Visiting The Moon

“The forecast looks really wet, again, so would you like to visit the moon?” What a question! My friend of course assumed I knew that the moon was in Derby Cathedral for a brief period, but I had somehow missed knowing about this event.

The Moon fills Derby Cathdral

It filled the space in the centre of the cathedral, just fitting between the columns, looking magnificent and big as you walk in. Derby cathedral is rather unusual anyway being Georgian, neoclassical and only actually a cathedral since 1927. The lighting, soft blues and purples as part of the exhibition, reflected off the white walls and brighter surfaces and added to the atmosphere of reflected moonlight rather than the golden sunshine that often fills the space. Working out which view we usually see from Earth was an interesting challenge, especially when the angle isn’t quite the same, and I remembered how the Chinese talk about the Hare in the moon instead of our Man given they see it from a different angle. But the best thing was simply being able to walk all the way around this wonderful celestial body, seeing its different sides for the first time ever, seeing how some areas are covered by craters and others are completely smooth depending on how exposed its surface is. It was truly awe-inspiring.

One aspect that I found fascinating, however, had nothing to do with the actual moon and lots to do with they way our individual brains work. My friend was puzzled by why some craters looked like they went inwards, while others looked like they actually went the other way, standing proud of the surface. I hadn’t seen this at all, but it intrigued me that she did. I realised that because the sculpture was made up of multiple photographs stitched together and printed onto the fabric, some had had the light in different places. In some areas, two craters next to each other even had the light from opposite sides. Because my friend sees the whole first and then looks at the details, she couldn’t make sense of this. Because I see the details individually I hadn’t even realised they were different until I looked carefully. Then I started to temporarily have her problem!

I should add that this is actually an autistic thing – I am not formally diagnosed as autistic, but my daughter is. In this case, I was seeing the outline but understanding the whole through the details. I do this regularly, and can put details together in different ways in my mind to experiment with design, whereas most people prefer to see the whole first and then sort the details later. It means I will sometimes spot a potential problem at a very early stage, but will not be able to explain it adequately to those who are not yet at that stage – and they can’t always explain to me why it doesn’t matter. So it was nice for me to finally understand this.

As far as the moon went however, we were both able to enjoy it in our own unique way.

As we were about to leave, some choral music played and the lights changed colour. I am left with a wonderful feeling of calm and peaceful love. I returned with M a few days later, when I was able to take a few photographs – the gates were closed on this second visit as there was about to be a concert under the moon as part of Derby’s Folk Festival.

The Moon in Derby Cathedral, seen from the choir.

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Harvesting Oddities

As I celebrated the autumn equinox this week, I was reflecting on what a strange growing year it has been. Alternating wet and dry, most fruit has done very well and so have lettuces. The peas were okay, the climbing beans are finally getting going after a very slow start, but courgettes, sweetcorn, tomatoes sulked in the cold, and brassicas seemed to get eaten by everything. So I let the nasturtiums run wild and fill all the spaces – they look pretty and have the bonus of being edible by me as well as a favourite of caterpillars, blackfly, etc.

In a spirit of celebrating all life, no matter what form it comes in, here is my harvest of oddities I have spotted this month.

Double Victoria Plum

Double Hazelnut

Twins – most common on my raspberries, one stem threw out several early on, but something I’ve not seen before is a double plum or a double hazelnut, from a wild tree nearby. The plum had two misshapened stones, like a raspberry with two stalks, the hazelnut hasn’t been opened yet.

Confused Sweetcorn ‘Incredible’ (Click to enlarge)

Sweetcorn has male flowers at the top, and females lower down where the cobs form. This happened last year on a larger stalk but I didn’t get a picture, and now I’m seeing it again on this stunted specimen.

Fasciated Lettuce Heart

Fasciation (a flattened stem) is something I have seen occasionally in foxgloves or purple loosestrife, but this year I found it in my lettuces. They look normal before being picked, but the stem is oval instead of circular and while leaves at the edges (the curved sections) are normal, the many central leaves (on the flattened sections) are narrow with no side branches.

Lupin Leaf-flower tower

And finally, a lupin stem that has forgotten to flower and instead created a pyramid of leaves.

Wildflowers Don’t Read Books

I have been having lots of fun this summer getting to know the various wildflowers that grow around Thorpe Cloud and the River Dove, and identifying those previously unfamiliar to me from photographs. (See my earlier post on Wildflower Surveying.) Now that the school holidays over, I am finally able to sort out all the information I have scribbled, photos I have taken, and try to make sense of it. However I am constantly amused by the flowers that don’t read the guidebooks.

Of the various ‘Indicator Species’ that I need to record,

  • Wood sage was not found in my patch of woodland, but growing happily on the rocky cliff.
  • Wild Marjoram was not found in the sunny grassland, but in the woods.
  • Quaking grass grows not in either place, but by the stream.
  • Bedstraws grow everywhere, but almost never the species I am checking for.
  • A friend tried to identify a sedge for me that, if correct, isn’t supposed to grow anywhere near here. (I might leave that one to recheck next year since there are only one or two!)

I am also amazed at just how many different species of plant grow in some habitats – to identify everything along my 25m of stream, or 25m2 of grassland would take me most of a day each, if I was to look at everything with magnifying glass and book(s) in hand. Luckily I don’t have to, as a list of habitat-specific plants has been drawn up that will indicate how healthy and happy it is over time, and checking for those can, thankfully, be done within the time I have available. However when it comes to the river, I can actually do all the plants – there are only six in the water, of which only two species (water mint and river crowfoot) are actually on the list.

Eyebright (Euphrasia sp.) – a solitary flower in June became a whole carpet by August.

Here are a few favourites from Thorpe Cloud, which definitely don’t grow wild around where I live. Some are within my survey area, others were photographed higher up on the hill.

Close-up of Thyme-leaved Sandwort (Arenaria serpyllifolia)

It may seem obvious when enlarged like this, but counting petals is critical! So many of these flowers are only 2-3mm across and look very similar at first glance, especially as their leaves can be mixed with other plants. Even plants like Dove’s-foot Crane’s-bill grow tiny up here – a thin covering of soil over rock, and being regularly grazed by rabbits means that very little gets to any great size.

It is fortunate that the ground is very steep, bringing the plants close to eye-level, or else I would spend all my time crouching over!

Biting Stonecrop (Sedum acre), Thyme-leaved Sandwort (Arenaria serpyllifolia), and Dove’s-foot Crane’s-bill (Geranium molle) growing together.

Thyme (Thymus polytrichus ssp britannicus) and Limestone Bedstraw (Galium sterneri) are fairly abundant in the area.

Field Madder (Sherardia arvensis), a close relative of the bedstraws.

Common Stork’s-bill (Erodium cicutarium)

Why I Make Music

Here is a question M asked me recently that has given me much pause for thought: why do I like playing music? The simple answer is that I like being part of it, bringing it to life, playing it differently every time as the mood takes me. Having new pieces to play is as exciting as a new book to read. Music has always brought more than just enjoyment to me; it goes through me, is part of me, is as essential to me for my mental health on a daily basis as going for a walk is for my physical health. Yet at the same time I notice how the more complete answer I would give to M’s question has changed considerably over my lifetime.

I joined a string orchestra when I was a teenager, so that I could go on their trip to Holland. The trip was great, and well worth joining for. The second year I went because I had friends there; only in the third year did I go for the music.

