Tag Archives: nature

Borderlands Renga

IMG_3645What the land says

*

Morning sun

warms crumbled earth

relief from frost heave

 

I hold it in my hands

it holds me

 

hills made overground

by velvet tunnellers

dark soil workers

 

home to the unseen

and the spectacular

 

a rusty horse-shoe, half-buried

 

O larch, cone

and whisker of you

nubs of dusted red

 

ash trees do it for me

sometimes, especially

 

fluid hardness of wood

 

leaning into, leaning on

a steady place to start

bones and barks both bend

 

hollowed, clothed

folding rock and living humus

 

the burn’s law carves a groove

divides a field

opens up earth’s skin

 

 

*

sunlit current between the banks

silent cross-currents within me

 

aching for the river’s touch

to be closer

to my open hand

 

telegraph pole floating down in the flood

 

the stream tumbling into my right ear

drifting from my left

 

glistening water

passes under the high bridge

carries thoughts downstream

 

shadow of a fish

playing with light

 

steepness

a water world

wagtail

 

too thirsty to write a verse

above the river, I drink

 

above is below, flickering

skittish dipper flashes

stone to stone

 

today’s green umbrella

sheltering last week’s rain

 

earth route, sea bound

 

the water continues

sure in its course

holding to uncertainty

 

 

 

*

around the shadow of my hat

grass glows

 

in an auditorium of green fire

burning off

winter’s residue

 

furious and ferocious me

I lie down and rest

 

bliss – a line

scorched between

need and no-need

 

sun-grown leaf, grain, fruit

 

this stone below me, slow

this light on my face

 

a constellation of solar systems

scattered over

the dandelion meadow

 

red absorbed

sleepy cushion after lunch

 

furnace of microbial life

 

flowers

photosynthetic factories

forging the sward

 

 

*

feathers in my pocket

song in the air

 

crows – two in the uplift

corks on an unseen river

your wings, my home

 

take me up, thermals

so that I may see

 

the nothingness of being

that lives by breath

 

ripple in the pool, rustle in the tree

 

tickling my cheekbones

songs of blackcap, chiff chaff, jackdaw

 

drowsy afternoon

a chance to listen to air

sifting memories

 

my mother’s bloodroot

 

a wave of tiny combustions

the wave arranged in patterns, rhythm

 

cow-breath gorse-breath

blowing the flute

of the secret valley

 

 

 

*

where the skylark is –

even to the ten thousand galaxies

 

this pen settled in the saddle

of thumb and forefinger

widening to describe all this

 

space curves

there is a tree, a wall, a house

 

a network of human habitation

 

soft sow shape of Cheviot

stretches out asleep

over all those centuries

 

distant granite whaleback

 

in the distance

between thoughts – a space to fade to

 

sky full of bird paths

each flown invisibly

opened and closed

 

bear’s garlic, shepherd’s purse,

Persian speedwell

 

blue harvest

 

slip through

follow the fold of sky

return

 

 

 

*

the me that has no thoughts

the other quietly watching

 

a way to be back

along the boughs

a root home

 

with all the twists and turns

still there is the green

 

can we meet the tree?

sometimes I sense it

and so must she

 

tell me what I am

and through me sing

 

a group reflects

a hawthorn dances

I listen

 

preoccupied by the thinking

we forget the knowing

 

delusions like crows on a fence

 

arthritic old thorn

teaches silence

to sapling ash, oak, gean

 

ten thousand green eyes

turned skywards

 

what a day of embrace!

tree of heart’s desire

hold our grief, our trust, our uncertainty

 

alive to this place

 

tangled in and out of shadow

risk yes risk joy.

 

 

A walking renga

from Borderlands 3 at Burnlaw,

Whitfield, Northumberland,

on 23rd April, 2017.

 

Participants:

Jo Aris, Melanie Ashby, Michael Van Beinum, Matilda Bevan, Neil Diment, John Fanshawe, Jane Field, Linda France, Kate Foster, Malcolm Green, Sharon Higginson, Geoff Jackson, Martha Jackson, Georgiana Keable, Virginia Kennedy, Linda Kent, Martin Lee Muller, Karen Melvin, Tim Rubidge, Geoff Sample, Torgeir Vassvik, Gary Villers-Stuart, Rosie Villiers-Stuart, Nigel Wild, Richard Young.

