Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Evanton Woods

I’m hesitant to declare that fairies don’t exist. They probably don’t but I don’t want to be responsible for killing Tinkerbell.  I’d like to think that there is a little magic and mystery that we haven’t quite explained away with science.

The last few months I have been hanging around with the Poetry in Motion gang. It’s an offshoot of Creativity in Care. While other creative writing groups huddle indoors with pen, paper and prompts, Poetry in Motion heads out of doors, taking inspiration from nature.

Although I was invited, I felt somewhat a gate crasher as I arrived at Evanton woods late Saturday afternoon. It wasn’t really about poetry, although poems were shared.  Saturday was a celebration of winning an award. The woods belong to the Evanton Wood Community Company.  A long time ago I knew people in Evanton. It turned out that the people I knew then were part of the company. It was nice to catch up although I admit to fluffing names of kids now grown up that I’d once taught in Sunday School. The company had won a health and wellbeing award. There was a plaque and a cheque and a need to mark the occasion.

Being a few days after the summer solstice and mid-summer’s night, Shakespeare was on the menu. The plan was a short, steep and slow walk around a part of the forest not keeping to the main paths but forging through the foliage. We stopped every so often to read a poem or a quotation or act out a scene. We were accompanied along the way by two young musicians. A guitar and a fiddle provided lively tunes as we travelled along.

“Let’s take our hearts for a walk in the woods and listen to the magic whispers of old trees.” Author Unknown

Evanton woods was new territory to me. Although I spent time in Evanton years ago I never visited to woods. My younger friends had a passion for playing hide and seek, in the dark, in the woods, but I deemed myself too grown up for such frolics. I am not afraid of the dark, but neither am I at home in it. I am less grown up these days and much more inclined to frolic. It could be the onset of early eccentricity.

I doubt the trees in any woods have ever been so sweetly serenaded as they were on Saturday. Do trees smile? The Bible uses images of trees clapping their hands. Had I been a tree I would have clapped. They were not just somewhere in the background doing tree stuff while we walked and chatted and breathed in forest fragrances.  They were centre stage, being applauded.

“For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver.” Martin Luther.

It wasn’t too fanciful to imagine that the trees were being entertained. They understood a message that some people, the ones in the community wood company and friends, recognised the need to connect to forests and nature. We are the takers in this world, very rarely the givers. The company gives its time to maintaining the woods, chopping bits back, replanting new stuff, finding ways to teach people bush craft and educating people about the diversity of plants, insects and animals.

I have done a lot of reading over the last few months about issues to do with creation and evolution. I am not a creationist but they talk about God's two great books that reveal His nature. One is the written word – the Bible. The second is God revealed in nature. The one doesn’t contradict the other. I may be able to read the Bible, but I fumble to read nature – It’s a language that I am not fluent in. Saturday’s people were fluent nature speakers. It was no wonder I said so little.

“The trees are God’s great alphabet:
With them He writes in shining green
Across the world His thoughts serene.”
~Leonora Speyer

Do you know, I think I said “Thank you” to at least one tree? There was a steep part of the path and I was making my way down hesitantly gripping one tree trunk after another. I traced pattern in the bark. Has I been on my own, chances are I wouldn’t have taken that path, but had I, I would have stopped and touched and dreamed a little. I would have strained to hear tree conversations. One tree trunk was so covered in rich green moss that my fingers wanted to linger.

It was not hard to think of fairies. The wood was so quiet. If, as some fairy-lovers suggest, we have pushed these mythical beings into hidden places, I would suggest that they hide in Evanton woods!

