Sassenach Swallow

Migration notes from North to South and…….

the spaces inbetween

sitting silently

doing nothing

spring comes

and the grass grows by itself

Matsuo Bash (1644-1694)


sunrise rothiemay

Between sunrise and sunset there is space.

Between each breath there is space.

I am interested in what we do with these spaces and why it is so beguiling to fill them. To fill all the spaces in  life with stuff.

I am perhaps and most probably a bit obsessive about this. I love simple rooms, empty walls, almost empty cupboards and only one of an item whether it be a cleaning product, shampoo or jar of pickle. Then to use that  item until it is finished… noticing the lack before replacing it.

Our shops buy into our insatiable desire to accumulate clutter… one more fragrant candle, coloured basket, ornament and tack that we  feel we need or feel the need to give to another!

Stuff takes up head space. Energy and time to accommodate. We are drowning in it.

It is interesting why we are apparently so cautious to allow time and space into our lives. Why doing is so much more beguiling than being. It seems that we find more interest in cleaning than in watching the light filter through the petals of the geranium on our windowsill. What us our ever present fear of emptiness – of nothingness, about?.

if we can be present in the silence, between the in-breath and the out-breath, holding the connection between our soul and the soul of the world, our body and the body of the Earth, then magic can happen – the real magic that belongs to the Creator and the creation.’ Llewellyn Vaughan- Lee

(Somehow in this quote, even the word ‘holding’ is too strong… ‘allowing’ might perhaps be better.)

‘Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing,

there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,

The world is too full to talk about. Rumi

 Maybe creating space is one of the most important things we can do. It is an insurmountable task to clear up the craziness  we have already created … our rivers are choked, our shorelines desecrated and our seas have islands of plastic. In buying more stuff we are encouraging the creation of yet another layer; we are buying into a system that is  destroying  us.

In the Utah desert last year, amidst the extraordinary silence, the startling blue of the sky above me was cross hatched all day and all night with aeroplane tracks. Even our  precious sky is compromised by our love of doing.

Not known, because not looked for 
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always–
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well…..

 TS Elliot, The Little Gidding


Sunset from the Suie Hill, Aberdeenshire. 10.15pm


the journey home….

The next day dawned bright and beautiful…

I set off down the hill

to greet the beauty

and bring her


now full of stories to be unravelled

songs to be sung and experiences

to be shared. My beauty

is back in the woods.

We journey



one wild life


The midlife role for women and men is under the hammer. What will we bid for a life, a resonating life that inspires,  rekindles purpose in our own lives and offers  something of value to our people as we age.

In one sense, we could be seen as an empty seed pod… in another  the possibility that this  well-honed vessel is a rich and resounding space for  deep listening, the sharing of  stories, empathetic exchanges  and creative outpourings. Less need to rush, to achieve, be noticed, more time perhaps to be.

How our world needs people who have come alive in this way.

To quote Kate Tempest as I heard her today, ‘ ..if you think you can listen well, listen harder! Seek out other people’s narratives, especially the ones we are not used to hearing…’

In order for me to access my creativity, to enable the seeds in my vessel to find fertile soil at this stage of my life, I know I need to wander in the natural world.

To this end I have taken time out and headed to my old home, the north east of Scotland. A treat in itself. Also, a necessity. I no longer know what my offering is in these challenging times. I have wrestled long and hard in the mainstream busy world to find it, to no avail. Following dream images, wise council and my need for clarity I open myself to the mystery of wind and wave, trees, earth and shoreline. Knowing their wisdom is waiting for me if I can stop long enough to hear it.

Today I rose at 5.15 and arrived at the coast for 6am. A wild wind and wilder sea bounds and leaps ashore, driven by an extraordinary energy. Scooping up sand, frothing and roaring I hear it before I see it… a crazy animal baying.

