Stormy Weather

After many weeks of dry sunny weather, we’ve now entered a more unsettled time – appropriate considering the political and economic climate. Then of course there’s the very unsettling thoughts of the elephant in the room named Brexit plus the shambolic state of affairs down south and the ever present concern of climate change.

So, the stormy weather – heavy rain and gales fits the current state of affairs. Looking out the other evening, the hills were completely hidden by a thick curtain of darkening storm clouds but the field just beyond our garden was bathed in the golden glow of evening sunlight. The farmer’s beasts seemed content and oblivious to the threatening sky.

Buddhism for Beasts

A leaden curtain masks distant hills,

while in the nearby field, cows graze

in warm evening sunlight –

unmoved by threatening  storms.

Zen-like they enjoy the Now

until the one hand clap of thunder .

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The Joy of Living

Lockdown continues and on a rainy day there is less time spent in the garden and more time to think, reflect and write.

Cairnsmore

The snow and the wind and the rain of hills and mountains
Days in the sun and the tempered wind and the air like wine
And you drink and you drink till you’re drunk on the joy of living*

Summer in lockdown and a heatwave;

we walk each day – average three miles.

Stay local we’re told, so the hills remain

tantalising, too far away for now.

 

Each morning we look out on Larg,

Lamachan, Curleywee, Cairnsmore.

Can we stay fit to stand again on the tops,

to gaze down on our home in the Machars?

 

The months slip by, the sun beats down.

I think back to that cold November day

we climbed Cairnsmore, reached the

snow-capped summit in sunshine.

 

Resting backs against a drystane dyke

we sheltered, drank the wine of the air,

feasted eyes on feathered cirrus and frosted grasses

while our thoughts drifted hundreds of miles

 

south, to where you lay, immobile. Once,

you would have shared this walk with us,

quoted Ewan MacColl. That November day

we toasted your friendship, and the joy of living.

 

We knew you didn’t have long; that fact made

our own lives seem more precious. You were

one who lived mindfully, who lived for the now.

On Cairnsmore, we followed the map of your life.

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*The Joy of Living – written and sung by Ewan MacColl

not long before his death.

Shades of Rhubarb

This is a year that everyone will have a number of reasons to remember. Not least Covid 19, the shambolic state of politics here and elsewhere and the dire state of the economy of so many countries. Then we have the ongoing tragedies of refugees, the rise of anti-semitism, homelessness, climate change – all of which are major problems that seem a long way from being adequately addressed. It’s no wonder that more and more people are finding the natural world can give some moments of joy.

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During the long weeks of drought and lockdown, the daytime hours for me have been divided mostly between gardening and taking local walks. The garden has certainly needed the extra attention it’s had this year and it is now becoming more how we want it to be.

However, there are a number of shrubs and trees that were well established when we moved here nearly five years ago. One of these is a very healthy honeysuckle which is right next to the greenhouse. This is significant because apparently honeysuckle is a big attraction for certain insects and especially Elephant Hawk-moths. We have been finding them on our morning visits to check the plants. Presumably, when they land on the honeysuckle, they are attracted by the warmth of the greenhouse.

Elephant Hawk-moth

Deilephila elpenor

Today, there’s one safely hidden

among strawberry leaves

another, caught in a web

struggles.

Greenhouse spiders weave

lairs in corners, capturing victims

daily but one, was destined to live.

Largest of moths – caught by a tiny spider,

trapped.

You free it from sticky tether,

it remains on your hand

motionless –

rests.

Rhubarb pink and green markings,

soft majestic moth,

now on your shoulder, reluctant to move.

It clings.

Trust from a moth,

a gift you savour.

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Metamorphoses

Along with a group of others, I’m about to embark on studying Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Compared to Virgil’s Aeneid  and Homer’s Iliad, Metamorphoses seems to be an easier read. It differs from the familiar epic in that there isn’t one narrator and one main protagonist, there are many stories told by many characters, They are all linked however by the theme of metamorphosis.

In a way this is a good time to be reading this book. We are living through a very strange time – unprecedented is a word I have heard so often in the last four months. We have all been forced to change our lives in a number of ways. Many feel that they have been changed into hermits. Our towns and villages have taken on quite different appearances – once bustling streets are now eerily quiet. We have changed character in the way we relate to others – staying two metres apart, not touching. Yes, our world has indeed been transformed and we can only wonder how it will look in the future.

