Tag Archives: trees

Spring is rising!


We were hanging the bat box at L’Arche’s Glebe garden in Canterbury, and to do that Vince had to saw through two thin branches. I was footing the ladder, keeping still and keeping him safe.

Drips fell onto my hand as he handed down one of the branches: no rain, this was sap, the sycamore’s lifeblood. This is an invasive maple, and remembering the maple syrup farm I once visited in a Canadian March, I licked my hand. It was sweet!

I don’t think we are about to start tapping the sycamores, but Vincent recalled tasting birch syrup, and very tasty that was, he said.

Laudato Si! Thanks for a little taste of Spring!


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January weather: beauty under a grey sky.


Do we call her the Silver Birch or the Diamond Birch on a grey, drizzly day in January? This is our next-door tree, an exiled Lady of the Woods, her jewels bright against the dark bricks. Open your eyes when you go out, whatever the weather, and Laudato Si’!


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December 24: Is Yours a Metal or a plastic Christmas Tree?

Inline image

I guess your Christmas tree is now indoors and decorated? Perhaps the last place you’d expect to find a metal one would be Tanzania. This story comes from the Missionaries of Africa  and is by Marien van den Eijnden, M.Afr. 

When I visited for the first time the M.Afr. house in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, [now called Atiman House] in the 1960’s, I saw in the courtyard a sort of metal Christmas-tree and wondered what one would be using it for. The top was 1.5 m high or more, and it had some 50 upending branches. The amused confreres explained that one used it to drip-dry wine-bottles after having been cleansed and rinsed. But in those days they rarely used it anymore.

The house was the procure, or distribution centre for the missions, and imported the Mass-wine and table-wine for upcountry. In addition to individual bottles one used damjan [= dame-jeanne], bottles of  + 20 litres in a wickerwork basket. Later on drums of 100 litres were used, which were bottled in the respective diocesan headquarters.

Marien van den Eijnden, M.Afr.

Father Marien’s story left me wondering at the effort that went into making sure there was enough wine for Mass so far from any vineyards, but grapes have been grown in Tanzania since soon after he arrived there. So maybe the Christmas tree is not needed at Atiman House.

We use a modern version of this once or twice a month at L’Arche Kent. Some readers may remember that it has among its activities a small brewery project. It is hoped to make this into a commercial micro brewery in God’s good time.
Unlike most UK brewers, we recycle bottles. They go through various washing and sterilising processes and are hung out to dry on this handsome red plastic Christmas tree. These are all jobs that core members of the community can do without constant, overpowering supervision, and which they take pride in.
One of our brewers, Paul, recently took some bottles to Japan on a visit to the community there.

Happy Christmas to all,

Maurice, Will and all the team.

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23 October: Readings from Mary Webb XIII: sticky brown hope

horse chestnut bud

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.

Laudato Si’!

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18 October, Saint Luke: Watching



The wind whisked and sighed all night and

at sunrise-time some secret sun

shed what passed for light, but even

bats were sceptical of day and shot

by in fitful flight, long past their



while wind kept sweeping through, rustling

like ladies in long silken skirts.

Nothing sparked or spiked in morning

sunshine that wasn’t, and yet,

this shadowed and speaking scene seethed,

strange with the life


I strained to see.  Autumn’s sunflowers

rocked and swayed, scarcely able to

stand, like tall thin drunks on their stems,

sleepy heads lolling, and they seemed

about to slither down, feet first,

into a heap,


while wind – I relished standing in

it – used its huge hands to swish the

leaves of trees and push tree tops round

in circles and made sounds like surf

foaming, swirling, hurling itself

on the seashore,


sliding back, all slick, and hurling

itself over and over –



dark, brooding exuberance –



fierce sibilance –


such lavishly

lively gifts of Being –


all mine, at dawn


as I stood

in the dark wind








Sister Johanna’s poem about Watching and the Wind seems appropriate for Saint Luke, who gave us his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, where he tells how the Spirit came in a great wind and settled over the Apostles.

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October 6: The Lady of the Woods



I trust that readers who also visit the Will Turnstone blog will forgive my recycling this  piece from there.It fits in well with Saint Francis this week, and with our theme of Laudato Si’!

One summer’s day Mrs Turnstone and I took Abel to the woods where we found this invitation to look at Betula, the Lady of the Woods. Isn’t she lovely? Find one of her sisters near you and enjoy the sight.

And now something I’ve been saving till the right picture turned up! This passage from Nan Shepherd’sThe Living Mountain’. A writer may reveal what the reader more than half knows, awakening joyful recognition in her audience.  I was reading Shepherd to learn about the Scottish Highlands, but I discovered something all-but known about the birch I see as I open the curtains. Here is Shepherd on p53:

Birch … that grows on the lower mountain slopes, needs rain to release its odour. It is a scent with body to it, fruity like old brandy, and on a wet warm day, one can be as good as drunk with it. Acting through the sensory nerves, it confuses the higher centres; one is excited, with no cause that the wit can define.

