Persevering through February

The nice thing about writing a blog is that I can re read it myself, even if no one else does! I can revisit previous years and remind myself of past scenes and insights, so often still relevant. This February seems to have been very gloomy, our weather, and local and world wide events as well as my mood. Looking back over previous years I realise that February can often feel that way for me.

This time last year I was exploring Wendel Berry’s poem which starts “When despair for the world grows in me…” even though at that point we did not know what lay ahead, (probably just as well!) But reading it again today reminds me of his answer to “come into the peace of wild things”. Some of our daily walks recently have been wet, muddy and slippery, but we have encountered some wonderful natural beauty in spite of the gloom, and felt some of the freedom Wendell Berry writes about.

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

During the grey days I have also been glad of my continuing participation in an online Stitch Club. The most recent workshop by Jude Kingshott included a stitched fabric book made from scraps and recycled cotton lawn. I found hand stitching on very thin almost translucent fabric quite a challenge. It felt so insubstantial and unstable. Flimsy was the word. It felt like my hopes for the immediate months ahead, unpredictable and uncertain. But stitch by stitch I plodded on and I have now finished a little booklet of bright cheerful flowers, albeit flimsy.

The cover…
And pages…

“Perseverance” is the name of the space craft which has finally reached Mars this week. I have not achieved anything quite so remarkable, but it is a familiar theme. Even my art journaling echoed it.

Perseverance seems the order of the moment, so let’s keep keeping on, stitch by stitch, step by step, flower by flower, and we will get through the February mud and gloom to more solid ground and clearer skies.

A month of moments

This month, the first one of 2021, has been a month of restrictions, lockdowns, a month of not seeing people, not travelling, staying at home. Many days have been grey and wet. We have had some light snow, rare here in the south, but not enough for fun and games. The news about the Covid virus has been generally gloomy with increasing casualties, both amongst those who have become ill, and those who have been caring for them.

I am grateful that I have not been in either of those categories, but nonetheless the mood of the month has been miserable. At the beginning of the year I set myself a daily challenge to make a small picture with collage, paints or pens, capturing something about each day, birthdays, things I saw, ephemera or a doodle. They are only 1.5 x 2.5 inches in size, and made in the little book I bound together. Some days I forgot and had to play catch up, but 30 days later they make a surprisingly colourful collection.

A collage of moments

As I gaze out on yet more grey skies today this little collection reminds me to keep my eyes and heart open. Those fleeting insignificant moments may seem transitory and boring, but they contain our treasure.

Some ephemeral moments must be given a memory, because the temporality of an instant may radiate a twinkle of eternity.
― Erik Pevernagie

January Journal 2021 – first pages

First six sketches and doodles in my mini journal. My attempts to express moments, objects or observations from each day.

Following the thread

Two years ago today on this blog I started a January of reflections. I decided I would look through my January posts from the previous seven years and select one for each day to carry forward for the year ahead. Little did I know what that year would bring, or indeed the following one, and probably best that I didn’t know!

My friend Niki commented on that post for January 1st 2019 “Perhaps it is as well we don’t know what our journey in life will entail … as both sunshine and heavy rain experiences are best appreciated or tackled as they come without anticipation or dread, and past experiences bring both the appreciation and strength needed to get through.” How right she was!

This was the view from my window on January 1st 2014
The view this morning, different weather, different cars, the same window!

A lot has happened since that first photograph. I have had the joy of getting to know my first grandchild, and the sadness of losing another before there was a chance to know him. There have been happy get togethers and reunions with family from far away. There have been the difficult recent months of distancing and being apart, staying connected only briefly or online.

It is often only as we pause and look back that we realise just how far we have travelled. As we take in the view behind we see things from a different perspective and find our priorities changing. But some things remain the same, and they are often small. As I reflect on my blog and journals I notice how often it is the garden, the seasons and growing things which recur constantly, and with a steady regularity.

A poem I have recently copied into my personal anthology is “The way it is“ by William Stafford

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

This unchanging thread is what sustains us through the changes of time, but it is often hard to explain what it is. Mark Nepo in a lovely book I received for Christmas describes it like this. “To discover the thread that goes through life is the main reason to listen, express and write” Drinking from the River of Light

So, hard though it often is, I am going to attempt to find a time each day this month to pause, and listen, and then express in some way what I have seen or heard or noticed. Express can be defined as “to squeeze out” and I guess it may sometimes require some effort rather than be an easy flow. So I will keep it small. I have made a little journal, ready for a doodle, a quote, a drawing or even just a splodge of colour. Who knows! Watch this space.

Writing gifts

It was a special moment for me when the postman delivered an envelope the other day which was handwritten. So many of our letters these days are printed, but this was not only written by hand, but I knew whose hand had written it. A five year old, whose every letter is painstakingly and beautifully formed. He writes with such care, the process of addressing the envelope becomes an act of love. The writer is our grandson, who has made us an advent calendar this year, complete with numbered flaps and little surprises to discover each day. What a wonderful way to show his love, it will be treasured and enjoyed by us every day.

