Thursday, 1 August 2019

And so we come to Lammastide

Yarrow, July 2019

 A very happy new moon and Lammas to us all!

These seasonal celebrations of Midsummer and Lammas are especially tender, carrying within them, even as the sun feels to be at its height, the whispers of the waning of the year. I love those days when we can feel, almost beyond our surface consciousness, that the year is turning, that soon it will be autumn and time to turn to the dark. I imagine that this is how wild beings, both plants and animals, live; completely present in the moment but with an awareness beyond awareness of what is coming. We often mourn that we have lost that perception but I'm not sure that it's true. Perhaps we have just lost our ability to notice what our skin is sensing? Our disconnection, from ourselves and from the earth is great, but both these festivals of high summer offer us an opportunity to reconnect & remember; to learn again to taste the dark on our tongues.

There is a sadness that these days of grace carry with them, that we are somehow losing something. But, of course, the same awareness that tells us that frost is coming and that the dark is gaining a hold also tells us at Midwinter and Imbolc that the light is returning and that the promise of the first flowers of spring are just under the surface of the cold earth. This is where we find our hope. If we are wise, we walk always with both grief and gratitude in our pockets, because this is Life.

And so, we come to the time of the first harvest, of gathering in, & of beginning to contemplate what has been lost and gained since the first shoots grew as we turned to the light. Lammas, an Anglo-Saxon, & perhaps earlier, festival whose name comes from the Old English hlaf, 'loaf' and mæsse, 'mass', may have been the day when loaves of bread were taken to church to be blessed. For the Anglo-Saxons, harvest and the coming of autumn were the same thing, hence the beautiful 10th Century verse which tells us that;

"And after seven nights
of summer's brightness Weed-month slips
into the dwellings; everywhere August brings
to peoples of the earth Lammas Day. So autumn comes,
after that number of nights but one,
bright, laden with fruits. Plenty is revealed,
beautiful upon the earth."

Lammas grassses, July 2019

And, as for loss and hope, it is good to contemplate that there is such a thing as ‘Lammas growth’; the name given to the habit of some trees, such as oak, ash, beech, and hawthorn, to experience a period of renewed growth and tender spring-like green leaves at Lammastide. It’s thought that they do this to compensate for leaf damage due to insect activity in the spring; yet another example from the wild that loss can be harnessed to provide energy for the new. Life with death, death within life. Always.

And so we are turning to the dark and I am beginning to contemplate my own harvest. It has been a hard year in many ways and I will spend these days breathing into what I had hoped might grow and hasn’t, but I am also aware that I am entering this season much stronger than I was as the light came in; then I was full of hope but I had not properly prepared the ground in which those hopes would grow. Now I feel that much has been ‘dug over, and that I will plant more carefully and with more possibility of success. I put much of this down to my ever-deepening relationship with the green people, especially my journeys with the Lilac Being in May and with Blackberry in June. I am looking forward to exploring the ways in which Mugwort and Yarrow will support me in working with my boundaries; something which I desperately need. It is all such magic! I wasn’t consciously aware that I needed them but they have certainly brought me back to myself in the most magical of ways and I am quite in awe of the threads that were woven between the wild green and my knowing-beyond-knowing to make that happen. This season my harvest will be trust and I am grateful.

Ragwort & Yarrow, July 2019

Anglo-Saxon poem and Lammas inspiration to be found at:

And my favourite Lammas thing; ‘This is a Prayer for the Resistance’ can be found at:

Long Man of Wilmington, Lammas 2014

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Day 16 of the Plant Spirit Ally Challenge ~ Write a Story, Poem, or Prayer

Sitting over words very late, I have heard a kind of whispered sighing…
~ W.S.Merwin

Here I am with my second sharing as one of the co-hosts for Hagstone Publishing's Plant Spirit Ally Challenge, which takes place through the whole of May. If you would like to know more about it do go and have a read of my previous post on shrine making and visit HagstonePublishing’s website. There is all sorts of yummy stuff there.

And so to today; writing about writing with written words about writing. It feels a bit overwhelming, but I will have a go. When I thought about today the main thing that I wanted to say was please don’t worry, and I think that I will expand on that a little before we begin. If you are thinking of engaging in today’s prompt and feel nervous, just remember that this need only be a playful & happy experience. The words you write don't need to make sense to anyone but you, or even to you! Sometimes, as with journeying, the meaning unfolds later, or remains as a beautiful mystery that pulls at the unconscious ~ a shining thread to connect us to the Otherworld where understanding is woven in a way that we can scarcely imagine. Many of us have been put off writing, traumatised even, by our time at school, when we are taught to use words ‘properly’. Let me just say that there is no ‘properly’ here. In fact, the more improper you feel like being the better as far as I’m concerned!

