I never left

“Forgive me if I am meddling in matters I don’t understand, but looking back at what has passed, I think….. Merlin, what I am trying to tell you is this, that I believe your god is with you still.”



The Question: why do Brits think we do not have an indigenous spirituality and why are we importing other people’s? Why do those who do recreate pre-Christian practices get such bad truck from the overarching culture of the day?

Ok, it’s a big hope but surely it’s not impossible to achieve to answer these questions? I tell myself that it is doable, reachable, worth it, enlightening and won’t it just free us once and for all from this self-rejection?

Here are the short answers: Yes, we have an indigenous spirituality, it’s just been very well hidden; we’re importing other people’s because we are unaware of/ or rejecting of our own; those who recreate it are challenging a Big Fat Myth.

This myth that has been carved out of the marrow of our souls, when once we fought it with our own blood and flesh, for we knew it to not be true. But now it’s a myth so powerful that we just regurgitate it verbatim as if there were never another truth. We have forgotten because we have been led to believe that there is only toxic indigenousness of being British. Nationalism, racism, fascism, ignorance and poverty. You even say the words druid, witch or pagan and our morality bristles tingle with negative revile: Satan worshipping, make-believe, dark magic, wrong.

The myth has been so beautifully carved, so ancient have been the lies that we have lost the sight needed to look into the deep past. Did you even know that the Romans did not find a savage, uncultured, immoral peoples here? Did you even know that? Of course you did. Why, we have many documentaries about the wonders of Stonehenge, of the burial practices of the Bronze Age, stone circles and winter solstice alignments. So of course we knew. We know all this, we have acclaimed professors who tell us all about the interesting things ancient Britons did. We’ve even heard of the ‘Druids’ that Tacitus, that Roman observer/propagandist writes of, and how robe-clad well-to-dos in the Victorian era circumambulated Stonehenge, dressing up in white robes and being all sombre. Yet all of this is seen through a variety of prisms. first, one of an anthropologist looking at arcane practices that as an observer they assume the observed culture will simply not affect, they remain untouched, clinical in their observing. Other prisms are that of science, that dearest of churches that clearly we must believe in, even though it gave us phrenology and eugenics. The Church itself, rational thought and platonic investigation, that anything cultured meets certain criteria of analysis and reductionism. Except if it is of mythic, esoteric, unseen and unknown matter? No, this has been denounced as quackery or worse. Our culture is disdainful of anyone who lives a path that it feels should be assigned to the history books and left there. 

It behoves us to ask, why? Why must we be so doggedly intent on denying our own indigenous roots? Why do we ascribe negative associations with them? Why are we so utterly incapable of accepting our spiritual belonging to this land? Why have we been fed the line given to us by our conquerers and why on Earth do we still regurgitate it, without a second thought, in order to disclaim, denounce and deny our own indigenousness?

This question is now critical to discuss and to explore. This is because of the very reason that the brilliant mind of Woman Stands Shining, Pat McCabe of the Dine’ or Navajo tribe puts so well: the greatest challenge of our current situation is to find a way to live sustainably. Therefore we need to learn from those cultures who have proven sustainability credentials as they have lived and remained in one place for many thousands of years. These are the indigenous peoples of the world. Yet we are either appropriating their wisdom or we are destroying their cultures. So how can we possibly learn from them?

I have some theories. Our current cultural view of pre-Christian spirituality in Britain is forged by the colonial assumptions of the early Industrial Revolution. To excuse the rape and destruction of other cultures, British explorers reduced these people to sub-human, curios, enchanting and odd. Dangerous, yes, but primitive. The prevailing western culture would sweep them aside, convert them to Christianity and teach them to read, in return for vast wealth and control. This was a learned behaviour dating to the Roman period, where ‘divide and conquer’ was a military tactic to subjugate the indigenous cultures in Europe, in the way of the empire-building and expansionism of the dominant culture of Rome. Early ‘pioneers’ of the Industrial era simply continued this. But guess what? They’d kept on doing it to the indigenous culture of the Motherland of Britain ever since the Roman occupation in AD43.

