Into the darkness

I am slipping between seasons.

I can sense the afterglow of summer; flowers are blooming, the sun is still warm on my face. Then in another moment I am tumbling towards winter.

The darkness draws me forward.

There is still time after work to dodge the rain showers and squeeze in a walk to the estuary, yet by the time I have finished my evening meal there is blackness outside the window.

Winter guests are arriving along with the first frosts. The geese are back and countless small birds enliven the garden with their flittering flocks. I’m still waiting for a glimpse of redwing, or fieldfare. Tasty berries await their return.

Sometimes it’s still just about warm enough to take my cup of tea to the bench in the front garden, but I spend less time there now.

Of course, there is still work to do outside, weeding and pruning and such, which will build up body heat and make time spent outside feel good. But the mooching, the gazing, the simply being, the doing nothing, the outdoor tai chi practice; the season for all that is ebbing away.

And so the true owners of the garden come to the fore. The blackbirds, robins, wrens, dunnocks, tits, goldcrests, song thrushes, the mice and voles, the squirrels, the spiders and slugs, snails and countless invertebrates. All those beings who spend the entire of the day and the night outside, however cold or wet or grey it gets.

I watch a blackbird probing the lawn for insects and I suddenly realise that the garden belongs to all of them, not to me. They depend on it for survival, I just appear outside occasionally and they watch me with caution until I am gone.

The darkness approaches with relentless speed.

I fight it, just like every year. I wish it wasn’t happening. I dread the clocks changing, darkness before I even leave the office.

I’m not sure when this started. As a child winter and dark evenings just happened, that was just how life was. It didn’t bother me at all.

The winter started with our annual end of October half term Lake District family holiday, an old cottage with no central heating, roasting the chestnuts that we collected in the woods over the open fire, cold bedrooms, huddling under the sheets with hot water bottles. Probably my favourite holiday of the year. Back home, the house was usually warm, and the dark months were punctuated by brightness: Halloween, bonfire night, Christmas.

And I’ve been wondering when I learned to dislike the darkness that comes with winter, the short days, the endless grey and the damp cold.

A run of grey days can hang over me like a bad mood. Then, the sun comes out and everything is OK. Colours come to life. The world around me sparkles. This is perhaps not a good attitude to have developed given that I live in rainy, grey, beautiful north west England.

And yet. Every year there comes a point when I stop fighting the seasons, when I start to see the long dark evenings as something to treasure.

A space.

Often, there is not much to do. The working day is over. There are no little jobs to do in the garden, because it’s dark outside. I read. I binge watch tv programmes.

A little idea arrives in my head, about seasons and the approaching darkness. I go outside and reacquaint myself with the stars. Back inside it’s warm. I sit down and I start writing.

We are just at the beginning. There are months of this creative, enveloping darkness ahead. I could choose to welcome it.


What do dark evenings and approaching winter mean to you?


It’s raining hazelnuts!

With each gust,

a deluge

of hazelnuts.

There has been a bumper crop of hazelnuts here this year. If I venture out into the woods on a windy day I almost need a hard hat!

Gone canoeing

It’s the August bank holiday here in England. This is a note I left in the kitchen on Saturday.

Going canoeing reminded me of a poem I wrote on May Day bank holiday 2018. Reposting it here:


A click of the shutter

I don’t have a waterproof camera

and my phone is wrapped in plastic, safe in a drybag,

for emergencies only.

And so I have no photos to share

to say I was here,

to try to convey the meaning of a moment.

But how often does a photograph really do that?

After all, there are other senses than sight.

So.

Bank holiday monday,

Coniston Water

the end of a scorching weekend.

Paddling south (first time in my canoe this year)

away from the crowds,

my arms remember how good it feels,

burn of working muscle

taking me further from the voices and barbecue smoke.

Past open water swimmers towing orange floats

who stop for a chat in the middle of the lake

unfazed by the deeps,

complaining of the cold water.

Past moored boats, and pine tree promentaries,

shingle beaches overhung with oaks,

until, at the south end of the lake

as yellow reeds narrow to reveal the start of a river,

I turn around to head back north and see

spread before me the calm lake

bordered by woods in the first flush of spring green,

low bracken-covered hills glowing

in the early evening sunshine,

the Coniston fells beyond, blue and slightly misty.

That is the moment I would have pressed the shutter.

But could that photograph record

the pleasant ache of shoulders and arms,

the gentle forward motion of the canoe,

the sound of water lapping,

a mind quietened to contentment?

One moment, containing

a sense of returning, of welcome,

a glimpse of childhood,

a farewell to winter,

and the seed of all the summers to come.

