The marsh walk was chosen not because it was flat but because there was a pub at either end. George was home for a few days gardening leave between jobs, his gardening consisting in sunbathing on the lawn that his mother tends with this activity in mind. Stodmarsh feels further from London than 70 miles.
Nonetheless, this is a post-industrial landscape: Chislet colliery lay under here and as land in the Stour valley subsided water and reeds took over. Paths allow dryshod walking from the Red Lion to the Grove Ferry Inn, especially after a dry winter and spring.
Mrs T is shorter than her husband and son, just below the tops of the reeds, so her view was restricted. But she enjoyed the birdsong – including two cuckoos and a booming bittern. The cuckoo is becoming rarer; there were many more when we came to Kent some forty years ago. Bitterns are a different case, no more than birds of passage back then.
Back then the old field fences could be seen from the train, gradually sinking into what was at first seasonal open water but has now become reed beds, favoured home of bitterns. Back then – even just a couple of years ago – we would have expected swallows and martins as well as swifts chasing flies. It cannot be just lack of mud for nest-building that kept them away this year.
Although young Abel will appreciate the birds he gets to know, he may never be familiar with swallows and martins, or even song thrushes. Thank God he has sparrows under his roof.
I don’t need Mr Trump’s climate change denial. I saw how entranced Abel was, aged 18 months, by the song of a robin in a nearby bush. I would like to think that, aged 18, he will enjoy the song of a nightingale from a Kentish bramble patch.
Laudato Si’ – but also – miserere nobis.
George’s picture of the swans -there were two parents and seven cygnets – shows how well the wildlife is hidden out on the marsh.
The old road passes along the top of Tankerton slope after running inland to skirt the Marshes. The sea wall with its promenade protects the slope from crumbling into the waters, and apart from rough grass there are green plants and bushes all the way. One rarity is hog’s fennel, which when we visited with Abel had filled a patch of land with mounds of lacy, dark green leaf. We got up close when chasing after an upwardly mobile toddler.
It is good to know that something so beautiful is being watched over, conserved.
Looking after one small corner of our shared home is a step towards saving the planet, so thanks are due to those looking after the slopes.
And Laudato Si’ !
Even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these, (Matthew 6: 29) though I can imagine William Morris enjoying the challenge of translating this into a textile design!
Suddenly it was time to harvest the apricots, and a bumper crop on our tree this year, branches laden, bending under the weight. Up in the tree is a good place to be, close to the sun-reflecting fruit.
There was plenty to store and plenty to share as jam or ice cream.
Good news, yes, but is it all good news?
As I downloaded this photo from the camera I saw that the one Mrs T took three years ago was taken three weeks later in the month. This year we had blackberries before the end of June.
Even a friend living in a nearby village has seen very few swallows or martins, though numbers of sparrows and starlings seem greater than recent years.
And now the city council propose an ugly new multi-storey car park near the centre of town but also next to a pollution blackspot.
Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.
This surely refers to knowingly keeping God’s law, rather than blindly following those devised by human law-makers, who may not be supremely wise and well-meaning.
To say or sing Laudato Si’ sounds almost ironic at times, but we must live in hope and not allow ourselves to be cynical. We can start by sharing the apricots and leaving the car at home when we could walk.
Today’s reading and tomorrow’s invite us, as Mary Webb challenged us yesterday, to be merely receptive. Laudato Si’!
The story of any flower is not one of stillness, but of faint gradations of movement that we cannot see. The widening and lengthening of petals, the furling and unfurling of leaves, are too gentle for our uneducated eyes. The white convolvulus that flowers only for a day meets the early light folded as if with careful fingers, and dusk finds it folded in almost the same way. You would think that the stillness had never been broken; yet between dawn and twilight the flower’s lifework has been completed in one series of smooth, delicate motions. The hour of the pointed bud has been followed by hours of change, until the time of the open blossom and the feeding bee; and even in that triumphant moment a faint tremor shook the spread corolla, and the final silent furling had begun. During the whole drama the flower has seemed stationary – and we never see.
Watch a bank of periwinkle on an early summer morning. The fresh blue flowers are poised high on delicate stalks, and seem aloof from the leaves. Absolute stillness broods over them; no tremor is discernible in leaf or petal; the wide blue flowers gaze up intently into the wide blue sky. Suddenly, without any breath of wind, without so much stir as a passing gnat makes, one flower has left her stem. No decay touched her; it was just that in her gently progressive existence the time for erect receiving was over. Some faint vibration told her that the moment had come for her to leave off gazing stilly at the sky; and so, in silence and beauty, with soft precipitation, she buried her face in the enfolding evergreen leaves. This pale shadow of a gesture is as lovely, as inevitable, as the flight of wild swans beating up the sky.
