A Journey With Blackbirdowl

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Ivy’s embrace – Finsbury Park

Sunday October 19, 2008:

Ivy, or Heeder Helix known as girt in the Ogham alphabet is associated with the Fairy bride Guinevere yet the planetary relationship is to Persephone, queen of the underworld. The ivy wraps itself around anything in its path. Without such obstacles it must creep upon the ground.

Just after dawn, I stand by my rowan tree listening to the stirring of the day. All around me, along fences, the garden shed, the sturdy hornbeam, fighting with the wildly waving holly, embracing the sleeping concrete boar, comes the ivy, surreptitiously moving closer and closer.

I find an oak stripling, hugged close by the ivy. Carefully, I disentangle it from the vigorous thick fleshy tendrils, for the ivy is bigger than it. “Pick on someone your own size” I say, tossing the tendril away.

Later, I decide to reacquaint myself with knitting. In John Lewis’s I attend a knitting workshop, choose deep dark green as my wool and begin upon an open-knit scarf. Perhaps it would look good on the condemned hornbeam, I muse, and begin to knit love into the scarf and hope that the tree doesn’t mind the occasional dropped stitch, for I am but a novice at knitting. Later, as I successfully complete two inches of the scarf, my mind wanders to the possibility of knitting leaves …. Could I knit a tree someday?

A blustery warm South-Westerly pushes the leaves casually aside. The trees clatter softly, swaying in the breeze.

I climb behind the garden shed to where a spouting waterfall of green ivy spills over the retaining fence. I plunge myself into it, turn and pull it over me, like a great leafy blanket. I lean into its entwined strength, let it hold me with gentle cool hands. I breathe in its soft green freshness, sweet yet tangy. It lays its arms across my body; I allow the embrace, feel its tender tendrils, fragile yet firm against me.

“Spirit of ivy, I call to you” I breathe into the waving leaves. I wait, listening to the flip-flap-flip of the leaves shaking in the wind.

I am in a cool and leafy cave of ivy. Like a swimmer I strike out and plunge limbs through, pulling my body after, rolling from side to side as the vine curls about me detaining me yet allowing me to move. I lean into the thickness, rest up against its toughness, enfolded and cocooned.

My arms are full of the lightness of her body wrapped in a gossamer gown, leaning into me. And I see close too, the pointed heart shaped face, the tangle of dark hair lightly covered by the thrown back thin veil to reveal deep green eyes in a pale face, the ivy leaves twisted into a band across her brow like a thin crown. Tangled in the embrace, we hold each other with acceptance.

I lace my fingers in the ivy stems, trace the intricacies of each journey to meet and dance with another. I marvel at the twists and turns, the curling and darting of the plant; like nature’s knitting, she is ordered yet intricate, seemingly random yet purposefully spiralling.

And as I stroke and caressed, my fingers find something dry, warm and soft hidden amongst the tangle of stems. Gently I explore a cup shaped nest of dried grass held carefully in the encircling ivy. As big as my fist, the half sphere is hollowed in the middle, cradled and supported in the ivy stems.

What bird made this, I wonder as I explore the little neat secret nest, hidden among the dancing leaves. I feel sad that it is empty. What do I have that might fill it? I finger the green agate ring on my right hand. It is oval, set in two silver filigree hearts on a plain band. I slip it off and lie it down in the nest, bending to retrieve a round stone with which to secure it.

She flutters her thanks in silky leaf kisses against my cheeks. I sigh and breathe in her perfume and am at rest.

If I never moved again it wood be to soon, I think, breathing in her soft perfume. Missing me, perhaps someone might come by in a few weeks and find me, cocooned and still, judging by the look on my face, held forever in a dream of delight and peace.

“Beautiful Ivy, I wish I could stay here forever, but I can’t” I sigh, gently beginning to disentangle myself from her. Unwrapping and unravelling her, I drape the shed, fashion an arch between it and the fence, and suggest new and interesting routes for the ivy to follow as she encircles the garden.