I layer up and retrieve a grey wool glove abandoned on the path. An instant gift indeed as my hands are already cold from carrying a big vessel…this vessel is fashioned from terracotta clay, rolled into coils forming the desired shape. She was then fired in a kiln, and packed in a dustbin with banana skins, coffee grounds and hard wood shavings, to simmer for a day and a night. Finally burnished with beeswax she is my first offering of which I am really proud.

Full of gifts now from her overnight vigil in the woods; bark of silver birch, skeleton leaves, feathers, elm seeds and curls of twig and nature we wind down a well-worn cart track to the shore.

I remember picnics here, swimming in icy pools, grubby children camping, blue lipped, teeth chattering and ecstatic faces shimmering with life. Canoes, skinny dipping and bonfires. Always bonfires with oddly assorted foods to roast and toast. Some days too hot to move days and others too cold to stay long days. This is one of them.

There is the fire pit, marked out with rocks and cradling some smashed Heineken bottles. I have paper and matches and then remember my flint and dry honeysuckle peelings in the car. Too late.

The wind roars cold; with zip zipped high and one hand blue I reflect that it is the merry month of May and a sun kissed balmy day is emerging ‘down there’ where I presently have a root. However, there is nowhere to be but here right now and nowhere I would rather be.

Hair torn back into a wild mass I climb a narrow sheep track up the side of the hillside. Wobbling and uncertain I perch on a tuft of grass and howl into the bowl as the wind howls in me, we howl and sing wildly together. Echoes roar back from the deep of all that is held within the dark space held in my arms. Coils of shining silver birch flutter and dance like butterflies escaping, the feather tremors as does my heart unsteadily perched as I am on this windswept scarp.

Round the top I meet the full force and cower behind a rock… retreating, wobbling back to the fire pit, singing all the while.

Then on, round the other side of the bay, up, up a slip of hoof worn earth teetering between two grassy clumps.

A new vista opens out; serried ranks of wild water beat a frothy tide up the wide beach beside a distant hamlet tucked in, shoulders side-on to the force.  Spume shrouds the detail but no matter, I know it well.

We descend into a sandy cove where calmer picnics are well ingrained. Chastised waters skirt the point and rush like eager children over the smooth wet sand toward me, dragging seaweed in their wake.

I lay the vessel in all her simple solidity and tender vulnerability in its course and watch the ebb and flow, the land and sea swirling in… both forming and shifting the other.

She tilts, her sparse garland of honeysuckle slips and like to a child, I run and rescue her. It’s not yet her time.

We sing our way round this second  bay along with the seagulls, danced by the wind.

At last, chilled and complete, here is the fire pit. Salt driftwood does not ignite easily. It groans, spits and protests before rumbling into flame thanks to a steady gust between the rocks. Skirting annihilation I add all my findings to the mix and then douse myself in the primal fragrance of smoke.

Suddenly it’s over. All energy gone the dogs get up to leave, all thought of rotting seabirds and rabbits forgotten. I am bemused. Lost. Curious as to what has happened.

Empty now we go to the highest spot, a look out post for all to see. And to be seen. I lay my beauty down in the grasses, and gaze one last time.

‘Fill her with your stories’ I shout to the wind.  ‘Don’t hold back! Don’t be frightened! I will be back tomorrow!’

‘Fill her with your stories!’

This is not the outcome I expected. I imagined throwing her into the sea, smashing her on the rocks and scattering her body parts, anything but this.

But as an artist, a follower of the truth, this is what I have to do. I leave the questions with her and climb back to the car and breakfast.

“I think it’s important to play closer attention, to look again, to recognise that you’re part of something much bigger than yourself…” Kate Tempest

What to do?

..For I am possessed of a tree,
Surpassing in beauty,
From whom I take occasion
To bless Almighty God…

apologies to Benjamin Britten

 At the end of my modest terrace garden is an enormous, thirty-year-old Horse Chestnut tree.

tree 2

She, for she must be a she, is resplendent in leaf and heavy with blossom as write. Thick creamy blooms stand tall on every branch. A magnificent display of over indulgent spring fever.

