Good morning to you all, and hope this finds you well as we here at the Rectory – Christmas tree is up – we always get ours from Nash Farm in Faversham, where one pays into a charity for the tree and we then take it back after Christmas to be re-planted. Something we have done for years ever since the children were tiny – now it is just Jim & I, but all for such a good cause.
Cancellations – having discussed with all the relevant people it has been decided to cancel the following activities, because of the increase of covid and in particular the Omicron variant. To date all our scheduled Christmas services, except for Messy Church Christingle, are as planned. Please keep an eye on briefings & bulletin for updates. The wearing of face coverings is mandatory in places of worship, unless exempt.
Saturday Morning Coffee at St Dunstan’s Hall – Cancelled until further notice.
Rectory Drinks Saturday 18th December: Cancelled – hopefully postponed to the New Year
Talking of trees as we were yesterday: the L’Arche garden where we were listening and looking for the robin was blessed and opened by the then Bishop of Dover, Trevor Willmott. I found this quotation from Bishop Trevor the other day.
‘If I knew the world was to end tomorrow, I would plant a tree today’. Of all that Martin Luther wrote and said, these words resonate strongly with me and, I would hope, with the whole Christian Church as we continue to seek and to bear out witness to Jesus Christ and to serve the needs of His world.
A world that badly needs trees! At the Glebe the other day we saw a squirrel planting nuts – or storing them for future use. Squirrel won’t remember them all. Some may well germinate and grow, in which case we gardeners will pot them on and think about where to plant them. If you don’t know where to plant yours, the Woodland Trust will do that for you in the UK; other charities will help people plant trees overseas and make sure they are watered and survive. Last December we met the Happy Man Tree in Hackney, London, which did not survive despite local pressure to keep it and build around it. It was felled earlier this year to make way for housing.
I have wished a bird would fly away, And not sing by my house all day;
Have clapped my hands at him from the door When it seemed as if I could bear no more.
The fault must partly have been in me. The bird was not to blame for his key.
And of course there must be something wrong In wanting to silence any song.
Photo by Tony Hisgett via Wikimedia Commons, male Eurasian Blackcap in Staffordshire, England.
Down at L’Arche Kent’s Glebe garden the other day it was coffee time. My friend said that he hadn’t seen our robin for a couple of weeks, only for the redbreast to burst into song a few metres away in the cypress tree. No chance of spotting him in there.
More than a few years ago my brother became frustrated with the collared doves, billing and cooing right outside his bedroom window; since they were in a yew tree there was no spotting them either. Relief came when the black silkie bantam took her brood to roost in the yew. All attempts to bring them down simply made them hop up higher, as they would have done in the jungle. But they displaced the doves, and my brother could sleep on those light summer mornings.
Too many songs have been silenced as we have desecrated our Mother Earth. Could you buy or make someone a bird nesting box this Christmas?
Unwatch'd, the garden bough shall sway,
The tender blossom flutter down,
Unloved, that beech will gather brown,
This maple burn itself away;
Unloved, the sun-flower, shining fair,
Ray round with flames her disk of seed,
And many a rose-carnation feed
With summer spice the humming air;
Unloved, by many a sandy bar,
The brook shall babble down the plain,
At noon or when the lesser wain
Is twisting round the polar star;
Uncared for, gird the windy grove,
And flood the haunts of hern and crake;
Or into silver arrows break
The sailing moon in creek and cove;
Till from the garden and the wild
A fresh association blow,
And year by year the landscape grow
Familiar to the stranger's child;
As year by year the labourer tills
His wonted glebe, or lops the glades;
And year by year our memory fades
From all the circle of the hills."
(from In Memoriam by Alfred Lord Tennyson.)
After Tennyson lost a dear friend of his youth, Arthur Henry Hallam, he worked through his grief in his epic poem, ‘In Memoriam, AHH, which took some 17 years to complete.Here he reflects upon mortality, and how the time will come when no-one remembers us, and others will be at home in what was once home to us. Does this melancholy stanza express despair or acceptance of mortality? To have been composing this epic for 17 years suggests that Tennyson’s love for his friend did not fade away, though it will have changed.
The loss of a friend’s love affects how the poet sees the landscape as unloved, uncared for: but others can love it into freshness. Perhaps there are neglected plots near you, in town or country, that would benefit from a little love, a few poppies or sunflowers.
During the Great War, British POWs grew sunflowers for decoration, passing the seeds to their Russian counterparts who regarded them as a delicacy. *
The beech trees’ leaves turn brown in Autumn, the maples’ become red and yellow
Lesser wain, or lesser bear, Ursa Minor, the constellation that includes Polaris, the Pole Star, which appears constant in the Northern sky.
Hern is the heron, crake is the corncrake, a bird that nests in cornfields.
A glebe is a parcel of land, usually allotted to the village priest.
* Where Poppies Blow, John Lewis-Stempel, London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2016, p225.
This poem by Christina Rossetti ought to be set to music; perhaps it has been. These bluebells – they come in white as well – are full of fresh scent, worth getting on one’s knees for, and a word of thanks for the gift might not go amiss. I loved the sound of the sea in the treetops when I was little, but the woods were ‘lovely, dark and deep’ and closer by than the sea.
Gone were but the Winter,
Come were but the Spring,
I would go to a covert
Where the birds sing;
Where in the white-thorn
Singeth a thrush,
And a robin sings
In the holly-bush.
Full of fresh scents
Are the budding boughs,
Arching high over
A cool green house:
Full of sweet scents,
And whispering air
Which sayeth softly:
"We spread no snare;
"Here dwell in safety,
Here dwell alone,
With a clear stream
And a mossy stone.