 

Borderlands 3 was a gathering of Northern Networks for Nature.  On Saturday we were mostly indoors, listening to excellent speakers, sharing thoughts (and fantastic food – thanks Martha!) and watching and listening to a ‘salmon fairytale’ from Norway.  On Sunday we went outside and walked down the valley as far as Bridge Eal, stopping along the way to consider the elements and write renga verses.  This renga is the fruit of that walk in that place on that day with those people.

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Being Private in Public

The main problem is how to be private in public.  I try to lose myself by giving voice to the poems as straightforwardly as possible.

IMG_6138Even my earliest landscape poems sound anxious.  Now my so-called nature poems are prompted by despair as much as by delight.  We are making such a mess of everything.  In Ireland we are methodically turning beauty spots into eyesores.  I memorialise lovely places as they disappear.

IMG_6162

Poetry gives things a second chance, perhaps now their only second chance.  John Clare says ‘Poets love nature and themselves are love.’

IMG_6140

Poetry is communal as well as individual…I love Donald Hall’s definition of poetic tradition as ‘conversations with the dead great ones and with the living young’.  Poetry, even the most intensely lyrical, is unlikely to be a solo flight.

IMG_6134Diction, metre and prosody are far from being my main concerns.  It is all much more uncertain and improvisatory and risky than those terms suggest.

IMG_6142

Extracts from Michael Longley Interview in Poetry Review, 2006.

Images from Linn Botanic Garden, Cove, Scotland.

Tagged , , , , ,

Touchstone and Compass

Another stimulating and nourishing day last week for a small group of us at Moorbank, writing and painting…Knowing that a meeting to decide the garden’s fate was going on at the same time was hard to ignore and crept into my own early draft.  I was also influenced by recent newspaper reports of further species extinctions.  IMG_5748Already a very special place, the thought that it might not continue in its present form after November made the garden feel even more precious.

photo

After the Petition

The day of the meeting no sun shone
in the sky, no one could find anyone else,
everything running behind time.

A handful of gardeners carried on
regardless, weeding and planting, corralling
a home for the family of hedgehogs.

We all had one foot in the garden,
the other elsewhere, still unimaginable.
This naturally involved some wobble.

News had already reached us the conifers
would be the first to go, eaten away,
if not by feral goats, by diseases

with names that sounded as if they longed
to be trees themselves; or just felled and split,
casualty of another meeting,

the city trickling ever wider, milk spilt
from a plastic container. Top of the list
was the Atlas Cedar, touchstone

and compass, old friend. We were in danger
of being locked out of the garden, looking
the other way, forgetting what we used

to call life without offending the god
of irony; distracted by square plots
cultivated inside our houses

we learned never to be without, tucking
them in our pockets, close to our hearts,
where they pulsed on our behalf. In the end

the meeting left many things undecided,
except the date of the next meeting.

photo copyBirtley Aris and his Croton, painted in the Tropical House.

photo copy 2There will be a NGS Open Day at Moorbank next week on Sunday 21st July, 2 – 5pm.  I would encourage those of you who live in the North East to go along and make the most of this sanctuary almost hidden in the heart of the city.  It’s looking beautiful and summery just now.

photo copy 3

 

Tagged , , , , ,

Spring at Moorbank

IMG_4466

It was very good to be back at Moorbank again this week, reassuringly unchanged despite its uncertain status.  Newcastle University’s support will come to an end on 30th November this year.  A detailed Feasibility Study has been submitted to the landlords, the Freemen of the City, and we are currently awaiting their response.

IMG_4464

Meanwhile work continues, tidying beds, mowing grass, seed lists exchanged with other Botanic Gardens around the world and seedlings being reared in the glasshouses.

IMG_4467The four surviving renga lilies I’ve reared from seed are thriving much better on a bench at Moorbank than in my draughty cold conservatory.

The garden will be open during the upcoming Late Shows on Saturday 18th May 7 – 11pm and for the NGS on 22nd May 4 – 8pm.

IMG_4470

It was very satisfying to see one of the cherry trees in bloom, squaring the circle of my time away.

IMG_4457

Prunus kurilensis ‘Brilliant’

We’ve never, no, not for a single day,

pure space before us, such as that which flowers

endlessly open into.

