Tag Archives: Green

My Garden Universe

A garden universe in Stroud

A garden universe in Stroud

 

My garden universe, on the cusp of autumn – I walk up it at the beginning and end of the day, natural diurnal punctuation, the parenthesis in which my life fits. The various fruit trees this neck of the woods is graced with are like sephiroth on a Tree of Life – or one of the nine worlds of Norse mythology… Appleheim, plumheim, pearheim… I pick blackberries in the rain, and my fingertips turn pink. I return to the hyperabundance of the orchard and pick a bagful of different varieties (and some plump toms).  Then, one more time for kindling. Thank you, bountiful garden. Now I have a crumble in the oven and firewood ready for burning. Its lashing down on my conservatory, but my heart feels blessed.

Since moving into my new place in August I’ve seen the fabulous garden (shared with my landlords) in its summer glory, and now laden with autumn riches. I am loving ‘tending the hearth’ (inside and out) and feel blessed to have such a space. This Sunday was a particularly idyllic day – I awoke in my bell-tent, where I had decided to spend the night, to the most perfect autumnal day, the trees emerging through the morning mist, slowly burning off in the light of the new sun. Richard Jefferies wrote that ‘the dawn makes a temple of the Earth’, and that’s how it felt that day. I made porridge on my stove in the tent, and picked blackberries from the bushes to go on it. I greeted the day with my ‘Sunrise Praise’ then set to picking apples – for today was ‘juicing day’. Our neighbour had made a hydraulic apple press, and everyone on the street was bringing their apples to press. Picking fruit is a soothing and satisfying thing to do. This is ‘hand-to-mouth’ living the way nature intended.

apples from the garden

apples from the garden

Ready to wash

Ready to wash

After getting washed and dressed, I helped wash the apples collected from our mini-orchard with the children. The youngest rescued ‘chucky pigs’ – her cute name for bugs – from the dunked apples. C turned up and when went for a spin on my motorbike to May Hill – walking in the footsteps of Edward Thomas and Robert Frost, exactly a hundred years on from when they first met and started to forge their creative friendship – supporting each other in their writing, while living a stone’s throw from each other near Dymock with their wives and children. They enjoyed long literary rambles, which they termed ‘walks-talking’, and visited May Hill on several occasions – a noticable landmark in this part of Gloucestershire. It was a beautiful sunny day, and we trekked up through the woods to the hilltop. Sitting on a bench we had our packed lunch whilst enjoying the stunning views over the Severn – which snaked like a silver serpent in the distance. We read out poems in situ – most notably ‘Words’, which was written on the summit.

Reading Edward Thomas' 'Words' on May Hill, on the 100th anniversary of Frost and Thomas meeting, 6 Oct 2013

Reading Edward Thomas’ ‘Words’ on May Hill, on the 100th anniversary of Frost and Thomas meeting, 6 Oct 2013

When we got back we chilled out a bit, listening to a Poetry Please special on Charles Causley, (well C knitted socks while I had a bardic siesta ;0) before taking down the bell-tent, which had been up for a couple of months – it felt like ‘rolling up summer’, or ‘bringing the hearth inside’, as C put it. By the time we had lugged everything inside, there were three bottles of apple juice awaiting us and a small jar of tomato chutney – what riches!

Improving your socks life - with C.

Improve your socks life – with C.

Apple juice from 'Chateau Richmond' - freshly pressed

Apple juice from ‘Chateau Richmond’ – freshly pressed

Autumn Riches - tomato chutney, cobnuts, acorns and mushrooms

Autumn Riches – tomato chutney, cobnuts, acorns and mushrooms

Fresh from the garden

Fresh from the garden

With a bag of apples from the garden, we made a Dorset apple cake; and then I made a nut roast for our main course. Later, by a crackling fire we shared stories we had written – the perfect end to a perfect autumnal day.

A garden feast

A garden feast

Notes from the Garden…

(I’ve never been green-fingered, and normally like nothing more strenuous than hanging out in my hammock in the garden, but something about this new place inspires me to get ‘stuck in’ – there are raised beds, fruit trees, peace and space. It would be a crime not to make the most of it).

Fungal treasures on our autumn walk - best to check that mushroom guide!

Fungal treasures on our autumn walk – best to check that mushroom guide!

A local heaven

A local heaven

Tuesday 9 October

I pick apples from the espalier, near where the bees buzzed around the lavender only a few weeks ago. Logs are stacked from a tree (sadly) felled to make room for the conservatory – now my dining area. Clearing room for new growth is a part of the life-cycle of all things – if there is no break in the canopy, new trees cannot flourish. We all need some light, rain and soil, and deserve a place in the sun. In the summer, I sit by the woodstack, where windchimes spiral lazily in the breeze. Behind, a compost bin is like a seething cthulu city – its pungent loam rich, dark and warm. A yew tree shelters a cross-section of bikes – in ascending sizes, like a tree-ring of childhood. The hedgerows are neatly cut back – given a sensible short back and sides for winter. Leaves from the three plane trees planted by the owners, lie curled and brown on the lawn like screwed up of poems. The ash tree – a witches knot of trunk and branches – sits in the corner in its own realm, laden with bunches of ash-keys, wreathed in ivy, overshadowing the swings like a kindly old crone waiting for a visit. The brambles have lost most of their bounty now – the few remaining berries losing their sweetness daily. Leaves like tongues turn to flame – the colours so livid, as though they have been dipped in dye. There’s a brown patch where the tent was – the hole of summer. The tomato plants have so many red fruits – like a collection of clown noses. The apple trees, stripped of their casual treasure, have been pruned back. At the top of the garden, a secret realm – of hidden delights: a plum tree, a pear, a giant Scots Pine, guarding the border of our kingdom like some wizened sentinel. There’s a through-route for a family of foxes, their den nearby. One night I saw a trail of their burning eyes, caught in the beam of my headtorch. A pile of undersized apples moulders on a neighbour’s compost heap like unwanted metaphors – our windfalls are collected for Paul’s pigs. Standing amid the orchard is like suddenly stepping into a fairy tale – you are presented with a Goblin Market of choice. A grey cat appears – its fur like smoke. It sidles up and mewls like a baby, letting me stroke it. The walnut tree has been ransacked by Ratatosk – but I’m just as guilty, scrumping the toms, I carry a load back in the belly of my cardy like some marsupial papoose, hoarding autumn – the last blessings of summer.