Wood-doos live in this tree along with probably a whole city of other creatures.  The former serenade us all day, bringing a welcome reminder of country life into our concrete world.

When I hang out my washing  I gaze up into her verdant heights and relish every twig, leaf and flower… such richness, such magnificence; she is indeed a joy.

I have to admit to you however, she is a very large tree and towers not just over my garden but several others as well. When a mere seedling she presumably gave little indication of her future immensity and was planted in good faith, or perhaps fortuitously, found a spot and took root, like her small sister, recently located hiding under a shrub.

Now the dilemma. My neighbours have had enough. No afternoon sun in their gardens. More leaves everywhere despite drastic pruning last summer. She has outgrown her welcome.

In their defence, come July, like most of her species, her leaves will begin to curl and rust; a somewhat bedraggled and sickly sight. Her leaves, already copious, now fall prematurely, in other people’s gardens!

Should she come down, that is the question? A very kind and desperate neighbour is prepared to pay for her demise…

However, a tree is a tree is a tree. A precious lung for our planet, home to myriad insect life and a giver of so much joy.

“…everything has a right to be recognised and revered. Trees have tree rights, insects have insect rights, rivers have river rights, and mountains have mountain rights.” (Thomas Berry, “The Great Work,” in The Great Work, 5).

So much power in my hands… I feel like an executioner.

“That the universe is a communion of subjects rather than a collection of objects is the central commitment of the Ecozoic. Existence itself is derived from and sustained by this intimacy of each being with every other being of the universe.” (Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, 243)


“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

the land – my heart

‘when I heard your whistling,  I sprouted into a leaf who longs to be rolled tight and smoked into your chest, where like a cloud I’d play like a young otter…’ Martin Prechtel, ‘The Disobedience of the Daughter of the Sun

How hard it is to land the body in a new environment.  I have been wrestling with urban living ever since I arrived south of the border… my heart endlessly aching for the hills and wild spaces of Scotland.

I am revisiting these pages to explore ways of reconnecting  – in my case with the land whilst living here on my street in Somerset.

In the past I have pontificated on the value of urban living as a wonderful opportunity to focus on nature  that is not necessarily  possible when overwhelmed by the magnitude of the natural world  when living amongst it.. ‘One tree observed through the seasons can be enough to keep our wild spirit alive’ I would say to any town dweller happy to listen. This homily was delivered from the bounty of the land I inhabited in the North East of Scotland. In truth I am sure that is the case, but I have since forgotten it. Until that is, recently.

Albert Camus in his book L’Etranger allows his character  to find his peace through a patch of blue sky just before his execution . ‘ We live as dead men.’  he also said…with most of us  not able or not willing to stop long enough to really see the world or each other.

Nan Sheperd in The Living Mountain writes, ‘ I knew when I had looked a long time that I had hardly begun to see.’  When up on the mountain, after hours of walking and watching, ‘ ..the eye sees what it didn’t see before, or sees in a new way what it had already seen.’

What wakes us up to these moments that can change our whole perspective on life?

The fundamental beauty of the minutiae is all around us.

I have been expanding my consciousness from siting on the woollen rug in my front room, to the sheep that wandered the land, the sky above them and grass they  grazed.  I am all these things  as I sit. Likewise in the spirit of Thich Nhat Hahn, when I eat a pear, I eat collective  pear-ness, all the sunshine that it carries and water that has given it life.

Suddenly the confines of my room fall away and I have wings.

From the land of Scotland I was clear about a theory but now I practice.

I listen to the wood doo on the roof opposite. I hear the traffic roaring up the road. I can focus on one or the other… allowing and not pushing away either.

Can  I find my way home to the wild in this urban land  where I have felt starved of big open spaces and dark skies?  Can the brisk winds of home be mine through what Geneen Haugen and Bill Plotkin refer to as Homo Imaginens?

Wild, open, dark, uninhabited  spaces are a luxury for all of us these days – for some, never to be experienced in the flesh.

