Sunday, August 30, 2015

River Connections Public Art Project

As promised, my circle poem has been printed on to a postcard and will be available to buy at the Museum shop or Eden Court.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Morning Rendezvous

Early I wake and slip out through the door
Morning? Not yet, but the stillness before
Birdsong? Not quite, just a whisper, no more

A rendezvous planned on a high mountain peak
Time set apart, my Father to seek
Before the day’s work I hear His voice speak

I open my hands and receive for that day
All things abundant for giving away
The love of the Father in me on display

To heal the leper, give sight to the blind
To speak to the injured, words that are kind
My time with my Father each day I must find

Beer, Bats and Bruises

I had added to my store of loyalty cards but after last night I might not stay loyal.  This time it’s not my ninth cup of tea or coffee that I get free but my sixth country ranger event.

The freebee magazine that comes through the letter box packed with information of what to do and where to go included a few sentences about a Highland Council Ranger-accompanied walk – a dusk stroll around the Merkinch Nature Reserve looking for bats and moths and other nocturnal life. The meeting place would be revealed if one phoned and booked a place, as if this were some illegal activity that could get raided by the police! I phoned and was unable to book a place.  Knowing there was only one possible meeting place I planned to gate crash.

I knew from the start I wasn’t properly dressed.  A friend of ours currently living in Germany told us that if they send out their children badly dressed they get reprimanded.  If only we were in Germany that might what followed last night might never have happened.  The other walkers were dressed up warmly, armed with stout walking boots.  I had must-replace trainers and a light jacket.

Our first stop along the trail was a bush that had been doused in beer.  My initial thought was that it was a naturally produced night time fragrance. The wonders of nature.  I pictured addicts licking leaves when the liquid version ran out.  The ranger had doused the tree before we arrived with the intention of attracting moths.  We would, she promised, be able to see them on the way back.

With the light fading, we were seeing less.  Colours had faded to greyscale.  Now, was the time to awaken our sense of smell and hone in on the sounds we could hear.  An experiment.  I failed to listen properly as she handed around plastic cups, foil tops with a number written on top, slashed open with a mushroom knife, and asked us to identify the smell.  There was nothing unusual about smelling coffee or a slices of apple concealed beneath the foil but my mind had linked the smells to the nocturnal life about to come alive.  I thought the smells were wild life smells.  How was I supposed to know what bats smelled of, or roe deer? That some species of night life smelled of coffee impressed me.  It’s a Friday night.  Please don’t expect my brain to make sensible connections.

We moved on.  The ranger was a source of interesting information.  As we waded through a field of meadowsweet, inhaling its almond fragrance, she told us about its healing properties.  It’s an active ingredient in pain killing.  I had an opportunity to put it into practice later on that night but, you know how it is, in through one ear out the other. 

We moved on.  There is a board walk around the outskirts of part of the reserve, the wetland part.  Dark spots on darker spots at that time of night.  Someone spotted a family of ducks on a late evening swim.  Someone else spotted a heron standing among the reeds.  My eyes and my glasses were not up to the task and I just took their word for it. 

At this point the ranger distributed the bat gadgets.  Bats echo-locate things but the frequency is too high for humans to hear, too high even for the dog in our midst to respond to.  The gadget located the sounds and translated them to a lower frequency. Cool. Seriously cool. We switched on the gadgets and set the frequency at 50 something, or 40, and aimed it at the sky.

We were surrounded by bat noises.  It was the sound of the “triffids” from the old TV programmes – swift, slapping, clacking sounds. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.  In torch light the ranger showed cardboard cut outs of various bat sizes.  It was the smallest one that we could hear.  They eat midges, she said.  If only they would eat the midges eating me, I thought.  Apparently bats save the government millions of pounds they would have had to spend on pesticides.  Well done, bats!  Is there anything else you can do the help the government to make savings?

We moved on.  The canal had a different species of bat – bigger ones – bats that skimmed the water and ate the bugs that floated on top.  We were ordered to set the bat gadgets to 30 something.  Not only could we hear them but we might also see them.

The moment approached.

Did I say I was probably the youngest person in the group? The ranger was younger than me, and there was a child with trainers that lit up lights as she walked, but bar them, I was the youngest.  We crossed a railway line to get to the canal path.  I was following someone whose torch was bobbing about the path ahead of me.  There as a step up to the part of the path across the lines.  I didn’t make the step and came hurtling down solidly across the lines. Yes despite being the almost-youngest, I fell over. 