The embers of summer

The embers of summer

In Pursuit of Summer

On the shores of Loch Maree

On the shores of Loch Maree

Life on Shuffle

Arriving to stillness. The patter of tiny raindrops on the slender tent; the baaing of sheep; the wind through the birches; and a distant murmur of life beyond the moor – yet here I feel the delicious solitude. I have arrived at my first destination: the Nine Ladies of Stanton Moor – a small stone circle, surrounded by at least seventy cairns – within a birch grove (nearby is the village of Birchover). It feels good to be on my way – and wild-camping at last (much better than a campsite, which I nearly went to, fatigued from my journey and floundering – yet I persevered; found the Cork Stone entrance and parked up). I made myself some food before striking out across the Moor in the twilight – eager to find the stones and pitch my tent before it got too dark; and I did it! So satisfying to find them (no convenient signposts). Even more satisfying to be finally on my way after days of intensive ‘loose-end tying’ and preparation. Fraught farewells; threshold guardians … Now very tired – not feeling eloquent (yet) but hoping the Nine Ladies will bring me inspiration – as I journey to the Castle of the Muses. I feel I am on a mythopoeiac ley-line of sorts – my own songline: one I hope will take me all the way to Callanish (Gaelic:Calanais) for the blue moon. But for now, the old moon is dark, and I feel tired from the road. A good ride here, with my music on shuffle. Turning the wheel again.

The Nine Ladies of Stanton Moor

The Nine Ladies of Stanton Moor

Under the Weather

Perhaps imagination of dark, withered and sodden land, and the change threatening; helped to perfect that sweetness which was not wholly of earth. Edward Thomas

Thomas describes the weather with such precision, lingering longer than he should on its description – the embryonic poet inside the critic dragging his heels, as he embarks upon another ‘hack job’. He leaves London ‘under the weather’, hypersensitised to its whims – taking its unpredictable moods personally. In an extended pathetic fallacy, he describes climate as though he was describing his soul.

Edward Thoma poet

Could it be that the weather is not a barometer of the self; but vice versa – that the Earth’s ‘dis-ease’ manifests in us, its symptoms acted out by human weather-vanes? This notion of ‘bringing the weather with us’ became a throughline for the trip. I was challenged by heavy weather on the way up. It did not let up, making it harder going – challenging my tenacity, my morale. It is hard to stay postive when you have been riding through driving rain all day, and everything is soaked – it creeped into my tankbag, a rain tide-mark edging the pages of Thomas’ book.

The rain was lashing down the day I set off for Scotland. It had been the same old story all ‘summer.’ I use the term lightly – it seems to have disappeared – flown north by the sounds of things; according to the reports of fine weather in the Highlands (‘Sixteen weeks without a drop of rain,’ observed a tough old walker, met later on the shores of Loch Maree). Enticed by this; and inspired directly by Edward Thomas’ classic travelogue on two wheels, (In Pursuit of Spring, 1913), I began my own cycle tour, 99 years on, with 900 ccs more horsepower, on my Triumph Legend motorbike – on pilgrimage to Calanais for the blue moon – via some personal SSSIs (my Sites of Specific Storytelling Interest), starting with the Nine Ladies of Stanton Moor. Here, I would begin my courting of the Muses, that would culminate (I hope) with the lunar communion at Calanais, if the Goddess is with me. Along the way I would consider the Other – who has tagged along for the ride no doubt: a stowaway in my psyche/cycle – a shadowy figure I have yet to meet… (Thomas, in his factual travelogue, describes his encounters with the mysterious Other Man, who appears to be a shadowy alter-ego). At the Nine Ladies stone circle this mysterious ‘other’ seems to be symbolised by the outlier monolith known as ‘The Fiddler’ – masculine in his solitariness, compared to the communal feminine of the circle. Another distinctive stone, the Cork Stone, also stands alone at the other end of the moor. As I set up my slim tent at Nine Ladies, a man in dark clothing lingered in the stones, occasionally kneeling or inspecting the stones. I called out to him ‘Evening’ – he responded with a wave, but did not talk. Seven sheep nibbled amid the stones – grey wethers come to life. A windy, eerie place. Slept when I turned northwards.

Next day, after quickly striking camp in the driving rain and thawing out over a quick coffee at the nearest pitstop, I pushed on to my next Muse-site: Long Meg and Her Daughters – a stone circle east of Penrith. Here, I met a retired Geordie engineer, who walks his dog up to the stones every day and never counts the same number of megaliths twice.

Rest and Be Thankful

Rest and Be Thankful

The Road Between

The Earth was the rooks’, heaven was the larks’, and I rode easily on along the good level road, somewhere between the two. Edward Thomas

Taking the A6 north, (snaking caduceus-like alongside its motorway counterpart) I crossed the Border with a Braveheart whoop – Freedom! The road opening out before me, inviting me on, like the smile of a bonny lass. Quick coffee in Langhame, then a winding back road to Lockerbie, through mist and wildness, entering an uncertain zone of transition. In Hero’s Journey terms, I was now in the ‘Special World’. Pushing on, through lowland Scottish towns; the bold lines and Megacity sprawl of Glasgow; over Erskine Bridge; up the flanks of Loch Lomond; then ‘over the hills and far away’ – beyond Rest and Be Thankful, down an improbably steep and winding track to Lochgoilhead. First glimpse of Carrick Castle – caught in the later afternoon sun. Arrival! Here, I would spend a week, writing and communing with the muses – a guest retreatant of the centre, run by Dr Thomas Daffern, peace poet and polymath.

The Redeemed World

Loch Goil

Loch Goil

Sitting in the sun by the shores of the loch. Shadow on the fine gravel. A single shell. Straggle of seaweed. The brown bubblewrap of bladderwrack. Deep blue loch. Deep green of the pine forest rising opposite to knuckle of rock – the bare granite summit opposite. A couple of white boats thread the waves. Lap of wave, gently swaying seaweed. Spaciousness. Solitude. Enjoying being still. In love with life.

The robin sang in one of the broad oaks, whether any one listened or not.