However we do have wings that may as yet be unused… lets fly!


Spring has sprung in Ilminster

Spring has sprung in Ilminster!

2015-11-05 11.21.24The daffs are out, magnolia blooms and blossom studs the hedgerows like clouds of stars. I find all this incredible having spent so many Februarys battling wild weather north of the border. Sitting on my step eating lunch with warm sun penetrating my woolly layers, feels most unnatural.

The building project that Offspring One and I have been working on since last November is finally coming to a close; the end is in sight. I can now see a house I might like emerging from under the caul of plaster dust, possibly even a home!2015-11-09 15.30.54

It is 18 months since I packed up my beloved old burrow and headed south with a heart high with optimism and a spirit ready for new vistas.  It was however quite different from my imaginings.


I used to believe dear friends, that when you set yourself free on some adventure it would all be glorious, but take heed fellow travellers, that dream was quickly shattered for me!  It has been quite a struggle for this old goat to change her ways and homesickness still wracks me. However, all the experiences I have had, including this house malarky have taught me much and given me many gifts.

2016-02-29 07.38.27

the wee loon

I can now strip walls, ‘cork’ and paint like a pro…actually that is not quite true…. I am as rubbish at DIY as  I  was three months ago and rely heavily on my team of trusty helpers to carry me through! My best mates are in the builder’s merchants where I virtually live and I have gained half a stone in weight from an endless sandwich diet. The highs and lows of refurbishing a property have left me sleepless with anxiety, exhausted from hard labour and, I am sure, permanently impregnated with dust.  My hair urgently needs attention from Sarah at The Hair Shop in Alford!

The skip is abo2015-12-05 16.05.24ut to give way to tubs of flowers, the new windows that came on a pallet all the way from wonderful Matt Rae in Huntly, are all in place, the Morso stove roars contently on what must be a lifetime’s supply of scrap wood and startlingly white paint, not fake wood wallpaper, covers the walls!2016-02-18 13.28.12

Progress indeed!

Offspring One leaves on Friday to resume his summer work at Scarlett’s Garden Cafe then  Small Hound and I will  be left contemplating a room full of possessions that we have not needed for the last 18 months and most probably don’t need now. A daunting prospect. I might have to get yet another skip!

Sunshine helps however and my ever patient new neighbours will certainly be relieved to return from their holidays to find  the third overflowing skip gone, the  hammering, banging, drilling and relentless beat of Radio One ceased and peace  restored  to their quiet street.

2016-01-18 21.04.22

2016-01-28 11.44.48

the  lining goes down.. with difficulty!

So, the swallow has landed, for the moment. The nest is almost built, the unpacking begun and somehow life will go on. Scotland will never be forgotten and even as I write my next visit is being planned. Before April can fool me I will be heading up through Cumbria with massage couch in tow and yoga mats in the boot to the open roads, wide spaces and clear light of the place I love best in the world, a place peopled with beloveds that I am sure that will always be called home. I hope to see you there!



2016-02-29 21.07.26-1

from here you cannot see the long list of ‘snags’ yet to be sorted… ie. the plasterer comes tomorrow!

Summers Passing

This tiny wee lad has joined our clan! Our sixth grandson and at only two weeks old he has already beguiled us all! Welcome little Francis!


‘..and we are put on Earth a little space,

That we may learn to bear the beams of love.’

William Blake

Bella, my gorgeous granddaughter however  still reigns supreme over all these young bruisers…some of whom are already taller than me!

There has been much ‘clucking’ at Scarlett’s Garden cafe these last few weeks as you can well imagine. Loads of surrogate grannies have been waiting expectantly (!) , needles clacking for weeks and weeks! Not least this one but without the needles….!

The ‘twigs’ for the nursery have been slowly gathering over the summer and Daughter in Law One is now very happily ensconced with the little man in a beautiful bower attended on by doting Dad and a stream of delighted visitors!