My grandson’s handwriting is much better than mine was at age five, and, dare I say it, more legible than mine often is today! There is something magical about handwriting, the action and feel of the pen on paper, the slight resilience to the smooth flow, the shape of the pen in our fingers. And handwriting is in some way unique to each of us, an expression of ourselves, and can be a gift to the reader.

I have also been enjoying a different kind of writing gift from Beth Kempton, author of Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year. Her Winter Writing Sanctuary course, which she offered free, has been a gentle way to remind ourselves of what’s important in this season, and in this particularly difficult year.

Writing doesn’t have to be hand writing, or even on paper, as Beth says in her Winter Writing Sanctuary. “To write is to pay attention to your life and to open up the channel for magic and mystery to flow out. Writing is about so much more than putting words on paper with a pen or typing into a laptop. It’s about listening. It’s about opening. And it’s about spilling so that your ink becomes stories and lessons for yourself and for other people. “

Recently I received a birthday gift of writing in the shape of a book. The writer is someone whose listening, observing and spilling not only helped her through deep depression but is an encouragement to others. The Wild Remedy by Emma Mitchell is an expression of her feelings and insights, as she takes up her pen and pencil after her walks in nature. It is a joy to read, and has encouraged me to make walking, looking and listening (and writing about it) a part of my daily routine.

Whether the words come from a five year old grandson carefully writing an address on an envelope, or a published author who is a stranger to me, the act of writing is a gift, and can be a source of great healing and joy, both to the writer and the readers. Keep writing everybody!

Deep down we knew
there were better ways
to show our love
than spending more money
on more stuff
that would get lost under a bed
or sit in landfill
for fifty thousand years.
Beth Kempton

The odd sunflower

This time last year, August Bank Holiday Monday, the weather was warm and summery, and we were off on holiday. I remember watching the sunrise over the M25 en route to the airport, and feeling excited. We we off on a long planned trip to Canada to stay with family.

This year things are different. The sun is shining here but the weather forecast is distinctly cool. Holidays and traveling are not on the agenda. Family visits are few and far between and socially distanced. Even a day out is a bit of an adventure. Things are not normal and certainly not as exciting.

As I look out of my window this morning, I can see our summerhouse. As usual there are hanging baskets on the corners, prettily planted with petunias and other appropriate hanging basket plants. But all is not normal there either, there is a misfit, an oddity, an unexpected appearance.

There is an unplanned, surprising sunflower, leaning at an awkward angle but opening its face to the world. It is hanging, suspended and confined, completely out of it’s normal comfort zone, but flowering anyway.

It is not very elegant, and looks like a mistake. But as I look closer it’s complexity and beauty becomes more evident.

These days things are strange, awkward and often difficult to manage. We find ourselves wondering when, or even if, things will ever return to normal. Normal, that word which comes from a carpenter’s measuring square, used to make sure things conform to a rule or pattern. Sometimes those old patterns seem a distant memory.

But this morning my non conformist sunflower greets me with a smiley face. This unplanned, abnormal flowering reassures and encourages me that perhaps things don’t have to be normal to still be OK!

The rain spoke to me…

It’s been a while since I last wrote here. Things have happened – a joyful family wedding for example, with some unexpected fun and surprises despite all the restrictions. When I last wrote we still didn’t know if it would go ahead… But it did.

And now in mid August the garden is dry and parched, and the colours as well as the temperatures are hot, with a few white spots of relief.

Flowers in the garden yesterday.

It has become more and more difficult to sleep at night in the continuing high temperatures, and during the days we have been preoccupied with finding shade and keeping cool. Other areas of the UK have had heavy rain bursts and flash flooding. Apart from a few thunder rumbles and short showers here we have had no reprieve from the heavy and oppressive atmosphere. Energy has been depleted, and it has been hard to stir myself from overwhelming lethargy.

But today we woke to mist and murk, with low cloud outside the windows. And then a steady fine drizzle rain. The kind of rain which wets, but does not bash and break. In fact I was drawn outside by the beauty of it. The gentle touch on my skin was refreshing, but it was the patterns it revealed which delighted me most. Cobwebs made visible like festoons of fairy lights, lacy designs on leaves and flowers, and tiny mushrooms peeping through the wet grass.

Raindrop fairyland

A few minutes paying attention to such beauties has moved me from my stupor, at least enough to write this post. And it reminded me of some words from a poem by Mary Oliver

Last night
the rain
spoke to me
slowly, saying,
what joy
to come falling
out of the brisk cloud,
to be happy again
in a new way
on the earth!

Conservatory

I have spent quite a bit of time in my conservatory this week. Early in the mornings it is shaded and cool before the sun rises over the house, a lovely place to eat breakfast and contemplate the garden. Then when the weather broke I sat here with rain lashing the glass roof , watching the trees tossing in the wind and grey clouds scudding across the sky.

Recently in the conservatory I have watched while a forgotten pot containing an old amaryllis bulb rescued from the polytunnel has pushed up a spike of new growth and opened into magnificence.

