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Beauty is a Doorway

DSC_0250 Whilst discussing the importance of encouraging nature appreciation with an inspiring friend recently, she said something that has stayed with me since. “Beauty is a doorway.” This struck a cord with me, having learnt the hard way that people will not value the natural world just because others attempt to tell them of its importance. They must find their own way in, their own doorway, and what lovelier doorway is there than beauty?

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Beauty is indeed a doorway to nature appreciation but also to presence, to stillness, to stopping for a moment in a busy day and feeling filled with awe for the living world.

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A doorway to connection, to sensing the resonance with other life forms inside our own being and realising, I am because this is.

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A doorway to healing. To relaxing the body and mind and opening the heart. To peace.

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The quest for beauty and harmony drives much of what we do and has led to increasing materialism as we seek to beautify ourselves, our homes, our wardrobes and our children with more and more things.

However beauty is not static and that is why nothing we buy can truly fill this need to see and appreciate beauty in the long term. It is by nature fleeting, changing, replaced by new and different forms of beauty. Even if the thing remains unchanged, the eye that beholds it will not.

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Spring is a time of great beauty but by its very nature it will not last for long.

Delve fully into its moment, the present moment and you will find beauty is also a doorway to the timeless awareness in which all things are beheld.

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When the abundant beauty of summer dies back and Autumn begins to turn to winter, our eyes turn to the underlying forms and patterns of the natural world.

First we begin to appreciate the vibrant pigments that lie beneath the leaves’ green chlorophyll and then, when these themselves begin to pass, we look to veins and bark, root and stone and the incredible beauty of the matrix that is uncovered once more.

Though it is still relatively mild where I live, I see the beginnings of winter in line and edge, in soft moss and hard, bare branches and I am grateful for the beauty that underpins it all.

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Summer Retrospective

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As I stand in the kitchen with elderberries simmering on the stove and apple and blackberry crumble cooking in the oven, I have the feeling that autumn is settling in. There is a particular feeling of wellbeing that I associate with the autumn harvests, more so than any other season, though each has its own peculiar kind of magic. Autumn is the season of nourishment, of protection and of the wonderful hedgerow bounty that provides it. You can smell the changing season in the air, feel it in the early morning chill and taste it in every ripening berry.  And perhaps most peculiar of all, the very presence of autumn has within it the promise of spring as the tiny seeds of new beginnings ripen and fall into the Earth’s embrace.

Autumn skies can be some of the most beautiful. My husband took this little video from an upstairs window a couple of days ago showing the clouds rolling across the weald.

Before I get too caught up in autumnal reverie however, I wanted to share some of the highlights of my summer, not quite all of which has been spent pinned under a feeding baby!

June bought us bright sunshine and an abundance of elderflowers which I harvested mainly for diaphoretic teas.

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The wild roses were as good as I can ever remember them, spilling over hedges and farm tracks with abandon.

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The roses in my garden also put on a fine show, despite me having so little time to care for them this year.

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The Downs enjoyed its usual display of wild flowers including eyebright, yellow loosestrife and common spotted orchid.

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And what a wonderful year for butterflies it has been. It gives me hope for the future of our declining populations. There have been lots of small skippers and large whites (not pictured) along with the fabulous peacocks, tortoiseshells and commas.

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Plenty of bees have been spotted hanging off the garden herbs too!

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And once the summer flowers have faded there are still plenty of beautiful seed heads to enjoy.

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Midsummer is upon us and with it that wonderful sense of aliveness that comes with the long days and warm evenings suffused with golden light. After our cold, wet spring everything seems particularly lush as nature rushes to catch up.

Speaking of catching up, I am somewhat behind myself and the post on herbs for breastfeeding that I promised is still half written and awaiting my attention, though I promise to finish it soon!

The little one and I have been enjoying walks to the woodland where his still maturing sight is captivated by the interplay of light and shadow in the sun dappled glades and my own gaze is also delighted by the sun through beech leaves and bracken. I love how it looks so different through the long silvery fingers of willow and the broad green hands of sycamore, the young freshness of hawthorn and the dark majesty of yew.

Whether it be summer, winter or season-less where you are. I wish you many blessings on this solstice.

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Spring has arrived at last and with it some of the bright sunny days that we have felt so starved of recently. It seems like the garden has awoken almost overnight, with the herbs growing taller by the day, especially the angelica which I am starting to suspect is actually a magic beanstalk in disguise.