Here is some evidence for this continued subjugation: the adoption of Pagan (and therefore pre-christian) festivals into Christian ones, such as Christmas and the arrival of the Sun God in the shortest day, the May Queen and the phallic Pole turning goodly villagers toward the safety of the manicured village green and away from the erotic sexiness of the blessings of the fields by Cernonnos the Horned God and his Divine Consort, and of course Samhain becoming the greatest woman-bashing of the year: the Black Witch, all evil and ugly, treacherous and wicked. Where, pray tell me are the White Witches, the Golden Witches and Green Witches, the bright and beautiful elements to the sacred Feminine that we hold within us? Where are the healers and midwives, the gardeners and physics? Where are the blessing-givers and the wise women? (When I dress up and go Trick-or-Treating I am going to give a gift of a blessing, not just take their sweets.) I give you also the witch trails of the 15th and 16th century, when witchcraft was made illegal in 1563, and during this entire period around 200,000 women (and some men) were killed in some form or another in western Europe. See also the raping of a wife only made illegal in the twentieth century, where before that it was deemed a woman had ‘given herself in this kind unto her husband, which she cannot retract’, noted by Sir Mathew Hale in 1736. How about the Harvest Festival, where the abundance and utter selflessness of Earth is not even given lip service in Church, where we use Her bounty as evidence to give thanks to an anthropomorphic male God, oddly reminiscent of someone who looks very western, very rich and very austere. That healing with hands (just as Jesus and John the Baptist did) was made a heretical act, unless you were doing it through the church.
Oh, I could go on.

You’ll see that the evidence I am giving has a fair share of evidence of subjugation of women in it. This is not a coincidence. The denial of indigenous wisdom and spirituality is part and parcel of the way women are treated in society, because women are the holders of ancient wisdom. This is seen in almost all surviving and recorded indigenous cultures in the world. Women were the drummers while the shaman danced. They hold the circle, they feed the people, they make the babies and tend the sick, they impart the wisdom of the fireside and are holders of the stories and songs, sang to their children. So, to reclaim our own indigenous roots is to finally listen to the women, not to hide them, belittle and control them. 

The hole that was left when we lost our belonging has been filled by the Church, nationalism, rational thought, science and a distancing that we are comfortable with, because it is now acceptable to be interested and fascinated by our pre-Christian culture, as long as we look on the surface like it isn’t seeping into our bones, making us gaze in wonder at the moon and to want to dance around the Guy Fawkes-torturing fire (not a whiff of Paganism there.) We wave our sparklers and take astronomy evening classes to try to understand the itch. Yet we know that our heritage is not a test ground for theory and science, it is a rich mess of wild love for our place. The enforced narrative that kept indigenousness from threatening the dominant culture is cracking: ‘long-forgotten culture’ or ‘prehistory’, the words we use to keep the past from grabbing us, slowly, slowly we are finding a new narrative. One that is richer and more alive: shamanism, rites of passage, wedded to the land, these are things we can understand from our own lives, for we all have stories of this, if we look back. Shamanism of childhood, our teddybear who spoke to us, the trees that were our friends. We have lived it, and the past is myself. 

Then, finally, what of our own indigenousness that we have and how do we really feel about embracing it? If we could ask ourselves to be honest, how easy would it be to slip away from the negative associations in our minds? What if I wrote hedgerow medicines, celebrations, community, wise women, storytelling, songlines and nursery rhymes, grow your own, take care of Earth, revering our ancestors and loving with all our hearts those who came before? These are indigenous practices, that we still embrace today, that we need in our lives. They enrich our baleful money-making daily lives and we should be able to breathe, finally and say ‘I come from a long line of indigenous wisdom that is unbroken’ without feeling fraudulent. Why is it that people are taking DNA tests in their droves, to thrill at exotic blood, yet feeling a slight disappointment when it turns out they’re actually quite British? My only answer to that is that the negative associations with our indigenous roots are too negative to swallow. 

Yet, the Deep Time has ever been there, waiting to be refound and reborn in our consciousness. Before the myths that the Romans gave us, then the Church, then the Enlightenment and rational thinkers, before the great Industrialisation and Enclosures Act. Before they ever were, we were indigenous, we protected this land, fed off it, nurtured it, grew from it and returned to it. The greatest challenge of our lives is to become sustainable in our days once more, so that finally we can become a restorer species, not a consumer species. We do not need to look elsewhere, we need to just look back in time.
 
Quote from ‘The Last Enchantment’ by Mary Stewart, 1980, p 207
(I highly recommend you read these books! Merlin of the Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills and this final one).

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Consumer Child

Children speak the truth. They speak the truth that sometimes is a slap around the face for an adult to hear. Today my eight year old spoke her truth.

It all started because of poetry. She had to find a poem that she liked for homework. Delightedly, I pulled out book upon book from the case. Oscar Wilde, Tolkien, traditional ones, fairy tale books, Shakespeare, Whitman, Frost. Any and all magical writers I thought she would be thrilled to learn from. But no, she wanted to look online for a poem and then write it out on the computer. In theory I have no problem with online research, but really, when it comes to poetry, a book is best. So I said so. Which she didn’t like.

