Category Archives: Autumn

15 February: Gilbert White’s reflection on the crocus.

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The 18th Century curate and scientist saw no conflict between these two ways of looking at the world; here it is science inspiring him to a prayer in poetry.

The crocus sativus, the vernal, and the autumnal crocus have such an affinity, that the best botanists only make them varieties of the same genus, of which there is only one species; not being able to discern any difference in the corolla, or in the internal structure. Yet the vernal crocus expands its flowers by the beginning of March at farthest, and often in very rigorous weather; and cannot be retarded but by some violence offered: — while the autumnal (the saffron) defies the influence of the spring and summer, and will not blow till most plants begin to fade and run to seed.

This circumstance is one of the wonders of the creation, little noticed, because a common occurrence: yet ought not to be overlooked on account of its being familiar, since it would be as difficult to be explained as the most stupendous phaenomenon in nature.

Say, what impels, amidst surrounding snow,
Congealed, the crocus’ flamy bud to grow?
Say, what retards, amidst the summer’s blaze,
Th’ autumnal bulb till pale, declining days ?
The GOD of SEASONS; whose pervading power
Controls the sun, or sheds the fleecy shower:
He bids each flower His quickening word obey;
Or to each lingering bloom enjoins delay.


 Letter XLII from The Natural History of Selborne by Gilbert White.

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14 December: A problematic ministry.

Here’s sobering reading as we move into winter. Although there are more people homeless in town, Canterbury’s churches contribute to caring for them and moving them on in positive way, including through ‘Catching Lives’, a local charity, and, in past years, collaborating to provide the Night Shelter in different halls through the Winter. Some people are difficult to engage with, and sometimes a little more is needed than leaving it to the experts. From the Benefice Annual Report for Saints Dunstan, Mildred and Peter, regarding last winter.

We met with Toby Coburn of Kent Police regarding B, a homeless man, who had taken up long term residency in a tent in the Churchyard. After several warnings from the Rector about his behaviour, an eviction note was left for him by Toby who made it clear that the Churchyard was not appropriate for anyone who is homeless. He moved on without any trouble.

Prior to this, Amos, who had previously been camping in the Churchyard before finding accommodation, had worked hard to tidy up the Churchyard. Following B’s departure, he cleared all the rubbish left by B, he reseeded a large area, cut back the undergrowth and overgrowth, planted shrubs, cleared the ground gutters and removed weeds and ivy and set about maintaining the Churchyard in general whilst attending a horticultural course.

His presence also acts as a deterrent to anyone wishing to take up residence in the Churchyard although on the 19th November, a little tent was erected in the churchyard near the entrance and clearly visible. The occupant who was known to Catching Lives and the Street Pastor then moved to the back where the tent could not be seen from outside. Once the night shelter was operating, he was encouraged to vacate the Churchyard.

Unfortunately damage is done to the walls of the Churchyard by people climbing over to gain access. We are very grateful to Amos for all his hard work.

We continue to try to keep rough sleepers from camping in the Churchyard, particularly as it is easy for them to damage the walls by climbing over as this is the only way they can get into the Churchyard. We try to direct them to various organisations for their safety and well being.

Rachel Cameron and Revd Jo Richards

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Leaves

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The leaves are almost all down around here. The Victorian poet Alice Meynell also took note of them, investing them with human emotions, asking eternal questions.

“O leaves, so quietly ending now,
   You have heard cuckoos sing.
And I will grow upon my bough
   If only for a Spring,
And fall when the rain is on my brow.

O tell me, tell me ere you die,
   Is it worth the pain?
You bloomed so fair, you waved so high;
   Now that the sad days wane,
Are you repenting where you lie?”

From “Poems” by Alice Meynell

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November 29: Doctor Johnson and the Survival Tree.