Us sing and dance, make faces and give flower bouquets, trying to be loved. You ever notice that trees do everything to git attention we do, except walk? ~Alice Walker, The Color Purple, 1982

There is something un-striving about nature. That’s not true. What appears to be peaceful isn’t really. All forms of life are in competition whether for food or water or adequate space. Another thing I learned on my creation/evolution travels is that the Victorians were shocked not about the apparent lack of a need for God when Darwin shared his observations. He talked about survival of the fittest and the dog eat dog way of life. Nature wasn’t about peace and harmony and lambs and rabbits frolicking (I like that word – frolic) but about predators and their prey. It didn’t tie in with the Victorian idealistic view of nature.

I hear the wind among the trees
Playing the celestial symphonies;
I see the branches downward bent,
Like keys of some great instrument.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

In all my encounters with woods and forests I feel better for having walked there. I breathe a different air. I think settled thoughts. My imagination is given permission to see fairies and talk to trees. I feel connected.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Boy with the Flame Red Hair

She wakes to laughter, love and song
And peers through leaves – a happy throng
That stops, share poems, moves along
So confident that they belong

They glimpse her but see other things
Like butterflies, not fairy wings
She rises, dances, lightly springs
From twig to branch and softly sings

She sees him, fiddle in his hand
As men and women, children stand
Beneath an oak its branches spanned
And feel the magic of the land

She loves the boy with flame red hair
His grace and youth beyond compare
A life together could they share?
He doesn’t even know she’s there

She thinks to conjure up a spell
To draw him to her side to dwell
A love for her his heart compel
All thoughts of other worlds expel

But fairies almost never stay
It’s just part of the fairy way
To love a while and then to stray
She blows a kiss and turns away

Their journey through the woodland weaves
Stroking bark and catching leaves
A dry stick tossed a dog retrieves
And peace of heart each one receives

Thursday, June 23, 2016

An Evening of Encouragement

I confess that I’m not a person who easily joins in things. I put it down to a childhood of never being picked for teams. I figured then that if they don’t want me, well, I don’t want them either.  I can manage all by myself.

Last night I went to “An Evening of Encouragement” at one of the local churches. It was a inter-church event tapping into the not-so-traditional gifts of the Spirit. I was in need of encouragement. It had been a rough previous week and there were one or two spiritual bruises I was nursing. One or two grudges too it turned out!

I was offered a list of options to make appointments for, steered towards selecting a couple to start with.  I could add to the list if I wanted to later.

I hadn’t had any interesting dreams so I didn’t feel the need to opt for dream interpretation. I have a young friend who has very vivid dreams that involve ghosts and zombies but didn’t really know enough detail to ask on his behalf.  Anything involving nails, nail art and hand massages were also out because at this time of the year, under stress, I don’t have nails, just chewed stubs of nails.  A week or two into the summer hols and I will I have a decent set of nails to decorate and massage.  I was left with a word of encouragement and responsive art.

I should just lay it down on the table from the outset – I’m a little bit cynical. I know it isn’t like horoscopes which can be vague enough to fit the circumstances of lots of people, or people can snip at their circumstances to make them fit the word given so I go into these things hesitantly.  There is an element of thinking that God could just tell me without resorting to a third party. Throughout scripture God uses third party messengers all the time. It was kind of arrogant of me to think that I has a special inside track and didn’t need anyone else to speak into my life.

The people giving the word of encouragement were people I knew.  I hate that initial silence at the beginning. Perhaps they had nothing to say.

The word given was Ephesians 5:1-2- “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” There was an almost apologetic shrug and a run-with-it-if-you-want-to body language thing going on. I am a person that likes to be told. “God says” has me jumping to attention.  Take it or leave it doesn’t. God did say, despite the shrug. I struggle to be like Jesus.  Don’t we all? I’m surrounded so often by people who don’t walk in the way of love and I allow myself to be dragged along. I don’t always stand my ground. The “giving myself up” part is really hard as I can be very assertive at times.  God doesn’t ask us to do the impossible without first equipping us and pouring into our lives all the resources we need. Following God, walking in the way of love, giving myself up – all possible.