Even our country’s climate has morphed into a different guise. We have had the wettest February followed by the driest spring and now some of the trees have leaves that are beginning to take on the colours of autumn. Our seasons seem to have lost their distinctive characteristics – another change we are experiencing. At least we haven’t woken to find ourselves as cockroaches like Gregor in Kafka’s novel!

Finding Peace in Lockdown

I  was recently introduced to the works of Irish poet Eavan Boland. One of her poems Atlantis includes the following

where we come from, they gave their sorrow a name

and drowned it.

In these times of Covid 19 and a very uncertain future, maybe we should face up to our fears as well as our sorrows, give them both a name and drown them.

Many years ago I read a book Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers. Her philosophy was basically Take responsibility for anything you are being, doing, having, or feeling and never blame anyone else. The only way to get rid of a fear of doing something is to go on out and do it. That’s OK if you’re afraid of doing something but what if your fear is not fear of doing something but fear of what other people or other things (like viruses?) might do.

Again and again I return to the saying by Reinhold Niebuhr

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

This helps to get things into perspective and accept that there are just some things that we can’t change and we have to resign ourselves to things as they are and, yes, there are some things we just can’t change. Worrying will certainly not change things and only make us feel worse.

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk reminds us in his book Peace is Every Step  …we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive. Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy and serenity. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.

If we focus on the present then we have less time to fear the future.  Fear of what might happen in the future can destroy any enjoyment of the present and also hope.

We can focus on the natural world which is a constant balm to disturbed and uneasy minds.

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Plague & Pestilence

These are very strange times. We are faced not only with Covid 19 but also politicians that we can no longer respect. Those in government seem to think they can convince the general public that they are doing a great job, but  they are patently failing miserably and it is all too easy to despair.

Victor Frankl wrote – When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

Perhaps we have to change the way we perceive what is happening and look for the positives rather than dwelling on the negatives. We have seen the planet benefit from fewer journeys both in the air and on land. Now we see cleaner air in cities, we hear birdsong rather than traffic noise. Venice is seeing the benefit of far fewer cruise ships dominating their waters and residents are appreciating the quieter streets.

If we look to the natural world that can help us to stay sane. Thinking about the economic and political world too much is a sure road to depression. Focus on the beauty of a meadow with the sea of different grasses or the tiny daisy brightening the cracks in the pavement. Even the yellow haze of buttercups that can take over verges and gardens given chance. There’s life and vibrant colour to admire – don’t just think of them as weedy thugs!

Walking along a green lane is like stepping back into the past – the days of horse and carts. Those days too had times of plague. It wasn’t always an idyllic time by any means, but the human race survives and will continue to do so – in spite of plague and political incompetence.

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Re-reading Books

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There are some books that we read when young – perhaps because we had to as students. We might have enjoyed them but reading a book because it has been a set text is approached with quite a different attitude to one that has been recommended by a friend.

It might be decades, many decades later when we return to one of those books and how different they seem. Some books are meant to be re-read when you’re older. When they’re read again it’s like discovering new paths through a familiar woodland or looking at a painting and finding details that you’d overlooked before.

Poetry that was studied when young takes on quite  a different aspect years later. Tastes change and taste for literature alters just as much as tastes for certain wines or spirits.

Our bookshelves reveal much about our lives – looking along them we can see how certain subjects dominated different times. We can see developments, we can see how some authors retained our interest for longer periods while others appear just once. The non-fiction books might say a lot about how our interests developed over the years, but perhaps some ended up in charity shops rather than gather dust on the shelf as they were no longer relevant.

Books

Books around the house

become our biographies.

Looking along the shelves

are stories of our past.

Old childhood favourites

now dog-eared and faded.

Books on flowers, trees, birds

show interests that we shared.

Reference books for holidays

on canals or among mountains.

Weighty books on furniture,

and other texts reflect careers.

New Age, Buddhist and Quaker

themes reveal  spiritual journeys

and changing philosophy.

Novels of the sixties, spines faded

on collectable orange penguins –

memories of student days.

Many recent texts on gardening

hint at a change in emphasis.

Now there’s more time,

poetry books never gather dust.

Giving books away is like

parting with our shared past

and that’s hard to do so

more shelves are added.

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Celebrating Gardens

Living through this period of social-distancing and self isolation, it does make us appreciate more and more the need we have to connect not only with other people but also with the natural world.