The cafe garden needs less attention as  summer is withdrawing so I have been gadding about recklessly before my immanently more settled life pegs me down. Work, commitments and bills are peering over the horizon in an ominous fashion but for the present I am still eking out the last vestiges of my sabbatical for as long as dare…and mourning the swallows as they move on without me.

Loaded up with tent and chattels, Dartmoor and my Wild Wise family have been the prime attraction.

The Day Millicent Found the World
William Stafford

Every morning Millicent ventured farther
into the woods. At first she stayed
near light, the edge where bushes grew, where
her way back appeared in glimpses among
dark trunks behind her. Then by farther paths
or openings where giant pines had fallen
she explored ever deeper into
the interior, till one day she stood under a great
dome among columns, the heart of the forest, and knew:
Lost. She had achieved a mysterious world
where any direction would yield only surprise.

And now not only the giant trees were strange
but the ground at her feet had a velvet nearness;
intricate lines on bark wove messages all
around her. Long strokes of golden sunlight
shifted over her feet and hands. She felt
caught up and breathing in a great powerful embrace.
A birdcall wandered forth at leisurely intervals
from an opening on her right: “Come away, Come away.”
Never before had she let herself realize
that she was part of the world and that it would follow
Wherever she went. She was part of its breath.

Aunt Dolbee called her back that time, a high
voice tapering faintly among the farthest trees,
Milli-cent! Milli-cent! And that time she returned,
but slowly, her dress fluttering along pressing
back branches, her feet stirring up the dark smell
of moss, and her face floating forward, a stranger’s
face now, with a new depth in it, into the light.

Thanks to the initiations of weekends on the moor I can now sleep like the dead through raging storms, run through the darkening woods at night unperturbed and have found my Story Telling voice. Campfire councils should, yes really should be mainstream for all ages.

And as for a Medecine Walk…..’When I stand in the thrumming darkness and look up at the startling stars I know i am truly alive. Walking towards the campfire in the pre dawn glow I discern my friends in thoughtful reverie, siloueted  round the early flames – hugging steaming mugs and breathing smoke. We head off individually shortly after into the dewy chill where moon sized cobwebs scintilate as the sun clips the horison revealing filigrees of pearls. I sit back to back with Scots Pine who reveals her secrets to me when i become still.’

if you move carefully
through the forest
like the ones
in the old stories
who could cross
a shimmering bed of dry leaves
without a sound,
you come
to a place
whose only task
is to trouble you
with tiny
but frightening requests
conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.
requests to stop what
you are doing right now,
to stop what you
are becoming
while you do it,
that can make
or unmake
a life,
that have patiently
waited for you,
questions that have no right
to go away.
— David Whyte
from Everything is Waiting for You
©2007 Many Rivers Press

Somewhat shamefully I delight in remaining unwashed for days and being barefoot at every opportunity….we have in fact, discovered our feral nature. Always one for woodsmoke and foraging, now its part of the life I breathe… Its coming back to the world that’s the tricky bit…Even Small Hound is a camping Hound now!

I watch amazed as children are urged to ‘eat nicely’ or sit for hours in chairs when in truth, lying in tall grasses watching butterflies, snuggling down under the stars or eating with ones hands is so beguiling. I know there is a happy balance but it would be a tragedy never to have experienced the land as lover, the world as animate ‘ and there for us to be free in’. Thank you…David Whyte. I fear that many people today never get this opportunity or would not even want to if they did.

Our most recent weekend was extended for some by a few days thanks to the visit of Bill Plotkin and Geneen Marie Haugen who came to Schumacher College for Coming Home to the Animate World.

I tell you, this was life changing stuff and if you haven’t read Soul Craft, Bill’s book, you are in for a treat! Spending time at Schumacher College is also life changing having been co- founded by Satish Kumar of Resurgence fame; everyone works, studies and contributes to most aspects of running the college as a community. It attracts leaders in their field from around the world who recognise here the opportunity to expand horizons and create sustainable methodologies for our time.