The second word was in picture form.  Avril saw a candle burning strongly in the dark. The strong wind blows and it feels as if the candle will be extinguished. There’s always oxygen, always the Holy Spirit enabling the candle to burn brightly. She talked about direction and light, and making a difference, and lighting up a room.

I knew all about strong winds and candles almost going out. Hadn’t I lived through the strong winds of someone’s hot anger the previous week? I would like to say that it was uncalled for – the intensity certainly was – but I hadn’t acted wisely. I hadn’t been given any benefit of the doubt. The anvil of anger fell and I was underneath and felt crushed.

I talked a little about the incident. God and I had raked over the embers for most of the weekend. He called me to forgive myself for being so unwise in the first place. I kind of felt I deserved the woman’s anger.  However, she knew a just single moment of my work life and had painted the rest of it in a matching colour. She didn’t know me at all. Forgiving her hadn’t really occurred to me. I was beating myself up with her words. It was nice to put down the stick.

I promised myself I wouldn’t cry but I did. That’s another reason I try to avoid these things. I am sometimes so tightly strung up that I can’t afford to fall apart – but I can’t really afford not to. I’m not designed to live as wound up as I get.

They prayed with me and I was collected and moved on to my next appointment – responsive art. I could have gone home at this point. I was feeling fragile. I didn’t need another spiritual poke in the ribs.

The lady on one side of me got a wonderful picture of a blazing fire in a forest. The lady on the other side of me got a glorious overflowing well. I liked those pictures. I wasn’t close enough to eavesdrop on the words that were spoken about the pictures. My artist drew a picture of an open door. An open door didn’t feel very creative or interesting. But not more than a month ago I had drawn the very same picture at a prayer meeting. I had a man dancing before my door, but it was the same kind of thing. An open door and a hesitation to step through. Another poke it the ribs? Another kick up the backside to shift me?

Not at all. Her door was one I wanted to step through. She talked about God taking me further in my creative journey with Him and a sense of fulfilment and joy. I love writing. Poetry is the one thing that really floats my boat. It’s my sweet spot. God, not just giving me permission to do it, or approval, but saying He is with me in my writing journey is very encouraging. To glorify Him through my poetry makes me want to write better poetry!

There are poetry adventures where I have not been able to whip out the swash and buckle and gut the enemy.  It was encouraging that God was not looking for another poet to do the work instead. He knows what is inside of me and is determined that I should know too. I like that.

The evening did what it said on the tin. I was encouraged.

Sunday, June 19, 2016


See now - God’s precious, treasured living stone
Tossed aside by men who too blind to see
Their feet are caught, they stumble, skin the bone
They glance but never see eternity

See now – the stones He chooses for His own
His living stones that move to do His will
Assembled as a house for Him alone
With praise His holy priests His temple fill

See now – the cornerstone He puts in place
For those who cast their lives, on Him depend
They look and know forgiveness, no disgrace
And own Him, Saviour, Shepherd, Friend

See now – the stone that holds in place the world
Tossed it is, into hungry hearts it's hurled

1 Peter 2:4-8

Friday, June 17, 2016

A Tale of Two Gardeners

Let’s suppose you need a gardener.

Actually, let’s not suppose at all. You do need a gardener. The shed is full of dead electric mowers. No one knows what killed them. They just stopped working. The last mower you purchased was not electric. It was a push-along-cylinder mower. Perhaps it brought back old memories of childhood and long summer days, short grass and a lilac bush in the corner of the garden – leaning at a slight angle where your older sister backed into it one driving lesson.

This mower, the push-along  one, is also dead now. You’ve tinkered with a spanner and fed it oil in its deep recesses – but it’s dead. No one knows exactly what killed it.  It just stopped working.

So, you decide not to buy another mower. It would be cruel to the mower to assign it an early death, just like the others and you are probably not as young as you were. Kneeling down is possible.  Getting back up again, less so.

The mower might be dead but the grass isn’t. It grows. A balance of spring to summer sun, lots of rain and no working mower conspire.  Ankle high.  Knee high.  Thigh high.  The grass grows.

