Friday, 3 July 2020

I have just finished reading: THE LIVING STONES by: (www.Ithellcolquhoun)

artist, poet, dancer, playwright and magician, Ithell Colquhoun; she regarded all these artistic practices as being related to her quest to connect with the sacred landscape and its wild things.  Ithell felt a profound kinship with the Cornish countryside, revering in the life force there, opening herself to the shifting of the 'landscape veil' to awaken to another-dimensional, experiencing the spirits of the valley and its magic.
In the Lamora Valley she identified with 'every leaf and pebble' and its caves, stone circles and holy wells.  She lived a simple life in a corrugated iron hut, painting and writing, in touch with her wild side, thriving on the 'valley of streams and moon-leaves, wet scents and all that cries with an owl's voice, all that flies with bat's wing.'
She was truly an inspiring woman who walked Wild Ways.  

Tuesday, 30 June 2020


‘We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness’.

Thich Nhat Hanh

The earth warms.  Days lengthen.  Leave uncurl and unfurl.  Buds burst.  Birds nest. 

 Frogs spawn.  Bees buzz.  Butterflies flutter.  Flowers bloom.  As the poet Gerald

Hopkins said: ‘Nothing is so beautiful as spring.’  Yet, spring, 2020, has arrived with a



Covid-19 pandemic.  Lockdown.     Self isolation.  Self distancing.  Sirens.  Bats.  Fines. 

Key workers.  No workers.  PPE.  A& E.  BBC.  Keep Safe.  Stay home.  Protect the

NHS.  Safe Lives.  Antibodies.  No bodies.  Virtual hugs.  Nasty bugs.  Front room. 

Zoom.  Universal Credit.  Furlough.  Pangolins.  Swabs.  Temporary morgues.  NHS

heroes.  Green space.  No space.  Care home.  No home. Trauma.  Testing.  PCR.  DNA.  

Children’s rainbows.  Nightingale hospitals.  Crisis.  Queues.  Charts and updates.  

Clapping carers.  Death toll rising day by day.  Waiting for the peak.  The plateau. 

While goats roam the streets of Landudno.  Deer swim in the Bay Of Biscay. Comorants

 dive in the clear waters of Venice canals.  And whales play in the sea near Marseille.  We

are in an apocalyptic film, a surreal painting, a new reality.


Locked in we tune into digital platforms: live streaming, images, and video blogs to

experience the natural world in all its glory.  Why are we experiencing this spring more

vividly?  Why is it the natural world resonating with us so profoundly in this time?   

As the World Health Organisation says, walking in green spaces improves wellbeing and

helps in the treatment of mental illness.  People who walk in the natural world are less

likely to report psychological distress.  A room with a view is proven to aid recovery. 

Being in the countryside reduces blood pressure, heart rate and the production of stress

hormones, which aids concentration, lifts mood, enhances self-esteem and combats

depression.  We know all of these things.  Most of us take time out to go to parks,

gardens and/or the countryside.  The Romantic poet William Wordsworth took a daily

bathe in nature, as he called it.  Yet, urgent biophilia is something else…


Urgent biophilia is what is happening right now.  It’s a term coined by ecologist Keith

Tidball to express the intense need humans have to connect with the natural world

at times of trauma and crisis.  Many people report experiencing an instinctive urge to sow

seeds and tend plants;  it’s about communion, awakening, rebalancing.  Connecting

with nature is life affirming.  During the 1st World War soldiers created flower gardens in

the trenches.  It is no surprise that after Hurricane Sandy, 2012, the residents of Beach 

41st Street NY worked to restore gardens as a process of restoring themselves; plants are

 an expression of survival and rebirth. 


Nothing in the world is single/All things by a law divine/In one spirit meet and

 mingle/Why not I with thine’. 

Percy Shelley


‘The first rule of ecology: everything is connected to everything else’. 

Robert MacFarlane


 If Covid-19 has shown us anything, it’s shown us we’re not in control.  The planet is a  

complex, finely balanced web of interconnections.  Everything is related to everything

else, even you and me.  Nothing is separate.  Everything has its own integral part to play. 

