on my childhood to see how it might have affected me as I grew up. With the help of an excellent book on anxiety management I thought I was getting somewhere and saw a significant improvement in some areas, but after a rather traumatic week at work all the good work seems to have been undone. The changes there have been deeply unsettling and I feel I have lost me way, but I know I have to be patient and see what path will open before me.

Building and maintaining strong foundations to life can be easier said than done. I have found psychology and self-awareness incredibly painful at times because everyone views things differently and other people are usually completely unaware or oblivious to the paths that others take. Fundamentalism in belief can alienate. Business pressures in the work place can enhance a feeling of transcience, impersonality and the need to succeed regardless of human costs. Relationships with others can throw up interesting conundrums.

For me, I have been thinking about a model or framework of male archetypes that identifies my strengths and weakness and formulates an understanding that can be healing, progressive, inclusive and natural. I'm exploring that in my own personal writings.

Why bother? Is this all just self-centered navel gazing? Possibly. But there are issues in my life that I know I have to deal with - mainly anxiety (I think). I have a deep need to work through something which I believe is holding me back and it is taking a while to work out exactly what it is. It may be just that I was born to be the way I am, but could there be something else to it...?

I could go and see a psychologist but that is expensive!




Sunday, 27 May 2012

The Farm

Today I went back to my birthplace. It was, quite literally, the place where I was born, back in 1965. It's not far from Tenbury Wells, in a fairly isolated place down a long steep hill and with extensive views over towards Clee Hill. It is no longer a working farm as such, that all came to end when my father pulled out of farming in the early 1970's. The large acreage of apple trees was pulled up and the greenhouses full of tomatoes and lettuces were dismantled. It never really became profitable and my father then left the family to pursue an isolated career as a painter and shunning all mod-cons.

The landscape here is beautiful and the photo doesn't do it justice. There are steep hills, old apple and cherry orchards and steep sided wooded gullys full of wild garlic. All on a deep red clay soil that is characteristic of the area.

Although the place still carries a sense of isolation and long lost rural idyl, it has changed. All the old tumbled down cottages that I remember as a child are now more like executive dwellings. An old road we used to drive down over a stream is almost undiscernable beside a newer crossing. I can still find the dam my father built across a stream to provide a source of water for irrigating his crops, though it has all silted up. A row of lombardy poplar trees planted as a windbreak for an apple orchard still stands as an unusual looking hedgerow in the middle of two fields of sheep.

I go back there every few years or so. I wanted to go back there again now because I knew it would look wonderful in the spring, but also because I have been trying to look back at my childhood as an aid to sorting out a few things from a psychological view. I thought it might be an emotional visit, but somehow it wasn't what I was expecting. In a sense I feel I could be 'returning' here for while. My mother is returning to Tenbury Wells to live in a retirement home and so I might be spending a bit more time re-visiting this area when I come up and stay. It feels odd in a way that I remember a landscape here that younger people or those moving into the area will probably not be aware of. I am aware of my age and sense of history and how my father worked and changed the landscape here and his legacy can still be found if you look hard enough.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

More Rain and the Challenge of Change

April has been the wettest on record I think and the first week of May has got off to a cold and wet start too. I spent most of the first bank holiday weekend out on my bike getting very cold but enjoying new sets of gear and chain cogs and a new chain. I did some sketching on the iPad but it was a struggle to keep warm in the wind. Seeds that I have sown seem to be having a slow start and are barely moving but my potatoes have just broken through the surface of their buckets or on the allotment. I sowed some more parsnips as there is still no sign of the ones sown a few weeks ago. Oilseed seed rape and bluebells are in flower and May blossom is just beginning to break bud.

My boss at work has decided to move on to pastures new and this is rather sad and upsetting for me. I haven't ever met anyone who took me on such an encouraging and supportive journey with my artwork before - we had an excellent rapport with each other. I have certainly moved forward hugely in my creativity and become (I think) a valued part of the company with whom I work. There will be significant changes and I am not sure how it will affect me but then that is what happens in work. There is always change and people are often transient. Friendships can be made, links are broken, seeds are dispersed and new beginnings made. Business is hard and I will have to keep focused on my future, my self-awareness and my ability to find strength and security in my path of belonging. Although I will be grieving the loss of a highly valued colleague, I must look upon the situation as a new place of learning, a new place in which to build relationships and a new place to develop my creativity.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Pain, Rain, God is Female, Healing and Resurrection

Pain
Writing seems hard work these days. Too many other things seem to grab my attention and it all seems like hard work and rather a chore to sit down and be philosphically creative. I have to find my own inspiration too, and sometimes I just want to give up and possibly return to private journalling. Work takes much of my energy and I haven't been feeling too well recently. Somehow I feel that life is an uphill struggle and just keeping on top of day to day things is difficult. But then perhaps I just want to do too much. Some people seem to have endless energy - why can't I?


