Sunday 25 September 2011

Time passes

Time passes. Time rushes on  its winged feet, not bothering to check if I want to  hop off and wait for a while. Day after day gallops by, dragging me on, a reluctant passenger, caught in the whirlwind of school runs, washing, cleaning, answering a hundred needy calls.
The seasons change, the rosebay willowherb turns to cotton wool in the hedgerows, the squirrels leap past our windows in a nut induced frenzy. It's autumn yet again and the days of summer have faded and gone.
It was close to midsummer's day when Lily left us, two years ago. A blue June sky and a sunset emblazoned with glorious gold to welcome her onto her new path.  But the sun has kept on setting, over and over again and no one thought to ask if I minded. How could the sun know that I wanted to be suspended in an eternal June, where the foxgloves bloom forever on my daughters fingers and I wondered if she had enough suncream on her shoulders?

With the autumn mists and spider webs spun across my path comes another departure:  from the last summer memories of Lily. This is the third summer I have had to leave without her, to walk into winter with only three children by my side. And each time autumn comes we travel further and further away from the physical reality of her. Those last walks by the river, the last dentist appointment a few days before her accident, the last school pick ups when she brought home origami doves that she had made for whitsun....Each year these memories seem to drop a little further into the mists, each year it is harder to move away from her. Each year, autumn creeps on insidiously, with its rosy fruits and golden leaves. And I mourn the loss of the wild roses and bright days of midsummer, so inexorably entwined with our last days with Lily.

And the seasons will keep changing, and moving, the years will keep rolling past and we will move on too. Much as I sometimes long to be held in a timeless June with my four children dancing around my feet, the reality is that Freddie, Tansy and Leo are growing and changing, and so are we. Our lives on earth are not over and we still have our paths to follow.
Lily's path led her away from her earthly existence into a realm which is very close by. Our worlds are not as separate we fear, but our focus on 'doing' and 'thinking' effectively blocks any connection between the two. If we can take a break from the frenetic, busy and head centred patterns of our material lives and listen with a quiet heart, with an open heart, what whispers will we hear?

Tuesday 20 September 2011

Wake up Call

It was an eye opening weekend. While I was busy foraging for nettles last thursday, (see last post) and connecting with nature spirits and the earth, Hugh was connecting with the earth in a different way.

Very soon, we have to leave the wood we live in, and have been very lucky to find an acre of woodland nearby to buy. The land there is sloping, and the tiny level clearing already there was really not big enough for even the most low impact shelter.
Together, Hugh and I decided that some trees would have to be felled, and a days work with a digger organised, to make room for our living space.

Last Thursday was digger day. At the weekend I went over with Hugh to see what had been done and  I realised how different our weeks had been.

A huge scar was slashed across the wood, and something resembling a raw, minature runway slewed away from us and I wept for the tiny green clearing that had been destroyed. Tree stumps like ragged graves stood around... reluctant sentries for their new domain. Innocent that I am, I had not realised how much earth and shillet one digger can move in an eight hour day..

 The irony of our very different Thursdays had not escaped me. How serene and probably very self satisfied I had felt as I gathered food and medicine for the family, how calm and centred Leo and I had been, as we made little homes for the fairies and sang to the plant spirits.

Meanwhile Hugh had worked so hard felling trees. Each night he came home white with fatigue, and on the day the digger driver came in Hugh managed to get himself 8 stitches in his knee as he was pulling the saw out of a Hornbeam tree. The digger driver had worked so hard, packing as much as he could into one day's labour. And I could only cry and shout how horrible it was. To be responsible for such visible destruction felt like such a terrible burden. To blast into a wood and change so much, to make such a big mark on nature, I think we both felt sick to the stomach.
Everything felt clunky and scratchy and uncomfortable.

It was time for coffee. I drink about one cup every month and it was definitely that time of the more ways than one!
At our lovely local farm shop Hugh and I sat in the sunshine and drank coffee and talked about what had happened.