I follow the tendrils as they entwine the three trunked pine that was once a huge tree. Now it is encased in ivy, soft and fluttering against its rough bark. All around, the twigs I planted a year ago are growing, a riot of leaves and slim branches, the ivy marching forth at their feet. Amongst the tangle, round stones placed to make a praying space poke out from beneath the newly fallen leaves. My love for the garden has been returned three-fold and more. I back gently out again and stand on the path. Bowing to the ivy, I whisper my thanks and reluctantly return to the world.

The big tree – Finsbury Park

Saturday October 18, 2008:

What on my watch? The year I have dedicated to the trees? My great big beautiful hornbeam tree is threatened! Well I say “my” but although it graces my modest London garden with its large presence, I don’t own it, I just look after it.

When I moved into this flat 22 years ago, the tree was an innocent-looking ten foot high. Each year it thickened and spread until there came a time when it was sturdy enough to bear my weight and I would climb up and sit happily in its branches for a while.

In time, the ivy that rampages joyously around the garden found it and began squirming up it. The tree loved it. Its branches spread as though to say “mine, mine, this is all mine!”

After some years I got it trimmed a bit. It liked this and grew even more vigorously. Now at over 40 foot high, it surveys the gardens around but still looks up to the great tall ashes and oaks high up on the embankment on the Parkland Walk.

Alas, its vigorousness encountered the foundations of next door’s extension. Cracks began appearing and dark mutterings were heard beyond the pyracanthas about”that bloody tree!”

And then the tree surgeon came. “It has to go” he declared …. “Sorry” he continued seeing my stricken face.

“What all of it?” I asked sadly, “can’t we severely chop it?”

But alas no; pollarding, coppicing or doing anything other than felling and poisoning the roots would not do. Hornbeams being sturdy and vigorous trees will just grow back again, pushing their strong roots through the clay, dislodging more of whatever got in the way, even if it is an overpriced Victorian terrace.

Months ago, I hung a green man amongst the ivy. The tree seemed to appreciate the adornment and grew more. Last year, a pair of wood pidgins nested in the tree. Every morning during the spring and summer, they would coo comfortingly to each other and poo all over my water feature and the rosemary bush below!

I took to visiting the tree and stroking its heavy clad trunk. Each morning and evening, I would include it in my circle as though it were one of the families.

That night, under the full moon, I danced by the tree calling lathe silvery moon behind her cloud to come and watch over the tree. It seemed to me that the garden glittered in response and the tree raised its head and stood in the Luna brightness, whilst I danced in the moon shadow.

Just past six am on a cold and quiet Saturday morning, I sneak out into the garden to be with the tree. I lean against it, breathing deeply the fresh ivy which damply encircles it.

The mountain side is bare, but everything is very small - the trees, perhaps an inch or two high. In the middle of them sits a huge figure, solid, brown and round... His face long and sad.

“I’m just too big”, he says disconsolately sitting there. A huge weight of grief fills my chest and I lay my cheek amongst the cool ivy and weep. The ivy spirals closer to the tree as I lace my fingers in its stems.

“Beautiful tree, what can I do?” I ask it. My fingers stroke the silky soft leaves.

And into my mind comes an image of the tree’s trunk, reconstructed and covered with ivy. On the top sit robins feasting and singing. All around the tree stump are piled cut off pieces of trunk with plants growing in and out of them. Not a living tree but still a veritable wildlife and botanic garden.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Vine Peace Spirit - Hampton Court

Monday September 22, 2008:

“Aha”, I thought, “I know where to find a great vine!” Hampton Court has a Great Vine, it’s so big and old it’s in The Guinness Book of Records, so it must be worth a visit. What I didn’t know was that the vine was entirely cased in glass and its magnificence could only be gazed at from afar or from within a glass house.

I stood disconsolately in the vine house and poked the obstructing glass grumpily. Well I’ve met the spirit of all kinds of trees in the most strangest of places and circumstances, a completely encased vine is not going to defeat me.

I marched outside and sat down on the grassy path next to the bare earth (left unplanted lest any pesky inferior plant roots interfere with the great vine) and set to work connecting with the spirit of the vine. I didn’t care what the curious passers-by thought the two strange middle-aged women were doing sitting on the damp ground in silence next to a bare patch of earth. Another example of English eccentricity perhaps?