Edward Thomas

I stop and turn to look back, inland, along the loch – the beach making a clean right angle left, leading the eye. Birch trees in the foreground. Mountains, blue, purple and green in the distance. The water so clear here. Pebbles, like gems and jewels – gleaming beneath the surface. Perspective – of the road taken; a new path ahead, unknown. Sense of freedom and peace so rich you could slice it – break it off, like slabs of shortbread. The signal fades. Off the grid. Stones like fishscales on the beach. Chunks of quartz. Intense blue shells. Everything so vivid. The redeemed world. Redeemed by what? An act of vision? Of compassion; of imagination. By the simple act of deep appreciation, of gratitude. Letting it touch us (a furry caterpillar crawled onto my bag. I caught it in a shell, carried it to a leaf). A blast of fog-horn – I look across the loch. I see a train in the distance, threading thru the hills above Gairlochhead; then steaming inland, an old-fashioned paddle-steamer – like something from HG Wells. Red, white and black funnels. A crowd of passengers on the deck. Something splendid and stately about it. Something thrills the blood – then its gone. Civilisation (in a puff of smoke)?

With some relief, I left the intense eccentricity of the Castle, and headed for the Highlands – taking the scenic coastal route up the West Coast to Achnasheen – an Adelstrop of a train station – where I rendezvoused with my partner, J, and took her pillion, to our domicile for the next fortnight – on the coast of Wester Ross.

Tom’s Bothy

Tom's Bothy

Tom’s Bothy

We have arrived at Tom’s bothy, (a Stirling man, met at a Resurgence Readers’ Summer Weekend)… A lovely, simple cottage at the end of an improbable lane – a hairy ride on the bike! A wild, windswept coast – though peaceful and beautiful this morning. So spaced out with fatigue when I arrived – everything was a little surreal. After we ate an improvised meal I fell asleep in front of the fire – wiped out, relieved to have finally arrived. Slept well! Dog-tired. … Waking up it felt very different – the north wind had gone and the day was bright. We had arrived at Badininal. Tom’s family have been coming here since childhood. There’s a wonderful journal on the table in front of me – the Badininal Diaries – charting ten years’ of its history; guests; etc…. It’s very remote – Gairloch is the nearest town. There’s a pub at Badachro. The view from the conservatory across the loch to Strath, Lonemore and Big Sand. From the headland you can see a stunning vista – the mountains inland, and, across the Minch – the Western Isles: Lewis, Harris, and Skye. Things are on a different scale up here. It lends itself to big thoughts, big hearts. The bothy is well-made and surprisingly aesthetic – with a wooden interior. There’s a kitchen with a burner; and a living room where I made a fire last night. The water is from a spring. Gas-lamps and candles provide lighting. There is a first floor created in the attic space, with two bedrooms, and a third bunk on the landing. It is comfortable, solid and remote – the perfect bolt-hole. I can see why Tom and his family have been coming back here for many years. It is a place to retreat from the world; rekindle the flame; and seed dreams.

Venturing out, we visited the fabulous Hillbillies in Gairloch – run by The Mountain Coffee Company to promote The John Muir Trust. A cafe bookshop, this seemed an ideal place to hang out. After a lot of travelling, it was good to be stilll. (‘All the wild world is beautiful, and it matters but little where we go… The spot where we chance to be always seems the best’, John Muir). We walked to Flowerdale waterfall – had a quick skinny dip – before the midges bit!

I went on more cheerfully, as if each note had been the hammering of a tiny nail into Winter’s coffin. Edward Thomas

The day after we had arrived there was a terrible tragedy in Gairloch Bay – two fathers, out sea-kayaking with their four children, ran into difficulties. Three of the children drowned and one of the men went missing. A Sea-King scoured the coast – passing right in front of the bothy, searchlight piercing the gathering gloom. Like us, these poor families must have gone ‘in search of summer’, but their pleasant outing had resulted in a devastating loss. Inexplicably, the day had been calm and sunny. What had seemed idyllic to us (on arrival) revealed a darker side. It (brutally) showed how nature is not to be sentimentalised. The sea has a cold heart.

The Truth is Simpler and More Grounded than We Imagine

There is a strong wind today. The sea is constantly changing – alive, swirling, the wind’s shadow moves across in pulsating rings of darkness. Deep blue, white caps out in the race, a thousand ships beseiging the coast, sails furled. Bands of marram grass in immediate foreground – sharp outlines encroaching on storm beach, scattered with loaf-sized rocks, graded into ever decreasing size up the beach. Shades of dark and light. Lichen and seaweed; then, submerging into the shallows where this morning J went for another dip. An elemental life. Fire. Water. Earth. Wind. Stars singing in the silence. The solace of sleep. The rhythm of sheep. Identifying seabirds. Mugs of tea. Head in a book. Heating water for a wash. The simple life. Hearty and satisfying. The truth is simpler and more grounded than we imagine. The bedrock of existence. Here, upon the ancient rock of this land, this Lewissian Gneiss, we hit the core reality. Terra firma.

The Wild Waits at the Edges

J. pointed out star moss on the way back along the lane to the bothy – and an orchid on the walk. I commented how plants liked to hang out with each other (e.g. gorse, heather, rowan, fern). J called them companion plants – loving the same soil, and altitude/light/drainage, etc. Like people, although perhaps not all. Sometimes I crave the opposite – feeling the claustrophobia of the centre, I yearn for the edges.

We kept our trousers tucked in – for the ticks. The midges weren’t a problem tonight – the wind had blasted them away. Apparently, their hyper-abundance has been caused by deforestation, resulting from the Highland Clearances. We would love to see an eagle, otter or pinemarten. The wild waits at the edges for us to be still and silent enough for it to let us in.