Railway lines are not ideal places to fall over.  Did I imagine on-coming lights?  Actually, yes.  We had seen a train earlier.  I wanted to just lie still for a moment for before dragging myself up.  No one knew the train timetable and insisted I got up straight away.  Eventually I was helped to my feet.  I hurt everywhere - knees, elbows, my left shoulder and both hands.  I couldn’t see the damage but I could feel it.  I wanted to cry but cheerfully insisted that only my pride was injured!

I have to confess that the whole walk lost its magic at that point.  I lost my interest in the bats as too much of me squealed with pain.  We watched the waters of the canal.  It was very still and there was an unruffled reflection of the houses on the opposite bank.

Someone insisted the plop and the ripples by one of the locks was an otter or a seal, but the ranger corrected him saying that otters and seals rarely plopped and rippled the water.  It was much more likely to be a duck.  She talked about otters.  Apparently they had an otter expert out when the reserve was first being reclaimed and the boardwalk built.  He looked around and declared the absence of otters on the reserve and went online to say so.  Pictures flooded in over the next weeks and months of otters sunbathing on the boardwalk, and splashing about in shallow water pools.

The water-skimming bats were a no-show and the hour was late so we turned back to return to our starting point and check the beer-infused tree for moths.  I approached the railway line crossing with uncertainty.  Falling twice seemed unlikely but I was still feeling shaky on my feet.

The moths were a no-show.  We collected a profusion of leaflets the ranger put out on a picnic bench table on moths and bats and went our separate ways.

In the light of day I examine my injuries. The top layer of flesh has been scraped off my hands.  My elbows are as pointed as ever and sore to the touch, the left knee is quite bruised and the shoulder tells me I will never play championship tennis ever again.

Was it worth it all – my scraped hands and bruised knees?  Absolutely, yes. Exploring a side of nature I never get to see, with an expert, was great.  It amazes me that we can see, hear, smell and touch such a variety of life – and yet we choose to live in such a narrow strip of it.

And of course it amazes me that God made it all!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Faith that is MIne

A faith convinced that God is there
He turns His ear to every whispered prayer
And I - his name and nature bear
This faith is mine

A faith that fills my heart with song
And celebrates that I to Him belong
That in my weakness He is strong
This faith is mine

A faith that laughs at trying days
That thumbs the nose at come-what-mays
And in the battle always, always stays
This faith is mine

A faith that anchors in the storm
That sings for joy amid the locust swarm
That surrenders to God’s Spirit to transform
This faith is mine

A faith that lays before God’s mighty throne
All crowns and works of great renown
Content to ever be my Saviour’s own
This faith is mine

In all my scenes that play across life’s stage
The narrative God writes upon the page
With life in light and shadow I engage
This faith is mine

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Time, Talk and Trust

This morning I was introduced to Rick Warren’s three “T”s in developing intimacy with God – Time, Talk and Trust.

It seems to me that they can apply to any relationship, not just the God one. The opposite truth is also relevant – to create distance all that is required is a lack of time, a lack of talk and a lack of trust.  All relationships need to be fed and nurtured.

Let’s start with time. This last week has been spent with my friend Marion in her house in Armadale, the south end of the Isle of Skye. The house is amazing.  It’s not a new build but an old house.  It smells not of new paint but old dust.  Piles of books inhabit every room. Stacked against every wall there are pictures in frames.  Nothing gets thrown out and everything is waiting to be assigned a place somewhere.

I have this habit of assuming that because I like someone’s company for an hour or two in a specific context, I will like that person’s company for a longer period outside the context of our usual meeting.  It doesn’t often work that way.  We discover quickly that we have little common ground and things become awkward after a while. It has sometimes led to the end of a friendship. So, yes, spending a whole week with someone I spend a couple of hours with once a month qualified for the bitten-off-more-than-I-can-chew label.

I arrived at her house a little after two in the afternoon.  It was a slow drive – made stressful by the incredible beauty of the landscape and hairpin bends, other drivers overtaking and being midgie-attacked-and-bitten when I stopped for a picnic just outside of Kyle of Lochalsh.  It was more than anyone could ask of me to negotiate the curved drive without hitting the white stones that bordered it.

