Sour Grapes?

I read some interesting comments this week, talking about the way fruit and vegetables are treated:

“By spraying poisonous chemicals on our fields and gardens, we killed the micro-organisms and bacteria that provided the glue that held the soil together in its crumb formation. … Once the micro-organisms and bacteria had been killed, their work – which was to excrete humic acids that would break down mineral elements into nutrient forms the plants could use – did not take place! … Plants grown in poor, dying or dead soil were not healthy enough to withstand cold, heat, periods without rain, or the normal range of pests, fungi, and viruses that lived in any soil. … The dead and collapsed soil we insisted on trying to grow foods in was just not capable of producing either healthy plants or healthy foods. Since insects and fungus were nature’s garbage collectors, her way of cleaning up sick, diseased, or dysfunctional plants and removing them from the landscape because they were not fit for consumption, our continued use of poisonous sprays to protect worthless crops was nothing less than ridiculous, ignorant, and doomed. … Fruits, vegetables and grains that grew from dead soil were almost as dead as the dirt they came from. Even when they looked beautiful they lacked basic levels of proteins, sugars and minerals. Worse, they contained chemical residues and other poisons. Healthy, normal amounts of protein in vegetables and fruits had to be at least 25 percent to support human life. Foods grown in these depleted soils of these United States had been at 3 percent or less for at least thirty-five years.”
Penny Kelly, The Elves of Lily Hill Farm

And that is just proteins. Huge numbers of trace minerals are missing from these crops, leached out of the soil that hasn’t been taken care of, and further unbalanced by using NPK fertilisers with many of the essential trace elements missing. The effects of waxing or preserving fruits for storage, then gassing to ripen them only adds to the chemical imbalance.

Fundamentally for me was this statement:

“Most of us were paying for cheap, poisoned foods grown in depleted soils and still complaining that it cost too much to eat. No one realized that what was saved at the grocery store was being spent at the hospital.”
Penny Kelly, The Elves of Lily Hill Farm

As someone who has had major health issues in the past, this struck a chord within me. I don’t like buying overly processed food, or non-organic vegetables or fruit that may have been flown half way around the world, but sometimes I still do. I can make many excuses, like alternatives not being available, or being significantly more expensive, or that I have requests for particular things that are only available from sunnier climates, but ultimately I still have to take responsibility for the choices I make. I would like to do better, one day…

And then I ate a grape. Just one, but before any other food instead of after as I normally do. It made me feel queasy. It gave me an instant headache, something I don’t suffer from. Sure the grape taste was in there, but what else?

So I have realised I cannot carry on down the path I am on any longer. Ideally I would grow more fruit and veg, but my garden is small and the area given over to edibles is smaller still, not sufficient to grow everything we want. Neither am I a very successful vegetable grower, yet! But change has to start somewhere, and for me it is now. So I am writing down my intentions to grow better fruit and vegetables and to seek out organic and biodynamic locally grown alternatives, because what I write here has a good way of coming true.

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Dreams

I nearly did a terrible thing this month: I nearly gave up a dream.

For a long time I have dreamed of getting a book published. I have started several since I attempted my first novel when I was about twelve, and three (one non-fiction, two fiction) reached the stage of being sent off to agents.

‘The Musical English’, my first full length book, is subtitled a social history of two thousand years of English Music. The first notes for it were made twenty years ago, and most of the work was done five years later when I had some time and a computer. I even had some positive feedback, had I recognised it for what it was at the time, but eventually I decided there wasn’t enough original work in it and I moved on.

My second completed book was a novel about a group of young people learning white water canoeing, called ‘Not For Lemmings’. Again I learned a huge amount by writing it, about me, about canoeing, and about how to write. The number of rejection slips increased.

I started a new novel, ‘A Chance To Paint’ that I hoped would have more direct appeal to agents and publishers, a life-changing story about a young woman who is sent to look after her Great Aunt and after a series of sometimes dramatic events, never returns. Lots of agents say they love it, but don’t feel they can take it on. So I started yet another novel.

