Sunday, 29 November 2009


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.