Time Passes

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At this time of year, we’re all too aware of time passing. Last weekend we were seeing many bluebells on our walks through woods and by paths alongside rivers. Now, only a week later, the bluebells are going over, the white starry flowers of wild garlic are disappearing and the yellow flag iris are taking over.

In the natural world nothing stays still, there is always change, we see aquilegias brightening the gardens with so many different shades of pink, blue and purple. As they self seed and pop up all over -among the gravel paths, trees and shrubs, nobody can guess what colour will dominate next year. A few days with strong winds and this year’s flowers will be gone. Already the clematis are past their best and we’ll only have the walls and fences graced by their cloaks of pink and white for a few more days, maybe a week or so at most.

Last week we visited one of my favourite gardens and found a new Buddha had been installed. Sitting looking across at at him in that beautiful setting, I was reminded again of the importance of valuing the now. I know that the natural world is a great teacher  – we are made aware of making the most of what we can see around us – enjoy it while it lasts. With human relationships too, we must never take them for granted.

One of my favourite quotations from TS Eliot’s Four Quartets comes to mind. It’s not always a good idea to dwell on what might have been however- better focus on what is, now.

Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future,

And time future contained in time past,

If all time is eternally present

All time is unredeemable.

What might have been is an abstraction

Remaining a perpetual possibility

Only in a world of speculation.

What might have been and what has been

Point to one end, which is always present.

Footfalls echo in the memory

Down the passage which we did not take

Towards the door we never opened.

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Inspired by Artists

This year is the centenary of Joan Eardley’s birth and there are a number of exhibitions being held to celebrate that fact.

Joan Eardley was painting in Glasgow in the late fifties and early sixties at the same time as Herbert Whone. In his book Glasgow in Transition, there is a photograph of the two of them at one of the exhibitions in the McLellan galleries in Glasgow.

Reading more about Joan Eardley online recently and thinking of the various exhibitions planned to celebrate her life, I read Edwin Morgan’s poem about one of Joan Eardley’s paintings that he owned. (This was on the Association for Scottish Literary Studies Facebook page.)

Reading that poem made me decide to do some more work on a poem I had written recently

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There were always a few

stacked against the wall

in your attic studio

ready for the next exhibition.

Your Yorkshire landscapes

taught me how to see

beauty in old gates,

neglected farm buildings,

carts abandoned in corners,

mill chimneys beside canals;

scenes of a work landscape

no thatched prettiness .

You’d moved back to your roots

after a time in Glasgow

influenced by Eardley so

Glasgow trams, tenements

were superceded by Yorkshire

gritstone.  I remember

heady scents of paint and turps

as I entered your studio

a room filled not just with easel,

paintings , piano and fiddle

but fossils, curios collected

over years to inspire, as you did.

You nurtured deepening thoughts,

philosophical search and now

you live on, not only in your art and books

but in many memories and hearts.

i.m. Herbert (Bert) Whone – 1925 – 2011

 musician, artist, writer and friend

Glasgow tram (photo of a card)

Colne Valley near Slaithwaite (photo of our original oil painting bought 1967)

Following Different Paths

Reading can lead to interesting journeys – journeys of the mind that is. Recently, I’ve taken a rather challenging trail that began with Gilgamesh -both Stephen Mitchell’s translation and the earlier, Penguin Classics version by Andrew George. This meant that I became fascinated by the earlier story of Adam & Eve so I moved  on to Stephen GreenBlatt’s book  The Rise and Fall of Eve and also Irving Finkel’s  The Ark before NoahDecoding the Story of the Flood

After reading Fictions by Borges I am now looking for more on Schopenhauer. It’s like finding so many different paths up mountains – you explore one which leads to another and onto another. Some paths are abandoned, others are easier than those more challenging and take a while to master, may lead to retracing steps more than once – the journey getting slightly easier as you become more familiar with the terrain.

When reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses, I was interested to read poems that had been inspired by all the stories and even started to work on one of my own, but that will be left for later… I leave you now with this photo of a path which presents a physical, not mental challenge.

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A Good Place

Some places have the right ‘feel’ about them. There is something that’s difficult to define, but we know instinctively that it’s a place where we feel comfortable, relaxed, safe and at the same time energised.

What it is that makes a difference is hard to understand. There are some beautiful places that leave us feeling cold, some very ordinary places that feel quite special and we want to return to again and again or at least linger as long as we can.

