From the archive: Hunting For Mushrooms

We head into the dark centre of the forest, where even the intense sunlight of Southern France can only sometimes penetrate, freckling the ground. The tall, skinny pines wave wildly in the wind. Underfoot is a spongy layer of pines cones, decaying leaves and the bristling shells of last year’s chestnuts. Everything is mud brown, except the swathes of green ferns that fill the clean mountain air with a smell like freshly cut grass.

To find the small, late season Girolle mushrooms, I will have to learn how to really SEE. The more I can see, the better I will write. I clamber over fallen tree trunks. Creepers lasso my feet. The ferns give way under me and I sink into the swamp. The pine branches that I grab for are hollow, and break off in my grazed hands. There’s an area of newly crushed ferns the size of a large pig. The Sanglier (wild boar), have been there.

There is no sun to steer by now and I am disorientated. It’s difficult to scan the ground and stay in touch with my companions at the same time. I lose sight of them, and the sound of them fades away too. Fear spikes me. Then I hear the screeching, the rasping of wild creatures. The fear is terrible for a moment, but there is no-where to run to, so I just stay put. I listen to the sounds, increasingly awe-filled.

After a time something shifts, and I realise I’m doing what I went there to do. The wildness is no longer ‘out there’. I’m no longer pushing it away. And what I’ve experienced I will be able to express later in words. A human call rescues me, reassures me. Apparently the noises are just the stems of trees rubbing against each other in the wind. I’m almost disappointed. Back to the treasure hunt.

Several times in the next three hours I trumpet with joy one minute, only to deflate the next. I find a mushroom whose stem excretes milk. There’s another one that under its fleshy umbrella is flecked with red, like spilt wine. But both of these are dangerous, not to be touched.

Then, at last I spy Girolles, their sandy yellow canopies blossoming out of the moss. And the elation answers all the fears. When I eat one it tastes, surprisingly, of pepper. I take the harvest home with me, and later, the vivid experience of the day works its way through me and out, weaving itself into words.

First Published November 6th 2012

Mushrooming Words

We head into the dark centre of the forest, where even the intense sunlight of Southern France can only sometimes penetrate, freckling the ground.

The tall, skinny pines wave wildly in the wind. Underfoot is a spongy layer of pines cones, decaying leaves and the bristling shells of last year’s chestnuts. Everything is mud brown, except the swathes of green ferns that fill the clean mountain air with a smell like freshly cut grass.

To find the small, early season Girolle mushrooms, I will have to learn how to really SEE. The more I can see, the better I will write. I clamber over fallen tree trunks. Creepers lasso my feet. The ferns give way under me and I sink into the swamp. The pine branches that I grab for are hollow, and break off in my grazed hands. There’s an area of newly crushed ferns the size of a large pig. The Sanglier (wild boar), have been there.

There is no sun to steer by now and I am disorientated. It’s difficult to scan the ground and stay in touch with my companions at the same time. I lose sight of them, and the sound of them fades away too.

Fear spikes me. Then I hear the screeching, the rasping of wild creatures.

The fear is terrible for a moment, but there is no-where to run to, so I just stay put. I listen to the sounds, increasingly awe-filled.

After a time something shifts, and I realise I’m doing what I went there to do. The wildness is no longer ‘out there’. I’m no longer pushing it away. And what I’ve experienced I will be able to express later in words. A human call rescues me, reassures me. Apparently the noises are just the stems of trees rubbing against each other in the wind. I’m almost disappointed. Back to the treasure hunt.

Several times in the next three hours I trumpet with joy one minute, only to deflate the next.

I find a mushroom whose stem excretes milk. There’s another one that under its fleshy umbrella is flecked with red, like spilt wine. But both of these are dangerous, not to be touched.

Then, at last I spy Girolles, their sandy yellow canopies blossoming out of the moss. And the elation answers all the fears. When I eat one it tastes, surprisingly, of pepper. I take the harvest home with me, and later, the vivid experience of the day works its way through me and out, weaving itself into words.

