As a sick young child I was sent to a prison-like convalescent home in Worcestershire, hoping that fresh air would do me good. My best memories are of celandines and crocus, those early spring flowers; and sticky buds of horse chestnut which the teacher brought in and allowed to open in the classroom. Mary Webb was thinking of these same buds in autumn when they come into prominence.
Curiosity is awakened by the small brown bud at the end of a chestnut twig in autumn, a little farther on than this year’s fruit. How much of the future form is hidden in that small sphere? How much embryo tree is wrapped in its inner cases of wool and velvet? What hint of next summer’s white chalice and green finger dwells in its innermost recesses?
Long before the unfolding of these buds in April, when the downy leaflets uncurl, you can see, if you open one, the compressed cluster – each yellowish ball about the size of a pinhead – which is the future flower, and the faint dawnings of leaves all wrapped in soft wadding.
The thought of the sap forming itself into these marvels, of the skilful, silent artistry going on without hands at the end of every bough and at the heart of every root makes the world a place of almost unbearable wonder.
There was a bonus to our harvest of wedding flowers at L’Arche Kent’s hidden garden.
Rupert, the Garden Leader at the Glebe, was telling us how they have been striving to have a garden friendly to insects – the other day you will have seen the little insect apartments we’ll be making over the winter.
And now, Rupert told us, the inspectors or advisors from the Wildlife Trust had called, and were pleased to see the flowers growing in the raised beds. ‘Those will attract the bees’, they said. Perhaps the garden will get a silver eco-friendly certificate this year to go with last year’s bronze.
So when we cleared the beds after harvesting the flowers Rupert asked us to sow more seeds. He had half a pack of grow wild seeds to hand, so with those and a few other old favourites that were languishing at the bottom of the seed box, there was plenty to scatter.
Can Spring be far behind? Autumn sowing is an act of faith, of trust in the good Lord’s bounty.The seedlings are showing green already, promise of more to come, like last year’s display.
You can find L’Arche Kent on Facebook and at http://www.larche.org.uk/Sites/kent/Pages/about-larche-kent
The Builder’s Dog in his Hi-Vis coat was wary when he entered Will’s place. Were those Chihuahuas around? Nor scent nor sound nor scratch marks on the gate. All was well, except that he had a stretch of time, impossible to contemplate, without his mistress who could not take him on her sunshine holiday.
The food was good – exactly the same as at home, except for treats like scraps of Sunday dinner. The walks were OK, except that the Mistress was not there and Will and Mrs T avoided walking down BD’s home street. But the park and Abbot’s Hill were full of smells that humans were utterly unaware of.
It was coming down Abbot’s Hill one evening that BD gave Will his reward. Or was it the other way around? An urgent, complicated overlay of scented canine communication required close study, and BD was pleasantly surprised not to feel the lead jerk. Will, too, was fixed to the spot. He was listening to a Blackcap, perched in a suburban Japanese cherry tree, singing his heart out, ignoring the human and dog below.
As Will said later, there’s always something to be grateful for. And he enjoyed another little link as he researched this post: according to Wikipedia, the Blackcap’s song provided the theme for Saint Francis when that famous bird lover Olivier Messiaen wrote his Opera, Saint François d’Assise. Not just any bird then!
Blackcap by Ron Knight
We walked home from church with a friend who wanted to see the bluebells in the wood. She had heard about them but did not know they were so close to home. A pleasure shared already, but she took pictures aplenty to share with her mother in East London, a pleasure further shared: her mother will enjoy not just the bluebells but the clear and infectious pleasure our friend received from them.
A gift that is special to an English spring.
A few days before we had walked that way with young Abel, who’s too small to damage the flowers as he walks, but he too loved the ‘blue flowers’: pleasure shared as a little child lets us into the Kingdom of Heaven. I don’t often quote Rupert Brooke, but I remember …
the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
The Kingdom of Heaven is reflected in that very English carpet, but I’m less sure about an English Heaven? One that welcomes people from around the world, I trust, or it would not be Heaven, just an off-shore island …
Wordsworth may have the fame when it comes to daffodils in verse, but in Shropshire last Spring we saw drifts of daffodils beside the roads, beneath the hedges, shining along the footpath edges … apologies; William is too easily parodied.
But I wondered why such county-wide devotion to a Welsh emblem: surely not love of the western neighbour? Rather love of the flower itself, and its defiance of lingering resistance from Winter’s rearguard winds.
And then I picked up Houseman, and these lines from A Shropshire Lad:
- The boys are up the woods with day
- To fetch the daffodils away,
- And home at noonday from the hills
- They bring no dearth of daffodils.
- Afield for palms the girls repair,
- And sure enough the palms are there,
- And each will find by hedge or pond
- Her waving silver-tufted wand.
- In farm and field through all the shire
- The eye beholds the heart’s desire;
- Ah, let not only mine be vain,
- For lovers should be loved again.
The girls’ palms are of course the pussy willow, whose ‘silver-tufted wands’ set off the Easter daffodils so splendidly in the vase.
How good to be reminded, even by the morbid Houseman, to link our native flora and ourselves, to the ‘Hebrew children’ who went to meet the Lord carrying olive branches, and singing ‘Hosanna!’