Rain
April showers and more showers - for about a week now. Cold nights and variable days. The soil is now wet and workable. I planted my onions, potatoes and sowed some parsnip seeds and a few other bits and pieces a couple of weeks ago but it has been too cold to get much else going.

Oilseed rape is colouring the landscape yellow and bluebells are appearing. Blossom is everywhere. Blackthorn is fading now but apple blossom will be out shortly. Have seen brimstone, peacock and orange tip butterflies. Chestnuts and hawthorn are well into leaf and tulips look stunning in the garden.


God is Female
There is a good tv series on BBC2 at the moment called Divine Women. It is basically about how ancient cultures were more female orientated and this was swept aside by more patriarchal systems such as Christianity which has continued to the present day.

I like the idea of exploring the more feminine side of God and even perhaps acknowledging there could be a She rather than a He. From a nature based creative viewpoint this is a rather pleasant idea. The universe is all about giving birth to creation; the nurturing of life on this planet; the protection of ecosystems; the caring of people etc. Male paternalism and domination seems exploitative and devoid of the awe and beauty that sustainable and resilient societies need. It may be just romanticism, but perhaps that is what we need to survive these days if we want an alternative to consumerist post-modernism.

Anyway, I have always related to women better than I've related to men. So a female God is fine by me.

 
Healing and Resurrection
My drive for self-healing from the acid-reflux problems I get is high and I was out last Friday morning for a walk before work to get a bit of fresh air that I feel I am severely lacking. I contemplated the idea of the resurrection and prayed about it, wondering how it could relate to me, to healing, to nature, to creation etc. I was walking down a path I hadn't been along before and as I approached a small 'interesting' place of trees and hedges at the corner of several fields I decided to ask for a sign to do with resurrection. To my surprise I came across something unusual and out of place in the context of where I was walking. It was a branch on the ground with some blue twine tied round it. Wood and binding - symbols of the cross and the ropes used to bind Jesus. This was a rather surprising find. Meaning: not sure. I am rather inclined to take the resurrection story as a myth because science, logic and my experience of the world leads me to be sceptical of taking the Biblical account literally. And I don't need to at the moment because I can take its meaning in a more mystical way and see it as a symbol of transcendence. Can I transcend the pain and discomfort I feel? How can I find healing? What is the cause of the burden I carry that I can rise above? Resurrection gave me thoughts to ponder.

Interestingly I then found myself walking directly across the fields to a church and then saw another symbol: a perfect wooden cross in a back garden. Perhaps this was a message from above telling me to repent and go back to church! Perhaps I read too much into what I was seeing as my mind was attuned to a particular line of thought. Perhaps church would be my healing... but this sounds too much like pandering to the Christian mindset I have seen in people and it isn't what would be true to me. But the idea of resurrection is there and needs exploring.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Paths

From 'Creation Spirituality' Matthew Fox, 1990.

'The Spirit is life, rush, breath, wind. To be spiritual is to be alive, filled with rush, breathing deeply, in touch with the wind. Spirituality is a life-filled path, a spirit-filled way of living. ... A path is a meandering walkway-you do not rush or even drive down a pathway. A path is not goal orientated. A path is THE WAY itself, and every moment on it is a holy moment; a sacred seeing goes on there.'

Sunday, 18 March 2012

On Spring, iPads and Atheism

Spring is arriving. The days are a mix of warm and cold with still no sign of any significant rain thus much of the east of the country is suffering from a drought. Plants in flower at the moment: coltsfoot, violets, snowdrops, daffodils, wild plum, dandelions. Saw a comma butterfly in the garden last weekend and the occasional bumble bee and wasp is about. Ladybirds can be found in odd places too. Oilseed rape is growing quickly but it isn't warm enough to start doing any planting in the garden or the allotment.

...