If something is taken away everything shifts. 


As the UN’s environmental chief, Inger Andersen points out, to not take care of the

planet is to not take care of ourselves.  She stresses our immediate priority is to protect

people from Covi-19 and prevent its spread.  We’re all in agreement there.  But our long

term response?   She says, we must tackle habitat and biodiversity loss.  Absolutely, it’s a

subject close to my heart. 


When I first moved to Haslington, Cheshire, it was a biodiversity hotspot.  That changed

when the developers muscled in with their diggers and chainsaws.  Within weeks land

was gobbled up.  Trees were uprooted.  Streams damned.  Fields churned into piles of

earth.   Barns converted.  Estates built.  Habitats trashed.  Traffic roared along the new

 bypass.  Like a bad magic trick the biodiversity hotspot was (almost) gone.  Where I once

 walked over fields there were office blocks, a bank, health club, hotel and restaurant: 

 Lunch In 15 Minutes-That’s our promise


Wildlife has lost precious countryside it needs to live and survive.  Granted, a small

patch was reclaimed, a designated conservation space, but there are signs telling

visitors to keep to prescribed paths and to look carefully for the wildlife: oh, the irony. 

There are rustic picnic tables and benches, bird boxes and an ornamental pond.  All very

worthy, but it is a contrived environment.  Despite its attempts to be welcoming, it is a

place of rules and regulations, a place of control.  


 The English writer and poet, D.H. Lawrence (1885-1830) believed there is a life-flame

 wreathing through the cosmos, which renews all living things, and the purpose of life is

 to attain mystical union with the world.  When people lose their contact with the ‘eternal

 life-flame’ things go wrong he wrote in his essay The Real Thing.  Most of Lawrence’s

 books are critical of modern life and growing materialism, claiming people were

 becoming alienated from their selves and the natural world.   Nothing has changed.  So,

 now isn’t it time for a new beginning, a new way of living, time for real change? 


 The American author and scientist Aldo Leopold claims: ‘We can only be ethical in

 relation to something that we can feel, understand, love or otherwise have faith in’.

 This spring aren’t we proving to ourselves that we love and have faith in the natural

 world?   When all this is over, do you agree, it’s important to remember the solace nature

has given us?  It is giving me.


The old chestnut: there are lessons to be learned springs to mind.  What meaning and

construction can we learn from this destruction?  What needs to change?   Human beings. 

We are no more important than any other species.


Despite our anxiety, isn’t the land waking up in all its splendour, reminding us that the

world will carry on and we need to preserve this thing called life for generations to come? 

‘People protect what they love’, said the French conservationist, Jacques Cousteau.  Who

wouldn’t agree with that nugget of wisdom?   So, let’s not forget the love we have for the

natural world during this challenging time when the pace of our lives picks up again. 

Hopefully you’ll agree the natural world is soothing us, sustaining us, filling us with

wonder and hope.  It is here for us in our hour of need.


The late Polly Higgins was building on her professional experience as a barrister, in

2010, when she presented to the United Nations, her proposal for ecocide to become an

 international crime: 

‘What is required is an expansion of our collective duty of care to protect the natural

world and all life.’  All life: trees, rivers, mountains have a right to ‘exist, flourish and

 naturally evolve’. 

 Following her death, author and activist, Naomi Klein tweeted: ‘Her work will live on’. 

 And I strongly believe: ‘It’s our collective duty of care’ to see that it does.  As Michael

 McCarthy wrote in Moths, the bond we share with nature ‘is at the very heart of what it

 means to be human; that the natural world where we evolved is no mere background, but

 at the deepest psychological level it remains our home.’