Author Paul Kingsnorth, who writes a great deal on the importance of words, in quite a different context than this one but which feels relevant here nonetheless, has suggested that one of the things that we might usefully do to support the wild is to create nature refuges. He is very careful to explain that it is no longer enough to talk about, or even to create, nature ‘reserves’. We must do more than ‘reserve’ space for nature. We must make her our centre and our priority, our first thought in all that we do. Words matter. Creating a refuge feels so much more urgent than setting aside a reserve. And so perhaps in taking part in day 16 of the Plant Spirit Ally Challenge we can create a refuge for words and for language, freed from the need to say something important, to rock the world on its axis, or even to make sense. Perhaps we can just give them space, set them free a little in the spirit of playfulness and curiosity, and see what magic they make.

In her book, ‘Writing to Wake the Soul’, Karen Hering quotes poet Heid. E. Erdrich, who tells us in the final line of her, ‘Origin of Poem’, “it might simply be a matter of finding and feeling our connection to what is deep and alive, well below the surface of things. In either case, it can require a lot of casting and long, patient waiting.

We fish our own waters
green and layered
weedy and warm -
Nothing rises,
no ripples, but we wait.
All we want is the tug -
something deep, alive, on the line”
~ Heid. E. Erdrich

I have a few little ideas and techniques to help us create a wild refuge for our words but I will firstly mention something that once helped me. A long time ago I was introduced to the idea that words and language are a sense; just like touch, taste, smell, hearing, and sight. They are a way in which we can explore the world, sending them out so that we can see what bounces back. They don’t need to be ‘right’, if there even is such a thing. They just need to be allowed to fly. And that is all we are doing here; sending out our words to explore the space between ourselves and our plant spirit ally and, if we choose to share, between ourselves and other people. Our words can be, and are, an offering to our plant ally, both the words themselves, but also the attention given to the connection and the time offered to the task. And, for any amongst us who are afraid to offer the written word, our courage in doing so is the most powerful and beautiful of offerings to this prayer of connection we are weaving. Be brave, be wild, be willing.

And we might consider too that the words we use aren’t ultimately the important thing. In the image and metaphor of words we are seeking an older tongue even than language; a universal understanding beyond the words themselves, a sort of dream language perhaps. We are seeking to share beyond the boundaries of surface understanding and diving into the wild seas of poetry, parable, and prayer. Who knows what might return to us on the tide?

In the Bible is the story of the Tower of Babel. We are told that, following the Great Flood, a united humanity spoke only one language. Migrating westwards, they came to Mesopotamia and decided that they would build a city and in it a great tower tall enough to reach heaven. In order to stop them God created many languages so that the people could no longer understand one another well enough to cooperate and scattered us across the planet. This story has been compared with that of Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden. There are so many ways of interpreting both those stories but they both warn us that transgression leads to separation, from the Earth and from one another. Or we might say that separation leads to transgression, however we might understand both those terms. How easily we seek to blame the Divine in her many forms for our loss of paradise. It's we who separated earth from sky. I notice too that the actual wording in Genesis 11: 1 tells us that, “the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.” It wasn’t only humanity that shared one language. It was the whole Earth, and we all understood one another. 

How might we find our way back to the garden, mending the scattered pieces and reaching heaven at last? Again we are told that at Pentecost, fifty days after the Resurrection, the Holy Spirit appeared as ‘tongues of fire’, filling those present. From then on, they were able to communicate in the language of whoever they met and to be understood. If we can put our differences aside, we will know that, whatever our religious or spiritual tradition, in connection with Spirit we are able to understand one another and share in community. Language, words, and writing, come from this desire to share experience, to connect and communicate. If we have words, if we can speak, then we can write. The voice is a prayer written on the sky, writing a prayer recorded on a page. They belong to us and there is no need to be afraid. We have all been gifted with tongues of fire.

Writing is in itself a solitary, private, and intimate activity. It is between us and our pen and paper. Or, of course, between our keyboard and screen, but I would encourage everyone who is able to to make some marks on paper for this task. I like writing on a laptop myself. Typing helps me to keep up with the speed of my thoughts and to move things around, and I find crossing things out on paper physically painful such a perfectionist am I, but there is something about sitting with a blank page and then making the first mark. And, like the making of any relationship, what that mark means or will become is only for us and the words to say. Let there be freedom in that.