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Valerian

Rose

Rose

Angelica

Angelica

Oregano

Oregano

Catmint

Catmint

Wormwood

Wormwood

In the fields, woods and hedgerows everything is bursting into life. Down the lane from our house, the blackthorn has only just begun flowering, the latest I have ever known it. Blackthorn is famous for the fact that its blossom comes out before its leaves (which makes it easy to differentiate from hawthorn which has leaves before flowers). It was interesting to note that, being so late blooming this year, the leaves were coming out simultaneously in many places.

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Ash is another tree that flowers before it’s leaves come out. At this time of year its characteristic black buds start to open, become greener and burst into somewhat inconspicuous, yet beautiful, flowers.

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Newly opened bramble leaves have an almost autumnal hue, standing out in the sunlight against the verdant spring greens.

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Daffodils, dandelions, ground ivy and comfrey are all in flower in the banks and hedgerows.

Ground Ivy

Ground Ivy

Comfrey

Comfrey

New life has begun for us in other ways too. Those of you who have been following this blog for a while will probably have noticed that my posts have been a little more intermittent of late and this is mostly due to our own new arrival, a bonny baby boy, born last month and filling much of my time and my thoughts. So if I am sometimes slow to respond to comments or a little sporadic with my posting I hope you will be patient with me. I will be back in a couple of days however to share some tips on teas for supporting breastfeeding.

Until then I hope you are all enjoying the seasons as they find you in your part of the world.

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Betwixt and Between

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There is still a part of me, trained by children’s nature books and the weight of expectation, that believes the seasons will progress in a fairly linear fashion, from winter to spring, onto summer and autumn.

I’m not sure why this would be, as every year seems to follow it’s own rhythm which has little to do with our imaginings of glorious sunshine in summer, sparkling snow in winter and the soft sun and showers of spring.

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Spring nettles and snow

This year has been no exception as we have lurched from snow and frozen winds to bright sun, and back again, within the space of a few short weeks. Somewhere between the chills of winter and the energising opening up of Spring we find ourselves out foraging one day and snuggled up by the fire the next.

Though the trees are mostly still bare-branched and winter sleepy, you can almost feel the sap rising when you place your hand or face to their rough bark. The lack of leaves at this time of year enables the light to fall undisturbed to the woodland floor and here begins the spring growth, working it’s way from the earth skywards as buds and new leaves begin slowly to appear.

No matter what the weather is doing, this time of year always feels so full of magic and potential, as somewhere betwixt and between the holding of winter and the full thrum of spring, we sway, waiting for new life to begin.

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Clematis – or Old Man’s Beard

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Sun drenched crocus

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When the gorse is in flower, kissing is in season.

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Young shoots of wild garlic made for a delicious pesto with hazelnuts and walnuts.

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Beautiful Eder, bursting into leaf.

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Nettle glow

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When The Snow Came

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Snow came to our corner of the world on Friday, bringing with it that childlike sense of wonder and awe that never seems to diminish with the passing years.

There is nothing like a covering of snow to make us see the world afresh, as if, for those few brief days, it really was the blank slate it appeared to be and and we could create anything we dreamed of when the ice melted away.

The sight of snow-dusted seed heads of monarda, motherwort and lovage made me glad I have been lazy with tidying up the garden this winter.

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The mild winter so far has meant plenty of new growth appearing too, seen here on rose and ivy and the young nettles out in the lane.

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The colours of tree branches make for beautiful contrasts with the powdery snow, the blackness of ash buds and vibrant green lichen on the willow.

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My favourite tree on snowy days is the oak however. It’s sinewy branches trace dark, dancing patterns across the sky as it stands, like a great guardian, in a white washed world.

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One of my favourite oaks stands in the field in front of our house. This is how it looked on Friday as the first snow began to fall:

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And only two days previously, last Wednesday, bathed in low winter sun:

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I hope that if you too are in a part of the world with snow, you are keeping safe and warm.

I’ll be back soon with a post on using herbs to help banish winter phlegmy-ness!

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Autumnal Hues


Even though the year flows continuously through its seasonal changes, it is spring and autumn that I think of as the months of transition. Everything seems to shift and the feeling of settling and drawing inwards that autumn brings is as pronounced as the bright uprising and awakening that we sense in spring.

Who could fail to love the fierce brightness of autumn leaves?

Yet as autumn progresses and the branches become increasingly bare, it is the softness of the landscape that captivates me. The fields smudged in pastel hues, the full, soft blues and greys of the skies and the warm low light that all at once dampens the glare of the world, yet infuses that on which it falls with a subtle kind of vibrancy.