"Here the sun shineth
Here is heard an echo
Of the far sea,
Though far off it be."
Ah, hush! Tread softly through the rime,
For there will be a blackbird singing, or a thrush.
Like coloured beads the elm-buds flush:
All the trees dream of leaves and flowers and light.
And see! The northern bank is much more white
Than frosty grass, for now is snowdrop time.
It’s a while since we tapped into Mary Webb, but she gives pause for reflection. Rime is the soft hoar frost that coats the ground and trees and disappears as the sun gets to work. This short poem is full of hope, inviting us to look and listen and ‘dream of leaves and flowers and light.’ And the snowdrops are a promise that those things will come.
Once you could buy posies of violets or snowdrops bundled with glossy ivy leaves. The snowdrops someone planted a few yards from our door are increasing, year on year. They are working towards a self-sustaining community with the trees above them – and below them, for tree roots run deep, bringing nutrients up to where the bulbs can harvest them.
Yesterday was about hearing, today we are seeing hopefully. Or should I say seeing, hopefully. I’m not talking about taking note of the raindrops and kittens that we see, but about the sense of sight.
I’ve been blessed lately with two cataract operations, and sight is suddenly not to be taken for granted. Suddenly, all is Technicolor, or as my friend Winfried would have argued, Agfacolor. He favoured the German films and prints; we disagreed about the red end of the spectrum.
Seeing hopefully: this new lease of life for my eyes inspires hope. Not quite Mine eyes have seen the coming of the glory of the Lord, but a promise that if human co-operation with creation through science can enlighten my little world, there may be better things to come.
Winfried told me that the German for a cataract in the eye translates as grey star; not a star you would want to follow.
So, I told Fr Tom Herbst (TJH in Agnellus’ Mirror) as well, soon after the first op when one eye was still under the grey star. ‘I imagine’, he said, ‘you can well relate to the ecstasy felt by the blind folks healed by Jesus!!!’
I didn’t need him to point that out, but I was glad he did. I offered this progress report: ‘Till the second eye is done it’s a mixture of ecstasy and ‘I see trees walking’. (Mark 8:24) I hope by next week the eyes will be co-ordinating freely and I’ll recognise more people!’
Tom replied, ‘Good luck with the op. As marvellous as it might be to see trees walking (other than Ents, of course, which are not technically trees), it seems recognition might be the better choice!’
Pray that we may recognise the star we are called to follow this Advent and Christmas. It may all be a little different this year!
Doctor Johnson would have been pleased to receive this letter praising his observations on the lack of trees in Scotland, but his reaction shows how human nature does not like its motivations, nor its indifference, to be challenged. We’ve seen how timber was treated as an ‘extractive industry’ with no eye to grandchildren’s future, leaving bare hillside.
“‘SIR ALEXANDER DICK TO DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON. ‘Prestonfield, Feb. 17, 1777.
Sir, ‘I had yesterday the honour of receiving your book of your Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, which you was so good as to send me, by the hands of our mutual friend, Mr. Boswell, of Auchinleck; for which I return you my most hearty thanks …
Indeed our country of Scotland, in spite of the union of the crowns, is still in most places so devoid of clothing, or cover from hedges and plantations, that it was well you gave your readers a sound Monitoire with respect to that circumstance. The truths you have told, and the purity of the language in which they are expressed, as your Journey is universally read, may, and already appear to have a very good effect. For a man of my acquaintance, who has the largest nursery for trees and hedges in this country, tells me, that of late the demand upon him for these articles is doubled, and sometimes tripled.
I have, therefore, listed Dr. Samuel Johnson in some of my memorandums of the principal planters and favourers of the enclosures, under a name which I took the liberty to invent from the Greek, Papadendrion (Father of trees).
I am told that one gentleman in the shire of Aberdeen, viz. Sir Archibald Grant, has planted above fifty millions of trees on a piece of very wild ground at Monimusk: I must enquire if he has fenced them well, before he enters my list; for, that is the soul of enclosing. I began myself to plant a little, our ground being too valuable for much, and that is now fifty years ago; and the trees, now in my seventy-fourth year, I look up to with reverence, and shew them to my eldest son now in his fifteenth year. I shall always continue, with the truest esteem, dear Doctor, ‘Your much obliged, ‘And obedient humble servant, ‘ALEXANDER DICK
Johnson observed some weeks later: “Sir Alexander Dick is the only Scotsman liberal enough not to be angry that I could not find trees, where trees were not. I was much delighted by his kind letter.”
The London Plane was planted widely in England’s capital because it resists pollution. Its bark flakes off naturally, so that any clogged up pores are discarded and a new, pale, outer layer takes over. You can see this happening above the wide red scarf and down by the roots in the photo. When we lived in Hackney, London, in the 1960s, the tree would have survived thanks to this adaptation.
The Happy Man Tree was named after a demolished pub that stood behind the builders’ hoarding. It was voted England’s tree of the year because it is loved by the local community but condemned by the borough council in order to build more homes for local people.
No-one is against much needed social housing but other plans have been outlined that preserve this tree while not losing any new homes. Will the campaigners save this tree?
The infant Jesus was in danger of his life, saved through Joseph’s wisdom in interpreting his dreams and taking action. This tree is a reminder that we have to interpret our dreams of saving the planet by taking action. Can you save or plant a tree before Easter? It could be one planted on your behalf by an organisation such as the National Trust. A Christmas present to the planet?
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)