Obviously the weather makes a difference and so does the time of day – sunrise and sunset, the warm late afternoon ‘golden glow’. But all of these things somehow don’t always matter  and when this is the case, when we feel ‘right’ about a place no matter what time of year, day, hour. No matter what the weather is throwing at us – those places get to us, get under our skin and make us linger.

This is one such place. A place that always feels peaceful. I know that many old graveyards do have a certain quality that modern cemetaries with rigid lines lack, but this particular place must certainly be an idyllic place to end your days.

I may have posted this poem before but if I have, then that will simply reinforce the fact that it’s a place that I often revisit.

Pushing up Daisies

Here above the sea,

ruins stand part cloaked in ivy.

Exposed stones warmed by evening sun.

 

Here we wander, see

no neatly mown paths, nor sterile

gravelled graves, no vases with flowers.

 

Here in summer, swallows

scythe blue skies above

carpets of unruly, scattered daisies.

 

Here blackbird scolds us

for invading his territory of

stones clothed with moss and lichen.

 

Here at Kirkmaiden,

there is peace for those who lie there,

pushing up centuries of daisies.

Best Laid Plans

So much for hoping to post something at least once a week. Ah well, I remember some of my old school reports that said ‘Could try harder’. So I could, indeed so I should.

I’ll have to try to keep track of the days that seem to fly by without me being aware of the fact. No excuse – plenty of calendars aound the house, a diary  – yet I find that I go to my diary, only to find that I haven’t moved the ‘Today’ marker for a week.

So what’s happening to time these days? In theory, as I am no longer working, I should have all the time in the world to do things. And yet, and yet – my ‘To do’ list doen’t seem to get shorter, more and more get added to the bottom without as many getting crossed off the top.

Time has always fascinated me – the way it can warp and defy all logic and measurement by timepieces. Many have written about time, and TS Eliot wrote memorably about it in Burnt Norton (Four Quartets)

Time present and time past

Are both present in time future

and also in The Lovesong of J Arthur Prufrock.

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons

During the last year or so, while all of our lives have been affected by the pandemic, time has certainly warped and while some days have stretched weeks  and months seem to have flown by. Luckily, I’ve been able to enjoy getting out for walks in woods, hills and by the sea. Had I been living in an inner city or town flat, this last year would have felt like a life sentence.

For some who are living in nursing homes, days might be measured, not just with coffee spoons, but with meals and medicine trolleys coming round plus, of course, visiting hours.  These hours can seem endless for some relatives and friends, as this poem of mine noted.

Time and the Bell

Time and the bell have buried the day

The black cloud carries the sun away. (Burnt Norton)

Silent figures sit comatose, waiting

chairs with backs to the wall.

Time endless,

insignificant – marked only

by meals, medicine trolleys.

Unheeded dramas play out

on a giant cyclops screen, loudly.

The clock ticks.

Lost in times of old, what can

future days, weeks, months hold?

The door bell goes, afternoon visitors

step inside leaving behind sunlight

braced for feelings of despair,

facing the long hour ahead.

Hiatus

It’s been a month since I last wrote anything here. Partly because I’m now getting used to a new laptop and partly because life, other than the writing life has been dominated by too many other things.

Now, I have a week with more time and so hopefully I’ll get back into blogging again at least once a week. There are times when no matter how hard we try to prioritise things or rationalise which of the many demands on our time should be given priority, we end up not achieving as much as we had hoped.

So now, to quote Beckett – I am aiming to ‘fail better’. Trying to set aside a regular time to write has never been easy. It’s often a case of  stretching the day – but going to bed two or three hours later than normal works better in the summer when the daylight hours stretch well into late evening here.

Why am I writing at all? There have been days when seeds of doubt begin to grow and I think that I’m wasting my time; more profitable time could be spent in the garden or the kitchen. Maybe I should focus more on developing my photography – and so my thoughts ramble on. In Chekov’s play The Seagull one of the characters, Trigorin – a celebrated writer has doubts about his ability and imagines people standing by his grave saying that ‘he was a clever writer but not as good as Turgenieff.’ Self doubt is not uncommon even among successful writers.

So, this hiatus has not just been because of ‘life’ getting in the way presenting other demands on my time.  I have also been struggling to motivate myself to either write on this blog and also  produce poetry that seems worth submitting somewhere.

However, some progress has been made with my photography. I have been persuaded to use something more than my little ‘point and shoot’ camera and actually take a step up the ladder and start using a camera that produces RAW as well as JPEG images so I can learn how to do some post processing. This is a steep learning curve.

