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Beech tree revisited

A feature of Facebook I quite like is the “on this day” memory prompt. Today I was reminded of what I posted to this journal five years ago… I have revisited that word sketch, and my subsequent post, before today. When studying metaphors and imagery in poetry on my MA course I looked through the window at that same tree, and thought about life, and the seasons of the soul.

Today the tree is still here, and so am I. Both older. Since then I know more of my ancestral grounds, and more of the sadness of loss and letting go. But I also hold on to the hope and promise of that life which is ongoing, and which cannot be quenched. It will stir again in spring.

Here is the three part poem I eventually wrote from my first word sketch five years ago. The voice of the poem shifts from being in the tree, then addressing the tree, and finally describing the tree from a longer time perspective. I find this is a process which often helps me cope with the changes and seasons of life. I hope you enjoy it.

Beech Tree Revisited

I stand tall, frame strong, robust

black arms, branching into finger twigs,

dressed respectably in leaves

of supple bronze, green sap holds firm.

Days disrobe me. Clothes fade

to shabby rags, brown stains of death.

Threadbare cloak pulls from my back.

I am stripped,



Here are your reaching fingers,

clutching brittle dying debris.

Here are your silvered arms,

rain sluiced, wind tossed.

Skeletal shoulders

bear the winter of your soul.

Here is your straight scarred trunk.

Here is the moss wrapped body.

Here an inner downward thrust,

to roots deep underground

where something unknown

wants to live.


Chattering excitement spills

from nestlings, sheltered

in wooden box pinned to her heart,

Circling crows above her head,

like v-shaped birds drawn

on the sky by children’s hands.

She stretches fingers to the blue,

touches shimmering rain clouds

with swelling tips of pink

which burst to lime,

and hurrying, lace gloves

pulled on, she waves

in welcome to the spring. Then turns,

still rooted in ancestral ground,

to dance along new paths, where

from beneath the litter of past years,

spouting bluebells fountain

into pools around her feet.

Cilla Sparks


Ephemeral art play

Today I was treated to a lovely trip to  Mottisfont House with some friends. We were going especially to see the Kaffe Fassett exhibition which is on there at the moment. But arriving a bit early we wandered the gardens to see what else was happening at Mottisfont this weekend.

We found a special Land Art activity being set up for families. Based on the work of such artists as Andy Goldsworthy, we were encouraged to collect natural materials to make our own “art”. Our results were not spectacular but we had fun and it helped us see our beautiful surroundings with new eyes.

We did eventually enjoy the inspirational work of  Kaffe Fassett inside the House but when I returned home I stepped into the garden feeling the urge to play with leaves and flowers! It was such colourful fun collecting and arranging stuff on our old wooden seat. Who needs paints, fabrics or embroidery?! 😊


October exhibit

This blog, started in January 2012, was originally inspired by Writing our Way Home, and their idea of writing “small stones”

I usually write a month of small stones to kick start each year in January. However I am currently following WOWH’s email course of October small stones and am finding great inspiration for just sitting still, and paying attention to life in all its variety.

Today’s quote was from Henry David Thoreau

“You only need sit still long enough in some spot in the woods that all its inhabitants may exhibit themselves to you by turns”

I didn’t need long in the garden this morning (it was drizzling!) to find this inhabitant exhibiting itself to me and inspiring a small stone.

Late chrysanthemums

Tight buds hide centres

of yellow mathematical arrangement.

Opening to wind and rain, rusty petals

stretch random sequinned fingers

towards the clouds, defying greyness

with their fiery flowers.

Entwined threads

No posts recently from me because I have been feeling very tired and not 100% well. A virus? Or related to a long term condition I have had for many years I’m not sure, but some blood tests soon will hopefully give some clues.

I find it hard not to feel miserable when I feel ill, and the wider news – local, national and international is not encouraging either.  Physical and mental are so closely connected for me, entwined even. This morning I was reading Deborah Alma’s “The Emergency Poet” ( a great poetry anthology for “down” moments) and happened upon this little extract from William Blake.

“Man was made for joy and woe;

And when this we rightly know,

Through the world we safely go.

Joy and woe are woven fine,

A clothing for the soul divine,

Under every grief and pine

Runs a joy with silken twine.”       From Auguries of Innocence

Weaving, cloth, thread and fabric are metaphors I can understand and relate to strongly, as the name I chose for my blog indicates. And then I found myself reading from Beverly Gordon “Textiles the Whole Story”, (a wonderful book about the meaning and significance of textiles in our lives). She describes so many rich metaphors about threads, but what stood out for me today was her description of how entwining and weaving provides beauty, strength and durability to the cords and cloths which hold us.

So perhaps I can gain courage today that the paradox of joy and woe entwined is ultimately a source of strength. And, just like the surprising toughness of natural silk, we can be reassured of joy, even when it’s hidden, running along the twisted threads of our lives.

Just as I was thinking this the postman delivered some Kaffe Fassett fabric remnants I’d bought from EBay. Not silk, but the colours are certainly joyous! Enjoy…



Being a witness

One of the pieces of evidence of my ancestors I now have in my possession is a marriage certificate from a Quaker wedding in 1875 at which my great great grandparents, William and Elizabeth Jackson, were present. Their signatures appear on the wedding certificate as witnesses of the couple’s promises that they will be faithful marriage partners with God’s help.