The River Dart snakes around Dartington and its depths and stillness have a special quality; attracting heaps of families who picnic and swim in its dark smooth waters.In fact all the rivers round here have had kids leaping and plunging into their warm pools on hot days…its a joy to see. Summer as it can be but sadly soon to come to an end as coats are appearing among the flip flops and sometimes it’s chilly enough for a fire at night.

The Sussex loons need a granny this week as Offspring Two is also off gadding. Here the hedgerows are black with sloes and small blue plums; they resonate with the tick tick tick of wrens and startled blackbirds. The early morning windows are rimmed with white condensation as the nights cool and oh that fire feels delicious in the evening. The early dawn has a deep silence which takes me back to childhood  mornings on the Downs but it soon disipates with the light and distant roar of traffic. The persistant rain has left the clay fields swamps…..

Back to the West next week to settle some more twigs, this time in Ilminster. It still feels odd to be ‘settling ‘ in England but Grannies are useful at times and I need to land somewhere for a while. But not for long. I have felt the wind under my wings…….

Once we get the keys to this new burrow  I will be ably assisted in this flitting and decorating business by Offspring One whose winter occupation it is to undertake tasks such as this……I am very fortunate as he is also very experienced at placating demanding old wifies!.

I will be wielding paint brushes and navigating ladders alongside him in between forging work connections round about. The former is not my forte as anyone who knows me knows….. It always amazes me that paint can spread so far so fast….However needs must!

Time will tell whether this is a long term pause or just a pausette but my guess is that the dark skies, wide empty roads and breathlessly beautiful land up north with draw me home before long as it always does. How could it not? My heart never ceases to beat with the call of the seals at Findhorn, the curlew on the hills in Glass and feel the Correen slate under my feet in Clatt. Sassenach by birth but swallow by inclination, and swallows always return home.

Revelation Must Be Terrible
Revelation must be
terrible with no time left
to say goodbye.
Imagine that moment
staring at the still waters
with only the brief tremor
of your body to say
you are leaving everything
and everyone you know behind.
Being far from home is hard, but you know,
at least we are exiled together.
When you open your eyes to the world
you are on your own for
the first time. No one is
even interested in saving you now
and the world steps in
to test the calm fluidity of your body
from moment to moment
as if it believed you could join
its vibrant dance
of fire and calmness and final stillness.
As if you were meant to be exactly
where you are, as if
like the dark branch of a desert river
you could flow on without a speck
of guilt and everything
everywhere would still be just as it should be.
As if your place in the world mattered
and the world could
neither speak nor hear the fullness of
its own bitter and beautiful cry
without the deep well
of your body resonating in the echo.
Knowing that it takes only
that one, terrible
word to make the circle complete,
revelation must be terrible
knowing you can
never hide your voice again.

— David Whyte
from Fire in the Earth
©1992 Many Rivers Press

Onward and Upward

Onward and Upward.

I am a pawn in a bigger game.

Having set myself free from the banks of my old life I can now respond with greater ease to pebbles, stones or small rocks tossed into my river…any alteration to its course by default offers a new opportunity. Pebbles there have been plenty and rocks too.  Wild and Interesting adventures have followed in their wake!

‘What you can plan is too small for you to live’

David Whyte

Six sunny months in this verdant suburb are now drawing to a close. Chased by planners and bulldozers intent on creating social housing outside my door where farmland  flourished only a few decades ago – it’s time to move on.

I have grown so fond of all that is here – the pond with its swans- the people and winding path through the meadow that leads to a fabulous pool, the regular whistle of the train that marks my days. And of course proximity to Waitrose!

“to live in this world
you must be able
to do three things
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go”

Mary Oliver

Crossing the M5 and leaving the enclave of the West Country proper, I will be heading for the small market town of Ilminster. If I am not gazumped that is! The English house buyers hazard. There the Minster bell tolls in the stillness of night, the conservation town  thrives with its independent shops and happenings happen.

