Sunday, 30 January 2011

A Magic Box

I had Russian guests at Christmas, and was given this beautiful box. It is made of Malachite, from the Ural Mountains.
A special stone, a special place. There is no doubt at all that this box has wonderful properties.
I show it off to all my visitors, and the box has proven its powers already.

Visitor 1 was here a couple of weeks ago, much preoccupied by dental problems - couldn't pronounce 'S', couldn't bite into an apple, had to chew biscuits on the side. Visitor 1 is rather small, and we're talking missing front milk-teeth here.
"I wish," said Visitor 1, wearily. "I wish and wish my new teeth would grow."

I introduced the magic box.
"Hold it carefully," I said. "Close your eyes and make your wish."

A week later Visitor 1 rang up to tell me it had worked! The new teeth were emerging. They had frilly edges and were very, very sharp.
"That's a really magic box!" said Visitor 1. "Can I use it again?"

So there must follow some careful discussion about the nature of wishing, and possibly even the realisation that the magic always has to come from within yourself. What the box can do is clear your mind so that you can see your wishes, and it may even give you the power to do something about them.
This may be a little too hard for a six year old.
Or, then again, it may not.
Many six year olds are more clear sighted than worldly, experienced, over-qualified, pressured adults.

Visitor 2 may fall into the latter category and called in for a cuppa, over-worked, a bit sad, anxious, tired.
I introduced the magic box and took rather a long time making the coffee.
Visitor 2 sat by the fire, stroking the box and saying, "Isn't it amazing? It's like looking into a rock pool".
Then a few minutes later, "It's like looking into ferns in a forest as well."
I could hear the blood-pressure falling, and really did not want to produce coffee.

Visitor 2 was parted from the box with a certain amount of reluctance.
"Where did you say it came from?"
"The Urals, in Russia."
"Oh. Not local then?"
"No, absolutely not local."
"It's so beautiful.....and it has such a calming effect....."
"Yes, I know." (And it stays right here on this shelf.)

Большое спасибо, Ирина

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Every Plant has its Time.

The time for this plant is now.
It is Christmas Box, or Winter Box (Sarcocca humilis), and it grows in a quiet, sheltered corner of the garden where I generally forget all about it.
Then, one morning, this morning, I go out into tepid sunshine and the air is filled with a wonderfully spicy fragrance.

It doesn't look much, and its flowers are tiny and not very decorative, but its power is awesome.
Two small sprigs of it sit in the winter indoor jungle that is my kitchen table, and the house is filled with fragrance.
How can such insignificant flowers emit such strength?

In the depths of the winter garden it is possible to overlook the signs of hope and of new life. It is the slight warmth of the sun that triggers the scent, and I am reminded again of the miraculous adaptations in a small garden.
One corner catches the sun and holds the warmth. A few inches away, and the temperature falls and the wind blows across.
Even the smallest garden holds a myriad micro-climates, enabling plants to live at their own pace and to benefit from the good times.

Similarly, in the depths of a life it is possible, sometimes easy, to overlook the good things, the important things which have to power to enrich my days.

A little while ago (not so long before my 70th birthday) I acknowledged the fact that some doors were closing for me. I no longer think that I might be a ballerina or a concert pianist, but I still feel full of possibilities. I still think of some other people as being 'grown-up', whereas I might not be. Not yet.

So the good things, the sheltered corners, the rich soil of my life are my family, my home, my friends.
They are the morning sun in the garden, and a fat thrush eating sultanas on the bird table.
They are a good book and a wood fire, a happy telephone call and a hand reaching out to say 'hello'.
They are rooms full of scent from a drab little plant that I forget about until it comes back to life and brings me with it.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011


Look at this!
How I wish I could convey the smell, the rich, deep aroma of freshly cut wood.

I've written about my meaningful relationship with my woodburning stove previously. I can only say that this winter the relationship has grown deeper and more profound.

There is something wonderfully basic about having a store of fuel. Not just having it, but making it, handling it, stacking it, fitting it into the space, then shutting the door, keeping it dry, knowing it's there.
Last year I emptied the woodstore.

Last year, the last days of the year when the mercury fell so far in the tube I thought it had vanished.
The last days when nine small roach got trapped in the ice of the garden pond and died there. If they'd had the sense to stay at the bottom of the pond they would have been safe. But they didn't.
The heron, being fed on tinned sardines, rammed his beak into the ice again and again to get the untinned fish, but couldn't reach them. He sat, hunched just outside the window, too dispirited to fly away.

The last days when my sons finally arrived safely for Christmas and managed to break two toboggans (but luckily no bones) on the dramatically beautiful slopes of the hills.
The days when my guests wrapped themselves in duvets inside the house during the day-time, and when we all sat as close as possible to the wonderful little Danish stove.

It felt like all the magic of winter story-land, Snow Queens and Ice Maidens, and only a real, living, flickering fire could quell the cold and darkness of December nights.
By the end of the year the woodstore was empty, and I even bought some of those orange nets of logs from the filling station to keep the home fire burning.
So at the turn of the year the first task was of replenishment.

There was a window of opportunity, a couple of days of dry air and weak sunshine, and I sat in the woodstore, building my mosaic against the months of cold and darkness still to come.
A protection as old as time.
An achievement so basic it stirs the blood, and appeals to all the senses.
Keeping the darkness at bay.