Circumstances made it possible for me to start learning the French Horn in my teens, which brought a whole new level of excitement. Most of what you play on a brass instrument is heard, and is played solo, unlike being one of many in the violin section. To sit in the middle of a symphony orchestra, being part of the music and surrounded by it, is such a complete immersion experience – especially for something like Brahms, Tchaikovsky or Mahler symphonies, or Richard Strauss tone poems, which all have great horn parts!

I challenged myself constantly to be the best I could be, and wanted the music as a whole to sound as good as it could. Looking back, this was not a good path to stay on, but probably one that had to be traveled. I went to music college, it was unavoidable, but I was never a performer. I just knew I had to study music, to be part of music, and I wanted to be better than I was. I became a teacher, trying to inspire others with their music and give them some of the opportunities of playing in a group that I had had.

My first real change came when I listened to a flute solo being played absolutely beautifully by a friend a few seats along from me, and thought, ‘I wish I could play like that!’ A moment later I realised, ‘I don’t have to play like that, she is playing like that!’ I sat back and enjoyed it, front row seat. From there, I quickly learned how to really enjoy playing whatever I was doing because it was part of the whole, even when it was something hard work and previously unsatisfying like oom-pahs. Then I had the unexpected experience of actually being able to play low notes properly when I was pregnant, in a way I had never managed for the twenty years previous. Finally I could succeed at my own part without being constantly frustrated at my own shortcomings.

With M around, my horn now spends most of its time in its case. Possibly the lessons it had to teach me having been learned at last, I don’t need it. Instead, I now play two instruments regularly that I didn’t ‘learn’, being mostly self-taught on both: the piano I play occasionally for M but mostly for myself, for my own well-being and enjoyment and emotional balance; and the recorder for Morris dancing or occasionally solo in woodland. I ask myself, is this a way of me avoiding judgement about my abilities? If so, it fails. I still get very nervous when playing for dancing especially if I am on my own, and have to use the dots as a fix to make sure I keep a steady tempo.

I see that sometimes pianos in National Trust houses now have a notice inviting people to play them. I want to know what they sound like, so I really want to have a go. I try, but I find nerves mean I can’t play well. I also find I don’t know when to stop, the first time I play too much, the second too little. I wonder why playing something I love should be so difficult?

Eventually I think I have the answer. As a child I played because I was bullied at school. Music was my space, something I could do, something even the bullies respected. As I got older, I still wanted to be good at it – but I wasn’t that great; no one has ever told me they have enjoyed my playing and I stopped trying to play for other people a long time ago. Even worse, I was occasionally presumptuous enough as a teenager to think I was entertaining others in a positive way, only to have my audience drift away as politely and quickly as they could. Therefore I have no confidence when it comes to playing for others and I feel I am probably disturbing their peace, so I would rather retreat back into the shadows of my own world where, unjudged by others, I am happy with what I do.

I finally had a clue to the way forward for me, on realising I had played ‘too little’. I take pleasure in listening to others play, so why not the other way around? Maybe I can actually give others pleasure in my music? Something that never occurred to me before! This is now altering the way I approach the piano at home, as I anticipate that the type and quality of music that will please others may be different to what pleases me. I even had my first opportunity to try this out a few days later, when some songs were called for as part of a children’s activity – and for the first time ever I managed to sing solo without being nervous because they were enjoying it.

I asked the trees this week if they liked me to sing my own improvisations, or to sing or play pieces I know. Their answer was that for creating harmony (see previous post here), improvisation was best, but for celebrations such as sabbats, then known songs were good as I connected with the energies of previous performances. And now I shall consider that if there are other people present in the woods, I should allow them to enjoy my playing or singing as well.

Searching for Harmony

Like so many people who find the Pagan path into nature, I have for a long time been aware of my separation from the natural world. My inability to see, hear, or be at one with the world around me is frustrating but pretty much inevitable as a human being. It makes us different from other animals, although not superior to them as has been the historical viewpoint!

I work to overcome this, spending time in woodlands or other green spaces. I talk to trees often; I find this easier with old trees, young plants are harder for me to communicate with but there are few old trees near me. I have also found that the better I know the plants, the more I feel as if I am among friends. As my knowledge grows, so does my connection – and knowing different ‘kingdoms’ such as grasses, wildflowers, as well as the trees increases my sense of belonging and keeps me more in harmony. Yet sometimes this still isn’t enough.

One day last year I asked myself what I would do to feel more part of things? I realised I wanted to be about four foot tall, playing pipes and dancing through the forest. A faun, possibly. So I did this in meditation, and have done it a few times since, and now feel much better as a result. I have also taken my recorder into the woods on a few occasions this year and played seasonal folk tunes, and Morris dancing tunes.

Then last month I felt invited in to a small birch grove on Stanton Moor, near the Nine Ladies Stone Circle. I sat down, found my inner stillness and just listened. The air was buzzing with insects. Nowhere else had I been so aware of them, nor did I hear them elsewhere afterwards, but this grove was filled with all kinds of humming and buzzing. Then the trees told me how sound was so often missing, woodlands were becoming quiet. They asked me to please sing in woods, whenever I was alone and quiet. Sing to heal, to grow strong, sing them into harmony.

This seemed an immense task, far beyond my simple capabilities. I didn’t know or understand what they meant by it. I couldn’t even agree to it straight away, just saying I would think about it – though on reflection I realised I had nothing to loose and possibly much to gain so a little later that day I found and talked to another silver birch to make my agreement.

A few days later, I had my first opportunity to try singing. I listened for a tune, and sang what I heard, what I felt. The tree shapes, the weather, they way they moved in the breeze, my love for them and being with them. A tawny owl flew across my path and perched on a branch over the track for a few minutes. I felt encouraged, so carried on. I don’t know if I was doing the trees any good, but if nothing else it was a (very quick!) way of bringing myself into harmony with them.

A couple weeks on, I entered a fairly young woodland and felt awkward with such immature trees. I just walked and listened. An insect flew almost into my face and buzzed loudly at me. Okay, sorry, I have the message now! I found a tune. A tawny owl flew across my path and perched on a branch over the track for a few minutes. My heart filled with love for these amazing creatures, and for showing me the way twice. Then I suddenly worried whether I had disturbed the owls – they shouldn’t be flying in the day time surely? My heart, and my much later meditation told me the answer, they would fly away if they didn’t like it, not perch in front of me. Keep going, and I will learn more about how and when to sing, and if nothing else bring this one human into harmony with the world around me. So far I have noticed that when a loud noise rips through the air, such as a train or a helicopter, singing can help to smooth it over.

It is easy to become depressed by what humans have done and are still doing to the Earth. However, I have been left with the feeling that while I may not be able to solve humanity’s problems myself, what matters is what I do, as an individual. Live my life fully, joyfully, lovingly, using the talents that I have. In the words of the Fred Small song, “And the only measure of your words and your deeds will be the love you leave behind when you’re done.” The love will always stay.

Pleasures of Summer!

I hope you all enjoyed the solstice yesterday. Here are some of my favourite things of early summer, when the sun is warm and the evenings are long.

    Picking strawberries and raspberries for breakfast while listening to the evening birdsong.

    Making ice cream out of berries from the garden.

    Walking barefoot on the grass.

    Watching the sun set clear of any houses.

    Seeing all the different types of grasses in flower, waving gently in the breeze.

    Looking through an open doorway at torrential rain.

    The colours of the roses, campanulas, geraniums and foxgloves that fill my garden right now.

    Trees in full leaf with dappled shade below them.

    Morris dancing in the late evening sun, not to any audience but just because we want to.