Grandchildren need a granny. Small Hound needs a garden, not a patch on a path. I need a pausing place before I  turn my head for the hills. Meantime, can I live without skylarks?

The sun glints off the apple tree outside my window, laden with fruit – the hedges and grasses stand apparently oblivious they are to become a car park… or do they know their fate?

Feeding swallows twitter on the wires – the gathering sound of autumn. Already the hedgerows are thick with blackberries waiting for jam. Do they know their fate?

My terraced house, seen only once will surely open its blue door to me – but I do not know what it offers. A sea of roof tops held in a circle of hills, drop away from new garden. They have a certain charm but will be a new experience. So will the ‘goat’ track down the steep hill to the arts centre, theatre and cinema. All a far cry from the Scots pine and silence that greeted my waking every day for years.

The hum of traffic is part of life here…sometimes a roar, but on occasions when in the cleft of a hill, or sheltered by trees, a deep silence.  The sunshine and warm air however, are beguiling. I still chase the sun like a true northerner…. starved of it for decades!

I mourn daily the dark spaces and bright skies of Clatt…. and my friends. Old friends can never be replaced.

But Hermann Hesse has the last word.

As every flower fades and as all youth
Departs, so life at every stage,
So every virtue, so our grasp of truth,
Blooms in its day and may not last forever.
Since life may summon us at every age
Be ready, heart, for parting, new endeavor,
Be ready bravely and without remorse
To find new light that old ties cannot give.
In all beginnings dwells a magic force
For guarding us and helping us to live.
Serenely let us move to distant places
And let no sentiments of home detain us.

The Cosmic Spirit seeks not to restrain us
But lifts us stage by stage to wider spaces.
If we accept a home of our own making,
Familiar habit makes for indolence.
We must prepare for parting and leave-taking
Or else remain the slave of permanence.
Even the hour of our death may send
Us speeding on to fresh and newer spaces,
And life may summon us to newer races.
So be it, heart: bid farewell without end.

Call to the Wild

Summer was like your house; you knew
Where each thing stood.
Now you must go out into your heart
As onto a vast plain. Now
The immense loneliness begins.
The days go numb, the wind
Sucks the the world from your senses like withered leaves.

Through the empty branches the sky remains.
It is what you have.
Be earth now, and evensong.
Be the ground lying under that sky.
Be modest now, like a thing
Ripened until it is real,
So that he who began it all
Can feel you when he reaches for you.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Elderflowers jostle in clotted cream clumps. Every hedgerow and field border are thick with them.

Not only is the sun shining but the air is warm here now and beguiles me with the ease it offers; inside is outside and outside is inside and habitually layered garments now lie abandoned on chair backs and fence posts.

I feel positively guilty at the pleasure of it when I think of my beloved homeland, north of the border still battered by the bleaching north winds that used to tear at my lungs, crisp, clean and delicious.

Not withstanding that, summer is summer and for the first time in years shorts and summer dresses have been dragged from bags under the bed. The Small Hound seeks shade and bowls of water are offered everywhere for dogs.

Rarely is there a brisk blue sky. Mottled clouds span the horizons and the southern haze contains the warmth close to the land. The puddles are cracking and my beans look very sick in their pots. I am not accustomed to container gardening and feel lost for a solution….

Last weekend I was on Dartmoor. The landscape there is very jaunty; it bounces along, up and down, in and out with each ‘up’ offering extraordinary glimpses of deep valleys, dairy cows grazing knee deep and startlingly bright trees. The memory of Postman Pat in his little red van is clear in my head as I head down to Moor Barton and the Call to the Wild camp.

Turning off the road and down the track into shady woodland I am surprised that dartmoor is not all moorland as I had expected. ‘One thing I wont be able to cope with is midges’ I announce to my companions’. The first person we meet is literally covered in midge bites…..and proceeds to attract every tick around. The other nineteen of us however remain almost unscathed! Phew!