Cue tears and sadness. Cue wallowing in the depths of despair that only a child being refused something can sink into. Head on the table, with open tomes scattered all about, a wailing emitting from her, as if I’d truly broken her heart, she was distraught.

As if her bibliophobic response wasn’t bad enough (in a house with a great many books in it it didn’t go down well), as we walked to school she dropped the ultimate truth-bomb:

“I’m so sad that I want you to make sure you have bought a special surprise for me when I get home. Because I want you to buy me something that will make me feel better. I feel really unhappy everyday and only a thing that you buy for me will make me feel better”.

Consumerism. In a nutshell. From an eight year old.

It didn’t help that I suggested she go and be outside when she is feeling down. That if she feels bored or that things are a bit samey she need only go and explore the world. Only last week she had a terrible dream where a tree had spoken to her that it was being hurt. The dream so unnerved her that immediately I said to go outside and to tell the trees in the garden all about it. She did this, coming back inside twenty minutes later, feeling much relieved. She knows that the trees are always there, she knows that if she is feeling down that to make a den, to dig a hole in the lawn (which forever annoys my long-suffering husband), or to collect the windfalls, will guarantee to make her feel alright again.

Yet, what I think she was touching upon is something deeper. Something that we need to question. It is of course a natural and thoroughly normal response for a child to want to be distracted by a new thing. We all know that we get a rush of happy-hormones, endorphins, when we buy or receive a new thing, and this is no different for a child. They thrill when receiving a new thing. The high is real and it probably can be a very helpful sticking plaster over a specific, negative thing that a child has experienced. But it does not last long, this feeling of newness and euphoria. The question is: why do adults act like eight year olds? When should we have dropped this behaviour, in favour of the woods and the mud in the garden, telling our bad dreams to the trees? Ten? Eighteen? Twenty? At what stage does an adult turn and say, I bought this thing and it did not relieve the wanting. When, if ever, do we reach this point of rejection of the myth, if we have been allowed, no encouraged, to keep feeding it? The myth that buying things will make us better, and if we buy all the time, then we can string all these little flashes of endorphins together so there is never a drop in this feeling of wanting for something. So we will be forever happy and satiated.

Seventeen years ago the newness of a mobile phone was incredible. I bought my first one in 2000. The fact that there was no mobile coverage in Cumbria didn’t daunt me, I simply walked it up Blencathra until I had a signal and then rang my mum, just to tell her that I was up a mountain, ringing her. What a giggle! What an amazing advancement of technology for me to be able to do that! The endorphins rushed and rushed for a very long time. Then I bought another one, then another, this time with a grainy, ridiculous camera on it. Even though the photos it took were indistinguishable blurs it was still an incredible rush. Which ebbed each time I ‘upgraded’.

The history of my consumption of phones in the twenty-first century is the history we all know, and probably share. I succumbed to technological advancement which took me further and further from the true need for one, which was just to communicate with a real person, about the shopping or a rendezvous. Now I have a phone so I can share my pictures far and wide, read worthy and deeply important articles, listen to music, giggle at friends’ antics, do a runic spread or tentatively learn Welsh from an app. My consumerism has changed. It now is no longer about the casing of the phone itself, I no longer have any wish to buy or change the thing itself, it is the content that I crave. It is the power of the things behind the screen that I have been conditioned into desiring. It is the music, the words, the people, the magic. These things are what I crave.

And if I am frank, that is exactly what my daughter wanted too. A two-step desire: to be on her laptop, to touch the buttons and connect to something bigger than her yet does not exist without her; and to also access the poetry of the greatest, online. Her assumption was right: to have something will make her feel better. Yet this is a Great Myth. Although it is true in the immediate realm, the irony is that it keeps us from being truly happy and crucially, it keeps us from being free from the wanting! And the silly thing is, WE KNOW THIS!!! Yet why is it so pervasive? In my opinion, this myth is so great, so big that we think we cannot get off from its back, because what we have been led to believe is if we do get off, beyond it is the swamp of crusty, antisocial disenfranchisement, no ladder to climb, no self-worth, no standing, no place. A good myth not only keeps you connected to it, it also repels you from any alternative. Yet it really is a myth. And beyond it, below it, around it, is solid ground. Ground that is beautiful, growing, rich in all we would ever need. Ground from which we can turn and look at the desperate souls piggybacking on Consumerism’s back, clinging on, wearing their good clothes in their fully connected homes, their eyes screwed shut.