Just a couple of days before the release of the iPad 3 I decided to buy an iPad2 - mainly because the price had dropped by £70 which made it seem more affordable.  I was inspired by seeing David Hockney use one and got quite excited about the possibilities it could offer. After trying several drawing and painting apps, Artrage and Sketchbook Pro are my favourite and these are very versatile and great fun to use. I went out on the bike today and spent some time 'painting' out in the local countryside. I was really pleased with the results though it wasn't really that warm and my hands froze.

...

Reading 'Creation Spirituality' by Matthew Fox. Excellent.

...

Just been to Hitchin Christian Centre where the atheist philosopher Julian Baggini was being interviewed. An interesting evening, not much of a debate - just an armchair chat. Think that if I was standing in the middle and had to decide which way to lean it would be towards the atheist side with a faith that was far more holistic in content.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Landscape of Ice

North Herefordshire, 11 February 2012
Morning walk: Lyepole/Paradise Bridge - Sned Wood - Lower Lye - Barnett Wood - The Camp - Upper Lye. Afternoon walk: Shobdon Hill Wood.


Riverside Dawn
I arrive at Paradise bridge at around 5.30am on a cold, frosty morning. There is a small stream tumbling off the hillside and I park the car by this so that I can listen it as I doze in the car for an hour or so. The moon is bright and the landscape far from dark. It is bitterly cold and a hard frost has brought ice to everything. Apparently there was a slight dusting of snow yesterday and now, under the moonlight, the hills and fields reveal their silhouettes even though the sun will not rise for another hour or so.

The last couple of weeks have been very cold with snow and frost in many parts for the country. I left home in Bedfordshire yesterday with several inches of snow on the ground and had decided not to camp out in the car overnight this time just in case it was too cold. I actually felt cosy as I lay back in the car for I had piled on the layers and covered my legs and feet up well to keep warm.

A gentle breeze bites through me as I walk out into the brightening landscape. Some cloud obscured the moon a little while ago but the day is forecast to be clear and sunny. The blue-grey hazy hills around me look stunning against the grey sky and pale frosty fields. This is a landscape I feel at home in, and one that draws me back time and time again. The river gurgles gently under the old stone bridge. Blackbirds begin to chatter and an occasional dipper flies by with its distinctive 'cheep cheep'. I always seem them here. After the warmth of January this cold spell is a reminder of how winter can take hold any time. February often used to seem a dark and dead month in my younger days - the very end of the past year before nature springs to life. But now signs of spring can be found earlier each year. All is very still around me. It is almost as it the frost comes and asks all to "stand still". A leaf hanging above me on an oak tree just moves very slightly in the soft breeze. The river and stream move, but otherwise everything just seems to be as still as it can. I hear a few tits nearby.

The sky brightens and clouds in south east have pale pink bases but it will be a while yet before this place in the shadow of the hills will see the rays of the sun. I saw otters here a few years ago but I don't feel I will see any today. The river water looks cold and uninviting. The surrounding fields are empty of sheep; I hear a buzzard up above me over Sned Wood; I hear a woodpecker drumming in the distance; pigeons fly past very so often, always from east to west - presumably leaving their night's roost. All the conifers on Mere Hill and Shobdon Hill Wood are outlined in frost and look very decorative. This is a beautiful place and I always look forward to returning to this part of the country. It isn't a stunningly dramatic place but it was a subtle attraction that I never tire of. Later I watch a heron fly slowly over the riverbank keeping low to the ground and then heading downstream just a few feet above the water. Eventually the sun rises above Mere Hill Wood and the landscape is bathed in the pale golden light. Colours awake and the cold seems to become less intense. I think a kingfisher flies past, not that I see it but I'm sure I recognise its call. There are several blue tits in an ash tree by the bridge.

Hills of Ice
I climb up the 'scenic' route onto the forestry track along the edge of Sned Wood. This involves a rather steep, nearly impossible, informal climb straight up the side of the hill through the trees. I disturb a woodcock which takes off through the trees - I see one later in the day too. This is one of the few hills I have never walked over before even though it is mostly forestry land. The heavy frost covers the ground and everywhere is covered with beautifully big ice crystals. My footsteps crunch through the dead leaves with a seemingly deafening sound amidst the silence. I don't like making a noise in nature, it always seems un-natural and inappropriate.

