I am always astounded by the strength of life force in nature if unhindered by human activity, the pollution of drugs and chemicals. A few weeks ago I cut a couple of branches from my Woolly Willow tree (yes, it’s really called that or Salix Lanata if you want to be formal). They were covered in gorgeous catkins and made a stunning statement in a vase in my hallway. When I decided to throw them out I was surprised to see they had grown roots so now they are destined for a new life in the garden next to their mother tree. Happy trees! I have many different willow trees; scarlet, golden, black, purple, Swiss, a ground cover variety, one that has spectacular black catkins in the spring. It is a wild, windy and wet location and yet they thrive. Branches may break off in a storm but they go on undaunted. If only we humans could do the same.
For the first time on the Purple Hermit we have a poem from a guest poet, fellow Scottish writer and friend, Alastair Simmons. Enjoy!
Blue Poppies (In memory of Esther)
She took ages to answer the door
in the heavy summer rain.
Finally, she fumbled open the catch.
Her hand was bandaged, her eyes blackened, on a white face.
“Err, I’ve had a fall,” she said, her hands still shaking.
“Err, I’ve come about the garden, gardening,” I said.
Suddenly, her eyes sparked then ignited
ninety plus years held in darkening pupils,
the delicate filament in her blue iris illuminated.
“Did I tell you about trekking in the Himalayas?
Right over the pass for six days.
I remember now, the blue poppies, wonderful,” she said.
She began talking, as if she’d known me all of my relatively short life.
She took my arm and leaned hard on the old wooden stick,
“Now let me show you the roses.”
The summer rain pelted like an Asian monsoon.
We didn’t notice.
By Alastair Simmons 2012
Alastair lives on the Northeast Scottish coast, finding inspiration in the landscapes of Scotland and Northern England, and also it’s cities. And the gardens he creates, working as a gardener. “Poetry is about finding connection and expressing that feeling, whether it’s people, nature or worlds we find ourselves in.”
There are times when it’s hard to spot the signs of hope hidden amongst the negativity and gloom that surrounds us at present. As UK appears to sink beneath another wave of a more virulent strain of Covid 19 many of us are teetering on the edge of despair. Today when I opened my front door to another cold and frosty winter’s day I noticed the teeny tiny shoots of crocuses emerging in a plant pot. They were almost invisible amongst the moss, weeds and colourful pebbles but they were definitely there. So however grim our lives might appear at present we must pause and look for the good stuff and remember tomorrow is another day.
Like many others stuck at home since the start of the Covid Pandemic I have taken comfort from my garden. There’s a special healing energy in the natural world which we all need at the moment. Just a few minutes outdoors can reset my mood. Today was a particularly grim British October day with non-stop rain and dark overcast skies. So it was lovely to look through some of my flower photos to remind myself how beautiful life can be. Here’s my favourite one of a white hydrangea like a cascade of starlight.
We are living through dark and difficult times. It’s hard to stay upbeat and positive under the constant barrage of bad news:- fires in Siberia, more mass shootings in the U.S., flooding and the horror of Brexit in the UK, riots in Hong Kong, a possible war in Iran….its an endless list. There are days when I avoid listening to the news. Instead I immerse myself in quotidian activities such as housework, cooking or gardening to try and regain a balanced perspective on life. I find being outdoors amongst nature and animals the best therapy for a gloomy mood. Also I love creative art – to paint or draw or take photographs and truly observe the world in all its wonderful detail. It’s important to take time out doing something you enjoy. It’s important to focus on the little things that make life worth living, to stop and look at the beauty around us.
Here is my favourite mindfulness exercise. I hope you find it helpful.
1. Acknowledge FIVE things you see around you. Maybe it is a bird, maybe it is pencil, maybe it is a spot on the ceiling, however big or small, state 5 things you see.
2. Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch around you. Maybe this is your hair, hands, ground, grass, pillow, etc, whatever it may be, list out the 4 things you can feel.
3. Acknowledge THREE things you hear. This needs to be external, do not focus on your thoughts; maybe you can hear a clock, a car, a dog park. or maybe you hear your tummy rumbling, internal noises that make external sounds can count, what is audible in the moment is what you list.
4. Acknowledge TWO things you can smell: This one might be hard if you are not in a stimulating environment, if you cannot automatically sniff something out, walk nearby to find a scent. Maybe you walk to your bathroom to smell soap or outside to smell anything in nature, or even could be as simple as leaning over and smelling a pillow on the couch, or a pencil. Whatever it may be, take in the smells around you.
5. Acknowledge ONE thing you can taste. What does the inside of your mouth taste like, gum, coffee, or the sandwich from lunch? Focus on your mouth as the last step and take in what you can taste.
I hesitate over the Hollyhock seeds,
a gift from an unwelcome visitor,
plucked from her coastal garden.
She wished to cultivate friendship
but this is not a land for expectations.
Some days there is too much sky
and the earth shrinks in subservience.
The northerlies and easterlies razor
high hopes to humble proportions.
I prepare soil sheltered by fencing
and umbrella bamboo, fronds scorched
by storm. I shake the Hollyhock seeds
into my palm. Alien, irregular. I sprinkle
and mark the spot with a scallop shell.
Three years on, September, I return
from hospital having almost missed
first bloom; bold and sizzling
cerise in a land that favours the small.
“Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.”
Is it our vulnerability, kindness, unpredictability? Or is it our creativity and invention? Or perhaps, looking back sadly on human history, it is our immense proclivity for destruction and deceit?
Artificial intelligence is no longer a concept confined to science fiction novels. We have self-drive cars, phones that talk and robotic vacuum cleaners. A.I. is real and among us in the here and now. It is a challenge to our previous ideas about humanity. Are we really so special and superior after all? Is Artificial Intelligence something we should welcome or fear? Will it make us more or less human by comparison?
Alex Garland’s stunning 2015 film Ex Machina explored these questions and inspired me to write this poem:-
Alan dreams 256 shades of green, hibernating
in his glass docking pod at the bottom of the garden.
Self-starting at sunrise, his solar panels slowly energize.
Recharged and updated with new kinds of seed,
66 brands of feed and non-toxic weed killers
plus the latest on invasive alien species.
Alan zips up his latex happy face
(with questioning eyebrows and a real pipe)
and his T-shirt declares ‘I love life’ (in bold font) for the Master.
After the BBC weather forecast, he initiates maintenance checks,
self-lubricates his cylinder, sharpens blades, tops up levels.
His friend, the virtual robin observes from a perch by the electric fence.
Alan has the same old routine every day,
downloading music while he works
(Tom Jones, The Green Green Grass of Home on repeat).
Perfect, straight lines along the wire perimeter,
perfect stripes overlapping by a centimeter, working left to right,
raking, aerating, weeding, feeding as he goes,
forming perfect crisp edges around the lily pond.
Sometimes he hopes for showers so he can count
raindrops falling into the water, watch his reflection crumble,
ripple into concentric circles. Chaotic patterns
stir the surface calm, bubbles rise from the carp beneath,
flickering gold in the shadows.
Note 1:- another excellent recent film about Artificial Intelligence, personality, ageing and memory is Marjorie Prime, directed by Michael Almereyda. Click below for The Guardian Review.