Thursday, November 29, 2018

I Refuse

the thistles assemble
beside the back gate
significantly taller than
the rhubarb plant they surround
they browbeat the herbs
prickly customers
they have nothing nice to say to the dandelions
but spew thorns

I refuse to be intimidated
though they tower above me
I stamp down on
the spade between their roots
dragging one way then another
they sway a little
then surrender unwillingly
sucking hard on the soil before lifting

those eager for power
assemble in fortresses
vastly richer than the crowd
they deem to protect
they browbeat the downtrodden
stubborn leaders
they refuse to acknowledge another side
but spit invective

I refuse to be intimidated
though they wield power over me
my spade stamped down - 
words spoken or written
work held to ransom
waiting in a queue to vote
I draw my lines in the sand
arms crossed I wait for their surrender

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Autumn Garden Walkabout

The Inverness Botanical Gardens aren’t that big. I couldn’t imagine how it would take an hour to walk around it. I hadn’t factored in the stopping and the talking and the advice given. It was more than walking.

As usual I arrived early. There was a cluster of women near the door. There’s a queue? Not at tall. The women were being giving a training session – volunteers. The garden advice they already knew. How to use the till for plant purchases was the mystery being uncovered.

Maybe I’ve only visited the garden in summer. Maybe I have thought that without flowers a garden has nothing on show. I got a glimpse of the backstory, the behind-the-flowers perspective. Flower beds were stripped back to ground level and bare soil.

She, Pam, dressed in gardening garb, full of answers to every question asked, began by pointing out the ivy on the wall – or in this case the lack of it. My next door neighbour has been pulling down his ivy over the summer. The birds made homeless have relocated to a tree, noisy in their disapproval of his ruthlessness. It’s all about the wall. Left unchecked, the ivy root dig deep into cement and motar and the whole thing becomes a Jericho about to happen.

The flower bed beneath the wall was similarly pulled up. Flowers had turned brown and brittle and were taking up space. They’d done their show and, at the end of any show, the stage is dismantled and packed away – bulbs lifted, brushed off, wrapped in newspaper and given the rest of the year off.

The ghost birches begged to be stroked and admired as we passed by. So we stopped to give them praise. There’s nothing wrong with washing down the bark, white bandaged. It was on the to-do list.

She talked about the pond. A heron had sat on the roof of one of the green houses. It had eaten the fish in the outside pond and now gazed lustfully down at the koi fish in the tropical greenhouse. Big momma and papa koi fish circled the pond with nervous upward glances. The younger generation swam on fearlessly.

A quick peak into the potting shed, Pam talked about the perils of plastic pots and how they were moving over to an environmentally friendly pot made from rice husks. With a six year life span they were not cheap but they left no carbon footprint as they passed away. These changes did not come easy to a cash strapped business and had to be argued for with the people that held the purse strings.

Another tree, red barked, lured us over. I liked the “please touch” lure but the flowerbed below made the tree technically inaccessible. Technically? When a person wanted to stroke the tree, the flower bed didn’t stop them. Pam was pleading for a bench that circled the tree trunk. The tree was probably as high as it would grow but the trunk would thicken.

Out through a gate and into the place where the gardeners played. A basket held windfall apples and a pile of scotch bonnet chillies with an invitation to help yourself.  A wigwam, carpeted and cushioned, stood off to one side for children. Insect hotels sprung up by walls and fences. Wild flowers planted last year were cleared away.

Inside the tropical greenhouse we “ooohed” and “aaahed” at a tiny pineapple in its growing and spied a bunch of green bananas high up.

You see what you see and you don’t see other things until they are pointed out to you. Once upon a time, before the cacti had taken over the other room, there had been insects and snakes and lizards in tanks. The stick insects had got out. They had followed God’s command to increase and multiply and fill the space. I wouldn’t have seen the chewed leaves on almost every plant. I wouldn’t have noticed a moving twig. They were causing so much destruction. More active at night, Pam and others had offered to do a night shift, overtime you will, to catch them – the big ones with pink knees about to lay eggs. The purse string holder declined.

The walk came to an end. I went home and raked up the leaves from the back garden – as told to. My own mulched leaves for spring!

A lot of work went into the gardens.  OK so the flowers don’t just appear in their right places in the various beds but I hadn’t realised just how much work went into making it look good, I hadn’t seen the back-to-soil tear-ups, or thought so thoroughly about, even in a garden, watching out for the environment.

We often picture our lives as gardens in need of care. We talk about the weeds that need to be pulled out and the seeds that need to be planted. We talked about ploughing soil and digging up the fallow ground – but we entirely miss the truth that it is an ongoing project.