Earth warms, days lengthen

Birds nest, frogs spawn

Bees buzz, buds burst

Flowers bloom, full moon

Butterflies flutter, people mutter






Spring 2020



Apocalyptic film

Surreal painting

New reality

Isolation, cabin fever

Long distance, no distance

Sirens, fines

PPE, A & E

BBC, Keep safe

Stay home, protect the NHS

Save lives

Key workers, no workers

Pangolins, bats

Antibodies, no bodies

Virtual hugs, nasty bugs

Front room, Zoom

Universal credit, furlough

Hospitals, morgues

Mental health matters

Trauma, crisis

Swabs, testing


Urgent biophilia

Peak, plateau

NHS heroes, clap carers


Green space, no space

Mansions, flats

Charts, Updates

Care home, no home

Death toll rising day by day

Bay Of Biscay, deer swim

Goats roam, far from home

whales play, Sea of Marseille








New beginning, New Living

Time For Change

Time to live

Wild Ways

Monday, 29 June 2020


I have nearly completed a novella, WILD WAYS which is about a woman, a storyteller, who had become sanitized living in the city. With her partner, Jack and their small daughter, Bel, she returns to the small, stone cottage of her dreams.  Here they live happily for three years.  She gets back in touch with her wildness within and recovers her powers of story telling which disappeared when she became over-domesticated in the city.  Here is a short extract about a night she spends with a vixen...

Something woke me in the dead of night.  I sat up.  A scent of musk: glandular, strangely sensual,

drifting through the open window.   And when I looked, she was there, standing in a pool of

moonlight.  Her amber eyes met mine awakening something inside me.

Outside, the vixen pointed her muzzle into the air.  Adrenalin flooded my body.  She spun in a circle,

her pelt catching spears of moonlight, glanced haughtily over her shoulder barking, as if to say:

‘Follow me!’

So, I did.

The morning ghosted in green as we trotted between oak trees following a track long forgotten.  A

faint line through tall grass, a desire path, another way from here to there.   A place of vibrating

energy, half-forgotten things, other-dimensional.  I stopped to quench my thirst at the stream.

Foraging for insects and earthworms, sniffing the air: bark, sap, mulch.  My nose twitched.  My ears

pricked.  The fur lifted along my spine.  As I dropped to my haunches, leapt a long leap.  A flurry of

leaf litter.  The excitement and fear a tangible taste on my tongue.  A squeal as I bit down hard on

the rabbit’s neck, twisting it this way and that, slurping hot blood.  A savage snapping.  I tore its head

clean off, cracked its skull with my molars.  Gorging richly on its brain, slashing its chest, tearing the

soft belly, spilling blubbery ropes of purple and blue, scarlet too.  I gobbled it all up, then delicately

licked myself clean.

Satiated, I curled under the roots of an oak tree, smelling acorns and leaves, the malty earth.  A

clean, cold calm penetrated my bones.  As I felt a presence far bigger than me, one which endured in

my memory.  I blinked.  The vixen on her paws, flicked her brush.   In a flash she was off.   Flickers of rust-red ignited by cloud breaks.  And I watched her, until she disappeared deep into the forest like a mystery.

Friday, 20 September 2019


  ‘Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.’ Albert Camus

Autumn arrives at La Paperie.  It’s a time when the wildlife stock up on berries and nuts for the winter ahead.  Days are mellow, honey and marmalade shades.  Drained by the summer, the leaves are turning red and yellow and orange, breaking down nutrients such as the chlorophyll which they use for photosynthesis. 

Most mornings, I walk alongside the tall stone wall, through the cottage gates, past the rectory, up the hill along Rue de Tieulle lined with lime trees.  Bird song fills the air.  There is a silver-gold cast to the sky now colouring pastel crayon shades on the horizon: grey, pink and orange.  The air is scented with mulch and wood smoke.  I pass the maternelle, towards the church with its high stained-glass windows, recalling the flowers in spring and summer that dotted the lane.  Now the hedge rows are studded with berries which glisten like jewels: elderberries, rowan berries, rosehips and blackberries ‘glossy purple clots’ wrote the poet Seamus Heaney. 

However, today, I am sitting on the sun terrace, watching a flock of starlings rise from the damp grass and swerve in the pale blue sky, wispy with clouds: peach and rose and pearly white.  Swallows twitter in the eaves preparing to make their departure to warmer climes.  Dappled light falls through the boughs of the fruit trees which hang heavy with baubles of red and gold and green apples, purple damsons and speckled pears.   Spiders’ webs are slung along the hedgerow, suspended beneath bushes. Peacock butterflies, painted ladies, swallow tails and red admirals settled on the thistles. I sweep the grasses aside as I walk down the path, past the water pump and lean-to stacked with logs and the wooden shack, to the bottom of the garden, where I look towards the valley where thick mist has collected like clotted cream in a deep green bowl. 

