Renovation

The inside of my head can be a strange place. Sometimes the lights flicker and go out, sometimes the music is WAY TOO LOUD and sometimes I’m just standing in the middle of it saying,’Ye gods, I have to do something about this paintwork.’ Mostly, I’m glad to report, it’s a relatively homely place with big windows, lots of natural light and a gzillion plants.

It’s to this place that I’ve retreated following my most recent bout with the what-the-hell-am-I-doing virus.

It quickly became clear that I was in deep overwhelm. Here’s the thing, I work for an organisation that tries to stop the barbaric treatment of whales and dolphins by humans. I work in the comms department, not the science/policy team, but we have to know most of what they know so that we can communicate it to (potential) supporters. Much of it never goes further than our walls because we’d be buried under a crowd of people screaming at us for ruining their day/life. But we see it. And I feel it. That’s the thing. Without my armour, which I mislaid in about 1973 and would be way too small for me now anyway, I feel it all.

Then there’s Mr Wildness who is himself active in conservation and welfare circles. He’s a trustee of the League and a founder of Birders Against Wildlife Crime. There aren’t a lot of laughs coming out of either of those places.

And of course I’m deeply in love with all things canine and watch with awe and love as very special people work to rescue and save dogs needing help. But again, before the happy ending (if there is one) there’s a whole lot of horror.

I live here, in beautiful countryside that connects me to Life and earths me in the most wonderful of ways but nature is not Disney. Nature – often in the form of man – can be harsh and cruel unless you are able to detach with a Buddhist monk-like ability that I do not possess. Spring is breathtaking to look at but oh so fragile. So many babies, so many risks.

Take the baby squirrel in the beech tree outside our house who loves to run and play with leaves on the other side of a lane currently filled with film crew vehicles and rubber-necking spectators’ cars. In full view of our neighbours’ murderous cats. I doubt he’s even still alive, and rightly or wrongly I feel that like a knife to my heart. There were sweet ducklings on the moat that have probably already fed hungry young foxes. And those cats. The other night I walked home with the dogs, in the dark except for the spooky light of a halogen floodlamp over the film company’s ‘base camp’. I looked up to see, silhouetted by its glow, one of my beloved Jimley Jackdaws (jackdaws that nest in our chimneys, referred to as jimleys by five year old Evie) standing on the edge of a neighbour’s chimney stack, looking in clearly agitated, as smoke poured out of it. The night was cold, the people have a young baby and only the wood stove to heat their cottage so of course they lit the fire. I realised with a heart plummeting into my boots that the jackdaw probably has babies too. In that chimney stack. I walked into the house and burst into tears. For all of it. For bloody all of it. And my skin felt red raw from the constant gentle lashing of real life.

So this is where I am. Thinking about how I learn, if it’s possible, to deal with this stuff. Or to come to terms with the fact that I will always feel this way because I can’t turn away. It’s not just ‘nature’, it’s the never-ending extended family issues…the shitty world news that I can’t seem to escape…the powerless witnessing of my daughter walking through another valley of her early life story, and watching her heart crack open while all I can do is hold her.

I can do this. We all do. You do. You may well have far worse to deal with, I’m pretty privileged in a lot of ways and I never forget it. But those of us with no armour have these spells, right? When it’s very nearly Just Too Much.

Here’s how I’m attempting balance. I am doing only what makes me happy. Happy without attachment to shoulds and coulds. Without attachment to achievement or ‘success’. Without attachment to fixing anything – that’s a biggie for me.

There’s a lot of unattached happy on the internet. Lots of chances to be mindfully mindless, ha! And so I find myself on instagram, on Pinterest and eyebrow deep in interior design blogs. I am indulging in a whole lot of mental pleasure for the sake of it, knowing all the time that I am rooted in the dirt and pain and darkness. Knowing all the time that both sides of the coin are needed for it to carry its real value. Once I’m feeling more balanced I can address the whole what-the-hell-am-I-doing question. Not before.

This morning I went to Professor Google with a question about how to clean vintage metal and found my new favourite blog. I’d read back through several posts of design, great writing and laughs before the writer mentioned dogs. Naturally I clicked through and found this wonderful story. I recommend you read it and then check out Linus. Then the rest of the blog. Especially the whole downstairs bathroom thing.

