Monday, 30 April 2012

What Is It We're Not Seeing?

The title of this post comes from Kathleen Jamie's book Sightlines, which is one of the best reading experiences I've had lately. The others are Rachel Boast's Sidereal Which I'm reading very slowly so I don't finish it too soon, and the new magazine Earthlines which is published by Two Ravens Press, and which is probably the most interesting and certainly the classiest magazine to be published this year. It is very beautifully produced with some great artwork (and word is that the next issue is going to be even better), and there is a wide range of earth-based writing in it, from the political to the anecdotal, the lyrical and evocative to the philosophical.

I don't want to do a proper review here - though I can haertily recommend it, if you're swithering. What I want to do is to muse a little about something that has gradually crept up on me during the time I've been thinking green thoughts.

It's about wildness. There seems to be a kind of Gothic craving for derelict ravaged and uncharted country, a demand for a world that is comfortless, if not savage, that defies hope and sentimentality, that likes to disappoint. And this brings to a head something I first thought back in the nineties, when there were people chained to trees to prevent motorways from being built. I'm not entirely sure that the green thing is about nature at all. There is something else going on.

Actually, there are quite a lot of things going on. Sometimes women turn to a caring mother nature because they are neglected in their personal lives. Sometimes men turn to nature so as to stick it to the man (back in the day, it was often, quite literally, their fathers). And of course, vice versa, because there are men who feel unfulfilled emotionally and women who need to take control of an appressive situation. Please note that I don't think that these are self-indulgent fantasies. People are addressing real and urgent needs in their political as well as their personal lives.

Then there are some people who look for experiences of wildness because it makes them feel privileged and special. It's a kind of gnosis, an initiation. It doesn't always follow that these people despise the barbarian hordes who don't have the same good luck, but sometimes they do - and sometimes they back it with the trappings of professionalism and expertise. Sometimes people are looking for peace and harmony, a sense of balance that is missing from industrial or urban life. And sometimes it is freedom to express a part of one's personality that civilised society doesn't accommodate very easily.

What we're not seeing, in all our rush to be green and eco-centric, is the long shadow we cast over what we are looking at. I really don't have a problem with said shadow. We cast it because we need to see it. We need to know it's there. But it's our shadow. We find it because we've brought it, as Sam says in The Lord of the Rings. We should probably be cautious about how we ascribe this stuff to nature.

I remain an eco-poet. I write about nature all the time, and I don't intend to stop any time soon. Perhaps I need to ask myself what I am projecting. What is it that I'm not seeing?

Sunday, 29 April 2012

The Week of Appleblossom

This isn't our appletree. It belongs to our next-door neighbour. We don't have fruit trees, which I think is a pity, but it's great for everyone else, because we are the ones you can give your surplus to, and we are very grateful. It's cherry blossom time too, and there's a whole avenue of pink frilly trees just across the river. They are right on time - thirty years ago tomorrow they were just like this the day we moved here from Edinburgh.

Yesterday we went to Inchmahome to look at the bluebells. It was just a bit too early for them,

but not for the violets.

There was an osprey too, circling over the Lake of Menteith, and the first swallows of the summer. I haven't seen any here yet - it's late for them and I expect the bad weather further south is holding them up.

Back here in the garden I've been catching up with the weeding and adding to the herb patch. There are some new plants of bergamot and sorrel, and the mint has has a makeover. In the greenhouse I've sowed marjoram, fennel, basil and coriander, as well as courgettes and pumpkins. It gets very warm in there, although outside the wind is cold and there was frost on the roof this morning.

In the fruit bush area, the gooseberries are setting and the strawberry plants are beginning to bulk up. I don't suppose there will be too much fruit this year, but they'll be gathering their strength for next summer.

Monday, 23 April 2012

the Week of New Leaves in the Territory of Rain

I didn't get out and about much last week, what with the showers and with not being very well.

While I was in the house, out in the territory, spring was getting busy. Almost all the trees are in leaf, that burning intense green (with undernotes of copper and yellow) that is almost a cure for all ills by itself. Only the ash and the beech are still lagging, and there are flower buds on the rowan and hawthorn and elder. This flower

makes its presence felt more and more along the river banks as well as in our pond, and the tulips are at their elegant best.

There's less success among the vegetables. There are shoots of early peas and potatoes, but there's no sign of carrts or beetroot, and the salads were no sooner up than they were eaten. There are birds nesting in all the hedges and shrubs, and while the blackbirds are sitting on eggs, the sparrows are feeding their first broods.

This last photo is one I took in our local Waterstones. Loads of people I know have gone in to see it really sitting there - between Rimbaud and Scott - so I hope someone buys it to make it worth the shop's while!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

A Gowk Storm

After the warm lovely days, came frost and snow and hail. Somehow, things kept on growing.

We had Easter with all our children and our grand-daughter.

Then several of us got sick. In the north-east, a sudden spell of harsh weather in spring is sometimes called a 'gowk (or cuckoo) storm'. When it's over you know that spring is established, and summer is on its way. The first apple blossom is happening now, and the avenue of ornamental cherries is just beginning to shake out its pink frills, but today the wind is in the east, and I spend time by the fire, waiting for my energy to come back.

Soon! Soon!

Wednesday, 4 April 2012



The curlew’s first spring song
rises from the mud, faint as river mist.
Like dragon-fly wings it strengthens,
brightens in the budding sun.

A bit late - it needed a bit of tidying up!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

The Week of the Butterflies in the Territory of Rain

This was a bad week for somewhere called the territory of rain. There hasn't been any for days, and in fact the sun has shone solidly. To be short, the spring has been wonderful! There are celandines

and cuckoo-flowers

We are having the first rhubarb in a crumble for dinner tonight, and there is blossom on the gooseberry bush.

The pear and plum blossom in the orchard is much more spectacular, but as it isn't my orchard, and in fact there are two other gardens between my desk and the view, so there won't be any pictures. It's what the more pretentious gardening books call borrowed landscape, but it is the only remaining remnant of the orchards for which our Abbey was famous, so I treasure it - and write about it rather a lot.

There are bees everywhere so the harvest should be wonderful, and the tadoles in the pond are hatching. I'm learning to identify individual bird songs in the racket in the garden - so far I can do blackbird, starling, thrush, robin, chaffinch, dunnock, wren, sparrow, blue tit and great tit - plus the obvious divas like oyster-catcher, curlew and skylark. And now I've listed them, I'm kind of impressed - it looks like a lot more than I thought!

But this week belongs to the butterflies. On Monday there was a peacock battering against my window, then two more feeding on the dandelions, and cabbage whites on the alkanet, and a tortoiseshell sunning itself on a neighbour's roof. This seems awfully early in the year. There's a ghost of a poem in the back of my pay saying "We'll pay for it, we'll pay for it, we'll pay for it!".