Monday, 26 November 2012

Thistle Rose and Shamrock

Thistle Rose and Shamrock was the name of a ceilidh band who played at barn dances in Liverpool in the seventies. They mixed English Scottish and Irish dances - even included a Welsh one or two now and then, and a good time was had by all. There were even a few weddings among the folk who were dancing (ahem!).

This time however, we are having a poetry reading to celebrate the reprints of my Wherever We Live Now, Anne Connolly's Love in a Mist and Sheila Wakefield's new chapbook Limerance. And we also have Richie McCaffery, Hazel Buchan Cameron and Chris Powici, so it should be a great night. It will happen in the very lovely Burgh coffe-house in Stirling, 13th December from 7 to 9pm, and everyone is most welcome.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

To Infinity and Beyond

A quiet week on the blog, life's complicated. And today we are being upgraded to infinity and beyond, so no internet access this morning. Back soon!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The Week When No Birds Sang

After going on for ages about how the birds have been all over the garden, eating us out of house and home and hawthorn berries, last week was eerily quiet. I topped up the feeders, and they stayed full for days, much to the chagrin of the woodpigeons, who depend on small birds to knock the seed down for them. I watched my neighbour's garden enviously - she is more efficient and more generous than I am, and her feeders are always busy, but no, her garden was empty too.

I did see the sparrowhawk a couple of times, and there's a grey squirrel and a couple of visiting cats, but they don't visit often enough, I'd have thought, to put all the birds off so completely. The fields are ploughed and the winter wheat is already sprouting, so they can't be in the stubble, and almost all the berries along the river have gone, so they can't have found alternative food sources. So where are they? and why have they gone?

I wondered if the birds I had seen were migratory, and they've just pushed on further south, ahead of the bad weather. I've never noticed this before, but maybe I should have. I was getting anxious, wondering about diseases or pollution that hadn't registered on the human scale. A silent spring didn't seem out of the question.

However, in the last day or two activity seems to have picked up. There are small flocks of starlings about now, and I can hear the cross 'ticking' sounds of blue tits in the hedges as I go out in the mornings. Either the sparrowhawk has moved on, and resident birds are more confident, or new arrivals from northern parts have arrived to fill the gaps. There are crows and magpies calling, and a robin territory-marking the garden from his post on the gate. Even trade on the feeders has picked up. Good.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

On Not Having a Dream

On the Lúcháir page, there's a heading Heart Mind and Spirit. In permaculture terms this area is known as Zone 00 (0 is your house, 1 is garden 2 is where you keep animals, 3 is arable crops 4 harvested woodland and 5 conservation open ground) or, sometimes, the 'controversial Zone 00'. Permaculture is an eminently practical discipline, and some folks just don't see the heart mind and spirit stuff as practical. I do. I wrote :

The more I go on the more it becomes obvious that redressing the ecological balance of our lives is not only a practical scientific or an economic task, but it is also social, psychological and most importantly, spiritual.

A permaculture design requires vision, and vision comes from the Zone 00 - your core of values, insights, desires and assumptions about life. And whether you articulate your vision through the prism of a faith community or thought system, it's there, like your own personal centre of gravity, and if you fail to understand it, stray too far from it or let it degrade to the point where it doen't sustain you, you are in for trouble.

Some times this shows itself in practical ways. If you bought your smallholding but have to pay for it by long office hours or a killer commute, you aren't going to be happy. If you come up with a brilliant resilience-building community project but have to implement corporate working practices and structures into your management so as to attract funding, people are going to be confused at best, alienated at worst. If you find a campaign you really believe in is being run by a rascist/ sexist/sectarian bigot, you are going to find yourself seriously conflicted about being involved.

Sometimes it results in waste of energy, frustration, anxiety, burnout, over-commitment, failure to reach goals or despair. We had a dream and couldn't achieve it, or, even worse, we did achieve it and the dream didn't deliver.

Lately, I had a radical thought. What if I didn't have a dream? It was aa bit scary. Not only is it disappointing - having a dream generates a lot of dopamine which is a)quite fun and b)what some of us rely on to get out of bed in the morning. How on earth could I structure my life (working from home, children grown up, husband working long hours) without the pull of the dream to give me the plan. (If you only knew how much time I spend on THE PLAN ---.)

Then something clicked into place. You don't always need the pull of the dream. You can work with the push of mindful experience. The first permaculture principle is 'observe and interact' and it applies just as much to Zone 00 as to all the rest. Don't start with what you want. Start with what you've got. What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Where is the fun? What feels like pushing at an open door? What feels like jumping off a cliff? Most instructive are the things that aren't working, or are horrendously difficult but you keep doing them anyway.

You notice patterns. In my own life it works like this:
Whatever I aspire to do, I default to writing, gardening, caring for my family, getting involved in social justice issues. Because that's what I really want to do. I work on a computer because it can adapt to my rapid-moving thought processes, and I use notebooks because they give me permanence and accountability. I don't drive because the process of learning would be miserable, expensive and unproductive. I write poetry because it works and not novels because they don't. I work from home although I often feel like a crow in a mist because I've developed a random and crazy way of working that won't happen without quiet.

You might call it 'reflection'. Our tradition calls it 'discernment', and there's a lot written about it, not all terrifically helpful. But in a world which looks increasingly as if it's being run by advertising people telling you to 'live the dream' so you'll buy stuff, watch stuff, believe stuff, I think it might be time to question the logic. You don't need a dream. You need a territory, and an orientation, and a permaculture design for your Zone 00.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The Week of the Maple Leaves

At the bottom of the road is a japanese maple outside a cottage (Maple Cottage, would you believe?). It is the last tree to change colour, and almost always the last tree to lose its leaves. But there's a very blustery westerly gale outside, and the leaves are coming off in bucketloads. This weekend I'll be gathering them to make leafmould for next winter, but for now I'm just marvelling at the difference in my perspective. The garden seems smaller now, and much more exposed - not just to the wind and rain, but to my neighbours and the people using the village hall behind our house. It doesn't bother me, as my neighbours are nice people, but it's very different.

The birds seem to feel differently about it too. The great spotted woodpecker which I first saw in the garden a fortnight ago, is much more conspicuous, and as there aren't so many places to shelter while you're eyeing up what's in the feeders, the sparrowhawk has begun to hang about in a meaningful manner. Fortunately our privet hedge is very thick and will keep its leaves over the winter, so the coal tits and sparrows are reasonably safe.

The blustery weather has brought in winter migrants. There was a fieldfare on the birch tree this morning and a flock of waxwings in the trees by the railway station yesterday, noisily finishing off all the cotoneaster berries. I hope they will find enough to keep them going. As far as I can see, only the hawthorn has anything like its usual crop. I can see myself putting out a lot of supplementary food over the winter.

In the human community, my family celebrated the christening of our youngest member, my great-neice Niamh, a very happy occasion which meant that there were more of us in one place than there has been for years. And now I am home, I am going through the submissions for the second issue of Stravaig. They look very promising so far! Submissions have closed and we hope to publish on-line in the new year, so watch this space.

Another space to watch. Art Angel Dundee are holding a fund-raising event this weekend. This is a brilliant project, producing some high class art as well as excellent results for their service users, so please, if you are in the area, pop in and see what's going on.