And what we realised is this:

 In our lives we are not used to seeing the direct result of our actions. So many of our regular day to day activities have far reaching implications and consequences all over the globe...but we do not see those consequences.
  • We drive cars, which run on oil but we don't see the physical devastation that the extraction process causes.
  • We buy clothes but we do not see the young migrant worker in a Chinese sweatshop who makes them,, from cotton harvested by children in Uzbekistan.
  • We drink coffee, but we do not see the  plantation in Guatemala where babies of the indigenous workers are often inadvertantly sprayed with pesticide, as they lie asleep in the shade of the coffee plants.
  • We use paper, and buy books but we do not see the swathes of clearcut forest that has been pulped to produce them.
  • We use electricity but we do not see the tonnes of fossil fuels which are burnt to generate it, or the mines it comes from, or the effects of the burning....
And so on. That is what our lives are like. Every day we indirectly cause destruction and devastation and discomfort all over the world. But because we don't see it, we can sleepwalk through our sanitised, convenient and plasticized lives and ignore it.

We don't have to ignore it. We can become aware that our actions do have consequences and we can take steps to reduce our destructive and enormous footprint on the earth.  We can be aware that elements of our lives have become so  disconnected from the earth that we have forgotten that we are part of it.
We are part of the earth, as much but not more than any cat, mouse, grasshopper, dandelion or hornbeam tree. All important, all equal.

So back to our poor clearing we went and thought about what we would build on the land, a low impact bender like shelter to begin with, whilst drawing up plans for a straw bale earth shelter in the medium term.
We talked about the fruit bushes we would grow, the herbs, vegetables and chickens and goats we could raise.
We talked about how we would use the felled timber, for floor boards, for bowl making, for firewood, to cook on and keep us warm.
We imagined the land in a year, loved, softened, flourishing. We felt connected to the land and could see the results of our actions as part of a holistic long term vision to nurture it and belong to it.

We felt content to be responsible caretakers for the land.

Thursday 15 September 2011

Thankyou (and foraging)

I seem to be unable to reply to comments at the moment, either due to my incompetence and inexperience or a problem with Blogger, but I wanted to thank so much everyone who responded to my last post.

I received a deluge of messages, mostly via e-mail or on facebook..(it's also ok to comment here) offering words of love and support. It felt like a huge step, not only to start the blog, but also write publicly about such personal and emotional issues. I had thought about posting about Lily again today and in some ways it would seem appropriate.

However, in my life, grief, memories and feelings of loss are inextricably woven into a larger tapestry, and the colour of the weft threads changes day by day. Sometimes the weaving is bright and shining, sometimes subtle and dulled. The woven cloth is still there on the loom but each new row is different.
And so today, the sun shone and Leo and I went......foraging


With the new school year come new routines and rhythms. Thursday is Leo's Mummy Day. With sister and brother at kindergarten and school all day, Leo gets some rare time alone with me, and woe betide anyone else who wants to have a conversation with me on that day which lasts longer than five minutes! We sometimes do special trips, often just enjoy home... but today it was warm, bright and some of my herb jars needed filling.

I had nettles on my mind as I dropped the older ones off this morning. Leo is a very rewarding foraging companion and I wanted to take advantage of what I call the second Spring of early autumn. Plants that have been cut down some time ago send out a last flush of fresh spring like growth, providing supplies to see me through the winter. Usually at this time of year a nettle will have run to seed and look very different
 but today didn't want the seeds..I will soon..only the soft leaves.

The energy in these leaves feels weaker than those fiery, thrusting, ferocious new shoots of the true spring, but as I wasn't very organised then, I am relying on these frailer autumn progeny to fill my jars for teas and oils and vinegars.

As always on a foraging expedition, there was a sense of excitement. Yet there was also a feeling of empowerment to be able to provide food and medicine for my family for free and I felt blessed to live in beautiful Devon which provides me with plentiful weeds!

Our first patch of nettles were still dewy, shyly fresh from their night under the moon. I picked these for tonight's dinner. Preserving wet plants by drying or storing in oil causes mould problems, but for nettle risotto they are fine.

