A Poem

The First Sun of the New Year

2o17

Not long ago the sun has risen

Late and unwilling from a dark bed,

All clothed in crimson cloud, to be wed

To the washed-out sky. And now, it is up.

First it touches the chimney, till it glows

Warm red against the pale, and now it’ll expose

By casting its slanting beams,

The grass that yet grows green

Beneath the stiff and silvery frost – and seen

And softly caressed by the sun is her child –

A lonely snowdrop bud, quite faint and mild

And the sun she thaws the frost and leaves her tears.

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Sunset

Brightest was the horizon, where the far-off winter trees blended their thin charcoal lines into a black mesh, through which the seared sky was a deep, hot red like the lights that move through the black heart of a fire, and higher up the colour changed – it can hardly be said paled, for the new colour was just as vibrant as ever – to a bright orange-pink, quite startling in its richness, spreading up and up behind the arms of the beech.

The hard clearness of the black silhouettes melted into insignificance as her breath clouded the cold pane, and only the colours blazed through the mist. She was comparing it in her mind to another sunset, one Midsummer’s eve. In Summer, the inclosing trees, now bare and brittle-looking as skeletons, blocked any view of the sunset, and she had to go up'” the lane outside the house to get any view of it. The sky was pale, washed out pearly-grey, the colour of Athena’s eyes, she remembered thinking at the time, and there was no rich fiery glow, as now – but near the horizon the clouds were soft angel pink, spreading out like silken scarves in the wind, though there was no wind, only a perfect stillness, pervaded by the wafting sent of the sweet-chestnuts. Did she long for that Midsummer eve?

Only as the wanderer in a garden where the warm, close smell of roses fills the air longs for the clean scent and the pale foliage of the lavender-garden. Or as the watcher of the great, bold stretch of the eagle’s wings and the curve of the mighty beak longs for the gentle hopping of a little wren upon the doorstep.

December Night

‘…shadowed silvery moon…’

A long, narrow strip of pale yellow is left along the horizon where the sun has gone down behind the distant black mesh trees, but the garden is in darkness. The black evergreens toss restlessly fro and fro in the cold breeze, and the bare branches of the other trees look delicate and vulnerably silhouetted. Behind the trees, but visible at some angles, is a half-moon, with the thin grey clouds rushing coolly over it like liquid, as though it were a shiny pebble under a stream. At one moment, it is shining gently, with the dark cloud shapes hurrying over – at another, it is quite gone and extinguished behind the greyness, as if it had never been there at all – and then it begins to show again, a faint traced shape in the clouds – and they pass over, and it shines serenely, illuminating the sky around in soft whiteness – and then once more the dark shadows begin to flurry over it like waves.

The timeless, boundless branches of the huge beech are like dark trickling veins, behind and around the dark soft shape of the trunk.

The shadows stand still in strange shapes on the lawn, and everything seems to listen to the wind at it makes gentle noises in the tossing branches. Half-afraid of the shapes, she tiptoes down the garden path. The moon draws out of sight for a while behind the blackness of the trees – but as she reaches the lawn, she looks up again. And it shows itself, lonely in the sky, more glorious because isolated by a vastness of grey drifting cloud, wide and swallowing.

In the soft darkness the shape of the beech’s trunk seems huge – far larger than it seems in the daytime – a wide greatness of rising bark. And looking up, she is almost dizzied by the upward spiral of trunk and branches, starting in a faint dimness, but darkly silhouetted as they rise above the paler sky. The well-known turn of every branch is something unfamiliar, something great, something strange, something very old. The moon hangs trembling behind the rushing cloud, and the closer drooping twigs, every little detail of them outlined in black against her gentle white light.

Knowing she would soon be away, she took another glance at the great and grotesquely twisting trunk, and let her fears loose, speeding up the garden path as fast as she could go with every seed-head stirring in the motion.

And reached the house-door, from which the warm light flowed out onto the shining cobbles, that moon and those twigs forever imprinted in her memory.

(I have started a shop on easy; Ourtangledgarden, please check it out.)