Then I got pregnant with M, so stopped writing for a while. I began this blog, and the tree stories which have the advantage of being written only to please the trees and myself. I’m being slow, I don’t find I can get into short stories in the same way as full length novels, but I also can’t get into full length novels when my time is constantly interrupted by the demands of a toddler. I redit A Chance To Paint, and remember how much I liked it and other people liked it, and send it off again to get some more rejections.

I start a plan for a new book, having finally decided not to finish what I started pre-M.

Then suddenly I get a crazy idea for a novel based on a fairytale, follow it for a few days, get very excited. Until real life intervenes. I have a house to get finished, a garden I want to redesign, clothes to make or shopping to do, and a little girl who I want to spend time with. I realised something had to give, and being a lot less attached to things than I used to be, it was the writing which felt like the luxury ‘extra’.

At this point I should have felt freer, a lightening of the load, of all the things I was trying to do. I did briefly. So that was that, I thought.

Except several days later I had a realisation: I wasn’t happy. This wasn’t particularly connected to anything, apart from a questionnaire on happiness where I was scoring myself only 6 or 7 out of ten in most areas and noticed my health had slipped down to a 5. I realised I felt a bit ‘flat’, even to the point where I didn’t feel excited about anything I was doing (sewing, gardening, reading, piano, etc) and it was only M that was keeping me going. I suddenly realised I was back to where I was a few years ago, or maybe worse because then I was on an upwards curve, whereas this one was flat. And not only that, but my health was getting worse again, with stiff hip joints and then a bad cold settling on my chest causing me all kinds of problems. This wasn’t a me I recognised right now, so what had happened? Why were things all going in the wrong direction? Then it dawned on me, my decision about writing was wrong. It had extinguished my inner flame. I have spent so much time over the past few years trying to work out what I should be doing and where I should be going, and yet somehow I had never realised that writing was my dream!!!

It was almost as bad as when I was a teenager, and nearly didn’t study music. (I was studying Maths, Physics Chemistry A-levels, but filling all my free time with music…) A serious depression set in, until I made what was then a brave decision to go against all advice, and suddenly everything felt good again. This was the same, in a minor form since I worked out the problem sooner, but what a colourless half-life I would be living if I hadn’t!

So I did a visualisation to not only see myself writing, but also to relight my inner flame. It filled my whole body and shot out of my arms and head. It is still burning now, with maybe a few holes where I don’t want them and where my body has temporarily lost trust in me, but I am on the mend. My writing is going better than I could have imagined, and somehow I just gave myself permission to write. Non-attachment might be a great thing, but not where dreams are concerned. Because if I don’t follow my dream, what am I doing here?

Loving Oneself

I have been working through various health issues over the past few years, finding spiritual ways to improve or even alleviate them, alongside homoeopathic help to try to cease my dependence on “anti-” medications. Last month I turned my attention to my nose, which has permanent rhinitis and reacts to anything. I was surprised when the message I got through meditation was that I had to love myself more.

Now I thought I had made good progress on love in the last few years – and have seen how loving myself more spills over into loving others more as well. I have become far more open-hearted and trusting. Less critical of myself, and I would like to think non-judgemental of anyone. But clearly I have only touched the surface so far, and it has been quite hard to realise how far from truly loving I am – if my health is an indicator of this.

On a parallel track, as M grows up and becomes more independent, I have started to think more about what direction I want to go in next. Sometimes it would be much easier to know what our life plan is, know what we should do and how we should act, and be confident in ourselves. But that would mean loosing our free will which the rest of the natural world frequently reminds us we are unique in possessing. Ultimately what we learn for ourselves through our difficulties seems to me more valuable at the soul level than what we simply do by instinct. As I develop further spiritually, I find I question more things in my life, influence my environment around me simply by my desires, and have much more trouble working out what I should focus on. Dreams that have long been buried come to the fore, but then there are too many possibilities. So as part of all this, I have started to put together a summary of different ‘pathfinding’ methods for myself to see what clues each gives me for following my life path and, more importantly, where they coincide. So far I have looked at two types of Numerology, palmistry, astrology, eye reading, and foot reading. All areas I either know something about already, or else where there is information easily available online. While individually there wasn’t a lot to surprise me, by putting them all together two aspects came out of it that I hadn’t expected.