Badachro Bay

Badachro Bay

God’s Own Country

Walk from Redpoint to Craig Bothy (approx. 10 miles there and back). Sea very calm today – like quicksilver. Saw an otter this morning – dipping and rising in the water immediately in front of the bothy. …The staccato rhythm of walking. The body’s language. Putting our mind into our feet. Batteries run out on phone, but we have all we need. Heaven, despite the midges keeping us on our toes. Creation, creating and uncreating itself, before our eyes – in swathes of rain and light. The islands, like legends, faint outlines on the horizon – appearing, disappearing. Skye, vanishing into the sky. The Hebrides, fainter still. Walking through the rain. We saw it roll in. just in time to put on our waterproofs. Sting of sea-shower on cheek. Then, a glimmer – the sun breaks through. The world is remade. The sea, so alive – giddy with tide. We spot another seal, spy-hopping. We wave. I sing to it. No response. (He was obviously not impressed – I’d had better luck on Bardsey when I got a whole group of them to sing with me). We push on – ‘making time’. Reach Redpoint, just in time – as the storm hits, driven by the north wind. At the viewpoint we chat to a man from Kendal – in a white van with a collie with one white eye, settling in for the night with a bottle of wine and a book. ‘God’s own country’, he called it.

Wanderline

The weather changing so dramatically – from a sublime calm to this wild chaos. We wound our way back home along the wanderline of the road – as though someone had made it up as they went along (like Creation perhaps). Chilly ride back in blustery gale – damp and tired. It was a slog back up the track in the driving rain. This is the reality of Highland life. A taste of the Cailleach’s broth! This isn’t the Scotland of tourist shortbread and tartan dollies. We make it back with relief – got the kettle on and thaw out by the burner with a hot drink; drying our clothes on chairs. The primal imperative of simple survival is satisfying – but demanding. The Mountain Mother demands all from us.

With no wildness a landscape cannot be beautiful.

Edward Thomas

Wild beauty

Wild beauty

Skewered

A perfectly clear day – the sky cloudless above, fluffy clouds on horizon – the sea, an almost Mediterranean blue. We walked up to the nearest highpoint. Stunning views towards the Western Isles, and back across the mountains. Feels like anything is possible. Blue sky thinking. Sitting on ‘summit’ when a bird of prey (possibly a Great Skua) flies directly towards us – soaring overhead – and arching around for another view, checking us out. We played ‘I-Spy’: buoy; sand; lichen; yacht; island. The sea was like a blue wall – a sarong, or bolt of crushed satin, stretched from north to south. ‘I am so content, in this moment.’

God Looking Through a Keyhole

J. exclaimed, calling me out to have a look at the (nearly) full moon. The light was so bright we could play shadow-games on the wall of the bothy. We gazed at the moon – the object of our desire, the focus of our trip. I said that it was: ‘God looking through a keyhole.’

A Ragged Banner

Made it!

Made it!

Arrived at Stornoway – hooray! – after a ‘dramatic’ morning (line of tension – from Badachro to Ullapool – running low of gas, and out of time) and a spectacular, but very chilly, ride. We awoke at 5.30am – I made us tea, and we quickly got on our way. The sunrise set the sky aflame, a ragged banner across the mountains. To see the light return across an endarkened bay was … moving. All things are possible, it seems, when you arise with the new day, working with the diurnal tide. As George Harrison sang: ‘Daylight is good at arriving at the right time’. However, we should have heeded the Scottish Gaelic weather saying: ‘…when the morning sky is red, the hero Fionn would go back to sleep’, for, unbeknownst to us – we were riding towards a storm.

The Dancer in the Stones

Calanais - temple out of time

Calanais – temple out of time

We walked along the back lanes to the stones, which we could see on the hillside, silent sentinels of mystery. As we drew near we decided to experience them in silence. It was such a powerful, visceral experience – the stones were truly mind-blowing in their majesty. We had something akin to the consciousness of the pilgrim – slightly euphoric from the ardours of the journey and relief at getting there. We had made it! We walked the main avenue hand-in-hand, as though up an aisle. We let our hands linger over the glittering Lewissian Gneiss – like driftwood sculptures, honed by nature. They are extraordinarily thin and graceful. The thirteen central stones – standing around the tall central stone – are all the world like cloaked priestesses. They seem very human, caught sight of in the grey haze. The setting is truly spectacular – high up – surrounded by the loch, moor and mountain. One of the most dramatically situated circles I’ve ever seen – a truly World class temple (the last time a place had evoked in me such awe, was the Temple of Karnak, at Luxor).

Kali’s Ness

The slender

stones, like

figures turning.

Wise women,

cloaked figures

in the mist

standing tall

on the hillside.

Thirteen sisters

sharing their

(in) sights,

the moon’s dance

of veil revealing,

the rising of the

Pleiades. The

Old Woman of the

Moors, giving birth

hope re-gleams at

the darkest hour.

Tourist-pilgrims

glimpsed between

the negative spaces

of the stones, as

though they were

designed for this

peekaboo. Contact

and withdrawal;

sliding closer,

then away. Running

fingers over the

sparkle-stone,

familiarising

one’s skin with

it, like the way

lovers know

each others’ bodies.

We part, ships passing

lines intersecting,

diverging. A

plaid of light.

Riders on the Storm

Our visit to Lewis was a flying one – we could only manage a night at Calanais. Our time there was overshadowed by terrible weather. A storm hit, with 100 mph winds causing death (7) and devastation across Scotland. Riding back across the almost treeless interior in a gale was particularly challenging – right into the teeth of the wind. We felt the bite of the Cailleach – a fierce and fearsome presence. A local lass in a garden store called it dreich’. We took shelter in the Arts Centre Cafe, and dried our clothes out on the ferry as best we could. Wiped out, we decided to treat ourselves to a B&B in Ullapool. Things picked up when, warm, dry and fed, we went to the Ceilidh Place to enjoy some live music and sample the fine array of malts. A dram of Ardbeg hit the spot!

An Embarrassment of Riches

(Returning from Ullapool) we stopped for a cuppa at a beautiful river – wide and sparkling, which swept around in a big slow arc on its way to Gruinard Bay – descending in white rapids under the bridge. It was too good to miss, to cherish the sheer majesty of it all. If this was England, I observed, it’d be a major tourist attraction. Instead, such Scottish beauty spots – lochs, waterfalls, mountains – are almost two-a-penny. Scotland has an embarrassment of riches.

More Room to be Yourself

Wild and Free - the beauty of Scotland, KM

Wild and Free – the beauty of Scotland, KM

This big country lends itself to expansive thoughts and feelings. It lets the soul grow into itself – rather than shrink to ‘fit in’, as it sometimes does in cities and crowded lands. There is more room up here to be yourself.