A poor life this, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare. (WH Davies)

My garden in June

A Return To Wildflower Surveying

A first view of Thorpe Cloud, as approached from Thorpe village.

Years ago I used to do the ‘Common Plants Survey’ for Plantlife; the final year of the scheme (in 2014) I wrote about here. I enjoyed it and learned quite a bit, but several things changed including the survey and it felt like time for a break. Then a few weeks ago I decided I would like to take part again, so I looked to see what squares a surveyor was still needed for – and there was nothing anywhere near me at all. The new National Plant Monitoring Survey which replaced the original scheme has tried to distribute squares evenly across the country rather than just near where people live, so there are currently many squares needing surveyors in Scotland with a scattering of empty spaces across the rest of the country, the majority of which are in the less populated areas… Then I thought why not choose a square I would like to visit?

Thorpe Cloud rising above the River Dove by the stepping stones.

Thorpe Cloud rising above the River Dove by the stepping stones.[/caption]My new square, which has the wonderfully palindromic number of 1551, is quite a long way from here, up to an hour’s drive depending on traffic, but what an amazing place I am getting to know! Derbyshire’s favourite rocky ‘mountain’, Thorpe Cloud, once a coral reef all of 287m high, rises above the river Dove where you can cross the stepping stones to Staffordshire if you wish. Ancient ash woodland lines the banks further along, and there is a stream that comes out of a cave at the foot of the Cloud.

Heath Bedstraw and wild Thyme

I don’t consider myself any kind of plant expert, I am simply a gardener who likes getting to know flowers, weeds… and now grasses. What I love the most is seeing how the same family adapts to surroundings. Galium for example, varies from the rather annoying Stickyweed / Cleavers / Goosegrass that invades my garden although makes a nice tea, to lady’s bedstraw that smelled sweet enough to be dried and used in the home, to the short, spreading Woodruff that carpets woodland floor, to truly tiny plants on top of mountains. Quite a lot of it grows on top of Thorpe Cloud along with wild thyme, saxifrages, sedums, tiny geraniums…

What I hadn’t anticipated was that surveying wildflowers would be any kind of spiritual experience or practice, yet it has proved to be so. I had planned to do the first visits with a friend who is an experienced and trained ecologist – who knows different plants from me and is more practiced in looking up oddities in a book. However, every time she was free, it rained. Plans were made, and cancelled repeatedly. I finally realised I should go for a reconnaissance visit by myself on a nearly-dry day, which proved very worthwhile in all sorts of ways.

Lin Spring emerging out of a cave at the foot of Thorpe Cloud

Lin Spring emerging out of a cave at the foot of Thorpe Cloud[/caption]Being by myself, I was able to do a blessing by the Spring and ask the mountain’s permission and support to survey this area of beautiful countryside. I then had a mini-pilgrimage to the top of the hill, where I had never been before, and had the summit to myself. It is a very beautiful ridge, and felt welcoming to me. Just as well after my sleepless night before – I seemed to know in advance this was going to be big for me.

I returned home, with a better idea of what plant groups to study in advance (my soil is acid clay so the flora is rather different) and see how unprepared I was the first time. I also had the oddest feeling that I was studying plants each night while I slept.

New plans were made with my friend, but no, I really was meant to do this by myself – the only day forecast to be dry was the only one she wasn’t free. However there were difficulties. I had to be back earlier than on the day we hoped to go, and there were roadworks and road closures, making for a longer route and busy roads getting there. I just had to trust I would be capable of doing the job, and that I had long enough there.

Thorpe Cloud summit looking North up Dovedale

I woke up early, not nervous this second time but excited and confident. On arrival I again asked the mountain’s permission and support. Remarkably I had whatever space I needed to carry out the survey, without winding a rope around anyone’s legs or lunch despite it being a much busier day, and somehow I got finished with just enough time to climb to the top again. Five areas surveyed, each exactly 25 square metres although some were square and some long, covering five different habitat types. I have a selection of photos to go through to complete more thorough plant identifications, not having time to look anything up and wanting eventually to know every plant that appears on my plots, but goodness I have a lot of work to do on grasses if I am ever to really understand and be able to identify them! As yet, knowing to the family name when they are in flower feels like an achievement, but it is apparently possible to know many of them even after the tops have been nibbled off by rabbits.

I look forward to many return visits.

A Quilt For A Summerhouse

The Summerhouse Quilt, covering three walls of the octagon.

Here is a project started some time ago, and finally finished this week. It hangs in a little octagonal cedar summerhouse which was built in my favourite spot in the garden – it is a great sanctuary space where we are able to sit out all year, and I have had many moon ceremonies in there especially in winter evenings when it would be too cold or wet to just be outside in the garden. The full moon is usually visible on clear nights through the window, or sometimes through an open door when my timing and its position is just right. I have sat and listened to frogs mating in the pond a couple of feet away. The floor is just big enough for me to lie down across it should I ever want to spend a whole night out there. However it has one slight problem that it echoes so loud it can be uncomfortable when drumming, playing recorder, or even just having a conversation. Hence the need for something to damp down the sound!

I used cotton flannel for greater sound absorbency, my first experience of making a quilt with this type of fabric. (I later used the same type of fabric for a comfort quilt, see here.) The design is fairly simple, but if it has a name I have forgotten it. It has a harmonious feel, and as the eye is drawn to the spaces as well as the blocks all sorts of patterns seem to appear out of it.

Quilting on the front.

I wanted a ‘tree’ theme, which I managed to find enough flannel fabrics to fit – not only are these all the colours of leaves through the year, but several of the fabrics feature trees or leaves in their design. However I wanted something fairly light for the background colour; probably not so important now the cedar has bleached to the colour of pine, but when the wood was new it was fairly dark. Hopefully the fabric will fade well with a timeless look, rather than if I had used dark green for the background which tends to go blue, and cream flannel also has the advantage of being easily available in large quantities.

Back of the quilt showing how I used the design as a quilting template.

On the back is a fun, cheap patterned flannel fabric I found. While unsuitable for the front having such a large design, the branches carried the tree theme nicely. I decided to use it as a back-to-front quilting template, which turned out to be great fun to sew. The front thread colour, used in the bobbin, is a variable green based on shades of Oak. I used a simple light brown on the back that I could see while sewing. Some leaves had to be added freehand, as well as the ones already there.

Normally my projects get started, finished, and put into service reasonably quickly, but occasionally that doesn’t happen… Those who have followed my blog for a while may recognise it as the finished work from this post from 2016! No circumstances changed, simply that the quilting took ages and had some breaks, so it only got finished at the end of the summer when I was ready to bring the chairs and other things into our house for the winter. Somehow the actual fitting then kept slipping down the priority list and the quilt was put in the loft for ‘safekeeping’. One spring and summer passed when we were really busy and I had no time to think about it. Then another when it was easier not to think about it, and finally a third when I realised I would be upset if I didn’t get it sorted out! I considered what the problem was and realised I was relying on help to shape some wood wedges, yet giving only verbal instructions which meant a lot of thought was required on the part of the helper. Since I knew how I wanted it, I made a cardboard template (we do a lot of CAD-work in our household!) and the wood wedges were fitted within a week ready for me to staple some Velcro onto. I then checked the quilt measurements, sewed Velcro onto some spare fabric using my sewing machine, before hand sewing that onto the back of the quilt.