Farewell to Autumn

The temperature has dropped with November,  and it is winter air that I step out into in the chilliness of the morning.

A flock of birds, their white under-wings catching the light, cross the expanse of the sky above me. A sky of piercing frosty blue, clear as a cold blade, tempered by the licking flames of the beech branches. Above the glorious radiance of that blaze, life-filled and warm against the coolness of the blue, the ghost of half-moon glides like a tattered piece of delicate tissue paper carried high by the autumn breeze.

The faint silveriness of frost pales the lawn, melting in the long streaks of morning sunshine. A grey squirrel hurries here and there in the leaves, and up above, a little movement that might have been made by falling leaves show themselves, to a close observer, to be made by little tits, darting here and there in the frosty air, in between the golden foliage.

Closer to me, the autumn crocuses are flattened against the grass on which the frost has already melted into clear sparkling droplets, and to my left, the red berries are bright on the yet green foliage of yew and holly (our holly trees always have ripe berries early).All the leaves are gone from the little cherry, except for one or two of speckled yellow, that even now spiral down. In the flowerbeds the flowers and their green leaves have fallen back, leaving only their seed-heads, which stand erect and delicate. And the foliage that remains, the tall purple loosestrife and the ferny leaves of the incense rose on their rich brown stalks, is dappled red and yellow like the trees. In the big bushes of garden cranesbill, a deep blue bloom can yet be sometimes found, hiding under the withering leaves, with a spider’s web suspended from its stalk. Those flowers are some of the last to survive. But over the dried desolation spreads a new growths – some starry flowers, some like red flames and others with pale pink blooms, remembering their native home where it is always summer, spring up in bright clouds of colour.

‘Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?

Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,-‘

 

 

 

 

Preserving Leaves

Preserving Leaves was my first post ever on this blog!
Now the season is right for preserving leaves, I thought I’d re-blog it to fill up a terrible gap in my posting which I’m aware I’ve created with my negligence. I have a post almost finished, though, and I will try to put it up soon.

Copper Beech School

Many times in Autumn I have strolled out along the wet grass and found blown into the hedge a single perfect leaf, in which a sensational mixture of beautiful reds, golds, and browns, flow into each other. It makes you sad to think that in few days, that gorgeous leaf may be tattered, sodden and ragged, rotting away into the mud. But there is a way of saving such perfect specimens of autumn leaves from this melancholy fate.

Leaf preserving is great fun; you can gather the beautiful red and gold leaves while the sun shines and the garden is radiant with gold, and then when one of those cold and windy autumn days was playing outside is out of question comes along, you can do the preserving part.

We tried two ways of preserving leaves but the only really successful one involved glycerine, which is thick liquid that comes…

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Autumn: Warm Sunlight, Cold Air

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?

Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—

While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day

 And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;

Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn

Among the river sallows, borne aloft

Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies

And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;

Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft

The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft

And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

From Keats,

To Autumn

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Out of our French-doors I can see the spread of the garden – the leaves of the little wild cherry in the foreground glowing powerfully golden-green in the fast dying magic of the late sunshine, and behind it, after the sweep of the green lawn, thinly spotted with the first fallen leaves, the same golden light kindles the branches of the huge Copper Beach, the glorious framing backdrop of our garden.

Only now and then, the light falls so that a string of spider’s web, streaming out in the gentle breeze, becomes visible, shining like a fairy-rope, and likewise the gauze wings of the flying insects that float, dreaming in the beams.

The feeling of the evening is warm and drowsy, so much so that, lulled with the golden light, I am startled by the feeling of the air as I step out onto the warm-coloured stone, patterned with the long shadows of grasses.

For me, the first sign of autumn is the change in the air. Many times, when officially it is still summer, and the leaves cling still to the branch, and look still fresh and green, I only have known that beneath the blanket Autumn stirs.

Because the pastel-soft warmth of the air has changed to a clean-cut, earthy crispness, a well recognized, but yet, I think, under-expressed smell, a smell that, like so many smells, brings back a rush of memories.