The weekend proceeds in a relaxed way, so relaxed that it is easy to underestimate how much we are learning. Wild food appears in tantalising dishes, loads of it, new tasks are mastered and no one bats an eyelid at crawling from their sleeping bag at 3.30 am to hear the dawn chorus,heralded by a solitary Robin ( the Redstart slept in!). This must be because the Night Jars were spellbinding last night as they swept the trees like over fed bats.

By Monday, porridge for twenty cooked over an open fire is a breeze; who needs matches?!

I am unexpectedly part of a ‘village’ community (as advocated by Stephen Jenkinson in his magnificent book Die Wise); a new experience. All ages, all backgrounds and cultures working and learning together, close to the earth. We are as close as brothers and this is only weekend two. Four more to go. With Bill Plotkin’s book Soul Craft as my constant I feel privileged and amazed to be here at this time, this timely time of creating new paradigms for being alive and ageing without regrets.

‘our calling is where our deepest gladness and the world’s hunger meet’ Frederich Buchner

Our farewells are warm and heartfelt. The outside world is calling so we scatter to trains and buses and unanimously wait with impatience for our next gathering.


“You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
Except the one in which you belong.”
― David Whyte

Summer Salad

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”

The fields are star spangled with buttercups. Hovering in a sunny haze as far as I can see. In Scotland last week the gorse was like a thick river of butter marking out fields and smudging the hills but here the hedges tumble with pink campion, cow parsley, bugles and vetches often making each walk a navigational hazard. The Small Hound returns not only ‘clarted’ in cow pats thanks to the dairy industry but red with mud and sometimes snaking cleavers.

imageIt comes to me that we do not need to garden. ( well not much!) The land lives through us. Celebrating its abundance by foraging is a magical way forward… Not necessarily to be taken up full time in the north east of Scotland but in sunny Somerset…well? There are certainly delicious alternatives to buying ageing salad in a vacuum bag.

Offspring Two has been walking me through the verdant landscape of Sussex and reminding me of the bounty right there, here, under my nose! To name but a few that are available in May….

Alexanders, Bistort, Burdock Leaves, Carragheen, Chives, Common Comfrey, Dandelion Flowers, Fairy Ring Champignon, Fat Hen, Good King Henry, Goosegrass, Gorse Flowers, Hawthorn Leaves, Hop Shoots, Lime Leaves, Lobster, Milk Thistle, Morel, Nettle, Pollack, Ramsons, Rock Samphire, Sea Beet, Sea Purslane, Silverweed, St George’s Mushroom, Sorrel, Sweet Cicely, Sweet Violet, Tansy Leaves, Watercress, Wild Chicory, Wild Fennel, Wild Mint, Wild Rocket Leaves,

Jack by the Hedge is so delicious and just pouring out out of the hedgerows in Somerset; a salad as you walk! Maybe we could take up grazing as a way of sustainable living….’ Pick as you go’!



Cleavers are so enthusiastic to be lightly steamed with butter that they volunteer to come home with us as The Small Hound has discovered. Hawthorn leaves beg to be pulled as you pass and wild sorrel carpets the woods.

Wild garlic and nettle are a bit tough now but had their time, but can make do with plantain and good king henry, fabulous alternatives.

So, death by the sword to country folk who darken the chill cabinets of supermarkets for their greens!

The Small Hound is on lead arrest. She has been so well trained to scatter cats from my garden back home that old habits die hard….. She has voluntarily taken charge of the task for everyones garden in our little row… a full time job and not popular. There is a cat on every wall, and another peering round every corner. If they didn’t run things would be different! No more the frantic scratch of nails on the path as she tears past.

Notice has been posted of the demolition of the abandoned houses across the green space in front of our house. Once a garden it is studded with apple trees but will soon be a car park. We will be enclosed by a tide of new bungalows and social housing. I do not fancy living on a building site so the swallow will migrate again at the end of the summer.


“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”

Mary Oliver

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