Friday, 26 October 2012

The Tale of the Timid Traveller

Got the visa, got the moon-boots, got the coat that will cope with minus twenty degrees, and the gloves that I hope will keep my fingers connected to my hands in those sorts of temperatures. Got the floaty dress for the party in a centrally over-heated Moscow apartment and the nice thick underwear for walking by the Black Sea.
 Not got the swimwear for a quick dip (or at least, not taking it). There are limits, even if the Black Sea is hovering above freezing and a daily dip is good for you.
Ready, willing and still quite surprisingly able, I shouldn't really use the word 'timid' - but it makes for good alliteration.

You can see from the oddments above that I've been around the block a few times. Not only got the moon boots but also got some dresses and slave bangles (another traveller's tale there) from the Middle East, slippers from Central Asia, a Russian shawl and, throughout the house, countless European odds and ends and things full of memories.

Yet I am lacking, and I'm not sure how I can define the lack.
There are members of my family, notably my nephew, pohanginapete, for whom travel is an art and whose curiosity about the wider world is insatiable.

I travel.
I have travelled quite widely over the years, but always (or nearly always) in an extremely prosaic manner.
I have travelled for work reasons, and I've travelled in order to visit people I love.
I have enjoyed a great deal, and been badly frightened a few times. I've been lost and locked in and locked out and lost the keys for the luggage in a remote German village (so now I don't bother locking it).
I've eaten some weird things, some of them with my fingers, and I've drunk some fairly horrible and unidentifiable stuff to go with it all.
I've been a patient in hospitals where English is never even thought of, and where the treatment for an infected insect bite involves an unwashed soldering iron.
I have been delighted by mountains and cities older than time, by the green waters spilling from glaciers, and by the sunsets in an arid landscape. I have seen the desert bloom after rains.

Then I come home again, and all the time I am away from home, where ever my home may be, I have a mental retreat. It is a quiet room with a polished wooden floor. Even the nail-heads in the floor are polished to silver by the countless feet passing. There is a wide armchair, covered in worn tapestry, and there are fat velvet cushions in a deep rose colour.
I sit in the chair beside a log fire. It's a dull fire, mainly soft white ash which shifts slightly with a whispering sound, but there is warmth.
I sit there for a while.
I can sit there in the middle of the desert, or near a snow capped mountain.
I can sit there while a droning plane carries me vast distances.

Then I come home, really home, to the home we created as a family, and which now contains mostly just me, but is still there for everyone else. There I find the insatiable curiosity and endless fascination which perhaps should extend into the wider world is thoroughly satisfied by the patterns of growth and change in the garden, by my family and friends, by reading and writing and drawing, and by the work I do within my small community.
Things that grow deeper every time I do them.
Worlds within worlds.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The Year's Last Fling

More magic in the woods, the stubble fields, the ancient church-yards, the hedgerows, for October 10th is a significant day.
Eat-a-Goose Day, Don't-Pick-Blackberries Day, Chuck-Lucifer-Out-Of Heaven Day.

Yes, I know that Michaelmas is now September 29th, but that is a recent change brought about by Henry VIII and the Church of England, when it all got mixed up with Harvest Festival and ploughing the fields and scattering.
Old Michaelmas, the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels was October 10th, a more robust event, when good old angelic warrior Michael leaped into action to protect against the darkness and the fears of the night.
It was the day when he had his final ding-dong with Lucifer and threw him out of heaven. Lucifer landed in a blackberry bush and in his tantrum trampled and spat all over the blackberries, which is why they should not be picked after tomorrow. Devil's spittle may be organically sourced, but it's not good digestively.

The geese, which should be eaten tomorrow, will have been fattened on the stubble of the harvest fields. Everyone used to know that eating goose on October 10th provided financial protection for the rest of the year. Failure to observe this tradition could explain the sort of mess we find ourselves in today.
Queen Elizabeth I knew it, and was reputedly eating goose when the news of the Armada was delivered to her. She continued with her meal, just as Drake continued playing bowls, because people had the right priorities in those days.
(A memorable quote from an essay my father was once delighted to have marked contained the reputed quote from Drake: 'The Armada can bowels can't'.)
There were Goose Fairs and Goose Day.
Geese mattered.
How many do we see today?

So the year turns, the days shorten and cool, some birds leave us and others arrive, the fruits ripen. In the garden the most magnificent final fling is the Michaelmas Daisy, so called because its flowering is seen as the final and finest horticultural defiance against darkness.
There is no better place to see this defiance than at Old Court Nurseries and the Picton Garden, situated at the foot of the Malvern Hills, where the photograph above was taken a few days ago.
In glorious October sunshine admirers of the Autumn Flowering Aster wandered the winding paths around this enclosed space, dazed by a sea of blues and mauves, pinks and purples. The 400 or so species here represent the National Collection of this plant.

I have a few in my garden. I want more, but I need to organise better.
I want to have flowers all the year, but above all I want the late season defiance, the raising of the floral fist against encroaching cold and darkness.
Maybe it's my age?