Walking in summer rain

I walk on,

aware of grey storm clouds

gathering,

darkening,

first few spots of rain.

The estuary beckons.

I walk on.

The clouds open,

rain pounding on my

waterproof jacket,

pouring streams down

my legs, drenching

my cotton trousers,

filling my shoes.

I walk on,

the estuary misty

shades of silver.

For the raindrops

bouncing off my head,

running down my legs,

I am simply a detour

between the clouds

and the sea.

I walk home,

feet surprisingly warm

as my body heats

the rain in my shoes.

This is what it is

to be

alive.

The cricket

The distant sound

of cricket on the radio

drifts hypnotically through

the open window.

Sitting at my desk

I struggle to stay awake,

work seems irrelevant,

not made for summer days.

Even the sound of someone

scoring something,

the cheers of the crowd,

the raised voices

of the commentators,

fail to rouse me

from this mid-afternoon torpor.

This moment

At the end of the garden

sipping beer,

the bench in early evening sun

still warm.

I read a new book,

Chinese mountain poetry,

a subject about which

I know little.

Centuries apart,

it seems we write

about the same things.

Then a sparrow chirps

in the hedge,

pulls me fully

into the present moment.

Always, and only,

this moment.

Boredom

Boredom sits heavy.

Don’t resist,

don’t drive it away

with endless scrolling

or unnecessary busyness.

Let it be.

Mooch around.

Feel a little fed up.

Just when you think

you can’t take any more,

you will notice something.

Within the boredom,

a little seed of creativity

is growing.

Give it space.

Wait, then watch it blossom

into ideas,

into action.


An empty holiday cottage on the Dorset coast. Everyone else has gone out. At first, the peace is bliss, then I get bored.

Then eventually the boredom transforms into the wish to draw. But all my sketchbooks, pencils and paints are at home.

My eyes fall on my nephews’ drawing book and gel pens.

My fingers itch to draw.

I have an idea.

I go and find their favourite toys, scattered around the house.

I draw each one, 2 monkeys and 2 cats, on random pages.

Tomorrow we all go home.

Sometime in the future, when my nephews look for a clean sheet of drawing paper, they will find my drawings.

And when I get home I will get my paints out. And maybe add some gel pens to my ever expanding range of art materials.

Thank you boredom!

Fighting reality

The moment I accept
the reality of what is,
is the moment
I relax.

Saturday morning, 4.30am. Jet lag kicks in and I’m not sleeping. I should sleep. I need to be refreshed. I’ve crossed an ocean for the annual tai chi workshop and I want to be rested, relaxed. So I worry about not sleeping.

Every year that I attend this workshop I arrive with a suitcase of worries. Will it be too hot? Am I good enough at tai chi to be here? What if the travel plans go wrong? Did I do everything I needed to do before I left work, before I left home? What if I don’t feel well and miss some of the workshop? What if, what if.

And every year, I love it. I have the most amazing time. I learn, I reconnect with friends, I make new friends. I relax, deeply. I gain insights in my practice. Yes, sometimes it’s too hot, occasionally I’ve felt a bit unwell, but I still have a great time.

4.30 am, Saturday morning. I must go back to sleep. I am anxiously awake.

Then a thought pops into my head. Should I really be asleep? Really? Is that true? No. I am awake. That is the reality.

What would happen if I just accepted that I’m awake? That it’s OK to be awake at 4.30 in the morning and it won’t ruin my whole week?

So I did. And suddenly I’m just lying awake, relaxed, in a comfortable bed. I just enjoy lying there in the darkness, listening to the first tentative notes of the foreign dawn chorus.

And all the other things I am worrying about just dissolve in the dawn.

There is such ease to be found in living life this way, accepting what is instead of fighting reality.

This is my new practice.

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Making time for creative projects

How many creative ideas, however humble or life changing, have withered and died in tidy houses and organised, outwardly perfect lives?

Allow your creativity to flow.  Give it time and space.  Take your ideas seriously. 

Make time in your week for your creative projects.  Add them to your to-do list.

Don’t wait until the perfect time or place.  Don’t wait until you have a studio, until your kids leave home, until you retire.  Do it now!

Maybe you get up in the morning to a whole new shiny day, and think ‘today is the day’, but then you think you must wash the dishes, clean the house, you think ‘I’ll do it later’, but later never comes.  Don’t wait until the washing up and tidying is done – do your creative projects first.  How many creative ideas, however humble or life changing, have withered and died in tidy houses and organised, outwardly perfect lives?

Experiment.  Be joyful.

Wear your creative work lightly.

Create, create, create…..

Go on….you know you want to!

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