As autumn progresses to winter and nature appears to be sleeping, there is still flashes of life,  young leaves enjoying a brief flush before their frozen slumber begins.

Nettles can be seen in all their life stages. Many have died already, others are grown tall, sparse and straggly and yet where they have been cut back, there is plenty of new growth to be seen, a last little reminder of what we can look forward to when the Earth wakes again.

Poets and artists often depict autumn and winter as a time of death, but to me they are merely times of passage, when the old is let go and the new remains contained for a time in its gestation.

When we learn to look closely, the sweet song of life is always humming underneath.

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Bestiarum Vocabulum

I recently spent a couple of days at a British wildlife sanctuary and got to see a host of wonderful creatures, from those I know well, to those like the stoat that I have never seen before, to those which have practically disappeared from our shores like the beautiful red squirrel.

I often think that if we had never seen a fox or a badger before, we would think it every bit as fantastical as the unicorn or the dragon, it is only that we forget so easily to appreciate that which is common and, therefore, no longer novel.

Foxes, as with many intelligent predators, have long been persecuted in this country and there is still the threat of a badger cull hanging over us, though the vast majority of evidence shows it will do no good at all in halting bovine TB. If this is a topic close to your heart you can find out more about the coalition to stop the cull and sign a petition here.

In the meantime I wanted to pay homage to the beauty of British wildlife by sharing some of my photos from the two days. In the animal world, just as with plants, there is no end to the variety and creativity of Mother Nature.

The Red Squirrel

Badger antics

Sinuous otter, as at home in the water as on land.

Checking out what’s happening on the bank!

Red Deer

Water Vole

The Tiny Harvest Mouse

The Barn Owl

The Tawny Owl

Last but not least, my very favourite of creatures, the much maligned, wonderfully intelligent, greatly social and all round fantastic Mister Fox.

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September is such an exciting month because everything is shifting. It feels not quite one thing or another as there are still the vestiges of summer with bright sunny days and roses in the garden, meanwhile autumn is well underway with the hedgerows dripping in berries ready for the harvest.

Every year is different however and this year the elderberries have been sparser than I have ever known them before. I assume this is because it was so wet in June when the flowers were out, meaning many pollinators were not able to access them and fulfil their important task. Many of the trees near me look like this photo below.

Still after ranging further afield than normal I have managed a decent harvest, though I’ll need some more for tincture making before the season is out. How are the elderberries looking around you this year?

There are many other beautiful berries hanging heavy from the branches however and it is always wise to include them in your diet for their wonderful antioxidant properties that help to protect and heal every cell of the body.

The hawthorns are fat and fabulous this year, I suppose as they were pollinated before the heavy downpours came, the wet summer would have helped them grow large, if not necessarily more potent.

The blackberries are also wonderfully abundant, ripe and juicy, though the sloes seem thinner on the ground than usual in the blackthorn trees near my home. I have it on good authority however that they are growing well in other parts.

Blackberries

Sloes

Like sloes, the berries of guelder rose or cramp bark  (Viburnum opulus) and rowan or mountain ash (Sorbus acuparia) are not eaten raw but are good when cooked.

Guelder rose berries

In Saturday’s herb group we picked a good selection of berries to make into a delicious variant on my 5 berry syrup recipe which you can find here.

Berries simmering away

As you well know however, not all the berries in the hedgerow are safe to eat and all these pictured below would be well to avoid if you value the health of your internal organs, and in some cases your life.

Holly berries are toxic, avoid them.

The beautiful berries of the wayfaring tree turn from green to bright red to black throughout the late summer and autumn. Alas they can lead to vomiting and diarrhoea though so ’tis best to leave them be.

The yew berries, and specifically the seeds they contain, are highly poisonous.

The beautiful spindle berries give much pleasure to look upon but not to consume, they are also toxic.

Common or purging buckthorn lives up to it’s name.

Black bryony berries are not ones to make into jam or it may be the last piece of toast you get to enjoy.

Finally, the berries of woody nightshade may look enticing growing next to these blackberries but be sure to leave them out of your syrup. Related to the tomato you can see the resemblance can’t you?

This is in no way an exhaustive list but it covers the majority of species growing in my local area. As with all wild plants, if you are not sure of the identification it is best to leave well alone.

I’ll be back in a few days with a post looking at the medicinal properties of elderberries in more detail. In the meantime You can find some elderberry recipes in this post here from a couple of years ago.

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