The eight year old consumer within, even though it has been allowed to continue in our psyche, has to be gently and lovingly put aside. Children are our saviours but they are within us all, the best and the worst of what we grew from. Yours will cling on if the is no grown up to tell them to leave. Yours will try to keep you in the playground, wanting friends, things, grades, to be picked first, to be first in the dinner queue, showing off trinkets collected, tears demanding to be stopped. Yet sooner or later, the grown up has to look deeply at all the assumptions they are making, those they think are keeping them safe, secure, enriched, valued, then throw them away. Then, and only then, will that adult be standing on the real, solid ground that has always been surrounding that Myth. Finding that it isn’t populated by the disenfranchised or forgotten, the antisocial or unloved, but that here are wise souls, open hearts, bold thinkers and lovers of the Earth. These are the people with whom to grow up, into the bright, shining human we were always born to be.

Ash leaves spiralling down

With something to say to me whispered clear as they tumble to Earth

I just can’t hear it when they’re all up there together

They say 

Fly, let go, be golden, be old, be enough, be the end
I catch them all talking as they fall

One turns into a butterfly as it spins
And their silence is complete once they land

Until they are so many that the ground is not green

It is yellow with mingled haw and ash on the path

So much golden light just lying there

Redundant

Finished

Complete

Done
The golden glow of release and richness

Lying discarded on the path for anyone to trample heavy feet upon

Slow rot begins and turns this into soil

To dirty dog’s feet and make worms for the robins
Grief of it all envelopes me 

Of departed days and ended months that

Whisked themselves from my attention while I was distracted

Days gone and people gone and souls emptied one by one and in droves

This is a mixed up muddled up shook-up world except for the trees

And I am grieving

For lost days and discarded gold


From ‘Lola’ the Kinks

His walk 

For someone who is awoken early most mornings it was surprising how rarely he got out to walk in the early light. He used to do it a lot, but he got out of the habit. He preferred instead to shake the sleep from his body and leave for work.

But this day called him, through the smallest of chinks in the curtain. A bright blue sky, wall to wall cloudlessness displayed itself and he was tempted. So desperately tempted to answer.
Leaving his sleeping lover, he crept about, finding his pants and socks while his atoms were tingling with the bright, calling sky. I’m coming. Just wait, he called silently back.

Letting the dog out of the back door they quietly swept down the garden and out. How rare it is to have such a morning, he thought. I can’t remember such a morning. Has summer been and gone already? Is this autumn I feel all about me?  Blackberries coming to ripened juiciness nodded in agreement in the tangle of the hedges. Plums dropped like precious jewels in front of his face. Apples have swelled in the weeks that I’ve been busy being distracted, he thought, guiltily. But it’s the Sun that is the real giveaway. Look how low it is, Dog. Look how He’s moved and sunk in the sky. Look how He throws long shadows that weren’t there only a few weeks ago. This passage of time is unbearable. Where have I been, Dog?

Dog looked up at him and beyond. He followed Dog’s gaze and saw the moon, waning yet fat still with the memory of recent fullness. Hanging in the sky, framed in azure, playing second fiddle to the rising Sun. They walked on, through thick dew. Onwards under the eternal relationship, they moved.

A deer stood delicate in a field, she raised her glorious head to their sound but stood, motionless and unafraid as they looked back at her. They walked on.

A faerie dell stopped him in his tracks, stopped his movement and his breath. But for his slow pulsing heart he would have been motionless as a rock, all eyes. Shadowy ferns suddenly bright and vibrant under long, groping beech trees, their shadows cast in sharp splendour by the slanting sun. Spiders’ threads criss-crossed his path, brushing his face, glistened blues, yellows, purples, golds as they gently swayed in the light. Mushrooms on a crumbling stump that was more Earth than tree-memory illuminated. Not a Being to be seen, yet his skin tingled on his scalp and he knew he was just too late to see the unseen. Like breath, they had left. Perhaps watching though, all eyes too.

As he got to the river he stood and watched it flow. Like a smooth lullaby in motion it cradled him. Looking down he saw a goose feather by his feet and he picked it up. Keep walking, he heard.

Just a little way more, he thought. I can feel hunger calling. Just a little way more gave him the mighty Stag, grazing in peace, undisturbed and traceless. What gifts I have been given, just me and Dog. What gifts of  wonder and beauty. This is always here, I see that now, even when I’m not there to bear witness. This is here, even when I am not.

Gratitude, coursing through his veins, he walked back home.

