Awareness and Amnesia

There are many of us who try hard to live being mindful, to live for the now, following the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh. It’s not easy and most days I for one feel that I haven’t achieved the awareness and mindfulness that I would have liked.

Eating mindfully, walking mindfully – it’s harder than I originally thought it would be, but I’ll keep trying.

There are some people who can only live in the ‘now’ because for them their past is a memory that escapes them completely. Others have short term memory loss and yet the past is crystal clear.

As we get older we struggle at times to remember names of places, people, things. That’s not unusual and nor is it particularly worrying as we have amassed a tremendous amount of information over the years and if we see it like a shelf full of books or a desk full of papers – we can’t expect to retrieve the one we’re looking for immediately.

When I wrote the following poem, I had in mind someone who had sadly lost all memory of their past .

I Am Amnesia

I have no memory

I live for the present

I can read

but when did I learn to read,

where did I go to school,

where was I born?

I see myself in the mirror

I see who I am now

but who was I ?

Where did I live as a child,

who were my parents,

did I have siblings?

I have no memory

I have no past

I live in the now.

I am an empty slate,

a frame with no picture,

a book with blank pages.

I have no story,

I have no history

but I can write.

Can I see my future,

can I rebuild my past,

will I remember?

Lost in Limbo

This has been an autumn that will be remembered not only for the effects of Covid’s lingering presence, but also for the many people who have have been left in limbo waiting for either a diagnosis or treatment. It seems that all over the country people are waiting weeks for even a telephone appointment – seeing a doctor face to face is a rare event.

There is a feeling of powerlessness – shoulders are shrugged and ‘what can you do about it- nothing – that’s the way things are these days.’ words of resignation underline the real fear and depression that is bubbling under the surface.

Just how many lives will be lost indirectly during the aftermath and possibly the ongoing consequences of other viruses – we can only guess.

It’s hard for folk to stay positive when there seems to be little or no improvement in the situation. Hard for those in pain uncertain what the future holds for them – not knowing is somehow worse than knowing what it is that you have to face up to. The unknown and uncertainty can be far more disturbing than the known.

How can people get through times like this? Some will prepare themselves for the worst and hope that they’ll be pleasantly surprised if things turn out to be better. Perhaps that famous quotation from Julian of Nowrwich is a good one to hold onto

“And all will be well, all manner of things shall be well”

LIfe can be tough at times and we can never know what lies ahead of us. There is a lot to be said for living for ‘the now’ and making the most of every day, every hour, every minute we have and finding what joy we can.

Swans make good parents!

This sequence of photos was taken one evening earlier this year (late May) I was captivated by the intelligence and care shown by these two swans as they led this summer’s brood to greener pastures. The photos speak for themselves – no need for more words.

Now it’s September and we look forward to seeing the geese arrive from Svalbard – they’re mostly Barnacle geese, but we also get Pink Foot.

Watching birds and indeed any animals or insects, I often feel that they have so much to teach us humans. The human race is wrong to feel superior.

Unmasked

Yesterday I was reading at Big Lit( https://www.biglit.org/)- a literary festival held in Gatehouse. This was no mean achievement for the organisers. It was a leap of faith – everyone hoping that live events would be possible although there were some online events planned as well.

Dove Tales (https://www.dovetalesscotland.co.uk/) is a charity run by artists and writers in Scotland. We were presenting an event focussing on ‘Women and War’

Wearing masks as we moved around from room to room in The Mill on the Fleet, it was good to meet up with folk not seen for over a year. Some easy to recognise in spite of the masks.We’re getting used to identifying half faces!

When we read, we of course were able to take off our masks. It’s strange how we have got so used to wearing them, so used that one reader had started reading while still wearing her mask and had to be reminded that she should take it off.

It will be some time before everyone will feel confident to go out without needing to take a mask. There is a distinct feeling of vulnerability that won’t go away for some time.

As the subject of our event was women and war, there were many aspects covered ranging from wars past and present, those working in active service, those caught up and injured as innocent civilians and so on. My contribution reflected on those left behind wondering when/if they will see their menfolk again.

Walking the Path

Today I walk the path that we so often walked

I see the trees that shed their autumn leaves

I hear the birds and smell the burning peat

but you’re not here.

You write of mud and rats in trenches

you long for letters and news of home

you hear the screams of those lying injured

and I’m not there.