And that’s my good deed for today.

In which Dooley photobombs me and also tells our story. #clever
In which Dooley photobombs me and also tells our story. #clever

 

 

Retreat

 

There aren’t too many people reading this blog, I know. My discontent with my blogging at the end of last year had me changing everything around again and I’m glad I did but it disrupts the flow. Disrupting flow is not good.

Anyway the fact is, I’m feeling a very strong call to retreat from the online world for a while. I did a little experiment in less social media back in January and it was transformative. Until February when I went back. The obvious correlation between my inner peace and my distance from the internet verges on the bleedin’ obvious. At least for now. I am nothing if not changeable.

So, I am going to step back and stay offline. I’m keeping my email open because daily life requires it. I’m taking Twitter off my phone and deleting my unloved Facebook page. I am not going to think ‘I could blog this’ about anything. I love instagram and could always just post one pic a day BUT my issue is not with my pictures, it’s with the way I fall into endlessly scrolling through everyone else’s. They are beautiful and inspiring and just plain lovely but they are a distraction I don’t need. At least for now. So, I’m checking into insta-rehab. God help me.

I am checking in to my life. My partner, my child, my dogs, my garden, my home, my day job, the friends I can reach out and touch, this land I live on and its spirits that pull me deeper and deeper into Life, what it is and what it means. I have almost lost touch and just in time I am seeing that the loss of these things would kill me. The internet, not so much.

I need and want to be someone who creates and maintains her home, family and spiritual life with as high a quality of consciousness and love as she can.

Here goes.

Added: The great writer Peter Matthiessen recently passed away and this quote has made its way to my eyes. How perfect for this. Thank you Peter.

“I am here to be here, like these rocks and sky and snow, like this hail that is falling down out of the sun.”

 

Before anything else

This is how my day starts now. Even before I grab a cup of tea, it’s boots on and out. Journalling is still an option for rainy days when walks are short but honestly, given the choice, I’ll be out there with the dew, the rising sun, the birdsong, the hares (who are so not morning people that you can walk right up to them before they think,”Oh…is this where I run?” and disappear in a flurry of fur), the space and the slowness. I like the slowness.

walking

Loud and clear

Druid Animal Oracle

Instead of sitting down and writing this morning I felt the need to draw some cards. I use them only rarely and my favourite deck is the Druid Animal Oracle. I chose three cards: the present situation, what I can do to move forward, and the possibilities if I do. The result was as accurate as any reading I’ve ever done or received so choosing to sit with this to start the day turned out to be a very good idea. I am listening.

Druid Animal Oracle

 

On the wind

spring coming

At the end of summer there comes a time when the wind changes. I can be out walking and there it is. Suddenly an old soul of a breeze blows through and around me and I know it is the breath of approaching autumn. There is wisdom in and a sated feel to it. It has seen many things, been many places and is ready to sit for a while and enjoy the memories.

This morning as I was out before breakfast a different breeze arrived. It was cold and fresh like a glass of cool water and just as quenching. It was spring’s breath; full of youth and possibility, new ideas and energy. It was eager to keep moving. Beautiful and thrilling as a young foal.

 

We are the real countries, not the boundaries drawn on maps with the names of powerful men. I know you’ll come and carry me out into the palace of winds—that’s all I’ve wanted, to walk in such a place with you, with friends: an earth without maps.

~ Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

Back to it

table

I don’t know about you but adjusting to a new season can be a bumpy ride for me, and this one has been a bit that way. That’s not to say I’m not loving the lighter mornings and the (temporary?) abatement of The Deluge. The blossoms and shoots and joyful dawn chorus put Spring in my step that’s for sure, but I lost my focus. The month I spent away from social media, and sticking to a practice of starting the day in silence, with a notebook, pen and dogs, brought me a clarity and confidence in my own voice that I haven’t experienced before. Then it all went topsy turvy. The mornings got lighter so I stayed out longer enjoying the sunrise and the morning air, which meant coming back straight into packed lunches and breakfasts. I felt good about my plans for the future so I stopped journalling – just as stupid as stopping taking vitamin tablets because you feel so much better (yes I always do that). I went back to Twitter and Instagram and Facebook to varying degrees and suddenly my head was full of Other People’s Stuff. I don’t hate that – after all I like social media because it lets me know how my friends are and what work the people I admire are doing (many fall into both categories of course). I’m interested in other people and I love having a window on things they want to share but it fills up my brain. My bad. I don’t spend hours a day refreshing social media apps or thinking about Ms X’s awesome new role and Mr Y’s dog’s cute face but it just takes up space that I need for my own creativity.