I can only imagine how much more difficult it must be to be living in a city, cooped up in a flat in a high rise block. No wonder more people have taken to growing things from seed. Even seeing things grow in a window box or on a window sill indoors can help. I can remember as a child seeing the idea of a miniature garden planted on a large plate or saucer, where cress seeds and carrot tops grew around a small mirror placed as a pond.

Having a garden has been a life-saver for many this year. Having the perfect weather to be outdoors has also been a huge bonus. When working in a garden, even weeding can be a peaceful, almost meditative occupation. In a garden the plants and shrubs continue to blossom and grow in spite of all that is going on in the world of politics and economics.

It is certainly the case that more folk are realising the benefits of growing vegetables and salad crops; exchanging seedlings,seeds and young plants of all kinds has become a popular part of life now.

Tending a garden, clearing overgrown areas and making space for more flowers or vegetables, watching rhubarb plants grow like triffids – all these things help to raise spirits and let us appreciate a positive aspect of having more time on our hands. One day we’ll be able to share these activities with family and friends other than on facebook and in emails etc.

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Apart from gardening, another essential part of each day has been to go for a walk – our permitted exercise beyond the garden. This poem seems appropriate here –

Put on Your Boots

Put on your boots; leave your desk.

Let’s go for a walk.

We’ll listen to music in the sky

from swallows circling Drumrae,

from the blackbird high in the ash.

 

Put on your boots; leave the ’phone.

Let’s go for a walk.

We’ll smell the honey scent of bluebells,

the may and gorse in the hedge.

Even taste the sorrel’s sharp leaves.

 

Put on your boots; leave the post.

Let’s go for a walk.

We’ll walk the lanes while they’re quiet,

count new calves in Callum’s field,

watch parent rooks mobbing buzzards.

 

Put on your boots; leave your books.

Let’s go for a walk.

We’ll name many flowers on the banks

stitchwort, sweet cicely, red campion,

while wind paints fields like Van Gogh.

 

Put on your boots.

Silent Streets

This evening, four of us stood (two metres apart naturally) having a conversation in the middle of the road. This is becoming the norm – but how strange and unlikely that would have seemed had someone told us five weeks ago that we’d be able to do that.

As we continued on our walk, all that could be heard was the sound of birds – and this a Saturday evening. Apart from during the book festival, our small town is never really busy, there is never a lot of traffic noise, but the silence is taking a while to get used to. It’s like the silence after a very heavy snow fall but the daffodils are in full bloom, the trees are all coming into leaf or covered in soft pink blossom and just occasionally the sound of a lawnmower shatters the peace.

We are fortunate living where we do – we have a garden that keeps us busy, we can go for walks and see mountains, fields and the sea. For us life is different but still good. We are thankful for that but there is a shadow cast when we remember others …

Worlds About Us April 2020

We live in surreal times

life has changed with

relationships once close

now only virtual links

 

coronavirus

Covid 19 self- isolation

social-distancing now

enter our vocabulary

 

yet we can see how

around us – in another world

the natural world

there’s no isolation here

 

groups of swallows arrive

skeins of geese will soon depart

robins have paired up

the music of many bees

 

accompanies us as we sit

seek solace in the garden

where life thankfully

seems normal

 

on an evening walk

the air is full of insects

swallows skimming past

feasting on their fast food

 

indoors –  internet news

brings graphic horrors

of disease and war

with this hidden enemy

 

less thought now for

ongoing wars with famine

refugees – millions fleeing

drowning dying day by day

 

facing both seen and unseen enemies

that’s their reality – cruel not surreal

Recipe for joy

I think this will appeal to many just now! Thanks Finola.

federation of writers Scotland

From the FWS 2020 Makar, Finola Scott

In a large bowl, add one cup of fresh cherry blossom to 500mls of friends’ laughter and stir well. Leave to marinade for the length of time

it takes to sing your favourite song.
Strain the mixture through a fine sieve to obtain the pink essence of friendship.

Flour a board with absent smiles, knead gently and allow time to rest. Cover with primrose petals, placing each with a goodwill wish.

The flour was stirred into the kindness of humanity; add a teaspoon of spicy wit, and a generous handful of wisdom. Bring in to the

mix, a cup of empathy, and let the ingredients fix. Blend in a rainbow of hope. Season well; a pinch of experience, a gentle of time, joy to

taste. Whip up some happiness. As you spin round the block three times, wave to your neighbours two metres…

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