Bark Patterns

Sycamore Bark

Sycamore Bark

New Year, new trees… and I have a new camera to play with. Here is one of my early pictures of some tree bark which caught my eye, just enjoying the patterns that were formed as the tree grew. I believe it is the mature bark of a sycamore, Acer pseudoplatanus, not a tree generally considered to be beautiful, but it comes into its own in Winter and also early Spring when it is one of the first to sprout new leaves.

Trees and Rocks

Trees growing out of the rock near Cromford, Derbyshire

Trees growing out of the rock near Cromford, Derbyshire

It always amazes me how a tree can grow out of a rock, somehow getting a root in through a crack far enough to reach moisture and nutrients. I sometimes feel there is a lesson for me in the determination and will to survive! These pictures were taken yesterday near Cromford in Derbyshire, a mixture of silver birches and beech trees. Some may at first glance appear to be growing on a shelf in some soil, but on closer inspection are actually coming straight out of the rock. The moss seems to be a later addition.
Beech tree roots finding a hold.

Beech tree roots finding a hold.

An Emu Visitation

Goose, Emu and Swan feathers

Goose, Emu and Swan feathers
(Click to enlarge)

I have recently been picking up messages from birds. If I am meditating on a problem, and while doing so see a bird that wouldn’t be entirely predictable in the location I am in, then I consider whether it has the answer to my question or can lead me in a direction I hadn’t previously considered. (Eg Kestrels and Clothes, 15 February, and the follow-on post Finding the Excitement, 22 February.)

Birds I see regularly are pigeons, blackbirds, crows, sparrows, robins, great tits, bluetits, finches, wrens, warblers, sparrowhawks and buzzards. There are also plenty of chickens around the village. For me to read a message from one of these, it would have to be doing something quite unusual, or else leave me a coloured feather rather than the usual grey or occasional black that I find. I know there are ways of reading messages from the direction a bird flies in, but mostly they fly to and from a feeder or a favourite perch…

As you will guess from the title of this post, this week’s bird was none of the above. In fact it was a feather found a few hundred yards from where the day before I had seen a pair of emus in a field. Had I not seen them, I would have struggled to identify it, but it is quite unlike any other feather I have seen being neither a flight nor a down feather. (Why it was where I found it rather than nearer to the birds remains a mystery.)

Emus are tall, and can run very fast. They are far-seeing, and are said to help develop shamanic skills rapidly by, amongst other things, helping us to be where we want to be almost instantaneously. Moving quickly is not something I have trouble with in journeying, and spend more time reminding myself to slow down and make transitions properly. However in life in general the odd reminder to get on with things can be helpful!

Journeying later to meet emu, I found myself first with one bird, myself transformed light enough to ride on its back, then an increasing number until there were hundreds all running just for the joy of it across grass. I did not need to worry about one person (which was the answer to part of my ‘problem’ the day I found the feather, with good friends about to leave Derbyshire and cancelling what was probably going to be our last chance to meet up) as there were so many more I simply needed to make contact with and get to know. Or if I wanted to be by myself that was fine too. I was suddenly astride the same bird at the top of the mountain ridge we could see in the distance. It was an amazingly remote and airy location. We returned to the flock and it was friendly, and there were babies running about our feet. I was reminded I didn’t need to worry about M making new friends either.

I also realised I needed to consider the characteristics of the actual feather I had found. It is incredibly lightweight and airy feeling – telling me not to get bogged down, just tread lightly and stay light. It is soundless in a different way to an owl feather, no need to say anything. It is very graceful, and while the colours are drab, they do change from brown to white. The form bears interesting closer inspection as it is about 17” long and very delicately fronded, much like a fern. There are no means of joining the individual fibres together, yet they manage to consistently lie parallel to each other. They are also surprisingly uneven in length, and not just due to wear and tear. This made me think of each in a group maintaining its individuality and character, yet also being part of a whole. The feather is way too slender to use as a quill, unlike swan or goose feathers I have of a similar length. Beauty without any obvious use I can come up with. Much like blossom on a tree that doesn’t fruit or set seed. (See earlier post, Fleeting Beauty on 11 April.)

Finally the feather brought me the gift of love, for I was feeling sad and a bit alone – yet to have received such a gift reminded me that being alone is but an illusion. We are always surrounded by spirit, besides that which flows through us, and spirit knows when we need a bit of extra support and love and care. I found the gift at just the right moment when I was ready to receive it.

My first encounter with Emus as a child was not a success, as they bit my finger through the fence at a wildlife park. Thirty five years later I have a little more respect, and a lot more enjoyment from these tall, elegant, teacher birds. I thank them for showing me a different side of their nature.

Finding the Excitement

Last week I wrote about my difficulties of shopping for fabric. I was fortunate to get a second opportunity to go shopping again this week, thanks to Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire having different half terms, so having been frustrated and appalled by my previous incompetence, I thought I would have another go!