Mary Webb’s illness caused swellings, which eventually distorted her face. But:
There are many to whom all beauty seems denied; they hunger for it dumbly, unconsciously. Is their life to be a stricken tree, colourless and silent? Surely not. The flawless forms and colours of nature are an especial consolation to those who are oppressed by that dark tragedy, deformity of body or unloveliness of face. How deep is the desolation, when a sad soul looks out anxiously, through eyes that cannot reflect its beauty, watching for an answering smile, and meeting only a look of swiftly concealed repulsion! Startled and ill at ease in the ruinous mortal dwelling, reminded of it continually, this soul leads a life of torture. I saw one of these look from her windows and weep bitterly, finding no comfort. Then a voice came in the long sigh of the dawn breeze:–
“I know, inhabitant of eternity, how strait and comfortless your home is. Go out into my garden and forget. The skies are clear; see where I lead out my sidereal flocks! The tall young larches are dreaming of green; there is moonlight in the primrose woods. There is a fit dwelling for you; go, and be at peace.”
She rose and went, and her laugh came back upon the wind. The leaves do not hesitate to finger and kiss any face, however marred, that looks up into their dwelling. No distortion of body frightens the birds, if the heart within loves them.
One flower of germander speedwell may be the magic robe that clothes us with the beauty of earth. It has the same strength of structure, wonder of tint and mystery of shadow as all natural things. Awakened by its minute perfection, the mind … realises that nature’s beauty can never be perfectly grasped.
Ceasing for a time to question and strive, let us dare to be merely receptive.
A Happy Feast Day to Our own TJH and all Thomases! We do value the gifts of the doubters and thinkers: as the artist of Strasbourg shows, you help the rest of us to understand. And no doubt you’ll let the dog in once he starts scratching the door!
We listen, hearing a faint call from afar. It is this sense of mystery – unfading, because the veil is never lifted – that gives glory to the countryside, tenderness to atmosphere. It is this that sends one man to the wilds, another to dig a garden; that sings in a musician’s brain; that inspires the pagan to build an altar and the child to make a cowslip-ball. For in each of us is implanted the triune capacity for loving his fellow and nature and the Creator of them.
These loves may be latent, but they are there; and unless they are all developed we cannot reach perfect manhood or womanhood. For the complete character is that which is in communion with most sides of life – which sees, hears, and feels most – which has for its fellows the sympathy of understanding, for nature the love that is without entire comprehension, and for the mystery beyond them the inexhaustible desire which surely prophesies fulfilment somewhere.
We would not encourage a child to make a cowslip ball today, though there seemed to be an abundance along the motorways this Spring, but that’s not a place to set a child gathering flowers!
Interesting how Mary Webb sees a complete human as having a triune nature, being ‘in communion with most sides of life’, not denying illness, frailty or failing. Let us not exclude the unfading sense of mystery, but be open to our sisters and brothers, our fellow creatures and the One who created all.
Well, dear readers, this is the start of the post-FISC Agnellus’ Mirror. The Franciscan International Study Centre is no more. Who knows were the future will take us? Although the Centre kindly adopted us, we were separate enough to feel bereaved but neither divorced nor terminally compromised when its closure was announced. There are still Franciscans on God’s earth and we’ll try to be in that number, even if not all of us count ourselves among the first, second or third orders in all the ecumenical cousinage of the Poor Man’s family. For the present we will continue to be based in Canterbury, but we have contributors across the UK and further afield. Please continue to walk with us and pray with us.
Let’s turn our backs on the removal men and take ourselves to Shropshire with Mary Webb, poet of the early 20th Century. Her reflections this week inspire a Franciscan Exclamation: Laudato Si’ !
I do not
wish to write
poems dipped in Grey
seems so wild about
today as if Grey
makes them weigh
more be more
have more truth
Light is true.
So let there BE
light. Let it pour and
let there be
more and more
lashings of it
boat-loads bath-tub loads
bus-loads of original light
slapping up the sides
waves of it
will not make me
but am I
I first read Sister Johanna’s last posting after a day of glorious spring weather, when we were able to sit in the garden and enjoy the scent of the apricot tree as well as the blossom overhead, the fallen petals on the grass, and the bee-loud business of pollination. She’s right about gratitude to God: the idea that someone might not feel some stirring of thanksgiving to something or someone at such a moment is frightening. Such self-sufficiency sets them apart from God and their fellow creatures.
Our gratitude to God our Creator, Redeemer and Inspirer is a matter of Justice. Laudato Si’!
Thank you for making the connection, Sister Johanna!