Today I have smelt it.

Today I salute Autumn.

How can I wait? How can I wait for Halloween and leaf-fall and the Autumn magic?

Home Again

 

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Me and my brother at the pillars

Hello Everybody,

I am so sorry for the terrible lack of posting during the last few months. I have some excuse – I have been on holiday in Sardinia for a couple of weeks – though that does not really excuse my not posting for a month or so before that.

It does mean, however, that my posts about the holiday – the white sand, rich turquoise water beaches where we spent most of our time, the dry pine forests and green romantic crags, the flapping palms, views of a silver sea, and my being stung by a Mauve Stinger jellyfish! – will now be coming thick and fast.

Today, I am posting about a twilight swim I went on on a beach  next to a roman granite quarry. As the ancient romans loaded the pillars and things they’d carved out of the quarry onto the ship to be taken to Rome, they’d sort them through, and if they found one they’d got wrong they’d just dump it on the beach, so there’s loads of Roman columns just hanging about on the beach!

 

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Those tremendous blocks will never stand on end, tall, tall, as the pillars of heaven, as they were meant to do, never watch the sacrificial service, or hear the bleating cry of the goat killed on the altar, their fate determined by one slip of the sculpture’s hand. Now the years pass by and by, and Rome no longer needs their service, no longer wants their strength, to uphold the great and gilded roof.

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Now, themselves half sunken into waters still and glassy as a temple’s polished floor, rings round them, echoing off again and again from the granite, not hymns to Neptune, but Neptune’s own music, lapping, lapping, forever lapping. No priestess’s skirt shall swish against their hardness, only water, water, ever water.

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It was that hour of evening that goes on from just before sundown, and then from between sundown and dark-fall, when laughter and wind and noise all melt down into a hush.

As the fiery blaze of radiance, seared by the setting sun, subsides to a tender pink in the sky, the elements fall silent, as we fall silent just after something glorious has passed before us.

Whatever the cause, there is a gentleness, subtle but firm, in the air at twilight, and we mortals feel it, and cease our laughter and play in awe. Certainly, I do.

This evening, the sea had fallen still as lake-water about the great blocks of white solidity, so that their reflections are clear as crystal; fallen still over the granite sea-bottom, changing now to fine sand as I come out of the rocks and pillars onto the main beach, smooth and reflective almost as the water where the waves had dampened it, but ruffled beyond by the tracks of the people, nearly all gone now, leaving the beach. Though they were in dry sand and would have been easily smoothed into nothing by one gust of wind, they looked strangely permanent in the stillness of the hour. Yet nothing made by man is permanent – not even those great, forgotten granite pillars. Already the sea is ever wearing them away. Only the awe that they inspire in our hearts is permanent.

As I walked by the last pillar, I broke the mirror-reflection into ripples, rising to catch colour from the pink glow in the sky. There was no sound but the slow, calm liquid noise of my wading. Then, instead of walking along the beach, I began to walk out to see, and, eyes of the last of the pillars, plunged softly into the water, and swam away, the pillars fading into the haze of evening calm.

 

 

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(Note: I just created a new page: My (winning) entry for the Alan Garner Writing Competition of 2016)

Owlet and Rose Photos

 

My mother saw it first. It must have been quite a shock; just glancing out of the window – my gosh! –

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There it was, a blinking, fuzzy old fluff ball, looking rather grumpy but so sweet! It was sitting less than a room’s length (be it not a very tiny room) from our french doors, on the raised part of the garden surrounded by a gravel drive-way that we call the island.

Perhaps I ought to explain a little more. For a long while, our garden has been inhabited by two great tawny owls – gifts of Athene, the protectress of those animals –  or so I have always thought.

Day after day, we would look up and see them, sitting side by side on the branch, looking down with their wide, burning, searching eyes gazing questingly into yours, and their great heads swivelling amazingly far round.

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Many times we have found what are almost defiantly the feathers of young owls about the garden; but we have never seen the babies before. It was a great excitement, then, as you may imagine, when we found a tawny owlet sitting on the island.