Moonless Night

 
 
BH:  “Why on earth did I say I’d write poetry about the moon. I can’t even see Her for the rain!” 
EW: “ You know She’s there though”

 

JUST AS WE SIT DOWN TO ADMIRE THE FULL MOON, THE CLOUDS THROW A SCRATCHY WOOLLEN COWL OVER HER FACE.  OUR FACES CHAFED BY WINTER WIND, AND BOTTOMS NUMBING ON THE COLD HILLSIDE, WE WAIT. IN THE FUZZY DULLNESS OF HER ABSENCE, HEARTS SINK TO STOMACHS.

We fill in the void with philosophising. This must have sometimes happened to the haiku poets too, a voice in the dark ventures. Toes encased in tomb-boots kick at the ground, and hands are rubbed together in forced enthusiasm. And when a respectful pause for grieving has passed, it feels safe enough for someone to squeak- Pub then, is it?

My friends shrug, and laugh. They unfold stiff joints, and clamber to their feet. They dust themselves down. They toss their disappointment back over their left shoulders as they trudge away, downhill, to warmer climes.

 
BUT I STAY.

As their footfalls recede, I push myself further into the icy ground and whisper to the gloomy, vacant sky.

 
 I WILL NOT ABANDON YOU.

**

And I wonder… What did the haiku poets do when their party got rained off?

When, even as they laid their plait grass mats on the cold ground, and sat, the fog smothered the moon, and snuffed out its light? Even as its reflection in the pond slipped away between water lilies? What did they do, when, just as their nib made the first scratch on rice paper, a gust of wind spun the cherry blossom from the bough? Or, getting too close to the elegant icicle hanging from the leaf, their warm admiring exclamation of a breath, mist in the air, melted it before their eyes?  Or, when the deluge of rain arrived without notice, and soaking the autumn leaves, stole that pleasing crunch from under their sandals?

 
WHAT DID THEY DO?

I screw my eyes closed, purse my lips to prevent chattering, clench my buttocks, and scrunch my toes. Then I stay with what might be, if only I have the faith enough to see. To realise it in myself.

Because I know what the haiku poets did. But it’s not to be said out loud. Grasping that final, fading chink of spectral moonlight with their gaze, they closed their eyes, and dreamed her milky brightness. They held the vision of it close inside. They smelt almonds hearts on the breeze. And clinging for comfort to each other’s arms, they clung too, to their faith. They pushed themselves to remember what they knew.

 
THAT HOWEVER LITTLE CAN BE SEEN, THERE IS ALWAYS MORE.
AND IT IS ALWAYS PERFECT.

**

At first, inside me, there are just the darkest depths. The internal scene as gloomy as outside. But I anchor myself to my breath, and remember the haiku poets.

And, after a time, with one intake of breath, (that is no deeper, or shallower than the others), the white orb, minty fresh, flashes in my mind. Catching hold, she rises heavy and indigestible with my rising chest. She is iceberg through my stomach.  She is balloon-light in my chest. Then she sails to rest behind my eyelids- a white feather. She finally settles, pure white pearl, between my eyebrows.

In that instant, outside of me, a gust of wind claws at my frame, almost de-seating me from the hillside. I lose my connection to her, and that pearl between my eyebrows judders. She begins to reduce in size, as if she is being sucked away. Ever smaller, until there rests only a pin-prick of shaky white light, threatening to be extinguished. Eyes screwing tighter, nails digging into hands, it is by a force of will that I keep her there. Stop her vanishing.  

 
I WILL NOT ABANDON YOU.

She hears me, and steadies. She begins to expand. There is a band of heat in my forehead. Blinding light behind my eyes. It spreads through my face. It runs down my neck. It floods my arms, my core, my legs. Until… I am pure, white light. The light traverses my outline. It diffuses outwards through my .skin. It reaches north, south, east and west, touching all corners of the world. Spreading over all. Bathing all in light.

 
HER BRIGHTNESS
THROUGH THE DARKEST DEPTHS.

 

 

On Samhain

 

      Since men wrenched back the clocks, twilight catches me unawares.

The night steals in stealthily, and lands fast. Tonight will be imbued with magic. Samhain- the turning of the year. The going into the dark. I watch through the office window, as the soft light casts long shadows, and fades. Like powder cast into water, dissolving, tinged with melancholy.  And strangeness.

      Hauling on my rucksack, and tucking trousers into socks, I go out into the sharp air. I smell wood-smoke. A chill fog moves in. The twilight hangs like a fine veil between the worlds. I think about ghosts. Of my wonderful Grandmother, not long gone. I want to be home before I am encased in darkness, and the army of witchy creatures from all history, swoop down at me.