The Tongue of the Lake

A bike-free day today and a local walk – from Badachro to South Erradale (at least, that was the intention). It was great to get to know the lay of the land with our legs. Just as we were about to set out it chucked it down – we waited ten minutes and it cleared and off we went. Badachro lives up to its name – the Bay of Saffron – the seaweed looking yellowish in the sudden intense light. After the rain, all of the colours seem to come to the surface. The blue of the inlet, the green of the hills, the distant blue of the mountains, and the scudding sky. A rainbow presented itself briefly. We pushed on – taking the footpaths over the hills. 5km it said on the sign – it felt like a lot more, as the going was heavy in places. The ground underfoot was boggy and we were walking into the teeth of the wind. The path peetered out by a loch – where we trod the ‘pathless path’. We stopped a few times, finding refuge against the rocks. The lichen on them stood out. Everything seemed more itself here. The light rippled on the loch in silent symphony – a local might describe the experience of this, ‘Teannalach’ – the tongue of the lake. As a farmer so beautifully put it: (quoted by John O’Donohue in Divine Beauty): ‘I can hear how the elements and the surface of the lake make a magic music together…’

I sort out a cave of gold (‘Uamh an Oir’) where a piper was said to have lured local children, Pied-Piper like, into the hillside, never to be seen again. I investigated with my head-torch, but only found flotsam and jetsam. (Later, though we were treated to a golden sunset – the true sun comes out when we let go).

Passing Beauty

A glorious day yesterday – the only day we’ve had when it hasn’t rained. We were determined to make the most of it, and planned a walk to Loch Maree (‘the most beautiful loch in the Highlands’). We took the stone path to Slatterdale – extremely well-made, to begin with anyway – constructed with solid wedges of stone, creating a stone age pavement – passing through a spectacular glen flanked by sheer cliffs. The day was dry and warm, mercifully for once, and it was pleasant walking conditions. I ploughed on ahead – it felt like I could go on for miles and miles.

Finding my gait – lost in the rhythm of the walk. Making my way, by my own efforts, through life. The path, a metaphor for the journey, its own destination. I push on, determined to reach the viewpoint for lunch – a goal, a reward – yet, as I do so, realising the absurdity of it. A ‘viewpoint’ is, after all, only someone’s point of view. We have ‘views’ wherever we look – the rocks below our boots; the star patterns of the moss; the brittle lichen. High overhead, an eagle keens. We pass a couple of walkers with their boxer; a runner in St Andrews’ colours; no one else. The peace falls upon us when we finally stop. It fills the glen to the brim. Waiting for us all along, to finally listen to it, to be. A place of wild beauty. The shadow of the wind on the loch, passing – like us.

The focus of Thomas’ pilgrimage was Coleridge’s cottage in Nether Stowey. It felt like our humble and remote ‘base-camp’ (Tom’s bothy) was ours. Here, off the tourist track, we found our Grail.

The Bothy of Lost Summer

The perfect place to write

The perfect place to write

So, we have come in ‘pursuit of summer’, in the spirit of Thomas – and yet I realise that summer isn’t (just) about the weather, about sunshine and t-shirt days – it’s a state of mind; or, rather, of being. And so it almost doesn’t matter where you are (although some places are undoubtedly more conducive) but the way you are. We have ring-fenced these two-three weeks as our holiday – and have dropped down into that day-to-day being. Slow time. Here-and-now-time. Being spontaneous – no timetable, except what we make. Creating it as we go along. Making-it-up-as-we-go.

Tom’s bothy encapsulates the spirit of lost summers – it is a temple of play and good times. Every detail attests to it: the cupboard of games and art materials – Scrabble, Monopoly, Jenga…; the wetsuits and flippers, masks and snorkels – and sea-kayaks; the wendy house in the woods – swings, ropes, balls, childhood heaven; the books; the Badininal Diary, describing ten years’ of adventures enjoyed by Tom,his family, and friends – catching fish, lighting fires, going for walks, sharing stories, singing and singeing sausages round the fire, football and ‘weeja’ board, ghosts and wildlife, local characters, days out, rain and midges, repairs and improvements. The folksy touches – the washstand, jug and basin; the woodstove and fireplace; the gas-lamps and candle-holders; the homely simplicity and unpretensiousness. The spare beds and chairs – for extra guests and unexpected visitors. The sense of wild freedom.

Tidying the place, we depart our home-from-home at the end of our fortnight stay and head east – via Inverness – towards Findhorn, to spend a night with a couple of friends, before heading south.

The Green Life

Pictish stone, near Dyke, with friends

Pictish stone, near Dyke, with friends

A sunny morning at Chris and Kirsty’s place (Am-Muillean-Dubh – ‘the Dark Mill’.). A perfect end to our trip. It has been really nice, enjoying some homely energy – a lovely meal, fire, conversation, soft bed, hot shower – after ‘roughing it’ for a fortnight (relatively speaking). Our hosts are an inspiration – Chris is a writer/therapist (co-author of ‘Active Hope’ with Joanna Macy); Kirsty, a historian. They are leading the ‘good life – their garden is an amazing cornucopia of fruit and vegetables, free-ranging chickens, a small forest, and two happy black labs (Millie and Zak). We sat around a fire last night (one of Bristol Kev’s fire-woks) savouring the dry, warm evening with a neighbour, Chris P (a musician who made rocket-stoves, builds round-houses, and doors). There was a good sense of community – sharing their garden with their neighbours, planning a polytunnel. This place feels like a fitting conclusion to my ‘quest’ in pursuit of summer. I found it here – on two golden days, with good friends, good food, and music around the fire. Chris played ‘Summertime’ on his mouth organ, while the neighbour picked away on his guitar. The stars glimmered beyond the alder tree, like dogs eyes’ glistening in the dark.

The Shadows on the Road

Here Be Monsters ... By Loch Ness

Here Be Monsters … By Loch Ness

You can’t follow the light without embracing the darkness – if you don’t own your shadow, it’ll manifest in extreme ways. Thomas’ certainly took his with him – his writing soaked in a melancholy tinge: ‘Robins and blackbirds sang while bats were flitting about me.’

The whims of the road, the fall of the weather, mirrored his shifting moodscapes. His comical meditation on weather-vanes (via his alter ego, the Other Man) seem to provide a metaphor for himself – blowing with the wind.