Wet feet as I walk

I walk in summer fields

Through shadowy patches still clinging to the dawn’s dew

Gently it bathes my naked toes as I brush through the tall, soft grass

Sharp, cool water, quickly warms on my skin and I lose sensation of it

 

A grass seed sticks under my foot

 

Warm sun now fully alive in the North and I am bathed in summer

Yet still the dew clings and the denuded path is soft underfoot

Morning light is hours old by now, I’m really late to this meeting

Curlews call in the breezy, blue sky

 

An unseen nettle stings my ankle

 

How strange, I’m usually so careful to move like a dancer around them

A rabbit comes towards us

Not seen by him, we watch his effortless jumps

Ears erect, body so comfortable

How rare to see a wild animal at peace in its own world

Accidental, unavoidable fear follows me usually

I’ve not thought of this before

 

I leave no trace of my passing

 

 

 

 

Radical joy for Hard Times

Hard times indeed, when the Earth is threatened with drills and big machinery, spewing her blood from veins deep within her body. Blood that will fuel industries and homes in a last-gasp attempt to eek out the last dregs of profit for those who laid claim to those blood riches.  That is not your blood to spill, I hear, yet this cry has reverberated around the arenas of human-made slaughter for aeons and nobody has ever listened until the reckoning of peacetime. 

Except that this anthropocene has bore witness to the spilling of all the blood in the world. Every single drop that wasn’t white, rich or comfortable to spill. This time it’s Earth Herself who is to keep sacrificing Her innards of shale gas to be offered upon the alter of money, of energy, of fuel, because dear girl, all this makes us happy in the long run. You like your life, don’t you? Surely you gave your silent consent long ago, when you were born into this world and you didn’t complain of the riches, the privilege, of the comfort? 

Hard times indeed. I squirm in my skin of the lost chances to respond. Because I have blood on my hands too. 

Yet, the rallying call went up and I’m listening now. I am rallied now. The comfort given to me for my silence can no longer numb me from the means used to stupify me.  

As individuals it is easy at first to be overwhelmed by the enormity of what is needed to be done. But this is a LIE!  have learned that this thought is directly caused by the habit of thinking that we are alone and separate from one another and from the Earth. Find others who agree and who will not collude with the all-too-easy return to sleep! Find those who too have heard the rallying call and who are turning towards the lines. 

I found such a place at Kirby Misperton Protection Camp last week. I took the baby and we went for an hour to meet the residents and to learn a little about their days. Amid the practicalities of putting a kitchen together, rat-proofing their food stores by using filing cabinets, fixing clattering cabins and moving useful humans across the country, I heard of a deep and real connection to the Earth, I felt the power of place, the genius loci embracing all who come tumbling lost and grief-stricken through the gate. I watched as tears of protectiveness welled in the eyes of one, my own eyes welled up as I felt it too. Fixing me, I heard. This place is fixing us all. Bowled over, surely it is us who are fixing the Earth? Yet even in her cry for help, Mother still heals. Goddess eyes, woven with wool into birch twigs dot about the camp, homemade signs and placards read welcome home. 

A week later and I return to offer a Global Earth Exchange: an offering of meditation, connection to place, of finding the wound of a place and then making beauty that was created by the inspiring Trebbe Johnson at Radical Joy for Hard Times charity in the USA. The sun beat down on us as we sat next to young willows in the camp. Nine participants plus me, my singing bowls and my drum, making a circle of stillness in the heart of the camp as others around us buzzed about, busy with the tasks of the day: kids making a tarp hide, kitchen goodies being prepared, cups of tea made and imbibed as actions were discussed. Our circle turned inward, to each other, to the group, to the Earth beneath our hearts. 

We began with a quick introduction of each of us, why are we here? What brought us here? And this is the depth of the wound: grief, rage, how dare they? How dare they? Love, self-healing on a long journey, love, love, love, and a calling responded to. Time and again, the call. 

Then a meditation, to feel the Earth, to open up to her as if she were a lover, to stand as equals with her and to find what she says to us as silent, still individuals. RadJoy has the term the Ground beneath our hearts and this was utterly perfect for this work. We envisaged the shale gas and we felt our own connection to that. We felt the Earth as our lover. 

We then went off to spend some time alone to connect more deeply to what we’d experienced. The drum and a bowl were taken, occasionally I could hear the drum as its player walked around the camp. The bowl turned up on Facebook: chill mofos.

To the couple of people who remained I played the other bowl, swaying into the bowl’s rhythm and vibrations, it took us deep into its sound and feel. To give vibrations of music back to the Earth. 