The once lone rowan, dubbed The Survivor, near Moffat is now surrounded by emerging native woodland.
The Survivor Tree

More than 200 years ago Dr Johnson was visiting Scotland, and commented often on the desolation caused by the lack of trees. It’s taken the climate emergency for action to be taken but that action is paying off. First, Dr Johnson:
“It is natural, in traversing this gloom of desolation, to inquire, whether something may not be done to give nature a more cheerful face, and whether those hills and moors that afford heath cannot with a little care and labour bear something better?  The first thought that occurs is to cover them with trees, for that in many of these naked regions trees will grow, is evident, because stumps and roots are yet remaining; and the speculatist hastily proceeds to censure that negligence and laziness that has omitted for so long a time so easy an improvement. To drop seeds into the ground, and attend their growth, requires little labour and no skill.  He who remembers that all the woods, by which the wants of man have been supplied from the Deluge till now, were self-sown, will not easily be persuaded to think all the art and preparation necessary, which the Georgick writers prescribe to planters.  Trees certainly have covered the earth with very little culture.  They wave their tops among the rocks of Norway, and might thrive as well in the Highlands and Hebrides.

He that calculates the growth of trees, has the unwelcome remembrance of the shortness of life driven hard upon him.  He knows that he is doing what will never benefit himself; and when he rejoices to see the stem rise, is disposed to repine that another shall cut it down. Plantation is naturally the employment of a mind unburdened with care, and vacant to futurity, saturated with present good, and at leisure to derive gratification from the prospect of posterity.  He that pines with hunger, is in little care how others shall be fed.  The poor man is seldom studious to make his grandson rich.  It may be soon discovered, why in a place, which hardly supplies the cravings of necessity, there has been little attention to the delights of fancy, and why distant convenience is unregarded, where the thoughts are turned with incessant solicitude upon every possibility of immediate advantage.

from “Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland” by Samuel Johnson)

And here is a hopeful story from Scotland; a video clip on a remarkable and inspiring tree being helped out of loneliness.

This is still a good time to plant trees in our neighbourhood.

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November 20: Lighting a candle

crypt (640x481)

Although the crypt at Canterbury Cathedral is usually quiet, there are always sounds to absorb or blank out; I think most people would soon find their inner silence undisturbed by passing footsteps of pilgrims or tourists passing by or finding a seat.

These steps were different, a measured tread, leather soles with steel segs to make the heels last longer, as worn by the Combined Cadet Force at my secondary school. The visitor advanced to the candle stand, took one, lit it, and positioned it upon the rack. A step back, and he stood ramrod straight before the altar for a minute, bowed deeply, turned and left. It was a man I have known by sight for maybe thirty years, but this  was the first time I had seen him wearing the regimental tie of the Buffs, the East Kent Regiment, now amalgamated out of existence.

It was obviously an important date for him to mark in this way. When I searched the web I discovered that the Battle of Cambrai began on 20th November 1917 and many Buffs were involved.

Perhaps this man’s grandfather was in the battle, but he had come to the crypt  in solidarity with his comrades, even with men he never knew; his regimental tie, his candle and his silent moment a prayer of hope for them and for this ravaged world; his visit, even if it was but a short walk from his home, a true pilgrimage.

 

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15 November, Relics XXIV: The Nightingale of Ceiriog.

Saint Silin’s church

in October 1854 George Borrow is walking through Wales, and has reached the village of Llansilin, where the bard Eos Ceiriog, the Nightingale of Ceiriog (Huw Morris) lived and is buried.

Having discussed my ale, I asked the landlord if he would show me the grave of Huw Morris.  “With pleasure, sir,” said he; “pray follow me.”  He led me to the churchyard, in which several enormous yew trees were standing, probably of an antiquity which reached as far back as the days of Henry the Eighth, when the yew bow was still the favourite weapon of the men of Britain. 

The innkeeper led me directly up to the southern wall, then pointing to a broad discoloured slab, which lay on the ground just outside the wall, he said: “Underneath this stone lies Huw Morris, sir.” 