She stood large and solid, full skirted; her arms up dramatically, her head thrown back. She was the thick heart of the vine twisting and moving out up and over, yet she was a solid Victorian lady in black plumb frock complete with bustle and big dark hat. Great clusters of grapes hung coquettishly from its bending brim. She was the very picture of a Victorian tableau, saving her extraordinary hair which had escaped confinement and was flowing like the tangled vine all around her.

I stared at her, hardly believing my eyes. She looked solid and unsentimental, yet capable and determined. Then I looked again. Amongst the leaves and clusters of grapes, she held a brilliant white placard aloft, a placard with something on it which, as I focussed became the outline of a Picasso peace dove. And then I remembered the Women in Black and smiled to myself. She was a Victorian Woman in Black!

I began to sing

“And every woman ‘neath her vine and fig tree shall live in peace and not afraid.
And every woman ‘neath her vine and fig tree shall live in peace and not afraid.
Hands into plough shares beat their swords; nations shall make war no more.
Hands into ploughshares beat their swords; nations shall make war no more.”

What is the meaning of the vine? I mused aloud to my companion. Perhaps it’s something about connection, even if that is chaotic like the tangled vine. That connection is also about communication, like, “I heard it through the grapevine”. There’s also something about fruitfulness and harvest and the abundance and sexy sumptuousness of the round juicy grapes. A vine can hold a rambling building up, so it’s a strong and tenacious plant in how it supports. Does the vine hold things together? Can it reconcile those who are warring? And where is the connection with peace? Is it because of the appearance of the placard with the Picasso peace dove? What is the connection between the vine and the image Picasso gave to the peace movement and still used by Women in Black across the world?

“Who knows?” I thought, as I got up to go.

Dartmoor Dreaming - September 2008:

Under a clear sky high up on Dartmoor
I stand, Face to the warm sun.
Blackberries hang their dark heads among a cascade of falling leaves.
The last of the summer’s bees swarm exuberantly
Bent on a final feast before winter comes,
AS I gorge myself upon the sum.

The laden car snaked its way up the meandering roads. My ears began to pop. “Oh it’s so beautiful,” my companion enthused as she described the patchwork of more, gorse, heather, rocks and sheep spreading out all around us. The clear sky arched over our heads, she continued and beyond the nearby moor, dark hills edged the horizon.

Walking through the great stone archway, I dove into the black cool stillness of a quiet dark sea. I swam swiftly and easily through the gently lapping water, to a shiny patch where the moon shimmered brightly, spreading across the gently undulating water, edges shimmering and shivering, making her sparkle brightly.

I plunged right into the heart of the moon, pushing my way down, down and down to the bottom of the seabed, where her reflection danced. And there was the deep dark cave, and at its very centre, as though a long, long way off, the smallest of early grey lights.

Needing no air, I swam on, my tail flickering, my hair streaming all around me. I emerged into the dawn of a new day, to a grey pebbled beach beside a grey shifting sea under a grey morning sky. A busy little stream hurried its way down the cliff and across the rocks. Its clear liquid water merged with the grey sea, leaving a silver trail of current spreading out fan-like into the far distance.

I looked around to see the moon, but I couldn’t find her, even though the sun was not quite up yet, she was nowhere to be found. I walked along the beech and up the tumbling river bed, the water bitter cold to my feet, the stones beneath biting into their soles. Where had the moon gone?

The river flowed out of deeper high rocks and in the cool shade, small pools lay still and deep. In them swam the moon, big and round and silver.

I climbed into a pool and sat upon the moon and rode it through the now dark sky. It was soft to sit upon, like a big silvery not quite fully inflated Pilates ball! I engaged my core muscles and sat a-top her and we rode the sky, mistress of all we surveyed. And the earth turned beneath me and she was beautiful and I was filled with joy.

In the corner of a field sat a moss covered broad old beech tree. I climbed the bank down which her roots tumbled and sat in her dry green velvety lap, leaning my back against her firmness. I felt held in a strong embrace, reassuring and still.