We can no more escape our Shadow than sunlight can. I realised my outer personality (what my students, audience, and some readers see) is the Summer Man; all the while, the Winter Man is waiting in the wings, lurking in the dark. He needs to be honoured to – with silence, space and solitude (which Scotland has in bucket-loads).

We can only shine, if we have the shadows. The days of sun more delicious and poignant because of their frequent absence. ‘And likewise, ‘good times’ are perhaps more so because of the more ‘difficult times’ that often frame them. Tiffs and squalls are inevitable in any relationship. Wherever you go – no matter how far – you’ll always end up meeting yourself. Yesterday, as we walked to South Erradale the line of the Crowded House song haunted me: ‘Everywhere you go, you always take the weather with you.’ Summer is a state of mind – and it is so easy to have four seasons in one day; or, as the Gaelic saying goes: ‘A day of seven storms’. It certainly felt like we did, most days in the Highlands and Islands!

On return to Ullapool from Lewis, we had passed the Summer Isles as a storm blasted around us, sending tall waves crashing over the prow of the Caledonian Macbrayne ferry. Apparently, the islands were given their names because cattle swam across to them for their summer pasture. It felt like our taste of summer was equally as hard-earned – though more appreciated for it.

FIN

Bard on foot - trekking in the Highlands

Bard on foot – trekking in the Highlands

The Future Killers

The Future Killers

The-End-of-the-World-as-we-know-it Show - coming to a planet near you

According to the many news stories and articles about Climate Chaos, the future, it seems, has already happened. The carbon in the air will increase by so much, sea levels will rise by this amount, so many species will become extinct, so many hectares of rainforest will be razed to the ground, the Arctic ice-shelf will melt and major cities will be inundated. You can almost hear the doom-mongerers rubbing their hands in glee. Just like in one of those 1950s Sci-Fi movies, which echoed humanities nuclear night terrors, the boffins declare: ‘…climate change is a threat to civilisation as we know it*.’

Something can be learned from those wonderfully garish retro warnings ‘from the future’ – they confirmed a generation’s worst nightmares, but also sold popcorn and made your date hold onto you tighter. Scary movies got you laid. And somehow the human race continued. The world didn’t end, only the Cold War.

Yet in the cold light of our 21st Century dawn, it is undeniable that ‘something is rotten in the State of Denmark’. As McKibben said in Ecologist (Feb ’07): ‘The Something Bad is here’. Reality has become a Spielberg movie. Are we going to procrastinate like the fatally-flawed Prince Hamlet, until the polar bears become extinct – white-furred Ophelias, floating away, drowned in the ice-melt, no place like home?

Are we going to give up? Or are we going to do something about it?

Denial is not a river in Egypt

ignoring the problem won't make it go away...

The publication of the 700 page Stern Report on October 30 2006 stated the cold facts: ‘Business as usual is the economics of genocide.’ It hit the fat cats where it hurt, in their pockets. Basically, it makes quite clear denial is not an option. Stick your head in the sand and it’ll cost more in the long-run. Industry has to act. Going green is now di rigeur – greenwash is this economic cycle’s en vogue colour. Anyone in the market-place with products or services to hawk is now bending over backwards to be seen as green, even if it’s cosmetic green spin. Slap a worthy Fairtrade or Soil Association seal of approval on it and it’ll sell – consumerism with a conscience. Carry on shopping without the world stopping. But a more worrying trend has been noted by George Monbiot, in his Guardian column (30 Oct. ‘06) says: ‘There is one position even more morally culpable than denial. That is to accept that it’s happening and that its results will be catastrophic, but to fail to take the measures needed to prevent it.’  The denialists have become nihilists. Before it was ‘Climate Change is natural – it’s not me, guv,’; to ‘Climate Change is happening, it is my fault – but we’re doomed anyway, so I’ll keep on doing what I’m doing until it all goes tits up’. This is a kind of suicide that dooms us all – eco-cultural suicide bombing in the form of a 4wheel drive and a short-haul habit.

The Day the Earth Caught Fire

The apocalyptic warnings of the 1950s, a culture having atomic kittens, seem to have come true, but in a way unforeseen by Beatnik Cassandras. The classic British doom-movie, Val Guest’s intensely atmospheric 1961 film, The Day the Earth Caught Fire, appears, in hindsight, to be the most on the money, and was eerily echoed in real newspaper headlines when both the Stern Report came out (‘The Day That Changed the Climate’, The Independent, 31 October 2006) and then the IPCC report (‘Final Warning’, front page of The Independent, 3 February 2007):  life mirroring art mirroring life – because the film is set and filmed in actual Fleet Street offices… In it, the Earth is jolted eleven degrees off-kilter by Russian and American nuclear testing – ‘Cold War’ brinkmanship ironically causing the planet to heat up… Well, we’ve discovered it’ll only take six degrees in the rise of the Global Average Temperature to fry the planet (as recorded in the IPCC report). So perhaps the actual day ‘the Earth caught fire’ could be recorded as being 2 February 2007 – when Climate Chaos became ‘official’, and the denialists had to finally concede that ‘human activity is the probable cause’ of Global Warming. The 2001 IPCC Report was humanity’s yellow card, the latest one is the red.

Six Degrees to Devastation

Most accept that a two degree rise in the Global Average Temperature is now inevitable –  and at only 2.4° ‘coral reefs [become] almost extinct’ and a ‘third of all species on the planet face extinction’. But that’s the ‘best case scenario’. According to the IPCC 2007 report, the ‘worst case scenario’ is a global average temperature rise of +6.4°: Most of Life is Exterminated – it would be hard to imagine a worse case scenario:

‘…methane fireballs tear across the sky… Deserts extend almost to the Arctic… “Hypercanes” … circumnavigate the globe, causing flash floods which strip the land of soil. Humanity reduced to a few survivors eking out a living in polar refugees. Most of life has been snuffed out, as temperatures rise higher than for millions of years. (The Independent, 3 Feb. ‘07)

Basically, it seems, humanity is toast. Some would say we had it coming. Tell that to the billions of frightened people out there, to the mothers and babies, to the children staring accusingly at us, the future-killers, from behind their mothers’ skirts. It’s hard being smug when confronted with innocent blood on your hands – a Herod-like Climate Massacre. Don’t drive off in your Chelsea Tractor, looking the other way. No amount of soap will wash your Pilate hands clean.