Leo checked in that I had asked the nettle fairy permission (I had) but his gentle reminder made me pause to remember the times when I hadn't. I usually get stung, and the energy surrounding the harvesting feels clunky and awkward. Harvesting medicine is a chance for us to connect with the universal flow of energy which unites us all,(including nettles) and it is very humbling to honour the plants in this way. Today there were no stings
and we found several sunny dry patches of lovely leaves to process back at home.

My hair feels quite neglected most of the time and I have promised myself to give it some new autumn energy. Once I had put together some of our other pickings to make tea,
From right, clockwise, nettles, rose petals, plantain, comfrey

I found my extremely battered and beloved copy of Healing wise by Susun Weed and made nettle hair oil. My leaves were totally dry and, gathered just after the dew had dried, at optimum picking time. I gently snipped enough to fill and old tahini jar, and filled again with olive oil (could be almond) pushing them down under the oil with a wooden spoon to dislodge bubbles. Is is important for the plant material in any oil to be totally submerged or they will mould.
On a window sill for a moon cycle (and I should have started the oil  at new moon to take advantage of the waxing energies and forces of the moon) and I shall massage some into my scalp a couple of hours before I wash my hair and rinse with nettle lotion to finish.
I divided the remainder of my harvest in two and while half made dinner, lovely risotto, the other I dried for winter teas. How wonderful to open a jar of home gathered herbs in January, and how pale and wan a tea bag seems!

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Lily's birthday

Ten years ago today, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, my daughter Lily was born. The foot and mouth crisis in the UK was slowly drawing to close.  It was a calamitous year.

Lily was born so swiftly that I hardly realised I had given birth..'Look down, look down' the midwife said, and there she was, a tiny waxy little girl. After giving birth to a boy, Freddie, two and a half years earlier, I had been (secretly) hoping for a Lily

I could tell you so many things about Lily.

How, as a newborn she cried every evening but stopped if I took her outside to see the moon.

How she walked on her first birthday...although she didn't really want to be any where but my arms until she was three.

How she called orchids, 'awkwards' and buttercups 'hiccups' until she was nearly in school.

How she kept a little wooden fox by her bed because 'she saw foxes in the night' and was scared.

I could tell you that she was solemn with strangers, but kind, loving and happy at home and with friends. And she talked about poo as much as any other child.

I could tell you about how she used to refuse her spinach at dinner but happily browse on pennywort and hawthorn leaves in spring.

And how, when flagging at the end of a long walk, I used give her and her big brother Freddie one date each and the burst of energy sent them charging up the last hill yelling 'date power!'

I could tell you how she sometimes woke early and took Tansy and Leo into her bed to read and play.

I could tell you the wildflowers she knew...fumitory, black medic, scarlet pimpernel, guelder rose....The Flower Faries were her favourite 'reading in bed' books.

I could tell you so many things

What I can't tell you is what she'll be doing for her birthday today, although I know she'll be close by, in the whispering trees, in the iridescent damselfly which visits us every day, in the little wren who hides in the willow.

Lily's 6th birthday, 2007
I can tell you what we are doing. We are lighting a candle and remembering and loving her and wishing with all our hearts that she could be here eating cake with us again.

Lily Rose

Monday 12 September 2011

Elemental tales- Fire

Everyone watches as that first tiny spark, dancing so lightly, catches the whisper soft tinder of thistle seed, and slowly, carefully, is breathed into life.

'Ahh! everyone sighs and the smouldering tinder is pushed gently under the little wigwam of tiny dried stems and twigs. Soon porridge is bubbling and we scramble for bowls...
Fire comes slowly when you don't have matches or firelighters. It teaches patience and the meticulous search for dry tinder. In that time your nose anticipates the smell of the cooking porridge before it is even in the pan. When the first spark actually leaps into flame it is a wondrous moment. It seems like a miracle to create fire from the friction between two pieces of wood, and we gather around the dancing flames, transfixed. 
We are lost in a moment that cradles us back to the lives of our distant ancestors, and we feel the fire in the very depths of us. And we feel great gratitude.