After the first shocks of delighted amazement, we began to consider what to do. We did not know at all whether the owlet was supposed to be on the ground – it looked considerably out of place there, almost like some incredible creature from another world suddenly set down in our garden. We are surrounded by different  neighbours, nearly all of whom have cats who not uncommonly venture into our garden – and we have even occasionally been know to have dogs enter from under the gate. We were therefore rather worried that some of these animals would prove predators to the baby owl.

I set to work googling, and found that

Hand rearing an owlet and releasing it later is not the best thing for it. Unless there is something definitely wrong with the bird, it is far better off remaining ‘in the wild’… It is important to note that young Tawny Owls usually leave the nest long before they are ready to fly and there is actually no point in placing such birds back in the nest. From approx. ½ to ¾ grown (around 120-220mm tall), Tawny owlets go through a phase called ‘branching’, when they walk, climb, jump and flutter around in the trees at night. The adults locate them by their contact calls and will feed them anywhere. It is not at all uncommon for owlets to spend time on the ground during this phase and they are surprisingly good at climbing back up again. It is very likely that the owlet you have is perfectly okay and if it is left where it is, or returned to the same spot, it will be fed by the adults and will be able to climb to safety.

and

“Tawny Owl babies are often seen on the ground in summer, where you should leave them alone! They are able to call their parents and even climb trees to safety. Adult Tawny Owls can attack and severely injure humans. Beware!”

We decided, then, to let it stay where it was; we could frighten away any cats that came if the parent did not. It was comforting to know that it was still under the parent’s guardianship, and had not been turned out of the nest. Incredible as it seemed that such an immobile looking fluff-ball could climb a tree, we trusted the websites, for all of them said the same.

So, everybody, that is what to do it you are lucky enough to ever see this amazing spectacle.

Note: This note is written a few days after I wrote the first part of this – I kept it un-posted as Jane Austen characters do with their letters so as to add more later. We have continued to see the owlet about the garden; sometimes it tries to fly, and makes a ridiculous spectacle, rather like a struggling bear with wings. It is clear that it can move about the garden much faster than you might have thought, and the parents regularly feed it. We are not as yet sure whether having seen the babies, as we have not done previous years, means that they are nesting in the garden, instead of in a nearby hollow chestnut as we before thought. 

Also, it was Thomas Hardy’s birthday on the 2nd of June.

And finally, here’s a slideshow of some pictures of the Incense Rose I took the other day:

And here’s a poem I wrote about it years ago:

I open with the sun –
The gentle sun of spring,
I overflow with joyous light
Oh, what the year may bring!
My dainty buds were forming
When the earth was bare and stark;
My ferny leaves made patterns
On my stems so rich and dark.
My leaves they are scented
Of incense do they smell,
Like a church as dark as winter
But of sweet spring sun as well.
I am no double rose,
Nor fit for any ball,
But I’m sure my simple beauty
Will please and charm you all.

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Ways to enjoy your garden/surrounding countryside