Rilke, ‘The Eighth Elegy’

Tagged , , , ,

Mother Nature

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In the various gardens I’ve been visiting, one of the things I keep coming back to is the feminine principle in nature – generative energy and mythic perspectives that appear to be inseparable from the whole business of the human impulse to garden.  Robert Pogue Harrison’s interpretation (in his wonderful book Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition) is that, far from being a curse, Eve was our first gardener and so gave us the blessing of our human responsibilities to care for each other and the land.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So I was very happy yesterday to make my first visit to see Northumberlandia – Charles Jencks’s ‘Lady of the North’ just outside Cramlington.  I’ve been following her creation with interest ever since the proposal was first announced seven years ago.  I admire Jencks’s contribution to the Maggie’s Centres around the UK, providing thoughtful and supportive care for cancer patients, and look forward to seeing the opening this year of the new one in Newcastle.  His Garden of Cosmic Speculation, near Dumfries, is a fascinating mixture of landforms and sculptures and other interventions, all playing with ideas of time and space.  Northumberlandia is very much his baby – especially his riddling, idiosyncratic signs dotted around her luxuriating body, drawing the eye in various directions.  Her ‘nipples’ point 12 miles south to the Angel of the North and 41 miles north to Lindisfarne!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Interesting to read this recently from Zen practitioner David Loy:

…you know what I think the real problem with nature is? Nature is the realm of death. There are creatures, they’re born, they die. We don’t want to be part of nature because nature reminds us that we die. And that’s the problem with women, the problem with blood, the problem with sex,…we want to deny the fact that we’re animals. We want to deny the fact that we’re born and we pass away like other animals, that we procreate like other animals. We want to have a special fate because we don’t want to be subject to mortality in the same way. And there’s a whole string there, our attitude toward women and blood and childbirth and menstruation and all that. It’s all part of this same system of denigrating women, because women seem to remind us more that we’re part of the natural world that we don’t really want to accept, and too much of our religion is an attempt to escape from nature, isn’t it? “We have a higher fate, we have souls. It doesn’t matter so much what we’re doing because we have a higher destiny anyway, don’t we?”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hard to know what was more annoying here – the intrusiveness of the sign or the fact that the capitalisation was so random…The goddess’s face is the most striking part of her and we are directed towards looking in the mirror of her face from a distant spot across one of the constructed lakes.  I found myself speculating whether she is a cry for help.  A symbolic way of winning back the approval of Mother Nature, looking her in the eye, after treating her so badly for so many years – specifically in the open cast mining right next door and more generally on the whole planet?

At the moment the structure is still raw and the land not quite settled – it’ll be interesting to see what it looks like in a few years’ time when the grass has had a chance to grow and some wild flowers have made their home there.  Like the Angel of the North, I hope it will find a place in the local people’s hearts and minds and do its magic there.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Making Hay While the Snow Falls

Kozolci_v_Laškem_198695

So – the structure I needed a sign to explain to me at Harcourt Arboretum was a hay rack from Slovenia.  The pictures in this post (apart from the information sign) are other examples.

P1030514

Hayracks are apparently found in about 80% of Slovenia.  As well as kozolec, Slovene names for the hayrack are kazucstog, and toplar. Other food stuffs, such as field maize, are dried on them as well.

Simončičev_kozolec,_Bistrica_(2007)

Although a practical structure, a hayrack is often artistically designed and handcrafted, a distinctive form of vernacular architecture.

P1030515

They are also used as places to sit, rest and shelter from the sun; the larger ones venues for summer parties.  Very lovely to think about while it’s so cold here and the days so short.

images-1You can see lots more interesting versions of the Slovenian hay rack here.

Tagged , , , ,

Welcome to Padua

On the eve of my departure for Padua I took the few renga lilies that have survived the depredations of some leaf-cutting insect lurking in my conservatory to Moorbank.  It seemed important to leave them in safe hands, where they’d be sure of a stable environment and regular temperature.  I’d always imagined that they’d end up there, an exciting addition (New Zealand native) to the collection under glass.  They had been doing well despite setbacks – greenfly and windburn – which I was pleased I’d been able to overcome.

I wasn’t sure what Clive, the manager, meant when he said he would look after them for just one year.  I was shocked when he explained that the University had made the decision to close Moorbank and it might not be there beyond a year’s time.  I was dumbfounded – sad and cross – not sure what to say or do for the best.  It was a strange, disorientating piece of information to take with me on my first visit – to the world’s first botanic garden, established in 1545.  The superimposition was disturbing – here I was finally embarking on my ‘Grand Tour’ of Botanical Gardens, for which Moorbank had been the seed and inspiration.  Ironic that it was there I discovered how important botanic gardens are for our future in terms of research, conservation and education and now its own future had been curtailed by what it’s hard not to see as a short-sighted management decision, yet another disastrous ‘austerity’ measure.  I am still in the process of assimilating this news and will no doubt be returning to the subject, as will various others who are keen to find some way to keep Moorbank going.