I breathed quietly as I tuned into her pulse. I imagined my green clad body, merging with her greenness as we became one, our pulses beating together in a harmony of silence. In my mind I saw us all green and round, sat upon the red brown earth, under a clear blue sky, her leaves edged with gold from the brilliant sun.

A breeze tossed the capering leaves. They tickled and shifted like falling water, scratchy and brittle yet clear as though tumbling like a mountain stream upon laughing pebbles. “Oh Lady, I feel you near me,” I breathed as I stroked her velvet firm limbs.

I walked through a wood, the beeches brown skirted and massive, and the sienna earth soft as a carpet beneath my bare feet. There in a small clearing, framed by the columned trees stood my velvety lady, firmly and solidly, her skirts, the mossy-covered roots cascading down the bank upon which she sat. Under the green light of her canopy, she was the deepest of forest greens, the palest of limes and every shade between and beyond, full figured and contoured in all her curving beauty. At her knees sat a still woman, her green clothes blending with the mossy tree. All was still as tree and woman breathed together.

A sudden movement, a pale shadow flitted across the space, a beam of sunlight picked out against the green and brown, a white doe, her face soft and gentle. And then she was gone.

I sat against the tree and felt her living warmth support me. The coolness of the autumn earth reached up to hold me and my heart shifted. “Let me always remember this” I prayed as I heard the mesmeric voice of a beautiful singer on the other side of the field mingle with the shifting shaking leaves above me. “Let me always find space to sit under trees, no matter what happens in life.”

Golden Brown Harvest – Finsbury Park

Sunday September14, 2008:

We are in the month of vine. It does not speak to me. I feel lost in knowing nothing about it and feel somehow alone and abandoned.

Back in the reality of the world, now that I more or less know my near future, my glumness descends like a damp fog, clinging to my hair, dripping off my nose as tears course their way down my cheeks. My mood lowers and drags at me. I yearn for the trees, yet like in a dream, something stops me getting there, something that I can’t name.

It is early. No one stirs. I creep under the hop draped across the willow arch, flanked by two robust but youthful olive trees. I touch the four petelled and mildly sticky hairy leaves.

Tenderly I stroke the soft hanging hops, bell-like, still half closed as though not quite awake yet. I breathe their crushed grass, green rosy pinkness, their subtle woody tawnieness, and their ambary beery thirst-quenching freshness. Hidden under my festooned arch, I call the spirit of the hop to come to me.

He is A thousand shades of brown, laced with gold. He shimmers before me. A myriad of leaves that are his body turn and flutter in the morning breeze.
The shadows shift and he is gone, replaced by the rows and rows of tall hops, each row with its own picker, reaching up and tossing down each strand of hanging heads into great wooden casks behind them. They look a bit familiar but I don’t know who they are.

Light shifts, leaves ripple and a neatly dressed, trim and elegant flower-face girl with close bonnet stares out at me. The light shifts again and I see her face is old beyond old and her slimness a skeletal thinness. Stil she watches me and I bow in acknowledgment and with respect although I don’t know who she is.

Touching the leaves with my fingers, gently stroking the soft papery hop, a delicate cup, I breathe in the morning perfume and the heady richness under the arch. Into my mind comes the Feri Flower Prayer. Softly, I whisper it to the swinging hops.

“Who is this flower above me?
What is the work of this god?
I would know myself in all of my parts.”

I breathe again deeply, blowing out a kiss to the hops. “I would know myself in all of my parts”, I repeat as I stroked the trembling vine.

“Then gathering your harvest, for it is yours” whispered the flower-faced goddess standing amongst the tall arches of hops.

Curled in a pool of sunlight on the ground in the clearing, I lie, half folded in the rough blanket. I am safe. I am warm, cocooned in my scratchy old blanket. I feel very young.

“Gather in your harvest, for it is yours and you have worked hard for it”. Whispered the papery flower-faced she, brown and gold and all shades inbetween, shaking in the morning breeze.

The delicate hop tickles my nose. I breathe again its gentle soothing perfume. I run a finger experimentally across a hairy leaf in admiration. Folding my hands, I bow to the hop and walked back through the garden.