The neighbours frown. You wish you had the courage to invite them to cut your grass for you, and weed the borders while they are at it, if they have such strong objections. You actually think your neighbour did have strong objections to living next door to your wilderness. You think they moved house in the middle of the night. You were greeted the other day by a stranger across the wall introducing herself.

Hiring a gardener is the answer.  There’s a list in the local paper. So you choose one. He doesn’t call back.  You choose another and he or she doesn’t call back. The man that lives around the corner is a gardener. He says he will call round about six. But he doesn’t.

The grass grows – waist high? Not quite.

You get lucky.  The next gardener you phone comes around and gives an estimate. It’s a bit steep – but the grass is high and you think you saw a lion, a tiger and a bear the other night. You agree to the price and tick off on your fingers exactly what is required. He’s not allowed to touch the bluebells and he’s not allowed to spray pesticides anywhere – think about the bees!

You look at the finished garden. Maybe you weren’t lucky at all.  Maybe the man could come to do it because he did such a bad job on other people’s gardens that he was never invited back. You have maybe had a bad hair- cut once upon a time and thought about wearing a paper bag over your head for a while. Paper bags don’t come lawn sized. It’s not good. There are no trim edges and the thistles at the back have been left to threaten the rhubarb. The conifers have been trimmed but my new neighbour mumbles as she sweeps up the mess he leaves on her side of the wall. No, it’s not good. You take a pair of scissors to his business card.

Meanwhile back around the corner, where the other gardener lives with his mother, he mows her lawn, trims the edges and weeds her borders.  She doesn’t have conifers to trim but you imagine he would to a good job and tidy up afterwards. He takes his time. He takes a few days. He pours love onto every blade of grass. He practically serenades the brown soil of the borders.  The garden sighs with happiness.

Now.  A quick change of direction. Suppose you want to be a gardener. Yes, there is a definite tinge of green on the fingers. So, you apprentice yourself out to one of our two gardeners.

Who do you choose?  Go on.  It’s not a trick question. If you are looking for a quick buck or a hundred and the fingers are not that green at all – maybe you will go with gardener number 1.  He is only going to teach you bad habits and he will never nurture your love of grass and ground and grubby worms.

No, you will go with the gardener around the corner. You have watched him work and you have seen the results. The garden loves him and gazes at him with adoration.

Another quick change of direction. Suppose you want to be a Christian. You don’t exactly apprentice yourself out.  Even you know it doesn’t work that way.  But you do have a good look at a couple of Christians.  Maybe there’s one that lives just around the corner. You want to know if being a Christian works! Do these people seem to have the inside track on troubles? Do they know something you don’t know? Are they happy? So you look at their lives.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  God doesn’t wrap his people in cotton wool or clean them up with antiseptic wipes. There is no vaccine against life. But how they deal with life – that tells you whether faith works or not.

Christians! No one is watching in anticipation and glee for you to fall. They are watching with baited breath for you to keep standing.  Only then will they begin to believe that faith in God works.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

30 Days Wild

I signed up with the Wildlife Trust to do their “30 Days Wild” challenge. Each day I am being challenged to do a random act of wildness.  I am one week into the challenge and have discovered that wildness, random or otherwise, is hard work.  It doesn’t just happen but has to be planned into my day.

Day One – a thirty minute walk in a nearby forest. It was a quiet walk. I met a man and his dog.  The dog was willing to be friendly but the man wasn’t.

The thing about forest walks is I inevitably end up feeling guilty. I feel bad that I don’t know the names of the different trees.  I can’t identify the different birds by their songs. It’s like gate-crashing a party and not knowing any of the people there!  

Many years ago I taught for a while in a country primary school.  I arrived very early each day and spent the first half an hour in the company of the canteen staff. They spent their first hour drinking tea and gazing out of the kitchen window onto the school playing field. They pointed out various birds by name and talked about nesting pairs and all things wildlife. I knew what venn diagrams looked like and could draw the outline of the island of Australia. I wished I had their knowledge.