So, we sat down to a cup of tea at two o’clock and talked our way almost all the way around the clock face. We woke from a deep and involved conversation to realise it was way past our bed times.

Marion’s house has no television, no radio and no mobile phone or wifi signal.  It has field mice that sit on the kitchen floor undisturbed and a family of ducks that pass by the back door on the way to the bay for a morning swim. It has two rooms decorated in 1950’s style, the living room and the kitchen, which form a film set for Aunty Peggy’s house in the ALABA series “Bannan”. The film crew arrive, like migrating birds, in the spring and the autumn.

I discovered that I loved being in Marion’s house and in her company. We spent a lot of time together!

What about talking? Marion is writing a book on Scottish clans.  She began telling me about some new houses that had been built just across the road.  They are not like Marion’s house which has character and history and two rooms of a film set. These are neat white boxes with green wooden porches. Apparently when the diggers came in to pull up the soil, it was more than soil they excavated.  Archaeologists were no doubt called in to examine and date the bones found – three or four thousand years old - and identify the black ooze in stone jars – brain matter – but once they were all moved to a safer place the builders continued with their project.  History was an inconvenience.  No clues left as to who the bones belonged to and seemingly no desire to find out.  Too many aspects of life are in the same kind of danger of being neglected and forgotten.  Living in a place where MacLean and MacGregor are becoming just surnames and losing their history – Marion stands like King Canute trying to halt the waves of “who-gives-a toss?”

The lesser known stories of clan events, along with snippets of Marion’s life story and grilling me on my views about God TV and American evangelists, there was no shortage of things to talk about.

Marion had worked with a publisher friend of mine, but he hadn’t met someone like Marion before.  Her synapses are always firing and she probably can’t write in a straight line.  We called her diversions “rabbit holes” and there were lots of them.  I remember once being taught how to roll out pastry by continually tapping the edges to keep it square or round.  Marion needed the tap the edges of her creativity to keep it in shape.

So much talking. When Marion is staying in Armadale, she tends not to leave the grounds.  She said it was because people talk to her and hours can drift by.  It’s not wasted time by any means but it doesn’t help progress the book. 

And trust? Writers are strange people at times.  There are times when they lack confidence and are not sure that what they are writing has any value to anyone but themselves.  My publisher friend was looking for a particular book format that he recognised. It was as if he tried to snatch the pastry out of her hand and start tapping the edges into his kind of book.

Much of the time Marion and I spent talking was about finding a format and a structure that she was happy with.  It was as if she had put the pastry into my hands – her hopes, her dreams, her stories, her personal anecdotes and all of her confidence issues.  We worked together shaping her book, identifying themes and stories that would make the grade and setting aside the ones that wouldn’t. It will be such a book that I will be first in the queue to buy.

I found plenty of time to sit down and plan a second book of poetry.  It has been something I have hesitated to do because the first one was so good that I didn’t think a second book could match it.  But, as the first book was, it was never my book to make such decisions about, but God’s.  I know that I had Marion’s support anyway, but talking to her it really helped.

The three “T”s?  Marion and I did them all and our friendship is deeper for it.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

This Fragrant Patch of Ground

“Wake up, North Wind, get moving, South Wind! Breathe on my garden fill the air with spice fragrance. Oh, let my lover enter his garden! Yes, let him eat the fine, ripe fruits” (Song of Songs 4:16 The Message)

This verse has quite captured my spirit.

I’m sure I have mentioned before about my two garden-proud neighbours and how my little patch of wilderness is an eyesore in comparison.  I don’t think either neighbour would want my niece’s neighbour living next door. There are worse gardens out there than mine.

Admittedly, her neighbour is a lot older than I am and his health is not so good.  Where I have a copy of the yellow pages, a co-op around the corner that has a window of adverts and access to an internet full of green-fingered gardeners waiting to cut my grass and chase down my weeds, he keeps himself to himself and doesn’t ask for help.  Where I have a willingness to pay for said green-fingered gardeners, he is not willing.  His grass is far higher than mine – far higher.  The house is all but obscured by it. 

The back garden is really bad too.  I may have one or two statuesque thistles but he has a tangle of nettles and brambles and wild growing stuff.  It’s quite possible that some remote indigenous tribe is living undiscovered in his back garden.  I can make it to my back gate without a hatchet – the same cannot be said for him.