      I climb on to the bike, and ride for home.  I turn on the lights, but the beam only sharpens the fog, and bounces back to me. Fiery-copper autumn trees are half-seen. Mistaken and morphed. They recede from my eye, like boats sailing away into the mist. The silent turning world.

      Now you see things. Now you don’t. Now you see things. Now you don’t.

      Descending the hill, my hands tighten on the handlebars. My Grandmother flashes into my mind. She imprints herself upon me. Her hands snap into position where mine should be. ‘Off we go then’ she says, in the spirit of adventure. And my heart flips over. Tears swell to my eyes silently, softly, achingly.

      I can’t find her at all in the outside world, but she sometimes takes up residence in my body like this. I am not consumed by grief. I am disoriented by it. It is her absolute presence and absolute absence that confounds me. She is so clear, but when I reach out, I put my hand through clouds.

      Now I see her. Now I don’t. Now I hear her. Now I don’t.

      Flying down the mountain to the plain, I see it from far away. The mute, scarlet, swinging blink, of an ambulance light cutting through the fog.

     I freewheel alongside the empty country airfield. Where the airfield ends and a field of maize begins, a helicopter sits like a resting dragonfly, limp winged, alongside the ambulance. There is the jagged remains of crashed glider too, glowing white in the dark. I guess that it came down too steeply, before the runway. Its face is shattered into a thousand pieces across the shorn grass ground.

      A group of silent, uniformed men are standing, quietly, head bowed, as if round a grave.  They shelter a still, prone form from view. A tableau. They don’t move for a long time.

      I bring my bike to a halt, somehow inside the drama. Alone on the deserted road I peer at the scene through the half-light. The smell of newly-turned harvest soil in my nostrils. No one moves. No one looks over. The utter silence roars. 

      It’s hard to get a grip of what’s happening. Slowly, piecing the half-seen together, I realise that the unremitting flashing light of the ambulance is pacing out a death scene. The uniformed men, bearing the sad disappointment of how life turns out in the end, move medical equipment away.  There is nothing more to be done.

      My grandmother’s voice chortles in my ear ‘Well, well, well’. And that small, sharp intake of breath that she used to do, escapes my lungs.

      The men perfunctorily turn a blanket out to cover what they guard. They carry it to the helicopter, its weight causing their gait to roll.  I know there is a person under there.

      My Grandmother’s head, (or possibly it’s my head?), shakes slowly in disbelief. Hers was a proper death at almost 94, not like this young thing, gone at perhaps a quarter of that.

      Now you see me. Now you don’t. Now you’re here. Now you’re not.

      The utter silence roars.

      I am lost in other bodies, swathed in death. And all I want to do now is to fly from it. Shake them all off. Turn on the silenced siren to blast through the fog.  That something might reach me.

      Don’t let the light fade. Don’t let the light fade.

      On I pedal. I go fast, fast. In order to jerk myself awake. I want to come back from between the worlds. I try to contact the fall of my feet on the pedals, and my breath. I latch on to beacons of colour. I drink in the amber and gold-sparking chrysanthemums, that wait outside houses. They will be placed on graves, on tomorrow’s Day Of The Dead. My eyes can’t get enough of the glittering citron poplar trees, and the popping ruby berries strung along the road.  

      And when I arrive home I grasp too the bubbling laughter of my son, and the scratch of the pouncing kitten, to bring me back to the land of the living.

      In the evening, at official celebrations of All Hallows, I am delighted to be only with those who still breathe. There is the pulsing, crackling fire. There is sharp cold-slap on my face as I surface from the bobbing bucket, a scarlet apple clenched between teeth, juice sour in my mouth.

     The dead are absent and life blazes. Hypnotised by the flames, I hear, in their dancing flicker, these words-

 Live fiercely, while you can.

Hold those you love very tight.

Don’t waste a second on discord.

Set a blaze in your heart.

Because one day, too soon,

A veil will be thrown between you and them,

And you will be gone into darkness. 

A Writer's Process: Bridget Holding

Written on 20th March 2016

Today has been a perfect writing day. In that I have arrived at the evening with a real sense of satisfaction. The poem may not be finished, but it knows where it’s going.