Another pot containing a dried up stick of a stephanotis has been nurtured into new life by my green fingered husband, and is now growing vigorously, clambering towards the light.

A dictionary definition for conservatory is “a place for preserving or carefully keeping anything”. Dating from 1610s, it stems from the Latin for conservator meaning “keeper”. It has certainly been a week for us of preserving in another sense, picking the last of the cherries, and starting on the plums and black currants now, freezing and making sauces and cordials. Finding ways to keep and preserve the abundance of the garden is set to continue considering what I have just picked from the garden this morning.

My conservatory is a world between – between the house and the outside. A place where I often sit, sheltered and comfortable regardless of the weather. It has helped me consider all the ways in which I am protected and held securely in times of difficulty and disturbance. So many people (known to me and strangers) and things seen and unseen, bigger and stronger than me, whose care has kept me safe in recent weeks. And it has heightened my awareness of the interconnectedness of all things and the ways in which I, and all of us, can together work to conserve, nurture and protect this beautiful world.

An Earthello written in my conservatory this week.

Mange tout?

One of my early childhood memories is of picking peas with my grandfather in his vegetable garden. Sweet peas too for the house. I can remember sitting podding the peas, and surreptitiously eating lots of the sweet green jewels which plopped into the bowl.

This week we have been picking peas in our own vegetable garden. These are tiny sweet petit pois. They produce a greater volume of pods than peas. But are still worth it for the flavor.



Other peas we have been picking his week are ‘mange tout’ and can be eaten pods and all. Whether they are the flat mange tout or the fatter sugar snap, there is much less waste, with no pods to throw away.

And it’s not just veg we’ve been picking and eating. More treats are starting to appear. Not much wasted here, although cherry stones are definitely not edible!

But no garden waste is wasted. The food wrappings in the garden are either mange tout or biodegradable. Unlike the food packaging from our recent supermarket click and collect. Although we specify “no bags” on the order there are always a few, and so many of the groceries are still packed in plastics or other materials. Although we have good recycling collection provision where we live, it is still so sad to see the amount of plastic waste.

This week the challenge from a textile art stitch club I belong to was to stitch a design using cut up plastic waste. Rummaging through some of my accumulated plastic wrappings I found a variety of colours and stitched this design.

As I stitched with the plastic I became freshly aware of the the amazing efficiency of nature in reusing every scrap of organic matter. It is a system where everything depends on its ability to decompose and there is no use for permanence and indestructibility. The waste pea pods are on the compost now, ready for the process which will see them feed the soil for new generations of life and growth. The destructive failure of plastics lies in their arrogant inability to decay and die.

My stitching is at least an attempt to find a creative way to help recycle stubborn inorganic waste. But nature’s impermanent beauty is far more beautiful, and wonderfully nourishing, whether we can eat it or not.

A posy picked from the allotment. Not “mange tout“ but a feast for the eyes and totally biodegradable.

Stories with and without words

A week of contrasts in the media. The aftermath of last weekend here in Dorset was one of horror, and disgust at the chaos caused by tens of thousands of day trippers who crowded in to local beauty spots. The folly of a few caused life threatening injuries to themselves, and in addition put their rescuers lives at risk too. And then there was continuing distress in the days that followed as the clear up operation revealed the foul deposits and overwhelming volume of rubbish left by those who appear to take no thought for the consequences of their actions.

Then more events which have unfolded in the media before our eyes in America have continued the theme of horror, disbelief and repulsion. The brutal destructive actions of some, as others stand by and watch, has convicted us all of our complicity in this injustice and irresponsibility. Now there is a rising international outcry at patterns which we know are deeply entrenched in our culture, hearts and minds.

In the face of horrible media news I find it hard to know what my response should/could be. This week I have been following a pattern of writing Earthellos each day, using an acrostic form HELLO. Discover more here.

The first step is to check in on myself starting with Here I am…. I have been aware of emotions or anger, disgust and fear, all contributing to an agitation and tension.

The second line starts with Earth you are… This stages invites me to observe and become aware of the earth, the environment around me. It changes my perspective completely as I find myself looking outwards. I have been surprised at what I see through my own window which helps me become aware of the continuing beauty of the earth inspite of the losses of setbacks and destruction. And TV has helped too. BBC Springwatch this last week has provided wonderful glimpses into environments I cannot access from my own doorstep. Try watching some of the 90 second “Mindful Moments” videos for a different take on the world. They require no explanation or commentary.

In our garden we have suffered the ups and downs of losing a beautiful clematis to “wilt“ and reddening cherries to “June drop”. Roses and peonies bloom and then lose their petals, but the seed heads remaining are interesting in themselves when I take time to look. Recently for an online textile arts group I made some little seed containers to hold some the seedcases that litter the ground in our garden. They remind me of the continuing story that seedcases tell in themselves.

Seed containers for pine cones, clematis head, beechnuts, a peony seed head and a rose after its petals have dropped.

Once again I am brought back to the awareness of the inadequacy of words to tell the whole story. Sometimes it’s better just to stop, look, observe and say nothing. But even so I’ll offer you my Earthello for today.