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?

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.

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)

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.

Same Roads

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During lockdown, we find ourselves walking the same paths again and again yet each time there are subtle changes, sometimes more obvious changes. Lockdown is making us more aware and that’s not a bad thing.

In Wendell Berry’s poem Travelling at Home, he wrote

Even in a country you know by heart

it’s hard to go the same way twice.

The life of the going changes.

The chances change and make a new way.

Any tree or stone or bird

can be the bud of a new direction.The

natural correction is to make intent

of accident. To get back before dark

is the art of going.’

With sunset around 4.00pm, getting back before dark is an important consideration when embarking on a long, even if familiar, walk. But as we walk , we begin to notice more changes in the hedgerows, the lichen and mosses on the fallen trees, the fungi – patches of lightness among the dark carpet of sodden leaves.

The birds are much tamer now the temperatures are around freezing and below. Especially the robins and blackbirds make their presence felt as they crisscross the paths in front of us, reminding us we should think of them as well as those of their kind in our garden. (They are the lucky ones, getting fed mealworms each day.)

It’s the natural world and the beauty of the woodland, mountains and shores that help to keep us sane in these uncertain times.

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Year Ending

2020 what a year this has been! I think most people will be glad that it has come to an end and will be hoping for things to improve in 2021.

Given the current situation, it might seem an odd choice in reading material but I’ve just finished reading The Plague by Albert Camus. I started reading it because I had heard so much about it, had often kept short quotations by Camus and I felt that it was a book that I should read.  I started fairly slowly, not sure if I was going to enjoy it or not, but as I got further into it and got to ‘know’ the various characters, it became a book that I really wanted to read.

Covid 19 has really turned so many lives upside down, has ended so many lives and generally made life extremely difficult for those in the caring professions and in businesses of all kinds. Decisions have been made for us, we have felt a loss of freedom and struggled to keep positive.

Everyone hopes that next year things will improve but cautious optimism is about as much as most will admit to. As I looked back through various files I came across a poem written about this time of the year – probably about eight years ago.

A New Year

Eight o’clock, on a dark dreich morning.

Wind plays a tree concerto, shuffles roof tiles

like an expert gambler. The music of winter.

Nine and the sky is lighter; a rosy glow

appears behind the cottage across the way.

An early coffee. The world looks brighter.

A window of  watery sunshine glows on

our chimney breast sundial, lights the stone

with dancing shadows from Tom’s trees.

Outside, the robin waits, hoping for

his daily treat of  meal worms. You cast

a few, his one-sided look gives thanks.

A charm of goldfinches line calloused branches

of the old apple tree, queue for the niger seed,

patiently wait in typically British fashion.

The wind eases, sailor’s trouser patches

appear, promising a brighter day. Omen

for the coming year? Maybe. We hope.

Monday Sunrise

Bridges

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This afternoon, the scene we looked out on was so peaceful. From our corner of Southern Scotland we look across to the Lake District hills. No bridges here and although there is talk of building a bridge from Stranraer to Ireland that seems extremly unlikely.

We are living in a crazy world where governments seem to find millions to spend on defence projects and yet there are children going to school without having had breakfast, families who have to decide whether they can heat the house and still buy enough food to last the week and pay the rent. Jobs are being lost, businesses are closing down, nurses, doctors and teachers are overworked and suffering from stress – all this plus the threat of Covid and yet, and yet, headline news today is that our PM is finding an extra £21.5bn for defence.

In the latest anthology Bridges or Walls?, produced by Dove Tales(Association of Scottish Artists for Peace), my poem focuses on the kind of bridges we need today.

Bridges We Need to Build

Extending kindness

sympathy, friendship and  love

we can build bridges of hope.

Bridges of music

transcend language barriers

Bridges of food

provide for the hungry

Bridges of smiles

to welcome strangers

Bridges built with love – needed

to defeat an ever lengthening list

of negative forces poisoning our world.