The stately thistles in my back garden are in a patch of ground near the back gate.  There’s a rhubarb plant nearby that is holding its own and a selection of herbs - mint, oregano, sage, rosemary and thyme (I feel a song coming on) - that are wholesome and hearty and refuse to tremble in the presence of the thistles.  It’s a very fragrant patch of ground.

I don’t need to call up the north wind as it is blowing stiffly outside. It’s not filling the air with a fragrance of spices but dragging my washing off the line and decorating the honeysuckle bush with my not-so-smalls.

I’m never really sure how to take the Song of Solomon.  I blush as I read some of the verses.  It’s one of those books in the Bible that had a hard time persuading the scholars it wasn’t the early edition of “Fifty Shades of Grey” and holds its place in the canon by insisting it’s really a picture of the intimacy of God and His people rather than just about a king and his concubine.   

This morning I pictured the garden as my personal relationship with God. Commentaries talk about the north and south winds being the activity of the Holy Spirit – the north wind being the Spirit’s purging and cooling, the south wind, the Spirit warm and cherishing.  For too many of us it’s the world that seems to do all the blowing.  We rise and fall to the winds of opinion and current affairs and allow ourselves to be stirred to a state of mania and hype.  The breath of the Spirit should be what we respond to.

This morning I pictured the north and south winds as simply being the circumstances we find ourselves in – like the disciples on the Sea of Galilee when the storm blew out of nowhere.  The storm revealed, not just the fear in their hearts, but the weaknesses in the fishing boat they were sailing. Jesus ordered the storm and the wind.  Sometimes the storms we sail in are there to reveal our heart and the things that we place our trust in.

It’s the wind stirring the fragrance of the garden that attracts the lover.  The fragrance in our lives comes from the grace-character we cultivate and through the access we give to the Holy Spirit to breathe upon us. 

As the Spirit breathes upon our faith walk with Jesus, we should ask ourselves whether it’s a pleasant walk for Him.  Sad to say we have a tendency to get used to a smell so much so that we don’t notice it any longer. It ceases to bother us.

A bad smell bothered me today.  Someone posted a picture and a comment on Facebook, something not necessarily untrue, but something that did not build me up or encourage me. I sensed the Holy Spirit blowing over my inner garden, for want of a better illustration.  The fragrance was not a nice one and I shuddered.  

We shouldn’t be giving garden-space to thistles..


A Place to Rest

The theme for the Eden Court Poetry people yesterday was "Gardens".  I didn't make it.  After a week spent in the constant company of people, nice though they were, I felt the need for a bit of isolation. Here's one I made earlier:

This is the council housing estate
where Edgeware Road meets
Southwall Close,
built in 1959,
just west of the A27 trunk road,
north of Whiteparish

These are the trees
the builders left standing
with strong limbs, deep roots
and thick, twisted trunks
climbed by four generations
of scruffy children

These were the carrier bags
of used disposable nappies,
and half empty beer cans
plundered by seagulls,
and left like gutted bodies
spilling entrails

These are the flowers
Frank bought and planted
Too many for his garden,
he dug a border beside the path
A riot of red and a blaze of blue
And the fragrance of summer

These are the paving stones,
scraped of moss and
scoured of weeds
by Frank’s grandson, George
who was made redundant last month
and needed something to do

This is the rose bush
offered by Elsie
whose husband died last year
Creamy white flowers with pale pink hearts
and a sweet and spicy aroma,
resistant to blackspot and midlew

This is the bench
that had always been there,
now sanded down and re-painted forest green
by Gavin, who smokes too much.
He was watched by a ginger cat
scrupulously licking its paws

These are the spring bulbs
planted by the pupils
from Miss Garrick’s junior class
after a careful survey
of the insect life and
catching spiders in clear plastic cups

This is the tyre
strung from the branch of a tree,
spinning and swaying
Skinny arms and scrawny legs swinging
until the man from the council took it down
because of health and safety concerns

These are the cup cakes
baked by Amanda, aged six
with a little help from her mum
Eggs and flour,
butter and sugar carefully weighed.
Pink frosting generously shared with everyone

These are the Kendal sisters
the estate's first residents,
witnesses of the ebb and flow
of a nomadic community,
Hands together and eyes closed,
they pray for their neighbours

This is the community
laying claim to a few acres of wasteland
and creating a place to rest
They smile at the camera
as the man from the Whiteparish Gazette
takes a picture for the paper.