When we returned we made the RadJoy bird; wings outstretched, made from twigs and straw, long grass, cast-off cricket bat ash, half a tennis ball for a beady eye, goose feathers given only the day before for some as-yet-unknown reason (until now) splayed along the tail. The bird took shape under our foraging eyes and the will to create grew and grew in us all as the joy of the making took over. Satisfied at last we stepped back to admire our creation. Beauty made with joy, she lies now in the meadow as a symbol of the kestrel who has frequently visited the camp. 

Holding hands around the head, we close with a final grounding meditation and a reminder to give thanks to the Earth and to ourselves. 

Suddenly, Kestrel swoops overhead. Absent for a couple of days this is a portentous moment, just as we finish the GEx. Has she come to check out the new bird? Or because she has been attracted by the love of the group? She glides above us and beyond. Transfixed, we are blessed. 

Global Earth Exchange or GEx is a powerful thing. It’s a moment of reflection on every emotion that rises up when we notice that we are in the presence of a wounded place. Grief hangs over us like a weighted cloth that smothers our every move and the breath we so desperately need to live. The GEx offers us up to the grief, opens us up and makes us aware of it so that we can look beyond it and notice the radical joy that bubbles and sparkles with creative energy. Right at the edge of despair we find the strength to create joy. But we have to get to that edge, through the pain and the fear, through the grief and rage that hangs so ominously. It doesn’t engulf us because the joy is always felt, somewhere near, somewhere close, and GEx offers a gateway and an invitation to step into it. 

We make the bird that was lying waiting within us all, waiting to be made by willing hands and open hearts. 

‘Read all about it!’ or not

The other day, our middlest daughter received Star of the week from her new gymnastics class. She was so completely delighted. She strapped the heavy, gaudily over-polished star under her seatbelt and cradled it all the way as we drove home, looking at it and stroking it, then looking at me with such a look of happy wonder in her face. Disbelief and joy could be clearly seen in her eyes as she took it all in. In my mind I held a breath’s space in silent thanks to the teachers who saw her shyness as she first walked in and the way she clung to me, tears in her eyes as she felt the alien room and the half-strange faces all around her. Thanks to them for encouraging her into the room and helping her forget her fears as she chose a hula hoop to whirl about her tiny body. I remember that feeling from dance classes when I was a child. Clinging to the rock of security that was my mother, I’d have done anything, anything at all to not feel that feeling of homesickness. No matter how much I ended up enjoying swinging myself about, dancing to the music, getting mind and body and will and rhythm to all merge as my body moved into the dance, the first fears were ever present.

———–

I have an occasional habit of turning on the morning news. Mainly for the weather report.

I get the news I need from the weather report

The gymnast walked in with her star. She had slept with it on her pillow and had been carrying it around since she awoke. She looked at the TV and said “perhaps I’ll be on the news today.”

“It’s big news, isn’t it?” I replied.

Indeed, this is big news. News so enormous in her life that it may well determine the course of her Wednesdays for a good while. My little agent of chaos, my firecracker has made the news.

Out of curiosity, I tune my attention to the news report coming from the TV: Macron, Le Pen, Brexit, Frexit, polls and elections, Syria, fake news, bombs, Trump and North Korea. All in the space of a two minute round-up of the headlines. No mention of a scared little girl getting a star, no mention even that their five month old brother can now roll over. How about the eldest and her encyclopaedic knowledge of Animal Jam, a game on the computer? What about my sleep report, how did last night go? That’s news to us. Or that yet again, my husband will be working this weekend and there is no let-up in sight for how much, how deeply I miss him.

“Four eggs today, mummy”, says the eldest. Our ever-giving chickens create their daily offerings. 

———

It’s enough to make anyone sad, or mad, or angry, desperate, despairing. Two minutes of my life I gave them and I got given a list of enormous problems, caused by enormous egos, for enormous egos to fix or worsen, depending on what mood they’re in.

Stepping outside, I take Dog and Baby back into the world. The wind whips my hair in jubilation the moment I step outside the back door, playing with my skin as it cools and strokes me. The sun plays too, peeking behind cantering clouds as they race overhead. It isn’t warm enough yet to make those first moments comfortable, but I know that I’ll heat up and I’ll be glad I didn’t wrap up too warmly. Cherry blossom shakes in the tree above me, the apple blossom is just starting to erupt! Soon the trees will be a rich, sexual pink. I step on ground elder and daisies, brush past a patch of forget-me-not at the gate. The lawn is dotted with colour now: verdant greens, whites and yellow of dainty little flowers. Cuckoo pints unfurl beneath one of the apples and tiny red currants bob about in the hedge. Everything is growing its offerings! Clothes snag on reaching brambles at the end of the garden and the willow bends her graceful boughs to my face, her leaves caress my upturned smile. Every day is different, the world tells me, yet every day is a return of the Great Circle of the year. The same and so achingly familiar, yet so new and so unique. Like greeting a very old friend, to find that you have both grown, but not beyond recognition.