Forthwith taking off my hat, I went down on my knees and kissed the cold slab covering the cold remains of the mighty Huw, and then, still on my knees, proceeded to examine it attentively.  It is covered over with letters three parts defaced.  All I could make out of the inscription was the date of the poet’s death, 1709.  “A great genius, a very great genius, sir,” said the innkeeper, after I had got on my feet and put on my hat. “He was indeed,” said I; “are you acquainted with his poetry?” “O yes,” said the innkeeper,” from Wild Wales by George Borrow.

If anyone had dared suggest to George Borrow that this respect for a poet’s grave was on a par with Papist superstition, Borrow would have been mighty vexed. He held that Catholics put ‘their hope of salvation on outward forms and superstitious observances’*, and no doubt would have included venerating saints’ relics as one of those observances. He himself went out of his way to visit Llansilin, for the sake of a poet.

*The Bible in Spain.

Photograph by Plucas58 via Wikipedia. Free to use.

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14 November: A cat.


A Cat by Edward Thomas from Last Poems.

She had a name among the children;
But no one loved though someone owned
Her, locked her out of doors at bedtime
And had her kittens duly drowned
In Spring, nevertheless, this cat
Ate blackbirds, thrushes, nightingales,
And birds of bright voice and plume and flight,
As well as scraps from neighbours’ pails.
I loathed and hated her for this;
One speckle on a thrush’s breast
Was worth a million such; and yet
She lived long, till God gave her rest.

smart

This is a war poem insofar as it was written when the poet was waiting to go to war. Edward Thomas was aware that joining the army was a dangerous decision during World War I. Of course, we know he did not come home.

The all-killing, all-devouring cat herself lost her own kittens. That is outside her control. She herself kills because that’s the way she is, till God gives her rest. And the war lived long and killed multitudes, because that’s the way it is; out of control.

When I arrived at L’Arche’s Glebe garden the day after reading this poem, I met with this sight. There are at least three cats that patrol the place and one young blackbird the less.

We pray that God may give us a changed heart, so that His world may have a rest from War.

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12 November: The Bridge

poppy.bridge

Poets poured out the experience of the Great War in many ways. Edward Thomas does not dwell on the horrors, though he knew them, but on the peace that passes understanding, the blest moment between two lives, the one to come goodlier, lovelier, dearer, for all the pilgrim leaves old friends behind. Read the poem aloud, slowly.

This is the Poppy Bridge, at Didsbury, Manchester.

I have come a long way to-day:
On a strange bridge alone,
Remembering friends, old friends,
I rest, without smile or moan,
As they remember me without smile or moan.

All are behind, the kind
And the unkind too, no more
To-night than a dream. The stream
Runs softly yet drowns the Past,
The dark-lit stream has drowned the Future and the Past.

No traveller has rest more blest
Than this moment brief between
Two lives, when the Night’s first lights
And shades hide what has never been,
Things goodlier, lovelier, dearer, than will be or have been.

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9 November, Relics XXV: Borrow’s blind spot

Strata Florida as seen a few years before Borrow’s visit.

George Borrow on his mid-19th Century tour of Wales has reached Strata Florida Abbey, where the grave of the mediaeval bard Daffyd Ap Gwilym, is thought to lie.

Who knows, said I, but this is the tree that was planted over Ab Gwilym’s grave, and to which Gruffyd Gryg wrote an ode?  I looked at it attentively, and … relying on the possibility of its being the sacred tree, I behaved just as I should have done had I been quite certain of the fact: Taking off my hat I knelt down and kissed its root, repeating lines from Gruffydd Gryg, with which I blended some of my own in order to accommodate what I said to circumstances:

“O tree of yew, which here I spy,
By Ystrad Flur’s blest monast’ry,
Beneath thee lies, by cold Death bound,
The tongue for sweetness once renown’d.
Better for thee thy boughs to wave,
Though scath’d, above Ab Gwilym’s grave,
Than stand in pristine glory drest
Where some ignobler bard doth rest.”