At the top of the hill I stand in the more open space between the oaks and look around. The sunshine pours through the trees. Suddenly I become aware of the ice that surrounds me, not just the crystals of frost that cover the ground, but actual ice. Against the sun on the larches I notice how every twig is covered with a thin layer of ice - sparkling brightly in the sun like long necklaces of diamonds hanging from every branch. Yesterday's snow must have partly melted and then refrozen overnight. Grasses too are covered with icy jewels and even a cobweb looks like it is threaded with diamonds. I walk on and come to a silver birch - its deep red-brown branches and twigs are totally encased in brittle tubes of ice. On one branch, a patch of lichen inside a rounded blob of ice looks just like a round glass paper weight. Around me I can begin to hear the gentle drip of water as the ice begins to melt on the trees. (Later on in the day I walk up onto Shobdon Hill Wood which is a bit more wild and exposed. The scenery here was very dramatic with huge great swathes of the natural landscape covered with ice. Everything from grasses to each pine needle of entire conifer plantations were covered with a deep layer of ice. It was just like the whole landscape had been dipped into a pool of molten glass to create a brittle glass encapsulated sculpture.

Up on this hill today it is all about water and light. There is a sense of beauty and awe at the interplay between these two elements. There is the way that the frost lies on the landscape - what it touches and what it doesn't. Shapes and forms that may normally go unnoticed become highlighted. The shapes of twigs, the broad flat expanses of the fields in the valley, the outlines of leaves, the way the sunlight passes through the tall trees, the brightness of the sun on the frost, the darkness of damp tree trunks and the dazzling effect of the ice on natural surfaces.

Four Oak Trees
The trees stand in grazing pasture on the edge of a small hill in a quiet valley, surrounded by wooded hillsides. Icicles hang from the larger branches and I can hear the dripping melt-water in the warming sunshine. A robin hops from branch to branch near me as I sit on the grass and look at these silent friends. Its presence seems unusual in this setting and it the bears the only colour red in the landscape. Silently they stand, there is no wind today. I'm used to seeing and hearing trees when a wind makes their presence more noticeable, here we are both meditating upon each other in a landscape that breathes silence. The robin watches me and a blue tit flits among higher branches looking for things to eat. These are superb trees, probably once part of an old hedge that has long since gone as they stand out in the open but only a short distance on from, and in line with, a small trackway I have just walked down. Apart from the chirping of birds, the dripping of water, buzzard and a small stream down in the valley bottom there is no sound. The lichens on the branches are bright green in the strong sunlight and new buds are just waiting for the spring. In isolation, trees are so much more stunning and their shape, form and presence is so much more tangible. I just sit and look, being aware of their composition and presence in this landscape. I give thanks to whoever has left them here over the years to grow. Fortunately this is steep sheep pasture and unlikely to be ploughed or cleared. These trees have given to me today a gift of deep presence in a fairly hidden valley.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Seashore

I am standing on the shore. Waves gently wash over the tumbling pebbles. Too and fro, in a rhythm of sound and voices that have sung continuously since their creation on this cosmic anomaly. Looking around I see the shore extending away from me - a place of constant movement and change between the land and the sea. The air is fresh and the water unpolluted, as it will remain so for millions of years to come. For I stand alone. The only one. There is no-one else, that is all to come. The pebbles are rounded and well worn, precious minerals gradually being eroded and dissolved into the sea. They have only just begun their journey of transformation into the web of life. I have not yet been created. Man has not yet been born, and yet here on this sea shore I feel the beginnings of his birth. Here, where water, air and earth meet life will begin its epic journey. If I were able to foresee, and with control over the deep creative energy that embodies the earth, would I allow the evolution those that would destroy this fragile creativity. I know what will happen to this place.

Picking up a pebble I hold it in my hand. It shines in the bright sunlight and its strong colours reflect the untouched beauty around me. One day this pebble may become part of me and we will touch again.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Vulnerability

"[We are] vulnerable to our techno/virtual culture creating a false sense of our power as the earth's god, and as such, we are no longer capable of listening and learning other than from ourselves." (A Journey Tracing Roots, Peter Cock. www.ecopsychology.org)

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Alternative Perspectives

There is a bike ride I often do around here and although I often vary it in various subtle ways it remains very much the same. Yesterday, however, I did the ride in reverse and it felt quite different. When you do the same journey time after time you do notice different things about the landscape but, usually you are seeing it from the same perspective. By turning round and altering the viewpoint it is interesting how the familiar can suddenly become quite different. There are new views, the light comes from different angles, the hills are different... etc. The overall landscape hasn't changed as such but how you approach your viewpoint has. I found my ride quite enlightening, new and refreshing. Perhaps it is good to turn around and go the other way for a while!