A walk in the hills last week didn’t produce any poetry but it did give me the opportunity to work on some photographs – one of which I’ll place below.

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Carpe Diem

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We took one of the few fine days in the week to visit the wood. We knew that after all the rain we’d had, the waterfalls would be looking quite impressive. The following day, the forecast was that we were to have winds of over sixty miles per hour and heavy rain showers.

As we walked, it seemed hard to believe that there could be such a change in the weather, that tomorrow we would be watching rain streaming down the window panes and listening to the wind battering the trees and flowers.

This is the wood that we chose for our first walk after lockdown in the spring had eased, and we could walk further afield. (See my blog written on July 18th). On this day near the end of February, the sun was shining, the silhouetted branches of the trees were creating an intricate tracery that reminded me of the leaded lights in stained glass windows. Here though, there was just the one colour – a radiant blue, shining through.

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Days like this make us really appreciate being alive and being able to get out and walk in beautiful surroundings. The pandemic has made us realise we need to live our lives to the full and make every day count.

It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth — and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up — that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.
― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

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Lifting the Veil of Familiarity

Conversation with a friend a few days ago has prompted this blog. It seems that we are both arriving at the same conclusion – restrictions in our lives due to the Covid pandemic are making a number of folk reassess and value where they live.

We are looking at the familiar with new eyes – almost as if we are visitors; we are seeing things that previously we would have walked past and ignored. There are places that once had been accepted as everyday scenes but are now become more interesting. We look for the little things, spot previously ignored changes and enjoy observing the behaviour of birds in the garden.

People who previously hadn’t paid any heed to wildlife are now enjoying the pleasure of getting to know the habits and behaviour of ‘their’ Robin or Blackbird.

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More joy is being found in the observance of an unusual visitor to the peanut feeder, or finding the patterns made by bird footprints in the snowy garden, the spoor of wild animals in the local woodland, or otters’ prints showing their regular route from burn to beach.

I can’t help but think of the opening lines of Auguries of Innocence By William Blake –

To see the world in a grain of sand

And a heaven in a wild flower

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour.


	

Rare Phenomenon

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An ice spike is a rare natural phenomenon and we were fortunate to wake up to see one on our bird bath the other day. Apparently they are known to occur more often on bird baths and drinking bowls put outside for pets rather than on larger bodies of water.

We had not seen anything like this before. It made the birdbath look more like a sundial. The spike measured just over six inches and remained intact all day, overnight, and only started melting the following day. It finally collapsed into what by then was a pool of water the following afternoon.

Continue reading “Rare Phenomenon”

Imbolc or Candlemas

Imbolc marks the beginning of the lambing season in the Celtic calendar. The original word Imbolg literally means ‘in the belly’. It is a time when new life  is just beginning to show, there is the promise of renewal, new life is stirring just below the surace or the wintry earth.

February 1st is also St Bridget’s day – as so often happened, Christian festivals adopted a pagan festival and Brigid, who was loved as a pagan goddess of healing, poetry and smithcraft, was celebrated at Imbolc.

Although it is still winter, we are enjoying hints of spring, not just with the snowdrops – always a joy to see at  this time, but the daffodils are  beginning to develop quickly and those here are already over six inches high and some even beginning to show signs of buds.

It’s quite a good time of the year for foraging. We have always enjoyed hunting for mushrooms in the autumn, but we were recently inspired by John Wright’s book The Forager’s Calendar to look along the shore. Last week we found an excellent source of sea spinach which tastes, I think, even better than the ordinary spinach we grow in the garden or can buy in the shops.

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Walking through a woodland near the coast, we spotted jelly-like Wood Ear fungi growing on a log. These are apparently edible although not recommended and we didn’t feel tempted to try them. Other names for these are Jelly Ear or Jew’s Ear, and it’s scientific name is Auricularia auricula -judae. Apparently they don’t have much flavour but can be added to a sauce for the texture.

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We look forward to more foraging, but as heavy snow is forecast, I doubt we’ll be doing much of that for a while.

Being outside, no matter what the weather is essential for our mental health in these Covid obsessed times. We think of life BC – Before Covid, and it’s hard to remember the last time we greeted a friend with a hug or had folk round for a meal or discussion group. How long will it be before we can give someone a lift in the car or go for a walk with friends? It pays not to think of how much longer we might have to wait to do these things. Much better to live for the now, follow the wise words of Thich Nhat Hanh and remember when we are out walking or sitting indoors, we should be living mindfully, slowing down and enjoying each step or breath. Every breath we take, every step we make can be filled with peace and joy.