Pueri Hebraeorum, portantes ramos olivarum, obviaverunt Domino, clamantes et dicentes, Hosanna in Excelsis.
The Hebrew children, carrying olive branches, went out to meet the Lord, shouting out and saying, ‘Hosanna in the highest!’
Sheet music and recording of ‘Pueri Hebraeorum’
The Cherry Trees
The cherry trees bend over and are shedding,
On the old road where all that passed are dead,
Their petals, strewing the grass as for a wedding,
This early May morn when there is none to wed.
The photograph shows an orchard of new cherry trees at Amery Court, Canterbury. They will spend their spring-times protected from ravages of wind, rain, and birds and squirrels by nets rolled out on frames overhead. Few petals will reach the old road, now part of Cycle Route 1 from Dover to Scotland. But the farmer trusts that the expense of planting these trees will be repaid with many a harvest.
Edward Thomas and so many like him trusted that they were putting their lives on the line to help save England and bring about the end of War…
Also tomorrow we remember the Prince of Peace coming into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, not a tank or armoured car. And it is still not too late to pray and strive for Peace, starting by sowing a seed of love and peace in our own hearts.
And may Edward Thomas and all who fell in War, through the mercy of God, rest in Peace. Amen.
photo by Andreas Trepte
The question is Shelley’s and finds its answer in what has gone before in the Ode to the West Wind:
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed
The wingèd seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow
Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth …
Spring is here already, waiting for the moment to blow her trumpet announcing new birth and rising.
Shelley cannot avoid Biblical reference: the seed must die to bear fruit (John 12.24) and while Shelley’s chariot may be borrowed from Donne, it refers to Elijah’s whirlwind departure from this earth:
And it came to pass, as [[Elijah and Elisha] still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
For me Winter arrived when I saw my first redwing of the year, come over from Scandinavia to spend the winter eating berries.
The watchful tree (a very early cherry) is flowering for Christmas in the park in Canterbury. (Jeremiah 1:11) Birds, trees, wind, whatever takes your eye; always look out for the signs of the times.
Monica Tobon, who writes for this blog as MLT, has another life, teaching at the Franciscan International Study Centre Canterbury (FISC) and bringing the Centre’s new website to birth.
She has just issued, on behalf of the centre, this invitation to join our community for one or more terms from October 2016 to June 2017. We have welcomed students from all around the world, women and men, religious, priests and lay; some Franciscans in all those groups, others not. We would gladly welcome you.
The Franciscan International Study Centre, Canterbury, is now accepting applications for our Sabbatical Programme 2016-17. We offer a welcoming community, peaceful atmosphere and beautiful hilltop location overlooking the ancient pilgrim city of Canterbury.
For Michaelmas Term the theme is Scripture; for Lent Term, Franciscan Studies, and for Trinity Term, Spirituality. Sabbaticals can last for between one and three terms.
Sabbatical students are also free to attend all modules of our Certificate in Franciscan Studies and most modules of our Certificate in Training for Franciscan Formation.
For more information email Monica Tobon, firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 01227 769349.
Read more about the Centre here: http://www.franciscans.ac.uk/
Autumn view of Canterbury from near FISC, Eleanor Billingsley.
The leaves are just colouring the ends of the twigs on the trees, but the gorse is always in flower.
We should not let Dylan day pass unacknowledged, even if we missed Shakespeare’s birthday, mea culpa.
Dylan is a great story teller. He proclaims in the prologue to his Collected Poems: ‘Hark: I trumpet the place.’ The place is Wales, eternal Wales, God’s own Wales – with all its people’s failings. That small Principality is concentrated Under Milk Wood, between the sea and Llareggub Hill. As Mary Ann Sailors says:
‘It is Spring in Llareggub in the sun of my old age, and this is the Chosen Land.’
Under Milk Wood celebrates life, a ‘greenleaved sermon on the innocence of men’. Hearing the words brings sight to our inward eye, insight to our hearts. The townspeople are brought to God by the Reverend Eli Jenkins, who like his Biblical namesake praises his Creator morning and evening. For him, Llareggub is an earthly paradise that he prays he may ‘for all my life and longer … never, never leave’. Eli is not blind to the sins of his flock, but they receive Blake’s blessing of ‘mercy, pity, peace and love’ rather than condemnation. his appreciation of Polly Garter reminds me of a saintly priest in my youth, doffing his hat to an unmarried mother shunned by many. ‘Poor Ivy,’ said Fr Lea, ‘she’s had more than her share of troubles.’
Let us celebrate life, and open our inward eyes to the innocence, rather than just the faults, of those we live and work with.
I’d guess that when she conceived baby Jesus, Mary was of an age with the young poet in the previous post.
Tree, tell me
how to be all still;
without stir, without breath,
naked, brown arms
strong outheld to the far sky;
hushed, hung, held
yet vibrant with pulsing Spring.
rings the tree. Tree,
can you hear me
straining the stillness;
my soul’s silence lifted to
the limits of creation’s response?
Tree, tell me
that we understand one another;
we share together
the warm life welling within us.
Shall I dwell with you in the waiting wood;
alone, a quiet maiden
becoming a mother?