Today I walk the path that we so often walked

I see the fungi on the fallen log

I hear the lowing of the distant cattle

but you’re not here.

You long for parcels sent from family

you hope you’ll get back home this year

you miss our son, you miss my kisses

but I can’t be there.

Today I walk the path that we so often walked

I see your face in every loch and stream

I hear your voice and feel your touch

but   you’re   not   here.

Dining al fresco

This rather magnificent bird and its partner is occasionally seen in our garden and one day it decided to perch in the wood pile while watching the smaller birds on the nearby feeder.

This prompted the following poem

Dining al Fresco

His feathers meld into the

colours of drying ash, birch, beech.

He sits motionless waiting,

black eyes ringed with amber

stare unblinking towards the feeder.

Shifting a little his head turns,

scimitar beak remains closed,

cold calculating eyes now turn to me.

Our feeder is his take away

but goldfinches and blue-tits stay

in nearby trees won’t fly away.

 They wait  as a feeder full of  seeds

means their meal is certain.

As I turn the hawk flies off,

 a flurry of gold, black and blue descends

 knowing they’re safe – for now.

Yesterday evening, we heard something crash into the living room window. On investigation, my husband found a female sparrowhawk up-ended in a rose bush, trapped. Not the best place for a crash landing!. Fortunately, he was able to rescue it and, after a few moments, release it unharmed. It was quite a privilege to see it at close quarters – even closer than when it was perched in the wood store.

With all that is going on in the world just now – and it isn’t going to improve – we have to cherish our connections with the natural world. With the animals and birds , in the woodlands, mountains and gardens we can find a peace that can not be found in the world of politics and economics.

Heat!

Maybe it’s a feeble excuse but I’m blaming the heat of the last month for not adding anything to this blog. I can’t remember a summer when I’ve spent so much time wearing shorts and trying to keep cool – not even when I was ten!

We have grass that’s looking more like coconut matting and the rest of the garden  need regular watering as rain has been distinctly absent for weeks – having written that will perhaps encourage a deluge – maybe not such a good prospect.

With the dearth of rain has come a dearth of inspiration for poetry and writing of any sort. My brain doesn’t seem to function as well in hot weather and I find myself doing things on automatic pilot – and not a very reliable pilot these days.

This strange year has meant that we have gone months without seeing some people that we used to see often. As a result, there has been a realisation that some we won’t see again and others in the meantime, have suffered from serious deterioration in health.  It’s hard to imagine now, a time when life will return to what we used to think of as ‘normal’ and take for granted.

Perhaps we have learnt not to take things for granted and in future we will appreciate things more. Hopefully the human race will also take more  care not just of each other, but also of our planet which desperately needs us all to consider how vulnerable it is.

We had planned a return visit to New Zealand last autumn, but that of course didn’t happen. It seems unlikely that we’ll get there next year either, but this poem was written when remembering our time on South Island.

The Trees Cry

The rain and dew that fall

are tears of sky father Rangi.

Tane, god of great trees,

god of forests must weep today.

We are losing forests.

We are suffering from floods –

houses gone, walls gone

again and again gone.

We may weep at the massacre

of trees but, can we restore

forests, plant more, care more,

care enough for our planet Earth?

Our beaches exhibit wondrous

driftwood sculptures. Yes, this

is Nature’s uplifting art

quirky, unexpected, inspiring hope.

On My Knees

Another Sunday, it was feeling more like summer yesterday and I was on my knees – weeding. This is not an activity I would have thought conducive to meditation but it’s amazing just how absorbing and therapeutic that task can be. The silence was broken by an occasional cry from a buzzard way overhead or  sparrows squabbling in the hedge and bees delighting in the explosion of blossom.

Sunday Morning

I am on my knees, weeding.

Thugs invaded the gravel path

so one by one they’re evicted

re-housed in a trug.

I am on my knees, weeding

yet this isn’t just gardening.

The steady repetitive action

becomes a meditation.

I am on my knees, weeding

‘When you are sweeping a path,

know you are sweeping a path.’

a well-known Zen  lesson.

I am on my knees, weeding

I know I am weeding.

Yes it is Sunday morning

but I am on my knees – weeding.

No penance, no punishment

it’s a therapeutic meditation.

It’s Sunday morning –

I am on my knees, weeding.

At the end of the day, one of our beautiful sunsets – just inviting me to gaze, and soak up the peace. All the birds have gone to roost and there’s no wind to rustle the leaves.

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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