Five minute ways to relax in warm weather 

  1. Lie down upon a patch of warm moss, or dry grass if there is none, and shut your eyes, turning your face to the sun. Listen to the sound of the birds sining, and the trees rustling – even the swish of cars on a road can become a sweet sound while you lie in the sun. Then sniff – sniff in a huge draught of air, and see what it reminds you of. You may recall all the other Spring days, and sweeten and sober your mind with memories. It can be sad to remember, sometimes, but always sweet too. Doing it always reminds me of the  William Allingham ‘Four ducks on a pond, a grass bank beyond, a blue sky of Spring, white clouds on the wing; what a little thing to remember for years – to remember with tears.’
  2. Sit on a swing, close your eyes, and imagine you are a bird flitting through the blue sky, or a fish through the blue sea. Open your eyes and throw your head back, so that you see the world spin and turn below you. It is a wonderful feeling and vision.
  3. Make a daisy chain. It is a very simple thing to do, but it is a lovely spring or summer occupation. If you don’t know how, I will tell you – pick  daisy, and slit a loop in the stalk with your thumb nail. Then thread another through that slit, and slit the stem of the one thread through the slit in turn, and so on. Deck yourself out in daisies – make a daisy bracelet, a daisy necklace, a daisy crown, even daisy belt or hairband, or a little rings of daisies to hang round your ears.
  4. Climb a tree. It is so lovely to see the sunlight shining through the leaves like stain glass, and falling in golden splashes on the trunk. Try to reach the very top – it is such a wonderful feeling to emerge from the leafy canopy into empty air with the blue sky above, with the wind blowing in your face. The view is also always grand from the tops of trees.
  5. This is an occupation mostly for late Summer, or early if the weather has been especially warm. Go into the garden, and gather the petals of the over-blown roses as you hand them into the basket. You can also gather sweet smelling herbs,and throw in some tangerine peel, and them put the mixture in a pretty pot in your house to scent the room.
  6. Make a salad out of the herbs in your garden. I have written about this and will be posting it soon – after I have done so I will add a link on this post to that.

 

A little bit more ambitious

  1. If you don’t have a swing to use for  idea 2, try making one out of a straight stick and some ropes. They can often swing straighter than bought swings.
  2. Try keeping a nature diary. Get a blank exercise-book/notebook/clutch of paper or anything else of the sort, and keep a dairy of the garden wildlife and plants. Even ordinary things can be written down, like the sighting of a frog, interesting lady-bird, especially fat bumble-bee, or the first butterfly of the year. I put a few lines of poetry describing the day at the beginning of each entry.
  3. Have a little flower bed to yourself. Buy a packet of seeds, or transplant some flowers not wanted in the other beds of the garden into a little hidden away patch, and steal some soil from the compost or another bed, and plant them in it.
  4. Eat breakfast in the garden. See my post about it Here.

Invisible

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She walked, feeling the soothing touch of the smooth, silken waves as they slipped full and gently past her ankles – a blurred dusk-colour in the half-light of evening, dappled with soft shadows. She felt as though she would like to walk on and on and on and on for eternity, basking in the soft feeling; slipping her soul into the rhythm of the waves, until, maybe one day, she would reach the silver-blue tissue-paper layers of the mist-dream mountains, and live there.

And then thoughts began to flood into her mind that perplexed her.

“How wide and endless the sea is; it makes visible an invisible eternity – and the thought of it, stretching on, and on forever, is almost more than I can bear; it is so great a thought. How many millions and millions of people – as many as there are waves lapping past my legs, perhaps – in all of history, must have dipped their hands in the sea. And the water they dipped them in is still here, will always be here. Nelson’s ship has touched this water, and maybe, all those many, many, many years ago, Odysseus’s. Maybe, some time, another little girl will walk here, and will not know that I did the same, all those years ago. There must be one who did it before, and I know nothing of her.

I wonder who now – for in all the wide world there must be somebody – is walking out into the sea just in step with me? I wonder what she or he is like? Child or adult? I’m going to be an adult before too long. What an odd thought – and I’m not altogether sure I want to be.”

She murmured, softly; “Waves, will you keep my childhood? I know that you will always, always be here, and so then my childhood will always, always be here. And when I am an adult, and I come to the sea, I will remember. I will remember; I will. And I can come and find myself, as I am now – I will find myself dancing with you, waves.”

 Twenty years later, a lady walks out to the sea upon the same beach, and by her side a little girl with laughing eyes and glossy curls. Both lady and child look a little like the girl who, years ago, had felt the same waves and looked out upon the same beach – but neither look exactly like. The lady picks up the little girl and kisses her, and laughs. 

‘So, you are the little girl who I knew, sometime in the future, would walk out feeling the sea upon her as I did, once. I thought then that I would rather not grow up; but how can I say that now I have you? I am very, very happy being grown-up – and I think I will give you a gift – something very precious to me which I no longer need, for you have replaced it. Take it from the waves – my childhood. It was a very happy childhood, and I hope yours will be as happy.’