A man came up attended by a large dog.  “Good evening,” said I to him in Welsh. “Good evening, gentleman,” said he in the same language. “Are you the farmer?” “Yes!  I farm the greater part of the Strath.” “I suppose the land is very good here?” “Why do you suppose so?” “Because the monks built their house here in the old time, and the monks never built their houses except on good land.” “Well, I must say the land is good; indeed I do not think there is any so good in Shire Aberteifi.” “Do many people come to see the monastery?” Farmer.—Yes! many gentlefolk come to see it in the summer time. Myself.—It is a poor place now. Farmer.—Very poor, I wonder any gentlefolks come to look at it. Myself.—It was a wonderful place once; you merely see the ruins of it now.  It was pulled down at the Reformation. Farmer.—Why was it pulled down then? Myself.—Because it was a house of idolatry to which people used to resort by hundreds to worship images, down on their knees before stocks and stones, worshipping them, kissing them and repeating pennillion to them. Farmer.—What fools!  How thankful I am that I live in wiser days.  If such things were going on in the old Monachlog it was high time to pull it down. Myself.—What kind of a rent do you pay for your land? Farmer.—O, rather a stiffish one. Myself.—Two pound an acre? Farmer.—Two pound an acre!  I wish I paid no more. Myself.—Well!  I think that would be quite enough.  In the time of the old monastery you might have had the land at two shillings an acre. Farmer.—Might I?  Then those couldn’t have been such bad times, after all. Myself.—I beg your pardon!  They were horrible times—times in which there were monks and friars and graven images, which people kissed and worshipped and sang pennillion to.  Better pay three pounds an acre and live on crusts and water in the present enlightened days than pay two shillings an acre and sit down to beef and ale three times a day in the old superstitious times. Farmer.—Well, I scarcely know what to say to that.”

From Wild Wales

Image in public domain via Wkipedia.

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8 November: Borrow’s brolly

Image from Sister Johanna

George Borrow is walking through Wales in November 1854, and does not regard an umbrella as something expendable, to be thrown out when one or two struts have broken! No Bibles for sale this time, but he’s as full of himself as ever. Enjoy his bombast! But we could remind him of Psalm 17:8, ‘Keep me as the apple of thy eye. Protect me under the shadow of thy wings.’ Even when the rain is in your face, the Lord will protect you. If you allow him to.

Rain came on, but it was at my back, so I expanded my umbrella, flung it over my shoulder and laughed.  O, how a man laughs who has a good umbrella when he has the rain at his back, aye and over his head too, and at all times when it rains except when the rain is in his face, when the umbrella is not of much service.  O, what a good friend to a man is an umbrella in rain time, and likewise at many other times.  What need he fear if a wild bull or a ferocious dog attacks him, provided he has a good umbrella? he unfurls the umbrella in the face of the bull or dog, and the brute turns round quite scared, and runs away.  Or if a footpad asks him for his money, what need he care provided he has an umbrella? he threatens to dodge the ferrule into the ruffian’s eye, and the fellow starts back and says, “Lord, sir! I meant no harm.  I never saw you before in all my life.  I merely meant a little fun.”  Moreover, who doubts that you are a respectable character provided you have an umbrella? you go into a public-house and call for a pot of beer, and the publican puts it down before you with one hand without holding out the other for the money, for he sees that you have an umbrella and consequently property.  And what respectable man, when you overtake him on the way and speak to him, will refuse to hold conversation with you, provided you have an umbrella?  No one.  The respectable man sees you have an umbrella and concludes that you do not intend to rob him, and with justice, for robbers never carry umbrellas.  O, a tent, a shield, a lance and a voucher for character is an umbrella.  Amongst the very best friends of man must be reckoned an umbrella.

from Wild Wales by George Borrow.

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