And so, here are just a few ways in which we might begin to make our beautiful marks.  

One way that really helps me when I feel stuck is ‘free-flow’, or automatic, writing, which I was taught about by woman of deep-heart, Tegwyn Hyndman. For this all we need is a stack of paper (always have more paper than you think you will need) and a pen. Begin by relaxing and moving into a ‘daydreamy’ state in whichever way you find easiest. We might spend some time slowing our breathing, we might meditate, or drum. It would be lovely to begin with Michelle of Hagstone Publishing’s ‘You Breathe Out, She Breathes In’ plant meditation from day 2, which you can find here. Having your plant spirit ally nearby would be a blessing, perhaps drinking some tea made from her flowers or leaves if your plant isn’t toxic in any way. I chose to have bath into which I added lilacs, my plant spirit ally for this challenge, and held a single lilac flower under my tongue. I also refreshed my lilac altar by adding new flowers and lighting a candle. It all just helped me to feel woven in, in touch.

For the free-flow writing you will need to create a sentence to lead you in. For my writing with the Lilac being I chose, “In the house of the Lilac being I find…..” but it could be anything that opens up the space. Perhaps, “Lilac wants to share that...”, or simply, “Lilac says that...” Write that sentence at the top of a fresh piece of paper, making sure that your stack of paper is nearby, set a timer if that feels right (it helps me not to feel agitated or tempted to keep looking at the clock), I suggest for ten minutes. I know that that feels like ages, but it really isn’t, and then just start writing. And don’t stop. Write whatever comes into your head or heart, without censorship or worrying about repetition or spelling mistakes or punctuation. Just keep writing and see what comes. Sometimes there is a flash of brilliance like a shooting star, and sometimes is enough. If you get stuck, just keep writing anyway. You might write, “I am stuck. I am stuck. I am stuck. I can’t think of any words. I wish that I had never started this...” and, when/if you can, bring your attention back to your plant. She may be waiting to tell you something. At the end of the ten minutes stop and read what you have written, without judgement if you can, and holding the words lightly.

Here is my free-flow with Lilac, uncensored but maybe with a comma added here and there, for ease of shared understanding; mine and yours.

"In the house of the Lilac being I find…

A prayer of petals, intoxicating, heat and heady scent. I seek the centre, push aside flower on flower to find the spell of her heart centre, but she has secret spells that elude my seeking sense. She calls me to deeper depths like light on water enticing me to dive. She ripples, is gossamer thread turned to gold, a blush of passion rising on the skin, graces afternoon tea with hidden lust for sweetness. She says more; more flowers, more sky, more honey on the tongue, more song, more breeze to turn petals to light, more depth, more pushing aside to find the heart, more hum of bees, more poems in the bark, more root, more space, more light. More, she says, and still more. And I am enough in this scattering of flowers and chaos of stems, in this snaking of roots. She says that I am more than I know and that I am enough. I can be close and grow and I can journey far. This mountain prayer, this song of shore, this salt-sea tide, this movement and this edge is all. This wave of love. This passion scent and sent in lust for life, for more, for more than this, and for this to be made of light. The this, the more, the prayer, the song, the serpent at the root, the poem, and the petal wild with light and love.

Isn’t she exciting!!

Another practice, which I often choose when I would like to write a poem but feel under pressure, is to write a haiku. This is a simple Japanese poetry form made up of three non-rhyming lines of seventeen syllables in a 5-7-5 pattern; five in the first and third lines, seven in the second. To write a haiku is relatively easy, to write an enchanting one is harder, but that’s what makes them interesting. Here is mine for Lilac;

Sound the hollow bone.
Raise a petal to your lips.
In bliss, Lilac sings.

My haiku comes from Lilac’s genus name, ‘Syringa’, which comes from the Ancient Greek word ‘shrinx’, meaning ‘tube’ or ‘pipe’, and referring to the lilac’s hollow stems, which make me think of flutes or the bones of birds. I love that image.

Finally, if we are feeling really stuck or are just seeking a place to start, we might sink into the depth and beauty of simple description. What more beautiful prayer to relationship than to truly SEE the other?

So we might describe her colour, her taste (if it is safe to taste her), her smell, her texture and her temperature, her sound.