The apples are ready for harvesting.  The Bramley apple tree is my favourite tree in the garden.  I know it intimately: what year it gave the best harvest, when it had powdery mildew, which animals and birds and insects live in its branches.  When Min was a child, it was a place to hide in, climb up, swing from, build a den in and camp under.  We made pies in the kitchen, the scent of apples and sugar and cinnamon mingling and drifting into the salon.  And now, many years later, in my mind’s eye, I see Min and I gathering windfalls, taking care not to get stung as bees buzz lazily, settling on the fruit.  We put the bruised ones on the compost heap.  Next we harvest the rosy-red, green and gold fruit from the lower branches, placing our cupped hands under each apple, gently twisting, so that they come away easily. 

Henry David Thoreau wrote in Wild Fruits ‘The value of these fruits is not in the mere possession or eating them, but in the sight and enjoyment of them.’  As he said, the word fruit comes from the Latin, fructus, meaning, ‘that which is used or enjoyed.’  In the shed we wipe each apple with a cloth and wrap them in royal-blue tissue paper with great care, as if they are bone-china or semi- precious stones.  We store them in wooden crates so they will last us through the long, cold months to come. 

Monday, 26 August 2019



Today there’s an exhausted summer sultry feel to the August ‘dog-day’, so named for Sirius, the Dog Star, which at this time of year, rises and sets with the sun.  There are three rabbits in the garden; one is grooming its face the other two are grazing on grass blond as ripe wheat.  A robin is singing in the hedge.  The elderberries are dripping almost black.  

I hear the Pic de la Pluie call of a green woodpecker, said to for-tell a storm, although there aren’t any clouds in the drum-tight blue sky.  A combine harvester is making its way steadily across a field dotted with bales of hay. 

Later, in the evening, Dave and I watch the tractors, their headlights filling the lane with beams of butter-yellow light, going up and down the lane, past La Paperie, harvesting the hay.  As the evening passes, the air becomes muggy.  Tension is building. I have a headache.  I go upstairs and open the windows as far as the latches allow, but I can’t get any cool air in the room.  Then I feel the air shift around me.  A change is coming.    A crack of thunder swiftly followed by a great fork of lightning.  Fat spots of rain.

The next day, everywhere is washed clean.  Mornings are cooler now and the valley is often filled with mist like cream in a deep-green bowl.  There is the plaintive song of a robin in the hedge.  There are clusters of fungi and the scent of slow, sweet decay. The swallows and house martins gather on the telegraph lines in the village.

We will be packing up soon to return to the UK.  I don’t want to go.  The Welsh poets use the word ‘hiraeth’ which means an anguished sense of separation from the landscape one knows and loves, a condition more intense than ‘homesickness’.  It is a sickness.  And the only cure is to return home.  And yet, for the moment, I am at home.  There is no where else I would rather be.

I glimpse tiny twists of lilac-blue tissue catching on grasses: harebells.  Harebells, like swallows, are a symbol of hope.  As Christina Rossseti wrote : ‘Hope is like a harebell/trembling from birth’.  As folklore has it, witches used juices squeezed from the flowers to turn themselves into hares.  Small clumps of frail flowers flickering on wire-thin stems, a last flare of life: bittersweet, signalling the departure of summer and the arrival of autumn.

Friday, 9 August 2019

SUMMER: MOTHER: Lammas: end of July beginning of August

Lammas is the festival of feasting, celebrating the beginning of the harvest season.  It is when the moon is full.  The time of year when energy is at its height when life is fruitful.  A time which is symbolic with motherhood, when the body is fertile like the landscape. Pregnant women don’t menstruate, historically it was presumed their blood was occupied with the female miracle: a new life.  Ancient Hindu scriptures declared that a mother should be honoured far more than a father because she bears, nurtures and teachers a child.  According to Egyptian belief the life-giving devotion of the mother was the quality that united the human mother with the Divine Mother who gave birth to the universe and all its goddesses, those representing Mother: Greek: Leto, Celtic: Danu and Badb.