This is the news I want to fill my world with. This. It’s real. It’s real news. It’s eternal and it’s right here. It’s what my body, senses and spirit have, right here. The path winds through the world and all I have to do is step forward, step by step and the news is there to be known.

Wild garlic is now in full flower in the old quarry; the heron takes off and lazily sweeps away across the river. It must have heard the crashing of Dog in his joyous meandering. A toad has laid strings of spawn in a receding pool of the river. I pick it up in my hand, and feel the ooze of the jelly around each delicate little egg. I gently move it all further into the pool, under a protruding rock, away from the increasing heat of the sun. Give it a chance, I think. I’ll come back and have a look to see if it’s safe. Roving reporter. The river level has dropped, almost all the way down to its high-summer level. But still a little way to go. I’ll report back on that too.

Someone has laid my alter down and used it as a makeshift path. I re-erect it and place a marigold and a wild garlic flower on the top. Also some grass, because this ubiquitous, understated plant colours our world like nothing else, yet it’s entirely overlooked, in favour of herbs, flowers, anything but grass. I met an ecologist who’d been studying grasses for fifteen years and still didn’t know every kind.

News. It’s what I make it.

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.

——–

Excerpts from Simon And Garfunkel The only living boy in New York

and J.R.R. Tolkein The Lord of the Rings

What is Ecotherapeutic motherhood?

Bright sunlight comes from a sun that has crept up the sky these last weeks, from its lowly sweep of the horizon in the darkest days to crowning the rooftops and the tallest of trees. Light dances off the glossy evergreen leaves of ivy, holly and privet as we canter to school this morning. Light illuminates the birds as they glide in the sky, their underbellies glossy with reflection and warmth. Everything is in motion: a brisk breeze whips my hair about my face and sends a crisp, brown leaf tumbling across the road, so much like a mouse that I thought at first it was. The breeze blows birdsong first into our faces then snatches it away and fills our ears with the roar of air instead. These first days of Spring are busy busy busy and we are not even privy to the event. We are not even expected to notice. Yet we do. The girls chatter and laugh at the banishment of Winter. They coo in delight at the crocuses in abundance in a neighbour’s garden, at the tiny daffodils and narcissi in bloom. Every year they are expected and every year they delight.Wild garlic just showing tiny green rolls in a garden are sagely discussed. They love to forage and intend to snack on them soon.


Then to school they go, to indoor classes, maths, music, art and writing. They too will have their moments in the sunshine. As I turn towards the day ahead my mind turns to the familiar contemplation of what I shall do. More specifically: which route shall I take in my daily walk of the dog and of Baby, fast asleep in the sling? The wind plays with the dog poo bag, sticking its corner out of my pocket. The rustle alerts me to its imminent take-off and I quickly stuff it back inside. Baby snores gently at my chest. I tuck his blanket around him a little better. This wind has fingers.

Dog goes bananas as I change into wellies and head off with him into the garden. Such joy! His delight creates in me a frustration because he’s just so daft (he’s knocked into the recycling box, now the gate, skidding on the muddy path down the lawn, stood on a chicken) but also a half-noticed envy of just how amazing life is for a well loved, well walked dog. At the bottom of the garden there is a little path and I ask him “Well then, left or right?”He looks at me from eight meters down the path to the left, so I suppose that’s the way we are going today.

Past the willow. How lucky we are to have one at the bottom of our garden. Not since I was a little girl did we have a willow. It stood at the corner of our house, by the veranda. No doubt it was planted, maybe a hundred years ago, to make the house look a little like a settler’s house on the banks of the Murray river in the searing heat of nineteenth century Australia. That beautiful willow eventually got too big for its home and had to be felled. I remember that day so well, such a sadness to say goodbye to a tree, even one that was slowly but crushingly lifting our house up and making it warp. So this one here is special. Catkins formed weeks ago high up above our heads in the canopy. This wind has brought a few down to the ground and the girls have been stroking them agains their faces, wondering how many they’d need to harvest to weave them into a soft jumper. I pick a catkin up. It is soft like the fur that sheaths the ripping sharpness of my cat’s paws. They poke out of dark brown husks, curved, cracked shells that have kept the delicate fibres protected from Winter’s worst ravages all these weeks. Now to be split and discarded to fall, pecked at by inquisitive chickens.