George Fox, early Quaker, said “the right joining in marriage is the work of the Lord only, and not the priests’ or magistrates’; for it is God’s ordinance and not man’s”. He continued “we marry none; it is the Lord’s work, and we are but witnesses.” (

Today I experienced for the first time something my great great grandparents did- that of being a witness at a Quaker wedding. Even in the 21st century the pattern is much the same; in the setting of a largely silent Meeting for Worship the couple declared their love and commitment to each other in words almost identical to those on the 1875 marriage certificate. In the quietness it was deeply moving as the witnesses spoke (or sang) to the couple with personal messages, prayers and blessings as they felt moved by the spirit.

And just like my great great grandparents I showed my presence and my witness of the couple’s declaration by signing the wedding certificate. Today, in the 21st century, I witnessed two women declaring their love for each other and seeking Divine assistance in their marriage. It was a wonderful honour to be involved. IMG_6080


Accessing history…

Over the last two days of our stay in Ireland we spent time with Lindsey, another cousin of my father’s. Although Lindsey and I are close in age we had never met before this trip to Ireland. The rain was falling outside so it was a great opportunity to focus on catching up on a life time (well, make a start at least!) and discuss our shared interested in tracking down the family history. We have both become hooked on the detective work of searching online records for clues about our ancestors lives and stories, and regularly exchange emails about our discoveries.

Linen features strongly in our family history so it seemed appropriate to visit the Lisburn museum and their Flax to Fabric exhibition. It was fascinating to see the process of linen production and to realise the impact of the mechanisation of what had been a domestic industry for generations. The looms in their collection would have been housed in weavers’ cottages, their punch cards determine the jacquard pattern in the weave. There was one storage box on display with the name Greeves on it, sadly too high up to photograph well,  but it was physical evidence of my 3x great grandfather John Greeves’ factory, his Linen Spinning mill in the Falls Road area of Belfast. The photograph is from the online collection from Belfast Live


With Lindsey we went to Oxford Island and the Lough Neagh Discovery Centre. In better weather we would probably have walked, but instead we talked. As well as the beautiful location the Discovery Centre had another bonus, an amazing local history collection including over 700 Quaker books and publications. We met the archivist, and he was keen to help us with our search for more clues to the stories of our family in this area.


Our final stop before heading to the airport for our flight home was another place of preservation – the National Trust property Castle Ward. On the shores of Strangford Lough we enjoyed a wander around the Old Castle farm with its turreted tower, and then a tour of the the 18th Century house, a strange mixture of Georgian and Gothic. The National Trust does an amazing job of conserving so many historic buildings enabling us to see architecture and interiors we would never be able to see other wise. Their conservation principles are to manage the land, structures and collections in their care “ensuring that their special qualities are protected, enhanced, enjoyed and understood by present and future generations”. Ironically Castle Ward is a site of the filming of Winterfell in Game of Thrones, raising interesting questions in my mind about historical reality and the nature of historical fiction and fantasy novels.


However, and why ever, we study history, to unearth forgotten facts or create fiction and fantasy, thank you to all those whose work of preservation and conservation enable us to access and understand truths about our past and present (and future?)


The living among the dead

Our three nights in Northern Ireland were spent at the Belmont hotel in Banbridge. I booked it because the house was originally designed by my 3x great grandfather Thomas Jackson, architect of many prestigious Belfast buildings. He also designed many country houses for the wealthy Linen manufacturers of this area. The Bann valley is dotted with fine Georgian houses, several designed by Thomas Jackson, and the remains of the linen mills are still in evidence too. Belmont House is now a hotel, and is being refurbished very tastefully. I think my long dead ancestor would be pleased to see his creation being cared for into the 21st century.

My great grandfather T Jackson Greeves (named after his architect grandfather) lived not far from Banbridge in Portadown where he owned a Linen Weaving factory. His house, Fairacre, was visited by my own father when he was a child. I found it on my last visit to Ireland, and it was nice to drive past it again. I wanted to find the grave of my great grandparents T. Jackson and Gilbertina Greeves and after a bit of a search I did find it, but also felt the strong sense that they were not there.

On the Sunday of our stay we visited Moyallon Quaker Meeting House, where Gilbertina’s parents William Ridgway Jackson and Lizzie Uprichard were married and Gilbertina herself would likely have attended sometimes as a child. We joined the current company of Friends (as Quakers are known) for their largely silent Meeting for Worship. Strangely, as I sat in the beautiful old meeting room I was not conscious of the presence of my ancestors, although I knew they had been there. More a connection with the living. Some of those present shared common ancestors with me, and they all welcomed us warmly as they shared lunch afterwards.

Back at the Belmont Hotel we met up with two other Quakers, one of whom I had been in e-mail contact with, as he helped me search for Quaker documents from the1860s when I was researching my family history. Ross and Robina shared a meal with us, and also their knowledge of the history of Quaker families from the area. But more than that, we discovered a present shared spiritual connection, and it was a lovely afternoon of friendship and fellowship.

It makes me wonder if perhaps we discover the true life of our ancestors in their legacy in those who are living.