August is the peak month for butterflies, and moths and bumble bees, a time when nectar is in profusion. Meadow brown butterflies dance above the grass.  On their forewings they have two prominent ‘eyes’ to trick birds into pecking their wing tips rather than their bodies.  The air vibrates and hums with bees drunk on nectar buzzing from bloom to bloom. Plums, that can’t bear their own weight fall to the ground with gentle thuds.  A green-silver lizard shoots up the lean-to. I am nowhere and I am everywhere, amongst the thistles and artichokes, raspberries and lavender, blackcurrants bushes and birds.

The sun climbs higher in the sky and there is a gentle breeze silky across my face as I stroll, towards the fields of corn, past ditches filled with ox-eye daisies.  The flowers stand tall on slender stalks, white petals and a gold centre.  They thrive on roadside verges as well as hay meadows.  At dusk it doesn’t close unlike the common daisy and it is said to glow like a fallen moon; hence its other name: Moon Daisy.  I’m looking for the dog roses.  Down a little track I discover scarlet hips.  There are few flowers now, pink as bubble-gum with sunshine-yellow, powder puff stamens, wandering wantonly over the hedge, scrambling into trees.  They are the stuff of fairy tales, romantic love and have barely changed in millions of years.  There are saucer-sized, white elderflowers here too, the essence of summer, also associated with fairies.  And I see a couple of sunflowers.

My thoughts shift.  I think of my favourite artists who’ve been inspired by the natural world, especially Vincent Van Gough and Claude Monet.  Their work captures the ephemeral quality of nature.  Van Gogh produced many paintings which convey light, weather, times of day and the movement of wind all with the eye of a naturalist.  For him, nature and art were inseparably linked.  And as a man who suffered from mental illness, he sought, and found solace, in the countryside.  In a letter to his brother, Theo, in December, 1882, he wrote: ‘Sometimes I long so much to do landscape, just as one would for a long walk to refresh oneself, and in all of nature, in trees for instance, I see expression and a soul, as it were.’   There is a Van Gogh print of a vase of Sunflowers on the wall next to the wooden table at La Paperie.  It was painted during a rare period of happiness in his life while he awaited the arrival of his hero, the fellow artist, Paul Gaugin at Arles, in the South of France.  There is another print too, Starry Night which depicts a view from his asylum room at Saint-Remy in 1889.  We bought both prints from the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam when we lived there.

Claude Monet, one of the founders of the Impressionism movement, rejected the traditional approach to landscape painting learning from nature itself.  He frequently painted outdoors, like Van Gogh, observing the fleeting effects of atmosphere, weather and variations of light and colour caused by time of day and seasonal changes.  He painted a series of the same view like the Poplar Series, twenty four paintings of the poplar trees along the banks of the River Epte, a few kilometres  upstream from his home and studio at Giverny.  They show poplars in the sun, with wind effect, grey weather and in autumn. The original paintings depict Monet’s flower garden at Giverny, eighty kilometres or so west of Paris.  We visited the garden and house in 2018.  It lived up to all my expectations likewise the decorative panels at the Musee L’Orangerie, in Paris: stunning.

I feel myself ungluing in the nicest possible way; my limbs are soft and stretchy.  The sun is sedating me.  It is the greatest pleasure in the heat of the day, sitting between the apple and pear trees, the branches and leaves making patterns across the sky-blue-sky, reading.  The peace of it nestles deep in my belly.  I relish the tranquillity, as the day folds into a lilac and apricot late afternoon still I sit there, listening to the wren singing, watching a slow-worm, Anguis fragilis, meaning fragile snake, slithering like quicksilver, near the hedge.  It is bronze in colour and is marked with stripes along the length of its smooth skin.  The eyes blink.  It coils and uncoils, then glides into a tall clump of grass and melts away.  I sit there all afternoon, daydreaming, until the light fades.  And I think to myself already the nights are gradually drawing in.