Writing on a Sunday is sometimes more productive than during the week. Probably because all those small administrative things that usually niggle at me, seem to have no sway at the weekend. It’s the day of rest after all. Not that writing is exactly rest. It can be hard work. But it nourishes me.

This morning I awoke without an alarm at around seven, and had the start to the day that is most conducive to my writing process. I lay in bed a while, seeing what was present for me in terms of feelings and body sensations. 

Today is the spring equinox, and I knew I wanted to write something on that subject. However, I know from experience that if I don’t let what’s already there be heard, then that will block other expression.

Sometimes I just brainstorm on to a piece of paper with words about ‘what’s in the way of my writing today’.  However, today, there was one strong theme.  Sadness. So I made a cup of tea, propped myself up with pillows, and wrote down the words that wanted to come from that place of sadness. I was blessed with a strong image, so that helped me to find a path of self-expression from the feelings.

Once I was up, showered and breakfasted, I looked at information on some of the themes around the equinox, on the internet. I always feel a little like this is not what a poet is meant to do, but I’m enjoying bringing some astronomy and physics into my poems on ‘the turning year’. I like that specificity. It’s grounding my work.

What really sets me on fire as a poet is building a path from the microcosm of the movements of my own inner experience (body sensation and feeling particularly) to the macrocosm of the movements of nature, or the universe, or other abstract themes.

Aristotle said (I’m paraphrasing) that ‘the greatest of thing of all, is to be a master of metaphor’ I aim at that. Why not aim high! So, I found in the information and videos of the earth moving round the sun, some movement words that allowed me to feel that rhythm in my own body.

Then I stashed some paper and a pen, and my phone, into my coat pocket, and went for a walk. I’m lucky enough to live in the foothills of the Pyrenees. I walked two hours up a mountain, which really feels like going into the wilds.  I tried to feel into my animal self. Not to think, but to stay with the embodied experience of walking, alert to my environment, taking in sensory impressions. As words came to me, I jotted them down. I returned with two pages of hand written notes on various facets of my subject.

I ate lunch and took a siesta. Sleep for me, is like a wave clearing the beach. When I awoke I was in my body, and ready to go back to the poem.

I’ve been happy with today’s poem from the beginning. It found a form and shape immediately. I knew the pace, where to put the reader’s attention, the outline of it, from the outset. So today has been about filling that outline in.

This afternoon’s work (I meant to work two hours this afternoon, but worked four) has been about two things.

First, I’ve been doing small physical movements to feel deeper into the moments of movement in the planet I describe in the poem. Sometimes I might, for example, repeat a small tilt of my hips, which mirrors the tilt the earth makes in my poem at the equinox, perhaps fifty times. The words rise up from that embodied experience. If I am patient enough to wait and be with it.

The second thing I did this evening, when I had a good-enough first draft, was to consciously bring all the senses into the poem- I want the reader to smell, touch, taste, hear, and see the colours. That took some time. And some thinking myself back to the experience of walking this morning.

And then there were some internet facts to check too. Quite a few as the poem seems to be expanded to a story about three countries (not to mention the planet as a whole!)

Although I was hoping to write this poem in a day, it’s not finished. As quite often happens, it’s turning into a longer poem than I had intended, and is taking longer than I hoped.

It’s hard work too. Somehow I forget that between writing each poem.  Stringing words together on a mountain top, is really just the beginning of the day.

I realised at the end of this afternoon, that I need to bring the spring mountain flowers more alive to the reader. And the sensory impressions aren’t quite there. To do that I might have to walk back up the mountain again sometime this week, and bring some back.

I’ve going to put it online anyway. We are writers sharing the process, after all.

I’ll sleep soundly tonight.  In touch with the wild.

You can read my poem 'Spring Equinox-March 2016' also on this blog.

Spring Equinox- March 2016

Today,
the Earth raises her chin,
and puts an even face to the sun.

Drops her tailbone to feel
the straightening of her spine
As a plumb line hanging in infinity.

Raises herself on curling toes
locks her eyes
throws out a leg,

And pirouettes.

She’s up on her points
suspending time.

All that idle talk about our sun,
that ‘rises in the east, and sets in the west’
Is only true today.