I think of all the things going on at the botanical gardens, and how vast and varied the garden is. My walk with God is also vast and varied. God is working in my life all the time trying to get me to work with him to dig out the old worn-out sermons ready for some new truth. He wants me to help pull down the pride that digs deep into the walls. He wants the wigwam fun and scotch bonnets to give away. And the stick-insect errors that chew away at revelation, that sound so real, He wants me the chase them down.

 God knows what my life should look like. He knows how to get me from autumn brown and crisp to spring bulb planting and new shoots and onto summer’s blaze of colour. He could do it all by Himself but He chooses not to. He involves me. Not just in my own faith walk. He lets me plant something in, and pull something from, the life of another person. He calls it kingdom living.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Rebel Rebel

The theme of the writing workshop was “Rebel” and was a part of the Scottish Book Trust’s plans to get people writing.

“Rebellion incites opposition and change, allows us to find our own individual voices and inspires future generations to challenge convention and expectation.”

I wondered what I could actually write about in terms of rebellion – I am not a rebel. I am a rule follower. If there were no rules I would have to make some up just to feel comfortable.

There were a little more than a half dozen participants, a large scroll of paper on the floor and marker pens. The venue was a church building that had been converted to a second hand bookshop. Spiral staircases, galleries and stained glass windows housed shelf after shelf of books.

I’d been to Berlin last week and seen the memorial at Bebelplatz, the public square in the centre of Berlin, the site of the notorious Nazi book burning in 1933. A glass flagstone looks down on empty bookcases.

It was a jolt o be sitting in a chair surrounded by bookcases full of books. I had never given it much thought before. The things we take for granted.

I don’t quite know where most of the folks had been but they were all into the Jacobite rebellion and the Battle of Culloden. That’s not where I was.

The first exercise after a warm up stimulus was to evoke a place. A place you’ve actually been to, and which you associate with a rebellion of any sort. Now I have been around Culloden Battlefield a number of times. There are marker and flags and the names of various clans. The Kerrs are there – fighting on the “wrong” side.

My own train of thought was a personal one.

I have a bad memory about some events. I think I remember then as memories only because I have been told the stories so often that I have made them mine. I’ve seen a photograph and woven my account of what happened in the picture.  There’s a photo in an album of three girls in white dresses dancing on the front lawn outside a house. I am one of the girls and it was taken the morning of our First Communion. I remember the dresses were the same, sewn from the same pattern. I’m not sure I had ever worn something that wasn’t a hand-me-down, so the dress was my dress, made for me, worn by me. It must have been a warm day. No rain. No hand knitted cardigans. I suppose if I put my mind to it I could work out how old I was. Not a teenager.

While the three girls were dancing on the lawn, showing off their white dresses, there was a boy standing off to one side. He was not dancing.

Dressed in neat trousers and a white shirt, perhaps even a tie, he was scowling. Brows dark and lowered, a stubborn jut of a chin. Fists bunched, fingers pressed into his palms.

My brother, Michael, announced that he wasn’t going to go through with it. He had no intention of taking First, last, anything in between, communion. He didn’t believe in God and to go through with it would be hypocritical. He didn’t say it like that, he just made his stand.

There might have been an argument. There might have been pleading. There might have been tears. But there was no persuading him to change his mind.

I think Mike looked at me with almost disapproval. I possibly didn’t believe in God either, not the way I do now, but I was caught up in the white dress, looking pretty for once and the whole ritual of it. I wanted to be centre stage with everyone’s eye on me, because I never usually was.

Why did it matter so much? Don’t we all go through the motions at times? It’s just what we do because it’s expected.

I rather think it wasn’t just about believing in God or not. My dad had died and my mum wasn’t able to look after us well for a while. The Roman Catholic Church stepped in to give support. It almost seemed that it came with a price – the children of the household going through all the rituals of confession and communion. It seemed as if they took control. There were rules in place that hadn’t been there before.

Michael’s rebellion was his way of trying to claim back his independence. I kind of admired him then, but chose not to join in the rebellion because I wanted to wear the dress.

There was an opportunity towards the end of the afternoon of the writing class to write a rebel poem:-

feeling powerless
we always dance the
rehearsed steps
“It’s my life” we say
but it isn’t, is it?
we dig feet deep into soil
raise heads
lift chins
And say, “No!”
And make them listen

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Bebelplatz, Berlin

it was glorious, someone said
books consumed as fires spread
words that lied, deceived, misled
nought but ashes, now unread

I saw the flames, I watched the fire
hot inferno climbing higher
the death of words that could inspire
such a blind and brutal pyre

all rivals dead, just one to reign
yet thoughts and dreams cannot be slain
poets write, their words unchain
and books will live and breathe again