Smoke and Mirrors

Things are not what they seem

Although George W finally conceded there may be something in the ‘Smoking Exhaust’ theory, his doomed administration came up with a typically dumb-ass solution: let’s build solar mirrors to reflect all of those nasty sunbeams. Then we won’t have to curb our carbon habit. The Dubya solution to the Greenhouse Effect – paint the panes of glass silver. Never mind the tomatoes. Another solution is to scatter microscopic sulphate droplets into the stratosphere to mimic the cooling effects of a volcanic eruption – coming soon to a sky near year: Nuclear Winter: the Final Solution from the Carbon Nazis. The IPCC said such ideas were ‘speculative, uncosted and with potential unknown side-effects’ (The Guardian, 27 Jan. ‘07). It seems they just don’t get it in their reductionist Lego version of reality, playing with life’s building blocks: tamper with one thing and you entertain the possibility of affecting everything else. Haven’t they heard of the Butterfly Effect? Ol’ ‘happy goat’ Dubya sneezes and the world catches cold. Beyond that, it seems just another ludicrous ‘Star Wars’ propaganda ploy. The Sovs fell for that one – will we fall for ‘Space Mirrors’ – beaming atcha from ‘Moonlanding Studios’?

The Biodiversity of Culture

Saving the planet means also saving the texture of life (as celebrated in books like Common Ground’s England-in-Particular, Clifford and King, Hodder & Stoughton, 2006). We can’t all be eco-warriors. We should do what we’re best at to prevent cultural mass extinction. Otherwise, what are we fighting to preserve? A planet without human biodiversity?

It may seem redundant or indulgent now to do anything other than join Greenpeace and throw ourselves in the sea in front of whaling vessels and oil tankers, but however inspiring and awareness-raising such direct action is, we can’t all be so intrepid. Some-one has to keep society going – otherwise there won’t be any ‘civilisation’ to save.

So carry on writing poetry, painting, making music, making love, singing in a choir, supporting the school-play or local theatre, creating ‘meaningless acts of art’, morris-dancing, even stamp collecting – for it is the minutiae of life that things are at their most intense. Like the countless bug specialists, fungi specialists, lichen specialists, etc, if we don’t have those with expert knowledge and, yes, even amateur enthusiasm, for such things, then such precious detail will slip through the net.

And if we don’t care, then who will?

Like the Australian Aborigines, each with their Dreamtime animal they and there tribe are responsible for, we are all stewards of the planet, of its exquisite detail. It is a big place, and the level of complexity and abundance is overwhelming, but if we all focus in on one or two things, then we can pretty much just about cover everything. Everyone has their anorak. Perhaps the geek shall inherit the Earth. Super-Anorak may save the day, but of course we have to be holistic – look over our parapet, the ghetto of our particular specialism. Join the dots. See the bigger picture. It’s all about Paying Attention – perhaps that’s what we are here for. Humans are proud to think of themselves as the only (apparently) self-conscious beings on this planet, but perhaps we are here to be conscious of the Earth – and its conscience.

The Last One to Leave, Turn Out the Light


The 1951 SF film When Worlds Collide (a new Spielberg-produced version was released in 2008, merrily cashing in on ‘apocalypse fever’) foreshadowed the Ark mentality worryingly prevalent in contemporary Space scientist circles – who seem to be looking ‘anywhere but here’ to save humanity. This Noah attitude – ‘God’s given us the nod and the wink, so let’s get out of here’ – is perhaps the result of Western Christian hard-wiring: we’re brainwashed from our first day at our State-funded ‘Faith School’ that the End is Nigh, and only the Chosen Few will be saved, whether in an Infidel-free Paradise or WASP Heaven. It’s giving up the ghost. It’s pie-in-the-sky. Salvation is elsewhere, God is elsewhere – the grass is greener on Uranus. And the huge waste of resources, and vast amounts of pollution caused by phallic-symbol rockets going up into Space, penetrating, in a puny way, its ineffable Mystery, doesn’t exactly help things. It’s not re-arranging the deck-chairs on a White Star Liner, it’s dynamiting the hull, puncturing all the life-jackets and hogging all the life-boats. It would be Douglas-Adams-funny, if it wasn’t so deadly serious. The Vogon fleet is on its way, and they are practising their poetry.

Between Venus and Mars

As Adams said, space is big. Very big. It’s a lonely universe out there, as far as we know. We live on the ‘third rock from the sun’, luckily. Our number came up in the ‘Thunderball’ of Creation. An incredible chain of ‘happy accidents’ led to life on Earth being here. We haven’t found any anywhere else, yet – however high the possibility. In an infinite universe all things are possible. But until we find other life-sustaining planets, planets with the essential criteria for life (water being the main one) we live on a knife’s edge: ‘On dead planet’s such as Venus and Mars, CO2 makes up most of the atmosphere, and it would do so here if living things and Earth’s processes did not keep it within bounds’, (Flannery, The Weather Makers, p5) but this delicate balance is in danger of becoming undone by Man’s carbon habit. It seems we need to find a balance between these two extremes: we need compassion and focussed energy, the feminine and the masculine to solve this fix we’re in: a chymical wedding on a grand scale. It is telling that men are obsessed about going to Mars, on a symbolic level. Venus is too hot and toxic of course, but no one talks of missions to the planet of love – it’s what the world needs now, as the song goes, let’s face it, not more aggressive energy.

War of the Worlds

No One Would Believe...

In the face of over-whelming evidence that we have doomed our planet, that positively negative feedback loops are already kicking in, which will spiral out of control even if we do curtail our Carbon-habit, it is all too easy, and perhaps understandable to give up, to think: ‘Ah, sod it – the planet is screwed anyway. Party on, dude!’ But this is not only a risible Clarksonesque attitude (what will the boys with toys do when the oil runs out?) but pathetically defeatist: Texan sandsuckers and their ilk are the true ‘surrender monkeys’!

The other extreme can be found in the New Age movement, where people under pyramidal frames chanting from their yoni chakras await the Mayan apocalypse in 2012: the next millennial enema. ‘It’s all part of the big plan, man. Karmic – like African famine; those AIDs babies. Just ride it out. And buy some decent shades for the end-of-the-world show, as you chase eclipses around the planet, farting greenhouse gases.’