As I walk the wind accompanies me. I know that in a few minutes I’ll be warm with the exertion of the land: up hill and down dale. Carrying a steadily growing baby in the sling is keeping me fit. Yet shadows between the bushes keep the air cold and the ground is still packed down hard and barely above freezing. Air circles around my neck and my skin feels the sting of the wind. I keep my hair down and think (again) of how fortunate we are to have hair that keeps growing on our head. In a post-glacial world of northern Europe I’d have been glad of the extra insulation, as I am now.

The path emerges into sunlight and suddenly the air warms. I raise my face to the sun, feel the last shivering fingers of Winter release me from their grip and I sense my soul fully accept that this, here, now is Spring. I smile. I feel the smile cascading down into my body and my limbs, lifting me up from the heaviness of mine and Baby’s weight, into a lighter, brighter season, where adventures beckon. My pace quickens as I come as close to running as I can without bobbing the baby about too much. Birds are chattering incessantly about my ears: long tailed tits chirping, blackbirds scolding and wooing in turn, a lone thrush in the tree outside my bathroom has been entertaining me of late as it tries mimicking the birds it hears. My favourite call in its repertoire that it is perfecting is that of a curlew. I was quite convinced at first. I watch two robins love-fighting in a hedgerow. I am absolutely here now. I am watching you, I want to say. I am here. I feel it too.

I walk and walk. Each footpath I come across I take. Further and further I go because I don’t want to go back. I take the risk that Baby will wake up and I give thanks (again) for my on-board feeding machine. In fact, I wish he did wake up just so that I can find a rock and feed him. To feel this day shape my motherhood, to be bathed by the warm light as the coldness of the rock beneath me fights to keep me from getting too comfortable. Winter still holds the rocky realm. But it doesn’t hold the trees, nor the birds; the becks bubble and trickle, bouncing light about so carelessly while the creatures within them feel that the waters are perceptibly warmer today than yesterday. It doesn’t hold me either. Winter tries to get to Baby and for a moment I’m horrified that one of his bare legs has escaped from its wrapping and is cold to the touch. Small beings need great care. He fusses in his sleep as I tuck it back in.


Sooner or later I have to return home. That is part of the deal.

Walking home I turn my mind inwards to my thoughts. Ecotherpy is an off-shoot of ecopsychology which is the study of the world, the Earth, our humanity and the lack of connection that has sprung up between people and their environment. It says that the Earth is a being and that it influences us just as much, if not more, than any other person in our lives. I have a relationship with this world, just as intricately woven about me as my relationship with my mother. In fact, my relationship with the Earth is deeper, more eternal, more critical than that with my mother. Because I simply cannot live if the Earth falls sick and dies. I die too. Much as I love my mother, her destiny is not my own. Yet I am the Earth and She is me. 

It’s very easy to enjoy the delights of the Earth in this unspoilt, beautiful, empty place in the high Pennines. It takes a jump of understanding on a rational level to willingly open myself up to the realities in the rest of the world; open sewers leading into the Ganges, from which people fish then sell these in market places, deforested lands choked with acidic soils which will never sustain crops again, salinated swathes of Australia which were left after disastrous land management, so salty that it contaminates water supplies, and of course the imminent threat of fracking on our doorstep. How will we eat? How will we drink? How will we breathe? These are vastly terrifying questions that I must admit I can only glimpse at out of the corner of my eye most days, because on the days that I have seen them, stood facing them and brought them fully into my awareness I have broken down and sobbed in grief.

So this is ecotherapeutic motherhood, I suppose: to know that this Earth is both my delight and my greatest fear, delight that reaches way beyond myself into the wide reaches of the future, when I am no longer here and the breeze that plays about my face today has recycled itself into a terrifying cyclone, knocking down trees in Indonesia. So if anything, ecotherapeutic motherhood is giving me a sense of perspective.

Coming home, Baby is stirring. As I extricate him from the sling and he is crumpled up into a little warm ball of himself, slowly stretching out his arms and his head, I tell him of all that there is out there. How I ventured three miles, maybe not even that, from our door and I found the world to be filled with life. How I found that Spring comes again and again to our world and demands sleep to be banished before it. How that the Earth Herself gives cues, perfectly in time with the Sun, for collaboration. We mustn’t just walk through this world unknowingly, un-noticingly, as if we do not matter. True, things will go on around us in our blindness, yet it’s amazing out there and all we have to do is go out and surrender to it.