I originally had a plan to make eight triangles for the ceiling as well, but haven’t worked out how to fit them without damaging the cedar wood. I might make them one day, or the fabric may get re-purposed; having tried it out, this wall covering may be enough to make the sound levels comfortable, and the hut feels much more ‘homely’ to be in now that it is decorated. Now for a replacement table to the one that was needed in the house and never returned after the first winter…

Uplifting Energies

I have always used my hands to feel different energies, ever since I started playing with magnets and realised I could feel their pull on my hands. I have since learned to feel stone circle energies, or different tree energies. It has all been learning by doing; it is not something I have come across in my readings so my learning is quite slow, developing at the speed at which my sensitivity increases. (I share it now in case it inspires someone else to get there quicker!)

As I mentioned in my recent Dragon post, I was in Wales on holiday in April. There I had two different energy experiences that were totally unexpected and both quite magical.

The first was that of mountains, on one of Cadair Idris’s nine tops. A fairly pointy one. I struggled that day – it was hot, and my lungs were in a bad mood. I felt as proud of myself for having got to the top as a child might, so went right up to the highest point, to stand on top of an uneven bit of rock. And suddenly there was a rush of positive energy coming through me, making me feel euphoric. I could tell it was also affecting everyone around me to a greater or lesser degree. Then on to the highest top, pushing me to my limit, and possibly a bit past it. M, the youngest person on the mountain, had a long wait for me at the top! Yet when I got there, there was that uplifting energy again, magnified.

I wondered if it was just my feelings, or whether positive energy really does shoot off into the sky from the top of a pointed mountain. This is not something I have felt from a rounded hill, and it was not an energy I felt anywhere else on the mountain, just at the top of the ‘pointy-uppy’ bits. Spirit reaching upwards, while the lakes below drew downwards in stillness. The recent fire in Notre Dame Cathedral brought great discussions of how unique was its construction with very early flying buttresses to enable the building to reach as high into the sky as possible; many religions have temples that reach for the skies. It occurred to me that hill forts and castles being placed at the top of small hills may not be just strategic, but also command respect for the ‘high’ chief who rules there, and additionally give a positive boost of energies to all who live in that location.

A few days later, I had a chance to test this theory, on the top of Bird Rock near Llanfihangel. That time I managed the climb easily – it was neither as steep nor as long – so could discount any of my own euphoric feelings. There it was again, just in a very small area at the very top. Step away and I could no longer feel it, step back and there it was again, lifting upwards.

Some mountains are themselves regarded as sacred, with climbing even forbidden on occasion. I now regard any mountain as the same, Mother Earth and Father Sky joining together at the point.

Dolgoch stream, just above where I was feeling it.


My other energy experience was around water, and a mountain stream not far from Cadair Idris. I put my hands in several during the course of the week, as the days just got hotter. They varied in size and steepness, and temperature, but I didn’t think too much about it – until suddenly on the last day I realised I had put my hand in something really special. Fully of light, purity, happiness. Not a virgin stream, one that had been underground flowing through rocks and also above the ground dancing through waterfalls, yet kept pure and unpolluted. I did not know I was capable of learning all that just through my hands, despite using my hands to purify water at times.

Then I listened.

Last year I started singing or toning with different natural beings such as rocks, earth, water, trees etc. Here I did not even have to sing to hear its tune, it was complex and beautiful, harmonic, bell-like. I could hear how the great composers like Bach and Mozart were inspired; this had the same source.

I thought this would be the end of it, but I have now found myself singing through rituals, rather than reciting the words, and it is giving me a really deep connection to the elements when calling the quarters. I cannot possibly sing the same tune for fire as for air, or water as for fire, or earth as for water!

Happy Beltane!

Fairy Maypole

I have had a bit of fun realising I could put some of my recently edged grass (see Edges, April) in a pot and make a ‘fairy garden’ for May Day. This was the widest, shallow pot I could find and is a lovely old terracotta one, but I may look out for something larger if I do this again. It is a little dwarfed by the maypole and the ribbons – I am trusting fairies can fly to weave them in and out, they don’t need a huge garden!

I had the idea about a week after finishing the edging, so there wasn’t that much grass left from my weeding and tidying efforts, and the violets have now finished flowering, but the forgetmenots are doing brilliantly and it has been a very cheerful indoor arrangement for about three weeks. I notice some aquilegia seedlings have appeared as well. The grass has had to be cut every few days…

A New Dragon

My new dragon, Tân Bach.

Not my original design, I discovered this pattern by Simplicity and really liked it so thought I would have a go – with a few modifications of fabric (the original was fur, and lacked any stiffening in the wings), eye size (smaller when not covered by fur) and colour distribution (pale spines are just weird!) It has some nice features, so that hand-stitching is minimised, but it has to be the hardest stuffing job I have ever attempted to get those back legs filled! I was also glad to find most of the hand stitching required is hidden, yet can still be done with a straight needle; I do have curved needles which I have used on other soft toys but don’t find them easy to handle.

This is in fact a ‘test’ for another I plan to make, as it is similar in shape to a particular dragon friend of mine that I would like to work with more – and given my drawing ability isn’t brilliant this seemed the best way to make a physical representation. However, I will want to make a few changes as this neither sits on a shoulder reliably, nor sits flat on anything else with all its feet touching! A pillow or cushion is required at all times. Also I don’t feel the spines along the back start or finish in the right place, the head is a little large and too wide at the back, and there is an unsightly bulge where the tummy section ends. Altogether it has too much dinosaur influence with horns added as an afterthought to be my dragon – this one has a different character, and I feel a female, sinuous energy from her.

As she was finished two days before going to Wales for a week camping, we called her Tân Bach, small fire (given hers is gentle and warming rather than a full blaze such as a red dragon might give out), and she came with us. I can honestly say she is the most laid back character of any cuddly toy we have, and we have quite a few (most are bears, some up to half a century old while others are fairly new – including a rag doll, a very large elephant and a unicorn that I have made) not seeming to mind what goes on around her. However on returning home she has insisted on being where there is a fire, and appears slightly haughty about ‘her’ responsibilities. Maybe it’s just pride.

I was once under the impression that soft toys were inanimate objects, and merely accepted the character projected onto them by their owner or the person playing with them. I have come to realise this is not the case. They have moods, although signs can be subtle, and can be offended or excited or relaxed just as any other spirit might be. For they of course have their own individual spirit which is influenced by the energies present when they were made, how they were made, what materials were used, where they live, and how they are loved. They act as a store for love, ready to give back when needed, to give comfort. (Poppets were of course used for this, and for healing, as well as the darker purposes they are now associated with.) I now look forward to making and meeting Tân Bach’s brother or sister dragons…

Edges

Edging is usually a low priority for me in the garden – but higher for my kind husband who does the grass cutting! The last time any borders got edged was probably when I put the pond in and turned most of the lawn into flowerbeds a few years ago. At the same time, some new paths were added which never had edges at all while they established themselves. Now it is time for me to decide which bits of grass count as path, and which have to be reclassified as weeds.

It is not a job I am particularly comfortable with. Easy enough physically: stand vertically, push the half moon into the soil with a foot, use foot to protect new edge and lever soil away, let soil fall higher into the flower bed, and repeat many times over. Then go back and weed all the bits of unwanted grass, dandelions, daisies, primulas, phlomis and everything else I have chopped out so that they may be composted and returned to the garden in due course. However, I find it strange looking out to see crisp, sharp edges. The boundaries between wild and mown strictly delineated. The flowers will spill over wherever they please later in the season, but for now they are contained within their spaces.

I consider how I am not a person who likes to compartmentalise my life. When I did, I was two people, neither of which were the complete ‘me’. I cannot divide myself like that. Nor do I always stay behind recognised boundaries. To be a witch is always crossing borders, physical or on other planes. Being not on the outside looking in, but frequently on the edges, almost part of things but with a foot in both worlds. I cannot shut nature out, it is part of me and I like to keep the boundaries blurred.

