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March 2021

In the quiet of the woods

Woods 1

After months and months of dealing with Long Covid (on top of a long-term health condition), I can't manage long walks with Tilly yet, so we usually head to the woods close by -- where I sit while Tilly prowls through the underbrush, never straying far. Sometimes I read, sometimes I write, and sometimes I do nothing at all, absorbing the quiet while beech, holly, oak and ash all absorb me in turn.

Woods 2

Once she's explored the terrain, Tilly sits close: ears cocked, nose twitching with every scent. I watch her and wish I could see as she sees, hear as she hears, live as fully in this bright moment in time -- remembering that I am an animal too, made of water and wind and the dust of stars.

Woods 3

The life of a freelance writer and editor is measured in hours of productivity, and it takes some effort to slough off guilt when time spent silent among the trees results in no tangible accomplishment: no pages written or manuscript read or email answered or paycheck earned. And yet I'm convinced that it's on such moments that every other part of my creative life rests. 

Woods 5

The land is muse, teacher, and mentor. It is doctor, pastor, and therapist. It is the place where I return to myself when the jangle of life, the demands of work, and the ceaseless clamour of the Internet lead me astray. In the quiet of the greenwood it all fades away. I can hear my own softer voice once again.

Woods 4

But now I am justifying time spent outdoors by emphasizing the manner in which it supports my productivity back in the studio -- and while this is true, it is not the only truth. Quiet moments are worth much more than this. I will not measure their value in output, in books and paintings made and sold. I will not hang a price tag on my love for the natural world. I am not a consumer of the forest, obtaining my money's worth from the trees and grasses, the fungi and moss. I am just a woman sitting in the green arms of the Mother who made me. Just sitting. Just healing. Just being, for these precious moments, alive and present.

Woods 6

Woods 7

I am not dismissing the importance of productivity for those of us working in the arts, or of enagagement with the media and marketplace which places our work in the hands of others, for I believe that art is important, even sacred, and is capable of no less than changing the world.

But then, so is this: these quiet hours in the dappled light of the greenwood, with my good dog beside me. It changes my world. It changes me. And that's all the value it needs.

Woods 8

"I pin my hopes," said the Quaker writer Rufus Jones, "to quiet processes and small circles, in which vital and transforming events take place."

I pin my own hopes to the rustle of leaves, the murmur of water, the grace note of the birdsong overhead; to the ordinary, daily domestic act of rising in the morning and walking the dog. And to art, of course, but also to this. To the quiet of the woods.

Woods 9

Woods 11

Woods 12

The quote by Quaker historian and philosopher Rufus Jones is from a letter to Violet Holdsworth, 1937. The poem in the picture captions is from Swan: Poems and Prose Poems by Mary Oliver (Beacon Press, 2012). All rights reserved by the authors' estates.


A blessing for a Tuesday afternoon

River 1

A Blessing 
by Denise Levertov (1923-1997)

'Your river is in full flood,' she said,
'Work on - use these weeks well!'

River 2

She was leaving, with a springy step, a woman
herself renewed, her life risen

River 3

up from the root of despair she'd
bent low to touch,

River 4

risen empowered. Her work now
could embrace more: she imagined anew

River 5

the man's totem tree and its taproot,
the woman's chosen lichen, patiently

River 6

composting rock, another's
needful swamp, the tribal migrations - 

River 7

swaying skeins rotating their leaders,
pace unflagging, and the need

River 8

of each threatened thing
to be. She had met

River 9

River 10

with the council
of all beings.

River 11

                                    'You give me my life,'
she said to the just-written poems,

River 12

long-legged foals surprised to be standing.

Dartmoor pony and foal

The poet waving farewell
is not so sure of the river.

Pony in the mist

Is it indeed
strong-flowing, generous? Was there largesse
for alluvial, black, seed-hungry fields?

Dartmoor pony and foal

Or had a flash-flood
swept down these tokens
to be plucked ashore, rescued

Tilly and the pony 1

only to watch the waters recede
from stones of an arid valley?

Tilly and the pony 2

But the traveler's words
are leaven. They work in the poet.

Crossing the field

The river swiftly
goes on braiding its heavy tresses,

brown and flashing
as far as the eye can see.

Home through the lanes

The poem above is from The Collected Poems of Denise Levertov (New Directions, 2013). The poem in the picture captions is from Mary Oliver: New and Selected Poems, Vol. 1  (Beacon Press,2004). All rights reserved by the Levertov and Oliver estates. 


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Nattadon Gate

Back again at last, with some music for you....

Above: "Parliament Hill" by Smith & Burrows, from their new album Only Smith & Burrows Is Good Enough. The video, directed by Mat Whitecross, was filmed on Hamstead Heath in London, with puppetry from the Little Angel Theatre (where my husband worked for many years). 

Below: "Transatlantic" by Irish-American folk & bluegrass musician Aoife O'Donovan (in Florida) with Scottish folk musician Kris Drever (in Glasgow), accompanied by Euan Burton, Louis Abbot, and Jeremy Kittle (in Glasgow and Brooklyn). The song was commissioned for Grásta, a Covid-pandemic arts project focused on "finding grace in uncertainty," sponsored by the Irish Arts Centre in New York.

Above: "Waterbound" performed by American folk & bluegrass musician Rhiannon Giddens, with Italian multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi, accompanied by Niwel Tsumbu on guitar. It's from Giddens & Turrisi's new album, They're Calling Me Home, due out next month. During a year when so many have been confined to home, or stranded away from home, this traditional American song is particularly poignant.

Below: "I'm a Rover," a traditional Scots/Irish song performed by Ye Vagabonds (brothers Brían and Diarmuid Mac Gloinn), based in Dublin. They released it back in January, with a video filmed in Switzerland.

And one more, below: "Gaol a chruidh, gràdh a chruidh" performed by Staran, a collective of five accomplished musicians (Kim Carnie, John Lowrie, Innes White, James Lindsay, Jack Smedley) exploring Scottish music in traditional and nontraditional ways. Their first album, Staran, is due out in May. "Gaol a chruidh, gràdh a chruidh" (Love of the cattle, darling of the cattle) is a Gaelic milking song from the island of Mingulay in the Outer Hebrides.

Cows on Dartmoor

"Do not lose hope - what you seek will be found. Trust ghosts. Trust those that you have helped to help you in their turn. Trust dreams. Trust your heart, and trust your story." - Neil Gaiman (from "Instructions")

Woodland Gate