An analogy: imagine if planet Earth was invaded by a belligerent form of extra-terrestrial (bug-eyed aliens with laser beams!). Okay, not an original concept: HG Wells did a pretty good job. But let’s pretend it actually happens. They land; they fry the welcoming committee, consisting of the Dalai Lama, Hilary Clinton, Prince Charles, Robbie Williams and Jordan. Then they start razing cities with their death-ray. The lucky ones make it to the hills, or go underground. Survivalist fantasy time – your chance to grow a beard, wear army fatigues, eat cold beans out of tin, drive a land-rover at high-speed through empty shopping malls, and wield a shotgun like an iron dick. Would you go to them waving a white flag made from your Save the Whale T-shirt, as they strut across the burning fields, like giant angle-poise lamps with bunsen burner eyes, and say: ‘I surrender?’ Only to be turned into fertiliser. Or are you going to fight until the bitter end, until your dying breath? Fight for humanity, for the dream of civilisation, for the achievements of our ancestors, the hope of our children? Are you going to ‘fight them on the beaches’ with everything you’ve got, or are you going to let them win, and watch the whole history of the world go up in flames, and the human race become extinct? I know what I would do, however long I would or wouldn’t survive in such a scenario. In his foreword to Tim Flannery’s The Weather Makers (Allen Lane 2005), *Robert Purves, WWF President Australia, says: ‘If we are to win the war on climate change we must all be part of the fight.’

If we fight to preserve from extinction endangered species – because they matter, in terms of the ecosystem they are part of, and because it would be an insult to millions of years to do otherwise (imagine spending a lifetime painting your masterpiece only to have some philistine thug put his DMs through it: now multiply that by many lifetimes, by millennia – are we going to be the thugs of Creation?) – if we agree that all life is sacred, then that includes us. We are part of the biodiversity of this planet and deserve protecting and fighting for as well. Don’t let those ‘alien’ genociders win! Start stock-piling those beans now – maybe not, methane is enough of a problem as it is… Not good in a bunker. Better still, get out of that frigging bunker, and that tyrant-downfall mindset. Do you want to be caught lice-ridden in a rat-hole, when Armageddon comes, by God in his Stars and Stripes boxers, playing Hendrix’s ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ on his Hummer sound system? Do you want to stand trial with Clarkson and his cohorts for crimes against the planet? And have you last moments videoed on someone’s mobile, as you do the gallows’ twitch?

This Island Earth


The future is unwritten. No one can say exactly what is going to happen. Even  Flannery admits ‘…science is about hypotheses, not truths, and no one can absolutely know the future,’ (The Weather Makers, p7). Climate Scientists scry into the swirling orb of their climate models like fortune tellers. I do not doubt for one second the rigour of their prognostications: climate science is what is says on the tin: science, not tea-leaf reading.

And yet why should we have such faith in their ability to predict the future – aren’t Sir David King types the modern equivalent of the augurers, reading entrails in front of the Roman Temple, telling us what we want to know, or what the powers-that-be want us to think? Science is modern magic. We have (mostly) complete faith in it. Until its orthodoxy is over-turned by the next paradigm-shift. Received wisdoms are there to be challenged and, when proven false, destroyed. The Flat Earths of the present become the Spheres of tomorrow. The Reds-under-the-bed prove to be in our head. Martians won’t attack after all – although radio-listeners thought they were going to when Orson Wells broadcast his version of War of the Worlds in the Thirties, causing panic. Not that Climate Chaos isn’t genuine. But a Culture of Fear is intentionally disempowering: frightened people are easier to prey on – to go ‘boo!’ too. They jump when you want them to. Y2K, WMDs, Anthrax in the post, Bird Flu, Swine Flu … the bogeyman keeps coming to get you, but does he ever really arrive? Climate Chaos is a fact that won’t go away – but as with terrorism, caused by individuals, cells or states, if we let them scare us, they have won. Let Climate Chaos paralyse you into inaction – like the sleep-paralysis when you awake in the night because of some ‘bump’, too terrified to move – and it has defeated you.

Always remember: the human creature, with its amazing imagination, its ingenuity, its resourcefulness and adaptability, could quite possibly rise to the occasion. Surprise destiny. Not necessarily with a techno-fix, Branson’s £24m miracle carbon-burner or equivalent (carbon credits are modern day ‘indulgences’ – like medieval pilgrims, we can choose to pay a ‘guilt-tax’ to off-set our carbon-sin – the fact remaining, each flight pumps more CO2 into the air and takes the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight. Plant more trees, for sure, but better still – don’t make carbon skid-marks in the sky in the first place. Do you really need that last minute cheap flight to Malaga?) but with a shift of attitude. With an act of collective will, anything is possible. If politicians don’t take the initiative (and I don’t mean jetting to some glacier to ‘find out about Climate Change’ in some spurious ‘hug a husky’ publicity stunt) then we will anyway, with or without them. Eventually the general public will be forced to changed, through lack of oil, dry land, clean water – but, of course, sooner is better. Wait until the flood-waters or climate refugees are at your door and it’ll be too late. Don’t wait for fate to come and find you – go out there and face it. Be bold.

The future is a challenge. Let’s rise to it – a human ‘rising tide’, to counter the tide of indifference. This is what we are here for. It’s up to us. No one else.

The future is in our hands. Make it happen, don’t wait for it to happen.

As Gore and others have suggested, this is a moral choice. And Monbiot emphasises this: ‘Climate change is not just a moral question: it is the moral question of the 21st century.’ Whatever decision we make – even no decision is still a decision – will be on our conscience, and will be remembered by future generations. Flannery concludes his influential book with the home truth: ‘We know enough to act wisely’.

Ignorance is not an excuse anymore

To leave you with Klaatu’s warning from The Day the Earth Stood Still (Wise 1951):  “Join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration…the decision is yours.”

***

Recommended Viewing:

The Age of Stupid – Franny Armstrong’s film

Home – Yann Arthus Bertrand

The Eleventh Hour – Leonardo di Caprio

An Inconvenient Truth – Al Gore

Recommended Reading:

The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins