Sassenach Swallow

Migration notes from North to South and…….

Archive for the category “Midlife woman”

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!


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