It’s always good to return home even from a quick walk to the shops. There is magic in fingering the keys as I approach under the lime trees – trees that may not flourish on Cairngorm but here share their bee-sung, scented glory every summer. Birch is wind-pollinated, needing no nectar, but its fresh-air scent, which I barely register even in wet weather, is part of coming home. I never realised till Nan Shepherd told me! And the blackbirds sing louder in the rain.

We occasionally berate the birch for its scattered seedlings, which occupy any bare earth and even take root in garden walls. As Rome fell away from Britain no-one removed the young trees, and the towns crumbled.

Not far from here at the derelict mine, a birch forest has sprung up on the spoil. Silver birch, I called it as a child – but it is pure gold in Autumn.

Do seek out Nan Shepherd’s book and see, hear, smell, feel with her.

And Laudato Si’!

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September 23: Up the Apricot Tree III, after the rain.

A version of this post appeared in the Will Turnstone blog a few weeks ago.

2.00 p.m.: it was the summer storm we’d been waiting for, though not predicted by that morning’s weather forecast. A good 25mm, 1” of drain-blocking rain in an hour. Before I tackled that little job (and I would have waited for Abel, had I known he was almost on the doorstep) I looked out of the back door.

The rain had ceased. Movement in the apricot tree: a song thrush decided it was time to dry herself off. An all over shake; spreading first the left wing, then the right, preening each with her bill; fanning the tail and giving that a good shake, followed by a dance move no human could copy: head thrust forward and down, feathers all fluffed, then three or four undulations from head to tail. That did the job! Satisfied, she preened herself once more and flew away.

I’ve seen few thrushes in our garden over the past few years. It was an extra pleasure to witness this intimate moment in her life.

Sometimes these special moments are given to us personally, individually: I hope, dear readers, you can find a memory that sings in your heart as this does in mine.

Laudato Si’ !


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September 21: Up the Apricot Tree: II


Back in July, I wrote about the bumper harvest on the apricot tree. over the next four weeks I was up that tree a few times, harvesting and pruning. We made more than 100 jars of jam. That’s not really a boast, just a measure of the bounty from our tree this year.

Some of those jars have found their way to other people’s breakfast tables. We’ve had appreciation from family and neighbours, ‘best ever’, ‘lovely jam’ and so on. Those of us who have undergone the after-effects of surgery will empathise with the friend of Mrs T, recovering from her op who really enjoyed the jam with her breakfast toast. So good to receive the sense of taste again! What a gift it is, and how healing.

Where else can we spread a little apricot-flavoured happiness, I wonder?

Are there any people out there who might treasure a small gift from you, far more than perhaps you’d expect on first thoughts?


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August 25: The truth about a camp



Pattie said that morning, ‘Do you know the opposite of Faith? It’s certainty.’ Perhaps, in a ‘naught for your comfort’ way, certainty belongs to hope – or deep hope against hope – rather than faith?

But this passage from Roger Deakin’s inspiring book, Wildwood – A Journey Through Trees (Penguin 2008, p 14) makes Pattie’s case very well. The writer is describing sleeping in a shed in an orchard on an August night.

To sleep half a field away from the house, tucked into the hedge, with an open door facing south into the meadow and plenty of cool night air, must surely add very much to the chances of sleep.

…There’s more truth about a camp than a house. Planning laws need not worry the improvising builder because temporary structures are more beautiful anyway, and you don’t need permission for them. There’s more truth about a camp because that is the position we are in. The house represents what we ourselves would like to be on earth: permanent rooted, here for eternity. But a camp represents the true reality of things: we’re just passing through.

And as Saint Francis would say, welcoming Sister Death: Laudato Si’ !

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August 14: Inter-Galactic Explorations XXXI: Chewing it over.


who would not sit under the apricot tree?

‘Have you noticed,’ said Ajax, wolfing down a flake of haddock, ‘how Abel likes to use all his words, but Will and Mrs T, who know thousands more, can sit under the apricot tree quite happily without saying a word?’

‘Do they need to speak to tell each other they are there?’ wondered T. ‘Of course not. But maybe Abel needs to tell himself he is in the presence of a digger, a train, or two black dogs.’

‘You mean he is telling himself his own story?’ interrupted Ajax, giving Alfie time to think how to respond to T’s probing remark about the two black dogs.

‘When he was little, he was just living his story. You remember how he just loved you two. No words from his mouth but plenty of glee. And you guys were on another plane, playing with him without words – until you pretty much forced him to say “dog”. Now when he picks up his toy bus, he says “bus” and “door” and makes a brrrrm noise when he pushes it across the floor.’

‘Are you saying he was better not speaking?’ challenged Ajax.

‘Of course not!’ T replied. ‘He’s not just a bundle of nerve-endings like the Builder’s Dog.’

‘You didn’t see BD outside Peter’s Fish Factory. He had abandoned Will and was sitting actually on a student’s knee. The ladies seem to like him as much as he likes them.’

‘He’s still a bundle of nerve ends. He could ignore her completely if he was out with his mistress.’

‘Director, you are too cynical!’ Alfie countered. ‘Maybe the Ossyrian scientific diet has trimmed your nerve ends too much.’

This time it was T’s turn to conceal his thought processes. ‘Not all my nerve ends, Alfie, not all of them; but what has Earthly life done to yours?’

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