I feel very blessed for my children to experience this connection with fire. They follow the journey from the search for dry tinder, through to eating the food which has cooked over wood that they have collected. It is very real and tangible. Firemaking is a skill which they are learning which will empower them and bring the deep sense of satisfaction and belonging that no amount of switch flicking will do.
They are aware too of the awesome power of fire, and have a healthy respect for its wild strength.
guess who is always the first to the fire?

I would love to say that we live like this all the time, but alas! we have a gas oven for cooking and a woodburner (with matches) for warmth. But do I feel reverence and awe when I light the gas in the morning? No! Do I thank the cooker? No. I rush and scurry and drop matches, and hussle the children to get their clothes on!

But we have been connecting with fire more this summer, mostly thanks to Hugh who is just coming to the end of a year long course in bushcraft and nature awareness with Trackways and  has been sharing his fire making skills with us all. And it's been such a gift for the whole family. I have had to frequently quell my quick impatient nature which always wants to get the newspaper and matches out. My fiery nature hasn't got time for fiddling with bow drills and fire babies!

In our yurt 2008
Fire is like a magnet, it draws us together, creates a centre, a temporary home, a warmth that heals and soothes the most fraught of days.
Last weekend we thought about going out for the day, then realised that it was just restlessness and fear of boredom that was leading the decision. We lit a fire in the clearing, and within minutes everyone was gathered; carving, talking, sewing, cooking, dreaming. There was no need to go anywhere but home.

Wednesday 7 September 2011

The Birthday

Tomorrow it is my youngest son's birthday, and his daddy's too. Four years ago, at seven thirty in the morning, drowsily propped up in my bed, I nursed my new little son and ate the birthday brownies which arrived in the post for Hugh, thanks to lovely Aunty Alice. Two weeks early, Leo took us all by surprise, but I finally had four children! My older three, then aged two, six and eight munched and cooed and cuddled as we all wallowed in that delicious, sublime morning.

 Later Hugh's mum called to wish him Happy Birthday, blissfully unaware of her new grandson. Hugh asked her to guess what his favourite birthday present was.
'Was it the screwdriver I sent you dear?' she asked innocently.

How could anything compare to the mysterious wonder of the new little soul arrived in our midst? Hugh will love his favourite birthday present forever!

But will the gifts Leo and Hugh receive tomorrow still hold any interest or value in even four months time? Possibly, but possibly not..they are just things. Sometimes presents just seem like so much stuff to me. I cannot deny that there is a magic in witnessing a child's excitement and joy on opening a special birthday gift and taking their time to explore and love it and make it their own. Where is the magic however, in watching a child rip through a mountain of presents, discarding them as soon as they are open?

The giving of gifts becomes a meaningless gesture. It provides a momentary rush of excitement for the child, only to be replaced by the odd uncomfortable feeling of being overwhelmed, overexcited and slightly 'full.' Unable to interpret the discomfort, the only remedy seems to be for the child to ask for more and feel anguish when there is not.

I love celebrating birthdays and I do always buy a present for my kids, but just one, a special one. Reducing presents coming in from outside is an ongoing process but increasingly being met with understanding.

What makes a birthday meaningful?
Ceremony and ritual sound a little formal, and we're certainly not solemn around birthdays, but doing certain things together seems to nourish the birthday girl (or  boy) more than a heap of presents. At breakfast I make sure that the table is set with cloths, flowers and candles and make a throne for the  special person to sit on. A nice breakfast is important.. tomorrow it's croissant..shh!

A tradition I'm planning to start is for everyone else to think of one thing they love or appreciate about the birthday celebrant.  Depending on the age this can cause a bit of squirming but a birthday is a chance to focus with love and gratitude on one person and make that person feel special. Cuddles and stories are good too! And then there's the party!
I'm sure other people have beautiful rituals they follow for their kid's birthdays.. have you? I'd love to hear ideas (sensitive and loving) on avoiding the swamp effect of gifts from lovely well meaning relatives too.