I spent some time considering what was still needed fabric-wise, with the benefit of knowing what was (hopefully!) available, and what surprised me was to realise how nervous I was about the whole thing. Yes, shopping makes me uptight. I rarely find what I want, frequently come home with something that is nearly but not quite wearable, am in danger of going into into shop after shop and coming home with nothing, and given current restrictions, am likely to end up with a tired and grouchy little girl and a parking ticket. (How people are cheered up by going shopping I have never worked out!) In short, my whole attitude was defeatist before I even started. So I meditated some more on the kestrel.

It struck me that the key thing about the kestrel was its golden colour. It was truly beautiful. I wasn’t being at all golden in my attitude, seeing shopping as going into a battle where I was likely to be only partially successful at best, and could come away with a hole in my wallet and few spoils of war to show for it if I wasn’t careful. This had to change. I meditated some more, and suddenly realised that I was looking at everything the wrong way around. I should be excited about having the opportunity to go on a shopping expedition, with my little girl, to buy fabrics which would offer the potential of new, fun projects and some good clothes for us both to wear. I had to be open to new things, allow my intuition to speak and tell me what it liked, instead of my logical, negative mind trying to judge the suitability of each item. I didn’t quite reach excited state, but I was able to go with a much more positive and open frame of mind.

Did it work?

Replacement fabric and last week's pink mistake

Replacement fabric next to last week’s pink washing mistake

Yes! I bought the fabrics I had remembered liking, plus saw some others, and found two remnants of those I wanted for a fraction of the price. I bought an amazing eight fabrics, a total of around 18m of mainly natural fibre (cotton or wool blend) cloth for just over £60. They should keep me going for a while yet! (And yes I do have a use planned for both of the fabrics in the photo.)

However, the best part was realising how it is possible to bring excitement to activities, instead of ordinariness. I have bought a bird feeding station for the garden, and in another meditation seen how to redesign the whole of the back garden putting nature at the forefront. I am almost terrified at the size of the project it has exploded into, yet tremendously excited at the same time. I’m sure I will be writing more about it here.

My aim is now to wake up every day excited by the potential it holds. I had never come close to imagining it was possible to feel this way until now, but how amazing would it be to greet each day with such joy? And yet nothing has actually changed except my attitude and way of looking at things.

Winter Herbs – Thyme

I enjoy using herbs in a seasonal way, using a succession of different herbs or wild plants (some might call them weeds) through the year, depending on what I can find. I have tried drying herbs for winter use, especially when shrubby plants such as sage have needed pruning anyway, but I found I never use them; I would rather pick something fresh according to the season and what is growing well at the time.

Luckily there are a few herbs I can pick at any time of year, one of my favourites being Thyme. Only the hardiest varieties survive here in Derbyshire, but I currently have two types in my garden. T. vulgaris I grew from seed which does very well, and another whose name is since lost which has slightly larger leaves and a more rounded flavour, but is only borderline hardy. A little goes a long way with both types, so I use it regularly in tiny quantities through the winter for soups, stews or herb tea. (As with all very strong herbs, don’t use the same herb every day and extra care should be taken if pregnant.)

As a tea, Thyme is great for reducing or thinning mucus, so really helps with winter coughs and colds even for those without lung conditions. I pinch off two or three tips and pour boiling water over them, cover and leave it to infuse until it is drinking temperature. It combines really well with rosemary, which is great for an energy boost, and in early Spring, marjoram which also helps to clear sinuses. Combined with sage it makes a good gargle for a sore throat. It is said to be anti-bacterial and anti-septic, so is good to use directly on the skin as cooled tea or as a salve where it can help with skin conditions, joint inflammations, or cuts and bruises.

Thyme is a survivor, growing in the harshest conditions between cracks in paving slabs or rocks, or on dry mountainsides in the wild. It can even cope with being walked or trampled on. It is said to increase courage and inspiration for when you are doubting yourself. In medieval times, women used to sew thyme into scarves for knights to wear in battle to help them be brave. Earlier uses included room purifications by the Romans, temple purification and offerings by the Greeks, and Egyptian embalming. Some modern pagans use it to cleanse and purify a room instead of sage.

Some writers have suggested that wearing a sprig of thyme will help you see fairies… for some reason it is thought that fairies are very small and can hide among the tiny leaves. I’m sure some can fit here, but not any fairies I’ve seen!

Hello 2015

I would say Happy New Year, as so many people have said to me in the last few days, but I celebrated the year turning at Samhain, and again at the winter solstice. So instead I will say welcome to 2015, in the belief that this year promises even more good things than the last one.

I prefer to look forward rather than back, and I spend more time making future plans than reminiscing or worrying about what has gone. If it is true that we get what we focus on, then this seems a good way to be to me! However this is not because I am trying to cut out or ignore the negatives in my life, but part of how I overcame illness. My road back to health that started five years ago included setting myself a target for each day, however small, that I could achieve and feel like I had done something. Some targets were physical, such as going for a walk every day and slowly increasing from half a mile to managing three miles in under an hour. Some were creative, where at the end of it I had something in front of me I could see I had managed to do. It made me feel more worthwhile – and still does, for if I have nothing I am trying to achieve I feel lost.

