Grounded

I’ve been rushing again. Not covering much ground, because most of my rushing is done at home and much of it doesn’t even require movement – it’s as much as anything a helter-skelter of the mind. Slowing down has become a much overdue necessity.

I’ve been unexpectedly helped in this by a companion of many years to whom I’ve given too little attention lately. He’s been with me since I was around the age of two, and apart from a lengthy leave of absence some years back when he went on extended loan to my mother as a teaching assistant, he’s never been too far from my side.

Treacle, my bear, outside the glasshouses

Treacle is taking part in a photographic project I’ve initiated that involves going out on location, and because he is a bear of diminutive stature this means that I find myself as often as not crouching down or even sitting on the ground.

There’s something about doing this – connecting with the ground more closely than I normally do when standing up – that is immediately calming. It’s also true that working with Treacle is always a reassuring and balancing thing to do, partly because he’s an old and trusted friend but also because of his expression which is subtle but encouraging. As my sister observed, it’s not always easy to tell what he’s thinking – but certainly he looks out at the world with a mixture of curiosity, interest and wonder, and an unfailing sense of optimism.

Treacle discovers a pair of antique binoculars bigger than himself

These pictures were taken in the Glasshouses at Cliffe Castle. Outside when it’s not frosty it’s muddy, but there are still places where we can find stone or other dry surfaces to sit on, or clamber over.

Treacle sitting on the rock he's climbed, admiring the fountain

And when the ground is frozen, there’s nothing better than getting down close among the leaves…….

Frosted leaves on the ground, sprinkling of snow

Postscript
It turns out that this is the two hundredth post I’ve published on this blog. I’d not been counting, but WordPress tells you these sort of things, and I can’t think of a nicer way to celebrate than with my small and constant friend.

A big thank you to all of you who’ve been with me along the way, and the wonderful people I’ve met and feel I know as friends in the blogging world of WordPress.

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Every Leaf Tells A Story

Leaves fall in their thousands,
possibly their millions;
a landscape lit from below
like golden snow.

And as I stand and gaze, slowly
breathing golden air,
enter (stage left), a man
with dog.

‘Autumn leaves!’ he says
and ‘wonderful’ I reply,
watching the dog
nose down, pulling at the leash.

‘Ah, wonderful, except’ –
(and here he smiles)
‘he has to sniff
every
single
leaf‘.

It’s been a while since I posted here and it feels good to be back. I’ve been drawing and writing and posting on my other blog but I’ve slipped out of the habit of slowing down and being more reflective, so I hope to put this right.

It’s not that I haven’t been noticing things – but more perhaps that I haven’t been giving them enough space. And having a place to put thoughts like this is like having a quiet garden set aside, to sit in and not to think, and just to let things grow. It’s a good season for change.

Dive In

Yellow, orange..... what?

As deep as you can,
dive in.
Breathe,
and forget
children’s voices
even the robin, singing.
Be astonished,
the shock
of yellow,
spotted with fire
like a fallen sun.

Photo, close-up, of yellow tulip

Wait

Empty bench, afternoon sun, January, Cliffe Castle Park

Wait.
In a few moments
the shadows will be longer.
Perhaps
someone will walk by,
or not;
perhaps a robin
a flash of tawny feathers
a splash of russet red
will loop suddenly
into the picture,
and perch. Perhaps,
perhaps not.
In a minute or two
warmed by the sun
maybe my shoulders won’t ache,
and my mind will be clear.
But my nose may be cold,
and my fingers, and
I’ll remember there’s tea
and chocolate cake,
and all my thoughts
in the space of a moment
changed, changed.

Letters to myself (5)

Attentive

Attentive


When I go for a walk I prefer to go alone, not because I don’t like company but because I can’t concentrate on noticing things. It requires letting go of thought, and it sounds like an odd contradiction that what we call mindfulness needs to be acheived by thoughtlessness – but it requires stepping off the endless loop of jibber-jabber that goes on and on inside my head all the time. Like leaving a room full of manic conversation and closing the door for a while. 

Paying attention means noticing. Animals do it all the time, constantly. But as a species we humans have become monumentally forgetful of the way it feels to just look, and listen, and sniff, and feel – and notice. I can’t believe how often I forget to do this myself, and I need frequent reminders to bring me back to it, again and again and again. 

It’s easier to do it in the presence of animals, or birds, or even insects. Words fall away. What they do, by paying attention, simply can’t be done with words. 

Little unknown insect in the sun

This is the fifth post in a series of letters to myself at the beginning of the year – the first one is here. I’d thought I would post one a day until 12th Night, and I’ve reached that point – but now I find I still have more to say to myself by way of nudges and pointers and so I think there may be more to come – just not quite so frequently. 

Last year I posted here only once in a while (being rather occupied with writing posts on my sketching blog) – but this space is special for me, and I’ve felt the lack of it. Writing and posting here again feels like coming home. It’s good to be back. 

Add to Basket

We are receivers. Every day, every minute, we are collecting, whether we know it or not – images, sounds, stories. Ideas. And we react to these things, because it’s human to do so, and some make a deeper impression than others. 