Animals, too, like transition zones. Wavy, soft edges give them a much greater choice of habitat as they combine the search for food with the need for some warming sun or protection from predators. These tend to be from mown to unmown areas, not from grass to flowers, but I worry that I have created an obstacle that they didn’t have before.

The alternative would of course be a wildflower meadow; grass covering the whole and growing between plants that are happy in that environment. Yet this still needs management to be successful and avoid a monoculture. Unless it is grazed, or cut yearly as hay meadows were, trees will eventually take over. And the wildlife supported would be far lower than the range currently found in my ‘cottage’ style garden.

I am reminded that the job of the gardener is to make these decisions. To decide for each plant where its boundaries should be and set limits. To create a design and hold it in my mind as a picture I want to make. So I carry on, following the natural shapes as far as I can.

Then I look down on my work from the upstairs window. While all the paths I simply re-edged are fine, I really don’t like the newly shaped path at all! What was I thinking? Finding my plans, I realise how far out some of my other edges are from what is drawn on paper. I wait for a day or two, hoping it will somehow look better; it doesn’t.

Two days later I have had time to work out what needs to be done. I find our long building rope, and lay it over the edges, moving it to where I think the path should go. I check again from upstairs, then find my edging moon again. Suddenly I am enjoying myself, being creative, making a shape that is graceful to look at and easy to walk (and to mow). Harmony restored. Even better, it has created extra space for flowers – which will flop over the grass in due course, returning the edges to their blurred state.

Getting the line of the path, and being covered with blossom at the same time.

Unexpected Consequences of Magic

When I work a spell, often in the form of a wish, I always start with the words “An it harm none and be in the best interests of all…” This is my way of bringing a measure of protection into my spellworking. Otherwise it is all too easy to want something, but then cause a bigger or more upsetting problem as a way of getting what you want – such as wishing for money and then being left a large legacy when a close relative dies. Sometimes what I think I want may not even be the best thing for me in the long run. I cannot know. But I trust Spirit to know, and choose the best of all possible outcomes.

Last week I had an example of this. I had to go and collect some recycled plastic boards, from a place a few miles away, to replace the rotten timbers of the vegetable beds. (I don’t feel plastic is an ideal solution, but modern tanalised timber didn’t seem any better – dowsing said this was the best option, and at least we won’t have to replace it all again in another 10 years. Raised beds are necessary here as the topsoil is too thin to grow anything otherwise; there is only the depth of the sides that has soil and not clay or rock.)

I was a bit nervous of doing this by myself because I would have to load the roof rack, strap them on securely, drive with them, and then unload them all by myself before going out with my daughter to visit a friend in the afternoon. I asked what the weight of the boards was to be sure I could lift them onto the roof rack okay – it turned out they weigh slightly over 10kg each. Within my capabilities, but there would be twenty of them. And some smaller bits as well. I did a quick calculation and realised the total weight was over a quarter of a ton. Could the roof rack support that weight? And if it could, could I safely drive with it?

Simple answer: No. This would be over three times the manufacturer’s recommended capacity of the rack. I was prepared to make two trips if necessary, but not three.

Next question – I used to put my boat (whitewater kayak) inside the car (different car though similar) as I was unable to lift it onto the roof by myself, could I do the same with these?

Long answer – after much of an evening tweaking the seats to go as flat as possible, probably two thirds would fit inside. That would leave the remaining third to go on the roof, which would be within safe limits. And I would only have to unload what was on the roof before going out again later.

I was still nervous, so I asked Spirit (in the form of a spell) for protection to keep me safe and to help the collection all go smoothly.

The next day, I woke up feeling relaxed and peaceful, full of trust and confidence that I was going to be okay.

I was indeed fine. The car, however, refused to start. The battery was flat, probably as a result of the lights having been on half the evening, or just because it is easy for elementals to play with electricity. We have a get-you-home rescue service, but I have to be a mile from home first. Most unusually, there was not a single neighbour or friend who was available to help with a jump start. I was clearly not meant to go anywhere. Not only that, but unexpected circumstances had for once made it really easy for the collection to be made the next day without involving me at all. My other visit was less easy to sort out, but I hadn’t asked about that in my original wishing, and when I did ask for help it was also sorted the next day in a different way than originally planned.

Why did it happen like this? Why was the way Spirit answered my request so different to the way I expected, such as providing me with help to load the car for example? I believe it was because the evening before I gave myself a severe headache and sinus ache while taking apart lots of Lego and ended up feeling so ill I went to bed early. I am actually allergic to plastic – I get sores and swellings on my lips from plastic cups or drinking bottles, even a single sip, and cannulas are a disaster on me. So possibly being in a car filled with brand new (recycled!) plastic, just after having had a bad reaction to plastic, was going to do me no favours. I was truly protected and am grateful.

A Comfort Quilt

Cosy Comfort Quilt

Here is magic woven into a quilt. Love sewn into every seam, every colour chosen with love and joy in mind.

The fabric is all brushed cotton, which reduces choice considerably, so some have rather larger designs than I would ideally have chosen for this pattern. However final choice of fabric, pattern, and layout was out of my hands on this one!

It is of course Hunter’s Star – you really do have to hunt for some of the stars! (It also suits a Sagittarian being The Archer, another form of hunter…) I have done my best to emphasize them by quilting around each one, and with a relatively high loft filling this keeps the softness. It also conveniently disguises the overlapping corners, which make more of a bump with brushed cotton than a thinner fabric would.

In between the stars, I have sewn butterflies – which are mainly visible from the back. Creatures of beauty and transformation, they bring light to so many situations. They also fit well with the fabrics used, most of which contain flowers or butterflies or both. All were done by making templates from photographs of British native butterflies and chalking around the templates before sewing.

Quilt back with butterflies and stars.

Rushes for Brigid

Finished crosses on the display quilt (after several days of drying time.)

One of our current family traditions is making Brigid crosses out of rushes. It is a fun, simple activity my daughter and I do together, and talk about who Brigid is and the festival of Imbolc itself. The crosses are the end of the process however, the first part is to gather enough rushes to make a cross each.

This year the responsibility of rush gathering fell to me, since I was the only person free last Friday. Previously we have collected them together, so I have had someone to pull me out of the ditch and laugh at my wet foot…

The weather was cold, snow was forecast but missed us almost entirely, meaning it should be easy to gather a few stalks. But where? Rushes are one of those really common plants that you can never find when you need it. I had been keeping a lookout over the previous couple of weeks or so, but places I have seen rushes in the past were bare of them. Land dries out. Houses get built. Sheep and cows eat them. The drainage ditch, used previously, was not an option this year. Luckily a walk in January along a footpath new to me showed me a currently ungrazed field where there were some rushes growing, although having driven there to save short legs the boring bits and spend more time doing good or new bits, it was further from our house than I would have liked.

I decided I could manage the walk, a 5-6 mile circle, if I took a snack and had a rest somewhere and put my trust in Brigid. I treated it as a walking meditation on Brigid and Imbolc.

Single Rush plant, Juncus effusus, by stream

It seems very fitting that the plant I was looking for grows in damp ground, and the first single plant I found was by the start of a little stream. Brigid is of course known for her healing wells and springs – as well as fires, hearth and home, where the crosses are traditionally placed once made deepening the connection with her. (Ours are on our mantelpiece.)