1. My crazy path through life is probably going the right way even if it doesn’t always feel like it at the time. The various jobs I have had, and activities I am now involved in, do actually make sense when taken as a whole – they are a lot more than a series of dead-ends!

2. I was amazed how little I even recognised let alone valued some of the skills I have – things that seemed just common sense to me, and were dismissed as irrelevant. But after reading about who I am six times, I finally realised that to be organised wasn’t so boring after all and might actually be something I am naturally good at. Alongside being logical and rational, dependable, trustworthy, stable and loyal. That isn’t all of me of course, but it is one part which I had hitherto neglected, or even negated. So I have started to appreciate myself more, for who I am right now.

And the outcome of all of this? Well I have still carefully avoided making any decisions, but between what I have learned here, another recent experience from a first look at my past life experiences (possibly a topic for a future post), and some breath work suggested to me in the meditation, my nose seems to have settled to the point I can still breathe through it without spraying it with anti-cholinergics three or four times a day. That to me is an amazing improvement.

Tree Stories 4 – Apple

Crabapples

Crabapples

The fourth tree story, Apple, is now available for reading on its own page. This was a story that could have filled a novel, with a few sub-plots of course, so I make no apology for its being longer than the previous three! In fact if I had continued with my original idea of Julie finding the cottage and then buying it, you might never have got to the apples… Yes the narrator’s name is Julie, and until I knew her name the story didn’t flow. However she’s not one for talking about herself much, so I thought I’d better tell you here instead.

I love eating apples, and always have done as far back as I can remember. I currently have five apple trees in my garden. Three are cordons, Sunset, Bountiful and Arthur Turner, planted the first winter we lived here and on M26 rootstocks, almost too vigorous for their own good. The fourth was found in our hawthorn hedge and allowed to grow up, a very early cooking apple that tastes delicious and ripens even before Discovery apples make the shops, but it doesn’t keep well. It is a tip bearer and pruning it each winter usually involves a ladder or a scaffold tower. The fifth tree was planted eighteen months ago, crab apple Laura. It is still establishing itself but I look forward to some dark red fruit next autumn. With such a mild winter last year the trees failed to set their usual abundant crops, so I’m hoping for some snow this year! I’ll add some more photographs next year, starting with the blossom, which on Arthur Turner is usually stunning.

Apple feels almost like our National fruit. It is ideally suited to the English climate, keeps well, and is varied enough in its fruits that it caters for all tastes. Sweet, sour, savoury, raw, juiced, cider, brandy… Apple also seems to be becoming a staple ingredient for commercial herb teas – which says more about the apples than the teas! And while trees can be pruned for shape or size, they will still produce fruit happily by themselves and feed the bees each Spring.

Apples are full of soluble fibre, present even in the juice, which is great for the digestive system. The acid helps balance the body in all kinds of ways, so is helpful for rheumatism and arthritis, and the pectin is also good for removing toxins such as heavy metals. The juice is good for the skin too, hence rubbing fruits on warts and burying the remains. Various compounds within the fruit also improve lung function, liver function, and guard against cancer. An infusion made from the tree bark will help bring down a fever. An apple at bedtime is said to improve the quality of sleep, although if placed under your pillow instead of eaten, it is said you will dream of the one you will marry.

There are probably more stories associated with the apple tree than any other tree, thanks to its generous nature and the fact that it is one of the few trees whose fruits can be eaten straight off the tree. Just to mention a few: Adam and Eve, Labours of Hercules, Aphrodite, many Celtic tales, Norse Iðunn, Snow White, Johnny Appleseed, William Tell and Isaac Newton. Many folk traditions are centred around apple trees, such as wassailing, apple bobbing, and divination.