Drawing of little red insect

But just because we’re picking things up all the time, it doesn’t mean we have to stow them all away and keep them – it is possible just to notice some things and then allow them to leave, even if at first this sounds improbable. It requires practice. 

I don’t have any difficulty knowing which things I should keep and which to let go – but negative things stick more readily and tenaciously than positive ones. It’s how we evolved. It’s said that you need the conscious awareness of five positive things to balance out one negative one, because the negative is so much more powerfully drawn to our attention.  

Drawing of coriander

I’ve started keeping an imaginary basket that I collect things in. I choose these things, and at the end of each day I can take them out one at a time and look at them again, and feel the same sensation I had when I first encountered them…. like the red and black flying beetle that landed on the garden wall, and stayed for a few moments in the sun before flying off before I could identify it. Or like the smell of coriander when I was chopping it at lunchtime. And the children I watched one afternoon running around in the playground after their karate class while older people walked their dogs, or just stood around in the sunshine. 

Sketches of karate kids and man with dog

These are the things I can draw. There are other things that can’t be sketched, like the wood-pigeon and the blackbird that I hear when I’m sleepily awake at 6.00 am, and the taste of the melted dark chocolate sauce I made yesterday with brandy mixed in it to pour on vanilla ice cream. 

These are just a few of the things in my basket, and writing this I’ve tasted them all over again – but I realise what may be even more important is that now I’ve shared them as well. Good things are meant for sharing. 

The idea of a basket of collected memories is not my own. I wish it were, but I first heard of it from my mother, who inherited it in turn from a dear friend of my sister, so it kind of runs in the family. 

In the UK, when you shop online and choose your purchases you collect them by clicking ‘add to basket’. In the US this would be ‘add to cart’ which to me always sounds mildly hilarious because it conjures up images of a chunky wooden wheeled horse-drawn sort of a thing. In supermarkets in England we use a trolley…….or a basket. 

Festive Focus 

There’s something about a string of coloured lights. They seem to do so much more than you’d expect, as if there really is alchemy in the glow of colour in the long hours of winter darkness. This year my family has made the discovery of battery operated LED lights and the fun and the wonder of being able instantly to light up any dark corner or decorate some quiet forgotten object. (Not that this rat that sits looking out of the bedroom window is forgotten – he may be quiet but he is never ignored.) 

I’ve rediscovered the extraordinary peace that comes from silently gazing at coloured lights. In fact silent gazing is something I’ve not done enough of for a long time and I’ve been consciously doing more if it whenever I can; I take long slow moments to look at the hillside across the valley, shrouded in mist; at the sun rising behind a cloud bank washing the sky with pink and turquoise and coral; at my neighbour’s Christmas tree put up hastily outside her door on Christmas Eve once the storm had passed and decorated with a flourish of warm white flashing lights. 

And then I read Susan McCulley’s latest post and understood why I’m doing all of this gazing, and why I need to do so much more, and regularly. What I gaze at, I focus on. Everything else falls away. This is the festive season, but it’s also the season of peace. 

 

A contribution to the WordPress prompt festive

Little Adventures (At Night)

I don’t go out after dark, or at least, very rarely. As I am still not Extremely Old (at 62 I do think I’m old, but chronic conditions like ME/CFS can make you feel relatively young one day and ancient the next) this probably sounds odd – but I use up all the energy I have in the mornings and early afternoons, and so evenings are not a time to venture out.

It means that at this time of year I miss the sparkle of streets lit up for Christmas. 

I try within my limits to live adventurously, which can sometimes be as small a thing as just breaking a routine; choosing to go for a walk in the morning instead of tackling the pile of ironing that’s been waiting for a week. If I don’t have enough strength to do it when I come back – well, that was my choice, and it feels good. And I try to do something every week that feels just a little bit daring, a small adventure. Yesterday afternoon I went into the centre of our small town and listened to a brass band play carols, and afterwards wandered around a bit in the dark streets and got dazzled and overwhelmed by decorated shop windows and trees with lights strung all over them.

There are advantages to having limits, and this is one of them – it doesn’t take much to find something small that is utterly, intensely exciting. I feel the way a young child does, looking at a Christmas tree. This is magical, really; who could imagine reliving that sort of excitement? I stood and gazed for ages into this wonderful wintery cake-shop Christmas window and smiled, and smiled, and smiled…….

Small Things And Quiet 

The snails in my garden are very, very fond of the white rose that I love. Every morning after I’ve done a bit of tai chi, I examine the damage done during the night and pick off the flowers that are past saving. I do sigh a bit and wish they’d leave the rose alone, but it’s irresistible to them and obviously delicious. So I put the nibbled, mangled petals on the ground, and let them get on with it.

It seems only natural then to stop and watch for a few moments, and watching very small creatures slows everything down. You can stop the whole world for a short time. I watched the snail eat a good portion of petal while its tiny insect companion climbed up the precipitous edge of the rose, waving thin, delicate feelers.

And then…the world started again.

I went indoors and made breakfast.