However, I did not want to pick all from one plant, and this one was so perfect, being protected from horses by the tree, it didn’t seem right to take any. A second plant grew by the fence so I gathered a few stalks, but not enough for a cross.

Rushes eaten almost to ground level.

I continued up to the next field, where there were a lot of rush plants in the boggy ground from which the stream flows, but all had been cropped close to the ground.

Gentle but very curious cows on the footpath.

And then, a herd of cows across the footpath. Why should I expect otherwise on Brigid’s day? She kept me safe, and they gently moved out of the way before closing in again behind me. There were a few bullocks, curious and coming towards me for a closer look, but they seemed quite a calm lot, as (thankfully) were the longhorns I found later – complete with bull next to the footpath. I was very glad the mud by the squeeze stile was frozen solid, however.

Circle oak tree.

The furthest point from home was not the rush field, but a small patch of woodland where wild daffodils and bluebells grow. It is noisy, thanks to the nearby dual carriageway, but that means if I can tune it out, a meditation is rarely disturbed. I waited to see which tree called me for a sit down – and discovered this wonderful oak.

Close up of the circle oak.

The hole was too difficult for me to risk climbing through without help, (I wasn’t sure if I would fit all the way, especially with the branch across the middle!) but after my rest and grounding on the frozen earth, I put my head through and felt the tree’s energies circling me. I stayed there for some minutes, exchanging energies.

Soggy, frozen field where rushes grow.

Finally I left the woodland and descending, found my field, again luckily frozen (there is a good reason why I haven’t walked this path before!) with many small rush plants growing now the cows have been moved. I picked a few stalks from several until I had enough, they would make small crosses this year but size wasn’t important. In fact, I found later they behaved very well without splitting as thicker stalks can. Frozen myself, I put all in my rucksack, gloves back on my hands, crossed the stream and began the long walk back up the hill to home. I had a celebration to prepare for.

Imbolc

I love this time of year with its increasing light, and snowdrops. I love Spring more, and early Summer is even better, but Imbolc holds promise. As a gardener, and being connected to the land, that is special.

Hazel Catkins lengthening

Maybe it is because I am an eternal optimist, always looking forwards, wanting to see what is coming and believing that it will be even better than the present. Ever hopeful. I like the planning for a holiday and the dreaming. I like the preparing for events. The pregnancy. I become part of it then, not just presented with someone else’s finished masterpiece.

Imbolc is even more special than a promise, though. It is the beginnings of light, and life, and putting plans into action that have been incubating all winter. They may have been planned since Samhain or slightly earlier, or they may be unconscious desires that have been there for a while. Whichever, at Imbolc they suddenly burst into the light and make us aware of them, and what needs doing.

My first Pagan initiation was at Imbolc, definitely a case of an unconscious longing and then bursting out into the light in a wave of illuminations where all made sense to me and fell into place. I have been a Pagan all my life, in my spiritual outlook, in the things I celebrate, and suddenly discovered there were others like me. On Imbolc I found out what I was, the reasons for everything – and within a few days made a promise to myself that changed my life.

A hardy cyclamen withstands a flurry of snow

As I celebrate this personal anniversary, I am struck by how many changes in my life have been initiated in February, and then been ‘harvested’ or have taken full effect in the autumn. Not all, but a disproportionately high number. Which makes me wonder as I approach this festival what change might be initiated this February? I’ll maybe let you know next autumn!

[This post was written two days ago, but an unexpected lack of internet connection delayed things…]

A New Year and Castlerigg Stone Circle

Castlerigg Stone Circle

As the title of this post may suggest, I have been on holiday in Cumbria, where we welcomed in the New Year by doing a lot of walking in wild spaces. Oddly this particular stone circle is not wild at all, being in a well maintained field, a few yards from a road with parking spaces just outside Keswick. However it is surrounded by mountains so must have the best views of any circle I know.

A circle represents completeness as well as the cyclical nature of life and each year within it. All people and all compass directions are represented equally, just as on this day there were many visitors speaking three or four different languages (that I heard), a great sharing global community. Many circles were built in alignment with sunrises and sunsets; this one is no exception, with several possible sight lines for sunrises at different times of the year, especially the solstices. While not there at sunset, I was able to see that all directions are visible, and that several rocks to appear to line up with specific fells and with compass directions.

Castlerigg showing part of the inner enclosure.

The circle is on an ancient trade route from Langdale, a centre for stone axes, three of which have been found on the site. It is probably no coincidence that it is also one of the oldest stone circles in the country dating from the late Neolithic period rather than Bronze Age, just after the transition from henges. I had a sense of a demarcated space – the inner, square enclosure felt different to the circle as a whole and seemed reserved for particular people or ceremonies. I also had a sense that it may have had different purposes over a long period of usage, but overall it had a spiritual rather than a trading feel; any trade that happened here was probably on the periphery by virtue of people being brought together, rather than the intention of the site.

I was there on the last day of the old calendar year, and took the opportunity to say thank you for the year I have had, as I continue growing in inner peace and harmony with the world around me, doing lots of what I love. I can now walk 6 miles on a good day provided I sit down when I stop, and have managed 4 new ‘Wainwright’ fells over the year bringing my total to 54, a quarter of the 214 he wrote about. I may not do them all, I may not even want to, but each one is a walk in a new place I haven’t been before. Best of all, they have been done with my family, my daughter now walking as far as I can.

Castlerigg looking West.

A year ago I set myself a challenge “to love more, to see the good in everyone and every situation, even when I am not feeling calm inside.” Somehow I had forgotten I wrote this, and yet it has happened anyway – once again proving to me how when I set my intentions strongly they manage to come through. I recently made a new intention, remarkably similar: to make sure all my relationships are positive. It started when I realised how much easier it was to start a conversation by commenting on something bad such as complaining about the weather than it is to say something good. I have already been working to change that, and to protect myself from negativity where necessary, but I would like to feel that even the shortest, briefest contact with a person can increase happiness in each of us. I have a little way to go yet…

I also realised that it isn’t just relationships with humans I should ensure are positive, but with everything in my life. Trees and most plants already are, but money, transport – I have long talked to my bicycle but am not so keen on the car, sewing machines, pens and pencils, books, musical instruments … anything I bring into my life and use, I develop a relationship with. A positive partnership is more pleasurable and life-affirming than regarding everything as tools to serve me, or even worse, getting frustrated with it.

This is certainly what I saw at Castlerigg circle; people being happy together and in the wonderful mountain space that surrounded us, Earth and Air in perfect balance and harmony.

Castlerigg Stone Circle

Happy Yule!

Barn Owl Linoprint


I am not normally an owl person, but I seem to have been aware of them quite a bit recently and they seemed to want me to create some artwork with them. They are after all a common witch’s familiar, along with cat, frog and hare which have been with me for approximately 40, 10 and 2 years respectively. (I’m being selective here, penguins, dragons, snakes and butterflies don’t fit the witch image so well!)

The background idea for this card came to me in the autumn, as the trees lost their leaves and trunks were the most noticeable part. Some of the cards I printed gave the trees a misty effect. Not intentional, it is due to my inefficient inking, but I rather liked it and it matched the weather we were having at the time.

The barn owl is a beauty and one I have occasionally heard calling across valleys, usually when camping, without always knowing what it was. Quite different from the twit twoo of tawny owls! They are not actually woodland creatures, yet the only places I have ever seen them in the wild have been along the edges of woodland, where it opens out to fields.