Day Two – closer to home this time. I filled up the bird feeders with new stuff. The peanuts had not gone down so well. The suet balls were gone. It has rained quite a bit previously and I could tell that I hadn’t changed the seeds in a while – the seeds had sprouted in the bottom of the feeder, sending up green shoots around the edge of the plastic.

Day Three – nothing to report.  It was a Friday.  I had planned to arrive early at my husband’s work to pick him up.  There was a meal to be eaten and then we were off to a race night raising school funds. I’m not a joiner-in and felt really out of place when all the ladies turned up dressed for Ascot in summer dresses and hats.

I discovered that when it comes to picking winners, I can’t do it without looking at the form – the horses' past race placements. Race nights don’t include that kind of information.  I thought that my husband, being a man who knows horses and horse racing, might actually be able to identify the races for real, but it wasn’t to be.  Everyone on our table won money except for us, although we did win two bottles of wine in the raffle.

As I say, I planned to turn up early to pick my husband and take a walk around the duck pond at his work.  I could have ticked my box but I was delayed.

Day Four – Another “I planned to do…” but it didn’t happen.  It was our monthly creative writing morning.  I planned to leave early and drive further down the road to a spot that looks out over the Beauly Firth. I have no idea why I was delayed – ah, yes, I wrote a poem instead. I’d looked over last month’s meeting notes.  What we wrote then was notes, lines, first drafts that I hadn’t done anything with. I needed to remedy that. What’s the point of creative writing workshops is you never polish up those first drafts.

I went along to the firth later on in the day. The day was glorious. The sky was very big and very blue. The tide was coming in. A few gulls were gliding on air currents. I tried to breathe the peace and tranquillity.

Someone was having a party and the throbbing beat of music and the drifting smoke from a barbeque didn’t do much to promote peace and harmony – though the neighbours seemed to have having a good time. More friendly dogs and unfriendly dog owners!

Day Five – I had witnessed forty four young people being confirmed at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church. It wasn’t my usual place of worship, but I have a young friend who was one of the candidates and I wanted to be there to witness the event.

“Who’s St Harvey?” I whispered to my husband as my finger went down the list of candidates and their confirmation names. 

“He’s the patron saint of invisible rabbits,” was the reply.

This is not true, by the way. Harvey was a bishop in the very early church who was blind. He is a patron saint of bards and troubadours, and the man to pray to for eye infections.

Afterwards, I went to sit beside the River Ness. The last flakes of blossom were falling. I wasn’t watching the river or the trees but indulging in people watching. I loved seeing some couples walk in perfect synchronicity. I remembered my school days and how my best friend and I were matched for walking together.

Day Six – there are just some very busy days and fitting in something wild just isn’t possible. It was poetry at Eden Court. The topic was “Tea”. The poetry group can sometimes feel like that party crashing moment when you know they know lots of poets and poems and you don’t. One man, however, despairing of ever finding a “tea” poem resorted to writing his own. It was a wonderful comparison of men and women drinking tea. I suppose it was stereotyping – the ladies with the delicate tea cups and Earl Grey, and the men with the mugs and PG Tips doing DIY.

It was late. I dug out a nature magazine when I got home. I lusted after a decent camera so I could take good pictures of wildlife. I learned a lot about soil and how it takes 500 years to get good top soil and then a week of wet weather and it’s washed away, or a week of dry weather and it’s blown away. I discovered there are lots of species of bees beyond “bumble” and “honey”. I intend to be a more informed forest walker!

Day Seven – that’s today! My random wildness today was drinking a cup of herbal tea. I admit that it’s not so random. I have quite a collection of boxes with various “use by” and “best before” dates. Today’s selection was peppermint and nettle – Twinings, not homemade.