Only today,
her spinning is a pause
in which
the earth resets itself

And day and night sit evenly on the scales.

**

Here,
in France,
it’s still a forlorn sepia world
I walk out into.

Prehistoric
Of lichen and moss and rock
Cold, hard things.

Leaves cling to petrified trees
like rags on a beggar.
Hollow, flaking branches
Perish to dust on the ground.

The sticky mud coffins the winter damp.

But still,
there’s a warm tease in the breath of wind
that catches my cheek,
and ruffles my hair.
Lavender and thyme on her breath
A whisper of  seduction.
A promise of life.

Until,
slicing through like a blade
chill air from the poles
breaks up the party. 
Snapping
Leave it out. Leave it out. We’re not there yet.

The equinox tussle.

**

And the Earth?
She turns us so fast that we are paralysed.
Caught in the spell of this day.


**

But I know
that Nature. The Artist. 
Besotted by colour,
is preparing her paints.

Mixing great vats of them.

On the mountainside I see
She has spattered
a dash of violet here,
jonquil yellow there.
Sprayed pink and white
through the hedge.

Tenderly blotted each spilled drop with a cloth
Fanning it out to the petal whorl.

Grape hyacinch here,
march marigold there.
And the cherry blossom
running wild in the hedge.

**

A Japanese man I meet buying bread
holds his breath as he tells me that
the whole of that nation
hangs on news
of the sweep south
of the cherry blossom front.

Broadcasters agitate over
first petals sighted
in the north of the country.
Five to six flowers opening
On sample tree fifty-three

Poets sits at the trunks,
hog-bristle brushes poised,
Lips parted to receive
the seventeen sounds.

**
At dinner,
an Indian friend
sighs, doe-eyed, over memories
of crowds gathering in Mumbai
dizzy with expectation.
Clutching plastic zip bags
gaudily coloured powders.

Young men pacing
like athletes on the blocks
tying handkerchiefs into triangle masks
flexing their throwing wrists.
And arching their backs
to relieve the growing pressure
in their groins.

**

And then what?
The spell of the day cannot last forever.
The sap will rise. 

**

There comes a moment
when the Earth feels the strain,
and the position can no longer be held.
She must adjust her line.

She releases her cramping leg
tilts her back
raises her face imperceptibly towards the sun.

With the pouring out of daylight
All hell breaks loose on the earth.

**
In France,
fierce heat on mountain tops
melts snow.

The run-off swells streams,
reanimates the bodies of animals
sending them scampering
beside themselves
senseless.

In Japan,
a cascade of burgeoning blossom
awakens cries of delight.
The newscaster skips
and the haiku poet trembles
as he hiccups the words
“This dewdrop world
Is but a dewdrop world
And yet —” 

**

In India,
with the whistle
and jeer
and surge of the crowd
paint is scooped, slung- shot, wrist flicked
tipped, and blown.
It cakes laughing mouths
clogs ears and nostrils
coats skin that it will take a month to scrub clean.

Scarlet, gold and indigo explode in the sky
like fireworks
then drop silent as falling stars.

A world bursting into bloom.

**

When daylight fades on the equinox dance
the sap keeps rising
and rising.
Life turning over
to reveal her dark underbelly.

In France,
in my dusky garden
stray cats screech
and fight to the death
for the right to force themselves on one another

In Japan,
a man stabs his neighbour
to possess number thirty-three.
The most beautiful cherry tree.

In India,
In the shadows
Gangs of young men
Fuelled
Pant crimson like dragons.

Young women, rainbow-dyed
sense danger
scuttle indoors
Pull bolts.  And huddle.
As the pack
stealing permission from the festival
howls in pursuit.

Laughing and cursing,
shoulders batter front doors
To gain entry.
To claim the predator’s prize.

**

Celebrating the February 'Snow' Moon (2016)

This morning at 6am I saw the ‘snow moon’ of February hanging full and weighty in the pre-dawn sky.

 

How to find language to capture and express the experience?

 

When I take time to look patiently, words arise.

 

When I consciously expand my vocabulary, I not only express my experience more aptly, but I also live it more broadly and richly.

 

Did you know that Scots has at least 421 terms for snow? It’s true!

 

My picture contains (just) 24 words for the conditions of snow and ice, from Scots, Gaelic, and travellers’ cant.