I’m taking a step back from social media again until I can learn how to just check in once a day. This morning I set my alarm back 15 minutes in preparation for returning to my 5am rising. A couple of weeks and I’ll be there. After our walk I lit my candle, opened a notebook (I found a new one of my very favourites) and wrote. Immediately the feeling of mental stagnation cleared. I need a structure and self-discipline and with them I thrive – they make me immensely strong. I’ve avoided them my whole life and only just discovered that that..is why I can’t have nice things. Who knew?

You might notice I’ve added a thingy to the sidebar here. I wanted a way to write proper notes to people. Share some little pieces of magic and light that don’t always find their way into blog posts. It could be fun. And MailChimp is a whole new neural pathway for this monkey.

 

Perhaps the Old is the new New

I have been preoccupied with thoughts about place and heritage and Ye Olde Ways. As I’ve been moved by the voices and spirits of this place, this earth, I’ve been taking more generalised, ‘core’ philosophies and translating them into my spirit’s native tongue. This has been and continues to be a profound experience and more enriching then I’d imagined it would be but one thing is clear: I am not comfortable with historical re-enactment.

Despite the fact that it turns out I stand willingly in the land of druidry and pagan ways, I’m not ever going to be the sort of person who dons a long velvet gown, changes my name to Morgana and weaves ivy into my hair. I love that there are people who do that and am grateful they are there, but I’m not one of them. I’ve been feeling strongly pulled to find a way to bring the voices of the land and those who live on it – be it rural, urban or neither – to the here and now. We need to listen to and learn from them more than ever. They are as strong and relevant as ever, we just forget – at huge cost – to listen.

This winter has been, as I’ve said before, a very different experience for me because I just went with it. I listened in the dark, rested, dreamed and prepared and I was rewarded with a new vision and a deeper connection. As spring arrives with light, growth and an urge to build, I want to bring what I’ve learned into my daily life. A life here in 2014 with cars and computers and, for me, a day job, school runs and homework, bank statements and all the stuff we’ve constructed to make our life easier but which actually sometimes makes it harder. I want to find a way to share what I’m learning in a way that fits. These things are timeless and eternal. They belong here and now. I don’t want to have to pretend to be living in some other age, I like this one. I believe in this one. I feel these spirits and their power here and now.

So I’ve been trying to carve out space in which to sit and think and feel my way to hearing how the sacred sounds to me in 2014. I’ve asked for hints and ideas, and received some too. But nothing as clear, ironically, as the fog that descended over our home this last couple of days. I mean, it’s all well and good trying to avoid fairy tale romanticism but then, sitting in my car on the way back from dropping Evie at school, 110 yards from my door, I find myself looking at this through my windscreen. And suddenly fairy tale romanticism is very much a part of the here and now. To be continued..

misty lane in Wiltshire

 

 

Lifted

 

I went and sat in a tree. It’s been a hectic couple of weeks of half term school holidays, this, that, the other. All of it sending my brain into a spin. So I sat in a tree.

As a child I spent many of my happiest hours at the top of an apple tree in our garden. it was small, so was I, and the branches were perfectly configured as a fairy queen’s throne or a cavewoman’s watch post. I know but I was into cave people. Even then. And one of them needed to watch for mammoths who may or may not have looked quite like a small black Labrador.

The wettest winter since records began has not been kind to our trees here. Those that stand along the sides of the streams have had their roots submerged for too long and then, when the gales came, they couldn’t all stay upright. I found a beautiful ash, tipped over into the field, her roots still in the ground so she is still alive, but she will never stand again. I’m hoping that the farmer and the estate manager decide to let her stay there to provide shelter for the sheep who’ll be back soon but I don’t think it probable. She’s more likely to be chopped up for firewood.

For two weeks I just stood and talked to her as I passed each day. It seemed disrespectful to start poking around. I took photographs but it felt intrusive. And then, this day, it felt okay to climb in.