***

I happened to attend a men's breakfast organised by my church yesterday which initiated the impetus to do the above bike ride. It was the first time in many years that I had been to a 'Christian' thing and not come away emotionally upset, angry or frustrated. I think I am learning to settle down a little now and forming a method of coping and existing in such environments. I think yesterday I approached worship in a different way so that I could participate in a more accepting and tolerant way. For me it is about looking at the words of modern day 'choruses' and looking for the mystical, ecological, elemental and natural references that can be reinterpreted into a sort of eco-cosmic-pagan interpretation. I was mildly surprised at how much symbolism and terminology can be cross-referenced. For example: we sang a popular church chorus that contains the lines 'Shout to the North and the South, Sing to the East and the West'. Now that did remind me of something to do with the casting of circles that I have come across in my readings elsewhere...

***

Everyone has story. Each is as valid as one another's. Acceptance of this is important. Our story forms us into who we are up to the present moment.

***

Why is it that so much of a hang up in Christian circles about people not being worthy or having low value? It feels as though there is an ingrained concept of negativity that pervades the faith that teaches people they have no worth apart from their worth in God. This frustrates me because from an 'original blessing' view I would never teach this - it almost encourages the devaluing of people and who they are. I'm probably deeply wrong on this, but I'm not putting forward a well thought through argument on the case here as it needs more indepth theology and thinking!

Monday, 9 January 2012

January Blooms

Today was warm. Warm for January anyway - probably about 10-12 degrees C. I had a little walk at lunchtime and was quite happy to be out without a coat, hat or cloves. The high winds of last week have given way to a relatively mild week. Over the past couple of weekends I've been out gardening - weeding the allotment; pruning and cutting back shrubs and plants in the garden and general tidying up and odd bits of landscaping. There seem to be ladybirds hiding everywhere.

In Devon over just before New Year saw the occasional daffodil, crocus, celandine, herb robert, red campion, dandelion, white deadnettle and blackberry in flower.

Walking through the garden at Castle Drogo on the north side of Dartmoor almost felt like being somewhere in early spring. There seemed to be so many bushes in bud - quite subtlety in most cases yet it felt significant and as if the plants were about to awaken from dormancy.

On the allotments yesterday saw marigolds and wallflowers in bloom. Felt like it was time to plant seeds and potatoes - but that should be another couple of months away!

Forsythia flowers, early cherry (?) blossom and wild arum leaves also seen.







Place of trees

Notes from sketchpad 28 December 2011, Lydford Forest, Devon

Sheltered : cool breeze but not cold : sunlight highlight the beautiful bright greens of the mosses underfoot : south facing : cloudy with sunny intervals : high pitched calls of birds (tits etc) : whooshing of wind in tree tops, but still here : golden brown leaves on beech saplings : murmur of stream below : mosses all over the ground - deep, soft : spacious : light filters down between the dark douglas firs : Qi Gong - feel and hear the moment of the air around me : special place

Beauty of Creation

Reflections written 27 December 2011 whilst at Lamerton Church, Devon.

There is beauty in this dark porch. Sheltered from the cool breeze with dusk falling and light fading. It is impossible to see what I am writing so I am having to scribble by guesswork. The old metal gates are silhouetted against the dark yews and the greyness of the churchyard. This old wooden bench is my resting place after the hours of motorway driving and the beginning of a holiday at the end of the year. Christmas is over and this is a pilgrimage that takes me out into the wildness of nature. Here I am, in this old stone porchway of this ancient stone church.

This small space is so old and yet so beautiful. The handcrafted stones stand cold and exposed, like the tors on nearby Dartmoor. With the high arching woodwork, an old heavy wooden door, Christmas floral arrangements and crafted metal gate this is a wonderful place to be - to rest. It is a place created by ancient craftsmen - you can sense the work of their hands and you can imagine the 1000's of worshipers who have passed through into the place of worship. By their handiwork the craftsmen give their gift to God. This place reflects the beauty of the created world in a time when wood and stone meant so much to people who knew how to use their hands to fashion form from the wilderness. How their skills have been lost and with them a sense of awe and wonder at the simplest of things. The heavy stonework exudes peace.

This is my place to Be right now.