Owls hunt at night, when it is dark to most creatures, as they have excellent eyesight, much better than their prey. They bring the gifts of far-seeing, and seeing what was previously unseen, into our lives. They also have particularly long necks, so can turn their heads to see what is behind them, or sideways. Sometimes it is good to look at things from another angle. Or sometimes there are things we simply haven’t seen and owl will bring them into focus. Illusions and secrets will be seen through.

Another gift is silence. Thanks to the shape of their feathers with soft edges, owls can fly with far less noise than most birds. The barn owl is particularly well adapted for silence, as it has very large wings so can fly very slowly with no sound. Instead they will be listening; owl hearing is acute as their ears are not symmetrical, allowing them to pinpoint sounds accurately, while their heart-shaped face directs any sounds towards their ears. Listen beyond the background noise to what is really being said.

Unfortunately the payback for soft feathers in Barn owls is a lack of waterproofing. They cannot fly in wet weather, so will sometimes be seen during the day if there have been several wet nights. Take opportunities when they are available, even if it is not what is usually done.

There are many superstitions about owls, especially the barn owl, appearing silently as a ghostly-white apparition in the moonlight. The most common is that they foretell a death. Given the huge numbers of mice and other small animals they must catch each night to feed their family, that is certainly true! Spiritually however, death is often close to change as it usually means the end of something in our lives, ready for something new. Owl does often seem to bring this message, often also bringing an increase of intuition helping to smooth the change.

The Celts believed owls sometimes accompanied souls on their journey to the other side, and owls were often regarded as gatekeepers to other realms.
Conversely the Ancient Greeks liked their protection, particularly in battle, because they were patient and ever watchful. Like the Goddess Athena, they are seen as being full of wisdom and knOWLedge…

Thank You David Austin

Hips of Rosa Graham Thomas, photographed earlier today.

Thank you for the 240+ roses you created, that bloom from May until November. That cope with whatever the weather gives them. That smell beautiful. That combine with every possible style of planting. That grow so profusely in sun or in shade. That when they have finished still look wonderful through the winter with their hips. That attract all manner of insects. My garden and so many others would not be the same without them.

December buds of Rosa Graham Thomas, picked for the Winter Solstice.

Thank you for the rosebuds of Rosa ‘Graham Thomas’ I was unexpectedly able to pick today ready for our Winter Solstice table. An unexpected gift.

May you live on with joy in Spirit, as your roses live on in my garden, and all around the world.
b. 16 Feb 1926. d. 18 Dec 2018.

Communications and Trust

I seem to be having some new lessons in trust right now. One area of these lessons is in communications.

I don’t use a mobile phone. It is my choice, as to constantly carry something turned on or else need to be regularly checking it just doesn’t fit in with what I do right now. I have one, it is small and basic and was given to me when I was in hospital many times and there was no other easy method of getting in touch. I do generally take it with me in case I need to phone out, since a working payphone is no longer to be found in each village, so when the car had two punctures at the same time and my daughter was with me we were able to phone the breakdown service. If I ever needed to be in touch with school because something had happened to me then I could. But the other way round? Most messages reach me within an hour – and those that don’t, I believe I wasn’t meant to get.

While no missed messages have been a disaster, here are two memorable ones that brought unexpected joy.

The first, a little over three years ago, when I failed to get the message that the parent and child group we were attending was canceled. Having cycled with my daughter in a trailer for nearly five hilly and slow miles I was not in a position to turn around and go home without a stop and a drink for me, and a leg stretch for M. Realising our predicament, we were invited to join the kindergarten children in the garden and also shared a snack with them; when M turned three shortly after she went to the nursery, having had such a good time that morning.

The second last week, when the school was closed due to a boiler breakdown and supplementary heating proving inadequate. The friend I was supposed to be meeting for a walk also missed the message, so instead of us both being trapped in our houses looking after children who didn’t like the weather, a pavement discussion led to us all having a walk together and friendships grew, age differences forgotten. Future invitations have already been issued.

It reminds me that good things have more freedom to happen when we do not try to tightly control our lives. No panic or fear is needed, I can just trust I am where I need to be.

Fire and Rhubarb

I mentioned last week, in Happy Samhain, that I have been working quite a bit with the elements over the past year. Not for the first time, in fact the third, but I seem to go deeper and take longer each time. On this occasion I stayed with each element, exploring through meditation, ritual, appropriate outdoor activities and music, for around 6-8 weeks, and then mostly had a quick end when I realised I was going too far out of balance. Earth I gradually became ‘stuck in the mud’ and lethargic, not getting anything done. I also had molehills appear all over the place, in the middle of winter when I wasn’t otherwise digging the ground, forcing me to connect directly with the soil more than just walking. Water saw me crying a lot, and it raining a lot. The washing machine broke two pumps and flooded the kitchen on more than one occasion. My daughter suddenly decided she was ready to visit the swimming pool at last, enabling me to go too. Air saw strong winds and many ideas, if often impractical or challenging intellectually. The fence blew down. Fire saw drought and moorland fires, but I was being scared of it and in hindsight didn’t really open up to its teachings.

I ask myself, was I just more aware of each of these things because I am thinking about their element? No, I haven’t mentioned all of the occurrences, and there were way too many coincidences for it to simply be awareness, but that is part of being with the element too. I can say that within the year just gone they were the most extreme periods for each type of weather. But as I said, I didn’t really do Fire. I remember feeling relieved that I got through unscathed, no burning the house down or major temper outbursts, because I was deliberately keeping it in balance with the other elements.

However, I am now realising that fire is determined to teach me. The fire is relit within me and new projects are taking off – but I need to direct my energies better. In two weeks I have managed to burn an oven mitt, a pillowcase, a wooden spatula, and yesterday a pan that boiled dry. Finally I recognise what I am being shown. So having got the message at last, now I need to sort it out. Make my connection to Fire in a positive way, and use it to not only be creative but follow things through. To take action where action is needed.

Meanwhile, the totally blackened pan won’t scrub clean, so I look online for ideas. Vinegar and baking soda. Bio washing liquid. Well each did get it a bit better, but not so you’d notice if you hadn’t seen how it started out. Rhubarb, I thought. Was there any left? Despite the recent frosts there were four thin stems still with colour on them. I picked two, and boiled them in the pan. A bit of scrubbing, mainly with the burnt spatula, and I can see silver again. Fighting fire with fire.

Happy Samhain!

I spent the day yesterday pumpkin carving, preparing for the festival of Samhain and having a really joyful celebration of the year gone and the year coming.

This was the first truly joint pumpkin I have carved with my daughter, as her design input was equal to mine. After explaining that we weren’t going to carve a scary face, because Samhain isn’t intended to be a scary time of year (more connecting and thanking the dead, our ancestors, those who have gone before rather than being scared by ghosts) we thought about what things we were thankful for. Fairies. Flowers. Trees. Frogs. We can use cookie cutters, she said.

I have spent quite a bit of time over the past year going through the elements, so I decided to make my own thanks and celebration by organising them into four elemental groups, with three things for each one. We also had a five-pointed star for our lid, so that made a perfect 13 holes to be carved in the pumpkin.

My daughter’s washable pens were perfect for drawing the design on, especially as any traces can be easily removed afterwards, and where we had a suitable cutter she drew round them for me. Where we didn’t she found me a picture in one of her books to copy … luckily the pen can be rubbed out and corrections made!