After various thoughts about new projects to tackle, I made some promises to myself at the solstice. I share them here in the continued expectation that what is written down is more likely to happen than what is kept to myself!

Sewing – I have started making a quilt of the map where Winnie the Pooh lives, to hang on the wall where the poster of the same picture keeps falling off. (The radiator underneath melts the white-tack sticking it to the wall.) M is being her most helpful ever and loves seeing all the green background pieces being cut out and laid out in position, which is just as well since lack of space means I have to put them on the floor!

Stained Glass – I have drawn out one stained glass design for some door panels for an internal door, and have a front door and window panels to draw in the coming weeks. It would be great to get them all made this year…

Bodhran playing – when I wanted a drum for journeying, I bought a bodhran because I loved the sound and it felt right at the time. Now (nearly three years on) I want to learn to play it properly, so that I can use it for both and be more relaxed when I play it.

Working with elementals in the garden – I have no idea how to proceed with this one yet; drumming might be involved at least in the first instance. It feels important to me to try, however long it takes.

Climbing the ‘Wainwrights’ – the Munros always intrigued me in Scotland, and I have climbed about ten, but mostly they are too big, too demanding, and too far away. Also the list changes from time to time. I was in the Lake District for Yule, an area which I love and have walked and canoed there over many years, both solo and with family. This was the first time I had come across the concept of completing all the ‘Wainwrights’, which are all the fells AR Wainwright detailed in his books in the 1950s. They have the advantages of being a fixed list of 214 fells, some are small, and given it was his personal choice to include them, they all have some feature of interest. I would love to start from scratch and see if I can do them all in, say, thirty years. However I plan to start with the hundred and sixty-odd I haven’t yet climbed and see how I go. If nothing else, it is the best excuse I’ve come up with so far to ensure I get to Cumbria at some point each year!

Section of the Soca gorge, taken from footbridge. (German paddler.)

Section of the Soca gorge, taken from footbridge. (German paddler.)

Swimming in Dunnerdale – because it looks amazing. Paddling the Soca gorge took me eight years from seeing a photo to being there – and was every bit as wonderful as I hoped it would be (see the photo!) Swimming under Birks Bridge might take me as long before M is ready and the weather is right, but I’m hoping that is an outside time limit!

Given that dreams posted here have a habit of coming true, feel free to add yours in a comment below!

Dreams

If your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough!

I first read this quote, said by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, about a month ago and have been meditating on it ever since.

The original context was a speech to college students, made in 2011, encouraging them to really make something of their lives and aim as high as they could. She was someone who experienced a huge number of failures and setbacks, enduring exile, imprisonment and fear of execution, yet she managed to hold onto that dream and become Africa’s first female president.

I have never had such a dream as that, and leadership is not my destiny for this lifetime. But there have been times when I have struggled to have any dreams at all, failing to hold onto even my smallest dreams, the things I would like to do. Illness robbed me of energy, impulsiveness robbed me of judgement and trust in myself. I allow other people’s negativity and doubt to influence me and I retreat into my mundane, simple world. I carry on the job of suppressing my own dreams, talking them down, not seeing any practical purpose for them. Gradually I forget my dreams, they have no place, they are not reality, they are fairytales.

Finally I am trying to turn this around, reawaken my creativity, by following up any idea that has sufficient appeal to me to carry out, and which I think I can manage with M. But I am turning into a multi-stemmed tree, going off in all directions, without producing a solid trunk that will grow upwards. None of my stems are large enough to use for timber.

Feel the fear and do it anyway (Susan Jeffers)

Well possibly. But that assumes you have a dream that scares you. Mine don’t. Any that might, got trampled on. Eventually realising this I decided to stop having dreams for a while, and just do things I enjoyed with no thought for where they might lead. Do what feels right at the time.

But now I’m ready to look again. What if I grew a few of those stems large, and then wove them together, like a wattle fence? What if I wanted to do something crazy? What would I do if I could do anything?

The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. (Sirleaf)

I now have a mad project to create a picture for this blog, using lino printing. I am not an artist, craft is much more my thing. I can’t really draw, and I have no idea how to do lino printing. But I started with a dream of a picture, back when my photo idea got rained on repeatedly (Best Laid Plans, 23 May) and then grew the dream to the point where it most definitely scares me. But it is also exciting and I feel inspired. It will then weave into another strand, storytelling and tree pictures which also scares me. But why do half? What is my bigger dream? That the stories and pictures will help connect people with trees and spread a little love around the world. Could we one day have a different relationship with trees? One based on respect and sharing?

Yes my dream terrifies me. Why me? What makes me think I am remotely capable? But then, what have I got to loose by trying?

Just because something has not been done as yet, doesn’t mean it cannot be done. (Sirleaf)

You are never given a dream without also being given the power to make it true. You may have to work for it, however. (Richard Bach)