Padua felt like a different world all together – running to a kinder calendar, clock and thermometer.  In the privileged, cosseted position of ‘visitor’, and with the luxury of just one task to focus on, it was easy to feel at home in its daily rhythms, marked by the chiming of the bells at St. Anthony’s Basilica, set at the end of the cobbled street that leads down to the Orto Botanico.

Entering the garden felt momentous, almost ritualistic – so many stations of the cross to pass through on the way – two bridges over shallow waterways grazed by sleepy, semi-transparent fish, two sets of gates, stone pillars, wrought iron, an assortment of signs, a ticket booth (where the attendant sat listening to the Beatles on my first encounter!).  Then, even inside the garden, there is another wall to pass through – tall, circular, red brick – built in 1552 to keep out the thieves who’d taken to stealing the precious plants collected from the Venetian Republic’s trading posts in the Horto Medicinale.

The whole layout  – a typical Renaissance design: a square, divided into quarters, contained within a circle, forming a hortus sphaericus or cinctus – invites a similar response: a conscious, embodied relationship with ‘Nature’, based on the enlightened understanding that the human is part of it – inside and out – and accords to the same principles as everything in the wider universe.  Walking round the garden was an incredibly rich experience – metaphysical, sensual, aesthetic, horticultural, scientific and ecological.  There were an infinite variety of possible routes to take, the structure wonderfully apparent at the end of the season, with many plants at a less lush part of their cycle.

However it was clear right from the start that something very different was going on here from what would be possible in the North East of England.  Two lemon trees flanked the inner entrance at the West Gate.  Exotic Brugmansia grew abundantly in huge terracotta pots.  Cacti and succulents and palms I’ve only ever seen growing under glass at Moorbank stood outside in the open air.  An artesian well allows the garden to be fed and watered by a thermal spring which makes all this work, as well as counteracting the long, parched Italian summers.  While I was there the temperature was falling (still around 20 degrees C most days, but cooler at night) and some of the tender plants in pots were starting to be moved into the shelter of the old 18th century greenhouses.

One of the special attractions for me of the garden in Padua (apart from its place in history and very particular layout) was what is known as ‘Goethe’s palm’.  There was a sense of pilgrimage in seeking it out, following in the poet’s footsteps.  I’ve been reading his 1790 book The Metamorphosis of Plants, fascinated by his careful observations, recording of detail and probing for botanical and philosophical significance.  Goethe visited the garden in Padua on his travels to Italy and refers to this particular palm  – a Mediterranean fan (Chamaerops humilis)  – in his book, as an example of the successive differentiation in the formation of the leaves.  It has its own octagonal greenhouse, built between the wars, which it is now outgrowing.  There is an old sundial, a hollow circle carved in stone, just outside.  Its lines and shadows mirror the form of the palms’ leaves in a manner recalling the Renaissance system of ‘correspondences’ – As it is above, so it is below.  This echo effect spills all over the garden and the effect is of a precious, faceted jewel – profoundly pleasing, stimulating and inspirational.

I spent a delightful morning with the Vice-Prefect, Antonella Moila, and she was able to point out various aspects of the garden I might otherwise have missed.  I was especially interested to broach the big green barriers on the south of the garden to take a look at the new development. Enormous, confident glasshouses rose from a parcel of land bought by the University of Padua from the Jesuit Church.  They were just installing the sun shades the day I was there.  This whole extension, fringed by the Romanesque domes of the Basilica of Santa Guistina, is still in the process of being landscaped so there is lots of mud and machinery and no plants just yet.  But despite delays (the original plans were agreed around 10 years ago), it is hoped the new addition will be open to welcome many more visitors to the garden next spring.  Grafting new onto old, this garden’s history is still in the making.

It made me even sadder about Moorbank being closed – seeing the investment the University of Padua is making in the future of this garden, taking on the demands of change, without forsaking continuity.  At a time of economic crisis, it requires a leap of faith – something perhaps Italians manage more naturally than us.

I could say much more about my week in Padua – and probably will – but I wanted to share some initial impressions for now, as I unpack.  Just before going I decided to leave all my ‘technology’ at home and stick with notebook, pencil and camera.  It was the right decision, I think, allowing an undiluted immersion in the place so that now I have my own deep well to call upon when I come to write about it.  I’m sure I’ll also be talking more about my visit to this enchanting and important garden at my reading at Durham Book Festival on Sunday 29th October (in the Town Hall at 3.30pm).  I look forward to seeing some of you there.

Tagged , , , ,