I sat in the branches that not so long ago had been 25 feet in the air. It’s not often that chance comes along. I looked at the beautiful lichen, the moss and the ivy she wears like a robe. The scratch marks from squirrels’ claws and birds’ beaks. Around us on the ground lay broken branches, some stabbed into the ground by the impact. She is wounded, but rooted.

The child who sat in her mammoth-watching seat was already fascinated by trees. I remember standing and looking at the ones in our garden – not huge but they seemed big to an eight year old – and thinking how amazing it was that they exist underground in a mirror of their lives in the air. That they are balanced. I thought about how humans are somehow ‘snapped off’ and that disconnection from our source, our nourishment, was the price we’d paid for physical freedom. And yet, we aren’t free, I thought. Birds are free (I added a cautionary note about cats as I recall). Humans are not as rooted as trees and not as as free as birds. The existential angst of a nature-loving child. Ha. I was a weird kid sometimes.

Decades on and I’m more upbeat about the human condition. I learned a long time ago that roots and wings aren’t necessarily physical things. I know how to sit and extend myself down into the earth and feel the damp, cool richness of it. Hear the life there. I know how to sit and lift myself into the sky by hitching a ride with a buzzard to see the world below from a distance that brings peace and perspective. Humans, when we remember, are so woven into It All that there is nothing closed to us. Just as we are closed to nothing.

 

 

The Sheep In The Woods

In the Withy Bed, two fields across from our cottage, is a temple made of conifers. I swear even the most insensitive, disinterested person couldn’t fail to feel the difference as you walk into the circle of trees whose foliage blocks out the light, and creates a soft, silent carpet when it finally falls.

I found it last October. Despite living here for nearly five years now – and knowing this land since I was a small child – I have until the last year or so stayed out of this little patch of woodland but, on hearing and seeing evidence of shooting, I started to walk this patch regularly; watching, noting, just keeping an eye on what was supposed to be there and what wasn’t. And if I’m honest, something was calling me. She was calling me.

In the conifer circle, among the ash and hazel, on a ‘sunny showers’ kind of day, not cold, the bright sun glittering off raindrops everywhere, I could feel the magic of the spot. I looked down for a moment and there she was…the skull of a sheep.

I am a bone collector. I have a mantle covered in jaws, skulls, spines and teeth, from a tiny shrew to the beautiful badger cub skull that Dooley brought me during his first days home. I picked up the sheep and immediately saw her with the others.

She had other plans.
As I walked away with a spring in my step, excited by my find, I heard her say that she didn’t want to go. She asked me to take her back and then, after I dismissed the words as me being ‘a bit mental’ and kept walking, she told me to take her back.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. The collector in me put up a fight but the One Who Listens in me, er, listened. The sheep told me she wanted to be here in the woods and she wanted to be ‘brought together’. I laid down her skull and saw a rib. I brought that to her and saw another. And another. Then another bone – a scapula. More and more of the bones of her scattered in the circle.
I had gathered her bones and after spending some time doing another sweep of the circle, I left her and walked away down a deer path through the hazel. She wasn’t done. A short way out I felt an ‘itch’ that made me look more closely at the ground and there was her lower jaw. I carried it back and decided to do this thing properly. She was already in a safe, sheltered spot at the foot of a conifer but I was sad that she was alone, after all, sheep are social animals.
Back in the field I pulled sheep’s wool from the hedge’s low branches and, with some twigs for legs, made a little ‘sheep’ to keep her company. I found some dog roses and took them back to her. It felt peaceful. She felt peaceful.
In the following days I took Evie to see her and as the weather had changed for the worse, we built her an Eeyore house and covered it with foliage. We go back and see her regularly. She has been quiet. Until recently.
On the days that I call in the directions, I talk to the Sheep In The Woods, to the east where she lives. I don’t expect a reply but it feels to me that if she called me to find and help her, we have a relationship. Lately I’ve felt some restlessness from her. She’s ready to move. So, when the weather dries up a little, I’ll take her to the edge of the woods and find her a sunny spot in the hedge where I collected the wool. On the open side of it will be ewes and lambs who sleep piled up together in the sunny mornings and shelter there when it’s cold and wet. She’ll be with her family.
Of course she may have alternative plans. I don’t doubt she’ll keep me informed.