For Lilac ~

"In my nearby garden, she is white. Her flower spikes, growing on the end of long stems in gatherings of three and four, are a mass of single flowers, each one on a tiny green stalk that disappears in a froth of petals. Somehow she makes sense and shape of it. In morning light she is almost transparent with no colour at all. At sunset I have seen her turn to buttery gold. Her bark is pale, her trunk twists. She smells sweet, her flowers bitter on my tongue. She is all contradictions. The wilder faraway lilac is purple. Her flowers change from deepest pink to palest lavender with age. She is so wild with leaves and flowers that I can’t see her bark but I can hear the wind rustling through her, have heard the tap of rain on her surface. She smells deeper, headier. I seek out the perfectly opened flowers for the strongest smell. I bow before the petals that are turning brown and wish them well as they wane. And she is cool like ice on summer’s day and hot like heat haze. I am in awe of the life in her, of the whip-crack of her stems. I wonder whether I could ever be so scattered, so seemingly chaotic, and so surely myself."

I am sure that I have only scratched the surface of describing her and I found it almost impossible to only describe, rather than slipping into metaphor or simile. And that is alright too, because even in the struggle to draw her in to what I had decided I wanted her to be, and in failing, I have learned something of the Lilac being. It is all touching another. It is all the making of relationship.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
~ Jalal Al-Din Rumi

And so, enjoy today’s delicious task, both you and your chosen plant ally. I will so much look forward to reading your words, if you do choose to share.


Hagstone Publishing ~

'Writing to Wake the Soul: Opening the Sacred Conversation Within' by Karen Hering, Atria/Beyond Words, 2013.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Day 14 of the Plant Spirit Ally Challenge ~ Make a Shrine

Something a little different today as I have been taking part in Hagstone Publishing's Plant Spirit Ally Challenge, which takes place through the whole of May. It has been wonderful, enriching, and nourishing so far. I have learned such a lot, both from the Lilac being who I have been journeying with, and from fellow participants. I am jolly chuffed to say that I am one of the co-hosts of the challenge and have been asked to write two pieces; one today on making a shrine, and another on Thursday for Day 16 on writing a poem, story, or prayer. If you want to know more about the challenge itself, or to join in ~ it's not too late ~ do visit Hagstone Publishing's website at The Challenge is taking place on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook with the hashtag #PlantSpiritChallenge if you would like to see what we've been doing. Such a lovely and deep-hearted community centred around the wisdom of our chosen plant allies, whether we chose them, they chose us, or a bit of both.

And so on to shrine making.

I feel that I have been making shrines, or altars, for so long that I rarely think about how I do it anymore. I do remember that when I consciously began creating them I wanted to get everything ‘right’ and that that seemed so very important, but built into that thought is the possibility of getting it wrong. The main thing that I would want to share about altar making now is that we really can't get it wrong at all. This is about our own wild and beautiful relationship with Spirit, in whatever way s/he/it manifests for us and it is for us to choose what our altar will be. All I know is that since I have stopped worrying about getting it right my altars seem like a natural extension of my heart and my prayer for connection and deeper living. 

As for prayer, it occurred to me once, I think through the words of a hymn, that there has not been a moment on this planet for thousands of years, or perhaps since the first thought, when a prayer hasn’t been spoken or lifted; that prayer is a whisper that surrounds the Earth in a beauty blanket of hope and sacred connection. And so it is with altars. I am quite sure that from the earliest times of our ancestors there hasn’t been an hour when someone hasn't collected together special objects and felt a connection to something larger than themselves in their presence; altars are a key. They open a door and they always have. This is the thread that we take up when we too choose to create an altar. And it may be that we have been creating altars since we were very small children, without quite thinking of it in that way. Children are natural altar makers, collecting together precious objects playfully and joyfully without self-consciousness and with no fear of getting it wrong. So, let’s find our way back to the child and make an altar in co-creation with the spirit of our plant ally.

Our task today is to ‘make a shrine’. The word shrine comes from the Latin ‘scrinium’, or acase or chest for books or papers’, and from Old French: 'escrin', a ‘box or case’. It carries the sense of something precious, set apart. As for ‘altar’, Old English originally had various spellings alter, altar, but finally ‘altar’ may have been influenced by the French ‘autel’, from Latin words 'altare' (high) meaning podium or stage and ‘adolere’, to adore, in the sense of worship, honouring, and offering sacrifices to something beyond ourselves. These are places set apart. This is holy, sacred space dedicated to a particular energy or purpose, even if that purpose is simply to create a little pool of peace and beauty in an often manic word, a place where, when our eyes fall on it, we remember that there is more than this. Shrines keep us awake. They are a place to breathe. 

Shrines are found in many of the world's religions, including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto, Paganism, and in many different settings, such as churches, temples, cemeteries, and in homes. For example, small household shrines are very common among the people of South and Southeast Asia, whether Hindu, Buddhist or Christian. Usually a small lamp and small offerings are kept daily by the shrine. Buddhist household shrines must be on a shelf above the head; Chinese shrines must stand directly on the floor. And it is true that one of the first decisions to make when creating a shrine or altar is where we might put it, especially in a busy home where we may have little space.

When I began making my own altars at home I made sure that they had a table of their own and they took up a central position in wherever I might be. Now that I share a home with another person I make my decision about altar placement in a different way. I create altars everywhere; they can be as simple as a vase of flowers or a collection of favourite stones, but my main seasonal altar is along one side of our kitchen worktop. That was a completely practical decision when I began; that’s where the space was, but now I find that I like having my altar in the kitchen. The kitchen was, and is, after all the first altar. But I also make altars when I travel; on bedside tables or on desks, when I give talks, as I sometimes do, I try always to have the simplest of altars beside me. They remind me who I am and why I'm doing something the scares me.

For me, my altar is my anchor, the place that I spin out from into the everyday world. There have been times in my life when I have neglected my altar, failed to change it with the seasons, and let it gather dust. I know that whenever this has happened something in me, and in my home, has died. My altar is also my hearth, the place where I warm myself when the world feels cold. It matters to keep the flame there alive. This reminds me of a story I once heard of an old woman in the Scottish Highlands who had lived in her tiny croft since she was a small girl, always refusing to move, despite much cajoling. One day, she suddenly declared that she was ready to go and happily moved into a more modern home. When she was asked why she had unexpectedly decided to leave her croft she simply answered, “the fire went out’, and so it is with our altars. We need to keep them alive.

So, once we have found our place, which can be as small as a shelf or a windowsill, how might we go about creating the shrine itself, how do we make it a place set apart? I’m sure that there are as many different ways as there are people making altars but for me they begin in two ways. I either have something very deliberate in mind and gather objects that fit, or I might create an altar more intuitively, not being quite sure why something has been chosen but allowing that understanding to unfold as my relationship with that particular altar unfolds. We can begin simply. In the case of the Plant Spirit Challenge, perhaps with something as simple as the plant we are working with itself, a few leaves, or an image if the plant is impractical for the space. Perhaps a candle, or some crystals around the pot. We might think about what colours we associate with our plant and add an altar cloth in that colour. We might ask the plant what colour cloth s/he would like. This is a co-creation after all. We are calling spirit in. It doesn’t have to be complicated, only real.

It has been a deep journey for me with Lilac, the plant I chose to walk with for this challenge, and that journey is still unfolding. It feels that my altar is the same; a movement, a work in progress. It began very simply with a vase of lilacs, a beeswax candle, and a carved orb depicting spring flowers. I added a photo of myself when I was quite young looking angrily at the camera. I like the energy in that photo and it holds something of the me I hope to reclaim, remembering that lilac likes to live close to humanity but to be left to grow wild. I think that the little girl in that photo wanted much the same thing. I added hare statues and images for the same wildness of spirit. I am letting the relationship between lilac and hare unfold. 

Since this beginning I have added the lilac leaf print I made for the art day of the challenge, the jar of honey gin and lilac elixir I made, and a tiny bottle of gin containing the lucky five petalled lilac flowers I’ve found on the lilacs I’ve brought in to the house. I have added amethysts for their lovely lilac colour and aventurine for the green. Underneath all of this are two doilies passed on to me from my Grandmother. I like this foundation in my motherline. I feel the pulsing of ancestral blood in my tiny corner of sacred space. I remember them there.

And once we have our altar, what then? I say, let's trust ourselves. We will know what to do. This is liminal space. There is no one here but us and love. But we might choose to place objects there, such as my elixir, to soak in the sacred. We might also make offerings. The time that we choose to take in tending our altars is an offering in itself, but we might also burn incense, chant or sing, offer words of poetry or prayer. This is our own little door to sacred space; a place to focus and to dream. And we just can’t get it wrong.


Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Honey to the Flower ~ Mead Making as Medicine

Mead Making, 'Writing with Bees' with Charlotte du Cann, May 2018

Mead is an ancient bee medicine made by our ancestors since the earliest times. It was created throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa, with Chinese pottery vessels dating from 7,000 BCE showing traces of honey fermentation such as takes place in mead making. In Europe similar traces have been found in ceramics belonging to the Bell Beaker Culture (2,800-1,800 BCE). Fermentation has a long history and can be seen as a way to reclaim food from fast food and supermarket culture. I find it deeply heartening ans hopeful to have fermenting food in the hedgehermitage kitchen; a substance in a constant state of transformation, just as I like to think I am. With the simple recipe that follows we might also use mead making to connect to the land and the plants around us in our everyday lives; this too is a radical act in a culture so threaded through with disconnection from nature.

The Hispanic-Roman naturalist, Columella, gave a recipe for mead in his ‘De re rustica’, in about 60 CE;

“Take rainwater kept for several years, and mix a sextarius of this water with a (Roman) pound of honey. For a weaker mead, mix a sextarius of water with nine ounces of honey. The whole is exposed to the sun for 40 days, and then left on a shelf near the fire. If you have no rain water, then boil spring water.”

Many recipes will also include yeast but an older way is to make it without as adding raw honey to spring water will cause it to ferment. I was given the following mead-making recipe by Charlotte du Cann at a ‘Writing with Bees’ workshop held by the Natural Beekeeping Trust in May 2018 and I am only just now trying it out. The thought of it obviously needed to ferment first!

Blackthorn blossom, nettle, and strawberry mead, April 2019

All that’s needed for the recipe is a jar; a Kilner jar is perfect as it needs to be shaken vigorously at the beginning, spring water (not tap), raw honey (runny is best as less shaking is needed!), together with soft fruit, flowers, berries, and leaves. By changing the recipe it’s possible to follow the seasons in the most simple and beautiful of ways. I can think of few things nicer than going out with my foraging basket in search of ingredients for mead making. We might try elderflower, rose petal and strawberry, or wild cherry and meadowsweet in the summer, blackcurrant and fennel, blackberry and mint, as the seasons change. Other possible ingredients are things like herb robert leaves, lemon balm, lavender (both leaves and flowers), violets, forget-me-nots, rowan or hawthorn berries, sloes, rose hips, mallow flowers, borage, and heather, among countless others. It is important to be sure of our identification of course, and to be mindful of where we are collecting our ingredients from, but there is so much for us to experiment with. And we are taking part of the land into ourselves; offering the honey made by the bees back to the flowers.

Foraged primroses, nettles, and blackthorn flowers

To make the mead, take around 1 litre of spring water (the less water, the stronger the mead) and half a 227g jar of honey (although I had a much larger jar and probably put more in!), put them in a jar and shake energetically. This will activate the honey and it will begin to froth. You can then add your sliced fruit, together with any leaves or berries you like. Swirl it around again and leave, making sure to stir once a day. After a few days it should begin to froth; continue to stir once a day, and when the frothing begins to calm down, you can strain it and drink it. The process should take around ten days. It can become too fermented. If this happens, just strain out the flowers, fruit, and leaves, and put it into the fridge.

I put my flowers in first, but I'm sure that it will be ok!

Adding the honey

Filling them up with spring water

After energetic shaking ~ the blackthorn mead was especially excited!

I am currently trying two different recipes. My first thought was to make nettle mead from the nettles in the hedgehermitage garden. I am doing that, with the addition of some primrose flowers from the churchyard of the church I go to and which has stood on that spot for over 1,200 years; ancient ground. My other jar contains blackthorn blossom and some nettle tops from the companion plants growing under the blackthorn just down the road from here. I have added strawberries to both, although I think that I would rather have just used the nettles and flowers. I am not yet confident enough to do that though, as I wonder whether the soft fruit aids the fermentation process. I was mindful of keeping the nettles from the two different locations separate. I would like to use one to weave connection between my home with my church and the other to connect more deeply with the blackthorn being and her edge-place plant allies. I will perhaps sip a little each day and see what comes. I think of this more as a sacred ‘medicine’ than an alcoholic drink and will treat it in that way. I will perhaps write about that another day.

In the meantime, do let me know if you make this simple mead and what recipes you decided on. I wish you many blessing of honey and land if you do choose to make this mead prayer.

The Blackthorn Being

Thursday, 4 April 2019

On Gift Giving and the Wild Eye of Prayer

A small gift from the Mac Gwylans? Plus a tiny slug.

Today I have had a chat to the everyday angel pigeons in our garden, together with indulging in a rather acrimonious exchange with a jackdaw, who seemed to feel that I wasn't putting his breakfast out in quite the right way. I was faffing about a bit I know but Jackdaws can be terribly demanding.

An everyday angel, beautiful in the blossom 

Speaking of demanding, I thought that I would share with you this possible tiny wonder and small beauty. Every Wednesday I pop to the shops and for a coffee with my dad-in-law. Yesterday we set off as usual and our garden path was empty. When we came back several hours later the ceramic decoration from one of the pots in our back garden had appeared exactly in the middle of the path! It is quite large; maybe 3 inches across, and is biscuit-thin so it must have been carried and put down very carefully. It is a mystery.

Beautifully placed in the centre of the garden path

My only thought is that Mr Mac Gwylan  the herring gull ('gwylan' is Welsh for gull) gathered it up and put it there. Things tend to move around here, as both the foxes and the magpies like to pick things up, play with them, and then put them down somewhere else. A magpie recently appeared with the cover of one of our long-gone garden lights, which is like a little sparkly ball, in his beak and it is now often put in, or taken out of, our garden pots. I have also seen a magpie do the same with a piece of broken pot, but I think that this is too large for a magpie to carry so carefully and the foxes would have been fast asleep at that time of day.

Mr Mac Gwylan considering my shortcomings as a host 

You may recall that last year we looked after a herring gull chick who had come down from the roof too early in the exceptionally hot weather and had hurt his wing. If you would like to read more about him you can do that here. He was here for a few days and his parents were watching closely. There was much communication between adults and chick, although they didn't venture down into the garden. Eventually he had to go to a specialist wildlife rescue centre as we were afraid that his wing was broken (It was only a sprain. Phew!) My husband, Simon, spent much time explaining to the chick's parents that he was safe and that we were doing our best for him. We were sad at the thought that they might consider him lost.

Steve Mac Gwylan, the baby herring gull

Every year, gulls return to the same place to nest and we were overjoyed when the Mac Gwylans returned after New Year. In the past we haven't had much to do with them, other than admiring them on the roof and ooohing and ahhhing at their gangly babies, but this year they have been popping down to the garden to drink from the pool of water Simon made for last year's chick to splash in and I have been putting out a few mealworms for them by the garden gate. Generally, Mr Mac Gwylan comes down first and his lady sits on the roof making concerned noises, but she comes down too in the end or he goes up to get her. Yesterday, when I went to fill the bird feeder, which they can't get to as their wings are too wide, he made it quite clear that they would also like some snacks. I wonder whether the ceramic disk was a thank you, or a bribe! Either way it was lovely to wonder about that and I have put it on our garden table with all our other nature finds.

The more that I spend time with the birds the more I feel that I understand (a little) the amazing complexity of their communication, the richness of their social interactions with one another, the tides of their cyclical comings & goings. It is a beautiful thing. And a privilege to even consider that they sometimes notice me. They feel like family and they make this feel like home.

Everyday angels

Today, I had hoped to write about St Cuthbert, which I have been planning to do for several weeks, but what follows is what came instead. As Cuddy is sometimes credited as the ‘first conservationist’ for introducing laws to protect nesting seabirds on the Farne Islands as long ago as the 7th Century, and was said to have been brought gifts by ravens, perhaps I have written what he would have wanted after all. I try very hard to listen to what the day asks of me. I will return to him soon, to Welsh St Cenydd, who was born with a disability and cast out to sea in a willow basket only to be rescued by seagulls, and to Irish St Caoimhín, who had a blackbird build a nest and lay an egg in his open hand when he stretched out his arms out to pray, and who remained in stillness until the egg hatched and the fledgling flew. We have much to learn about relationship with the wild from our holy ancestors.

'St Kevin & the Blackbird, Clive Hicks-Jenkins. From

Returning to our gift from the gulls; of late there has been a lot of discussion here and there about the language we use when referring to the natural world. How, if we are to play our part in preserving or even saving, words matter and need to speak to the heart. We need to fall back in love with the earth. One thing that particularly struck me was the suggestion to stop talking about 'nature reserves', as though some bits of earth can be set aside for nature to live quite happily whilst we do what we like with the rest ~ to be fair, that is the prevailing mindset but it really needs to be challenged. There is no room for complacency or for feeling pleased with ourselves just because we allow something, anything, to stay green. Instead, we might really engage with what is happening and speak of 'nature refuges'; a place of sanctuary for our wild refugees who have had their homes taken by diggers, and landscapers, and poisons, who have been chased across an increasingly barren land to the very edges of endurance and survival. Our gardens, or even a little balcony or a windowsill, can be refuges too, no matter how small or unpromising we might consider them to be. It is a privilege to be in service to and to watch over any land in a world where so many are landless. There are (a very few) people on this planet who don't care about life, not even their own, and those of us who do care have to hold the line for life itself. All of nature is speaking; “don't mourn, organise”.

We have increased numbers of everyday angel pigeons here now because the army barracks, where so many had roosted, probably for generations, were bulldozed last summer to make room for a new estate. It is the same with the fire-flame foxes. There are more and more squashed into a smaller and smaller area because their earths and hunting grounds have been taken from them. No wonder that mange spreads amongst them. We are currently treating several who visit our garden and who are in a sad state. The badgers are gone; their setts, possibly centuries old, abandoned or lost, or perhaps they just can't bear to come this way. We shouldn’t assume that a badger’s heart can’t also be broken. Rats, who had lived quite happily in the, by now empty, army barracks were forced into the nearby estate and were poisoned. To discourage them trees and bushes were cut down. Before that, despite their close proximity to human habitation, they had bothered no one. The one strip of green that isn't mowed every spring by the council has also been poisoned, dowsed in glysophates, parched earth. Others put down astroturf, because we are all just too busy to care for our gardens. And I don't judge, or try not to; we’re ALL pushed to the very edges of endurance and survival in one way or another and it is just one more thing amongst many. We all fail. There is just no time to care in a world where caring only breaks our hearts, but that is not an excuse, not really. The crows' nests; 100 year old trees, have been felled; there was a man, a tree surgeon, almost in tears over them at a developers 'consultation' event here last year. And even the 'affordable housing' for these new estates are squeezed out to the edges too. It is all the same thing; what we do to the wild we do to ourselves. They cut down the crows' trees, destroy the foxes' earths, and make neat little boxes as battery farms to keep us, the fodder of Capitalism, just happy enough, but worn down just enough too.

Nina George in her Spring 2016 essay, ‘Everything Breathes the Revolutionary Spirit’, for ‘Gods and Radicals’ quarterly which I return to for sustenance again and again, tells the story of four men who were hanged in Chicago in 1887 for being leaders of a movement demanding workers’ rights and an eight hour day. All of the men spoke passionately and eloquently in court in their defence. One, August Spies, used examples from nature to suggest that revolution and resistance are a natural state; that “a force can be brought to try to push us down but this can never stop us. We rise. We grow. No one can stop the inevitable growth of the land, its people, and the forces we contain...Revolution is ever present in all beings’ spirits and lungs.” Everything breathes the revolutionary spirit; a plant that’s cut down will grow again wherever it can, birds who lose their brood will lay more eggs. Life is always bubbling up through the cracks. We must embrace that energy; finding the cracks where life can get in and playing our part in putting it, and keeping it, there for as long as we can. And if, and when, that fails, we must look for more cracks. As Nina George writes, we must be “the green fuse that refuses.”

And we do all need to refuse and find refuge; not to be thought of as us doing our wildlife a 'favour', because we need refuge too and I am quite sure that I gain more from the beings who find shelter here than they from me. But this is one time when we are all in it together. All of nature is in deep communication and trying to communicate with us, in solidarity. “Wake up!” they say, “remember that you are not alone.” The badgers, the foxes, the nettles, the blackthorn, the bees; everything breathes the revolutionary spirit. And of course they are speaking to us. Our planet is dying and we are the ones who are killing her. Why would they want us to give up and sink into despair? There is only even more death that way.

But we do have power, although we are encouraged to think otherwise. Where there is still even the tiniest piece of land for us to call kindness and generosity in there is hope. And so I will rejoice in being told off by jackdaws, and in spending money we haven't got on birdseed, and speak out when it's suggested to me that we buy wheat-free seed to 'put off' the pigeons, because what matters more in life than the breaking of bread in good company, and I will believe that the herring gulls, who are on the RSPB red list as being 'at risk' on our hugely nature depleted little island, have brought us a precious ceramic disk as a gift, because I have to believe that they too know there is still love and hope in the world.

"For Earth to survive, she needs your heart. The songbirds and the salmon need your heart too, no matter how weary, because even a broken heart is still made of love. They need your heart because they are disappearing, slipping into that longest night of extinction, and the resistance is nowhere in sight. We will have to build that resistance from whatever comes to hand: whispers and prayers, history and dreams, from our bravest words and braver actions. It will be hard, there will be a cost, and in too many implacable dawns it will seem impossible. But we will have to do it anyway. So gather your heart and join with every living being.” (Deep Green Resistance)

Thank you, Mr and Mrs Mac Gwylan for the wild eye of your prayer. I am listening, with every cell I am listening.

True love

Aho mitake oyasin. For all our relations.