I used a knife to cut the lid, then a melon baller has proved the most useful tool to cut through seed strings. This year I also used it to remove half the flesh from the inside so that the walls weren’t too thick to cut through, then cooked what I removed for pies later. Experience has taught me that a cookie cutter doesn’t cope with curved pumpkin skin very well, so after having drawn around them, I used a hacksaw blade taped to a piece of wood, which has been my trusty pumpkin carver for over a decade now. It turns corners better than a knife, although can leave edges ragged if not careful.

All four sides have holes in, making it hard to photograph, but right for us. Earth on the side that was on the ground, fire upwards to the sun, water and air in between. Some are animals, some, such as a musical note or the heart, are symbolic.

May you have bright blessings and a peaceful new year.

Elemental Pumpkin, showing Earth and Air, with Fire on the wall behind.

Autumn Flowers

Late October Cranesbill Geraniums

It is hard to believe that Samhain is next week when my garden is full of flowers that normally bloom in May or June.

Potentilla Miss Willmott still going

Several died back to ground level during the drought, put on growth in the rains of August, and the Campanulas started flowering again in September. They were joined by a Leucanthemum, giant scabious, candytuft, sweet cicely, sweet rocket, and now even the geraniums which I thought I had lost are having a good go. Along with the usual autumn flowers of course!

Sweet Cicely enjoying a second flush of flowers

Eucryphia x nymansensis ‘Nymansay’ still flowering in late October

Hazelnuts were so early that I missed most of them. Yet the Eucryphia tree in our garden which usually flowers in August did so at the normal time, and has carried on, and on…

Unfortunately the recent warm spell also brought a new generation of pests, including many flies which get in my face while cycling and whiteflies which have invaded my kale. I am sending the lacewings out from sheltering in my bedroom windows (not a very sensible place for the winter, I open them too often) on the next warm day to have a feast.

And one that flowered at the normal time, a Paeonia mlokoseiwitschii I grew from seed and now producing the first of the next generation. The flies seem to like this too.

Celebrating the Harvest

It was the Autumn Equinox last Sunday, a time of harvest celebrations. But what a strange year this has been! A late winter with snow in April, then drought in May, June and July, before a wet and chilly August.

The apples loved it. The extra cold helped them create more flower buds, they survived the drought, losing excess fruit without me having to thin them out, and then the rain came just in time to help the fruit swell. The first fruits were ready at the start of August, two weeks early even for our early trees, and carried on into September with larger fruit. I spent the days before we went on holiday (late August) madly making apple sauce to freeze, as this early fruit doesn’t keep and we were overflowing with apples on every counter.

Plums came at their normal time, but suffered from being eaten more than normal. The apples also had lots of wasps early on which I’ve never seen before, I assume there just wasn’t much else for them in the drought.

Blackberries came a month early – but with the cold weather finished early as well. Yet my strawberries have had a second crop and been a really delicious treat – they are still going. The raspberries cropped well in the drought but didn’t make new canes, so the autumn crop and also next summer’s are greatly reduced, even though there is plenty of rain now.

In the vegetable garden, the sweetcorn drank all the water offered so underplantings (mainly nasturtiums) all died. I had a crazy plant with a cob growing around a male flower, but it proved edible and we managed a small crop of good cobs as well. The climbing French beans were so prolific that eventually the wind blew them over. The edging and supports will all need replacing over the winter. Similarly the tomatoes grew so well in the heat I actually had to stop them at the top of their six foot stakes!

Finally, one crop I harvested but didn’t grow was barley. I promised myself last year that I would as so many Lughnasadh rituals are based around wheat – which I am allergic to, but barley is fine for me. Unfortunately I never found any small quantities of seed for sale. However, I did keep an eye on the fields around here, and spotted barley growing along a lane I sometimes cycle, with a footpath going conveniently along the edge of the field. With the drought it was harvested in mid-July, earlier than I have seen previously. So I parked up my bike, climbed the style which luckily wasn’t completely overgrown with nettles and brambles thanks to the drought, and walked along the field edge to see what had been left behind. Enough barley, and also some wheat for the rest of the family, to make a display and grind some into bread. A token amount – it takes a lot of grain for a loaf and barley I discovered is much harder to separate from the chaff than wheat, but somehow the inclusion of even a few grains of my own picked and winnowed barley seems worth it and makes the bread special. I have managed to be part of the wheel of the year and the turning of the seasons, not just an observer.

A Walking Meditation

I was lucky enough to have most of a day to myself in the middle of the school holidays, which I chose to spend doing a very mini-vision quest in the form of a walking meditation. We were staying in my childhood home for a few days, so the country park that I went to was one that I knew well as a child, but had scarcely visited since. After a drop-off at the top of the hill (saving me about a mile of road walking), I started out on the most familiar track, one I cycled along almost every day for seven years of secondary school. Familiar puddles, roots, obstacles. It was raining hard, the sandy ground was as slippery as ever.

As the hedges opened out onto the ‘plain’, an area of open grassland where the trees were kept back to stop highwaymen from attacking travelers on the old coaching road, I left my old cycling route and revisited the woodland areas I had explored and played in when very young. Almost unrecognisable after a gap of 30 years, yet the feelings of the place were the same. Happy, and full of potential. I then walked parallel to the plain staying within the woodland. Pleasant, even while being dripped on, though unexpectedly mostly young-ish growth with one veteran tree decaying sadly behind a fence.

I came to a large oak tree I didn’t recognise, at a junction in the paths. It’s roots called me to sit down, so I spent some time there, working out exactly what my questions were. After some thought, I realised I needed to understand where I was right now and which path to take forwards.

I had thought everything would change a year ago when my daughter started school, so I made all sorts of plans – and then had them systematically unraveled by being unable to do much of anything thanks to my hip injury. Eventually I got the message to stop worrying about the things I couldn’t do, and found peace within. A peace that has stayed with me, and allows me to be at one with the world. But maybe I am impatient or awkward, as it rarely feels like I am doing enough – even if that is what all the messages I receive tell me! It felt like time to ask again, as the new school year approached, and see what, if anything, had changed.

Coming out of the woodland as I reached the far side of the plain, I found a familiar view from a bench where there had always been one.

This was a step back into a different past – a memory of a disastrous day at school and daring to come here in my lunch break, to escape. I had failed an exam I really expected to pass, and was suddenly faced with reality being different to how I had imagined things were going. I had followed teacher’s advice, taken what I thought was the ‘easy’ route, and a subject I had always been good at, instead of following my heart. Looking back, so much might have been different that year had I stuck to my original plan. I have failed worse things since then, but I don’t think ever made quite such a wrong choice again.

Two friendly oak trees.

Having put my past in its proper place, it was time to follow a new path into my future. One that I had never walked before; small, quiet, pretty. I walked through many new areas, and eventually circled round to return via some more oaks and Scots pines. I sat in an oak, and asked what message it had for my future. The answer was not something new however, but ‘Thoroughly’. In other words, follow the advice from the ‘Certainty’ tree I had met recently, and do whatever I do thoroughly. Reach for the sky. Find the joy in it. Don’t be just liking what I do, but love it. Value it. Spend more time doing the things I love rather than simply like – and find ways to love more. Remember what I always said as a child: that it doesn’t matter why we’re here, it matters that we enjoy it. Be happy, and spread happiness. That’s all. I looked up and in front of me saw two lovely oaks, happy together.

The rain had gradually eased, so I looked for a place to eat my lunch. I walked past larches and through a grove of silver birch trees. Then two oak trees lying down by a stream, covered in soft moss, inviting me to sit down. Squirrels played, some holly protected me and a hazel stood nearby.

A perfect place for a picnic


A perfect end to a perfect morning. I had another hour or so there, then walked home, picking blackberries in the sunshine.