Traditionally apple wood was used in windmills, since it was hard enough for the cogs and doesn’t need oiling. It also makes good handles for wood carving tools, or the mallet used to hit them with. Other uses include woodwind instruments, carving or inlays. It will burn well, although this may be a waste, but if used to smoke cheeses or meats the results are delicious.

It will come as no surprise that apple is used magically for healing, fertility or love. However it is also often used for faerie magic or in dealings with the otherworld, helping to connect their world and ours.

Brambles

Blackberry flowers and fruits

Blackberry flowers and fruits


For the past three weeks M and I have enjoyed picking blackberries on our walks. Apart from just eating them, we have made several pots of bramble jelly, some blackberry ice cream, had blackberry and apple crumble, stewed blackberries for breakfast, and even frozen some. Blackberry cheesecake is a personal favourite that might come soon… It is one of those flavours that you can never quite remember properly, but a good juicy berry is always better than you expect. Or a bad one more pippy and worse.

Brambles love the British climate, growing anywhere they are allowed and rooting themselves wherever they touch the ground. Around here it is in the hedgerows that I find them, often picking a few here and there as I walk. Most branches will have a few ripe ones, but the plants have evolved to fruit over a long period to encourage maximum spread of the seeds so it is rare to find many ripe ones together. M has taught me to notice them even when I haven’t brought a pot to put some in; the odd one or two keep her going on a walk and she can now spot a bramble bush before I can. Even 30 yards away, the other side of a road. Picking half a pound along a mile of hedge is quite easy; if I’m after more than that it takes effort, knowing where to go, and frequently full combat gear! They are the most predatory plant I know, using their thorns to hook onto whatever they find – hawthorn, fences, their own branches. (Take a look at Bramble Scramble from the BBC’s Private Life of Plants if you don’t believe me!) Luckily there are thornless types now available for those who wish to cultivate them, but they are generally not half as satisfying as picking wild berries.

Bramble hedgerow

Bramble hedgerow


In some areas of Europe there is a taboo against eating blackberries – either because they belong to the fae, or because they represent death. The former is an interesting one, given blackberry wine is apparently okay! This is not a question I have had the opportunity to ask directly, but I believe the point here is about balance, respect, understanding, and above all sharing, especially if you make wine… And remembering that the bramble bushes feed and shelter many animals and birds as well. Cutting them all back, especially when they are about to fruit, would not be appreciated. Others suggest that eating blackberries or drinking blackberry wine at the Equinox is a good way to contact the fae. This is the time when the energies start to withdraw, spiralling down into the earth, and in some legends the Lord of the Harvest enters the Underworld, through the hollow hills, into the care of the fae. Black will take you down into the dark, finding the way through the tunnels of the Earth, while the sweetness will bring pleasure and enjoyment and lightness of heart, helping us to remember life is to be lived.

As for death, well being a pagan is all about the cycles of nature and death being a necessary part of life. The old must be cleared away to make space for what is to come, and Spirit is eternal. Death is not to be feared, but to be embraced, worked with, even thanked at times, for it is the only way we may pass out of this life and into the next part of our spiritual journey when it is time to leave.

There are also many superstitions against eating blackberries after a certain date, usually Michaelmas day (11th October) but sometimes Autumn equinox, or October 1st. The reasons given vary with the date, but in my experience it is a rare year that the late blackberries have been properly pollinated and ripen to full sweetness; the August berries always taste the best.

Planted on graves, brambles were supposed to stop the dead from wandering. Children or cows can be passed through a bramble arch rooted at both ends to bring health, for the blackberry has the gift of abundance as well as protection. Whooping cough was a favourite to be cured in this way, leaving an offering afterwards of bread and butter for the fairies of course.