from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

rural ragbag: transience & transitions

There has been so much in my imagination to write about that I've achieved zero writing lately; too much choice can be a tyranny, I've decided. Although I seem to be working hard (as usual) my energies have been a bit scattered.

One thing I have achieved though is a whole half-day where I put down my concerns for the world and simply enjoyed the sun, in the courtyard, with a book, with TM also reading beside me. This is a very rare event; partly because we've two acres, some of which is a big vegetable plot, to look after in our 'spare' time.

And at last the garden is producing, after a slow, cold sluggy start to the year. I'm so proud of my 4th generation squashes, rouge vif d'etampes, that you can see in this photo of the 2014 harvest – they're the huge orange ones. They do, however, run triffiding all over everything else.


I led a reflective writing workshop at my friend Carrie's in Cornwall a few days ago. As I arrived, Carrie came round the corner with a very small mallard duckling poking its head out of her top. It had been mauled by a cat, and she hadn't expected it to survive.

After some fairly intensive nursing on her part, including giving it swimming lessons several times a day (its right side seemed to be damaged, so it swam in circles, and couldn't walk upright), she's released it back with its family, and so far it's survived, albeit in its lopsided way.

I tell you this to share a small joy of something being right in the world.

Another small big rightness is that 14-year-old Lucy Gavaghan has been campaigning determinedly to get Tesco to stop stocking eggs from caged hens. Finally, they plus the other major supermarket chains have agreed (though it won't happen for a few years). Her current petition to take this further is to the Secretary of State for DEFRA, Andrea Leadsom.


A not-so-rightness is Ms Leadsom's stance on badger culling (go for it), and on foxhunting (repeal the ban). I walked the two mile loop round here this morning, dog-less (of which more in a minute – I'm only just now learning how to walk without a dog!). I know every single badger sett and its many entrances. I'm heartbroken to see my farming neighbour has blocked them all up with rammed earth and stone, beyond my ability to clear them alone.

There is so much ignorance and demonising of others in our world. And the trouble is some major Tory party supporters, deeply in favour of foxhunting and badger-culling, are landowners of huge tracts, which are either used for intensive animal farming/monocrops or 'cultivated' for eg grouse-shooting. With Brexit we are of course losing the EU subsidies, and while our own government has promised to continue subsidising landowners, guess who they're going to subsidise? Yes; and the smaller farms which contribute so much more effectively, on the whole, to biodiversity, and struggle to survive, will not receive subsidies.

They – the affluent landowners – and the pharmaceutical companies are responsible for so much trashing of the rest of the natural world. Yet another report has come out damning neonicotinoids for their effect on our pollinators; Big Pharma, of course, is disputing the conclusions reached in the new research. Grrr.


It feels like a transitional season. I know it's only August, but there's a whiff of that early-autumn – what is it? – plaintiveness? Yearning? Nostalgia for that which isn't yet passed? ('even in Kyoto / when I hear the cuckoo / I yearn for Kyoto' ~ Basho) Melancholy? Wistfulness? The heart-quality of slant light? Hiraeth? – that.

There's an early-morning rivermist, the first leaves are goldening, and the rowan berries are rouging up a treat against their mountain ash leaves. What a privilege to lie in bed first thing (which is a demanding 5.45am) and hear nothing but the brook, the rooks and jackdaws in their all-day flocking (which also feels autumnal) gathering, I imagine, gleanings from the barley harvest locally, and the pair of bullfinches in the buddleia beyond the window; watch the big slow heron flapping past.

And the creeper's leaves on the wall are turning red now.


The world is so beautiful exactly because of beauty's transience, don't you think? Some days everything cuts the heart. That's why poets write. We want to be cut like that; we don't want to be desensitised, detached, numbed or even content, no matter how much we protest at the pain.


And transience gives us so much trouble, too. I've spoken (frequently, doubtless) here of Buddhism's commentary on the human condition: how we are jerked from dwelling in equilibrium – our own and others' – by liking this, disliking that; craving this or pushing away that; not being at peace with simply how things are – which is transient.

I started formal meditation practice (which I've blended all my adult life with my own personal druidic/British Mystery Tradition path and training in psychotherapy) at 18, with a bunch of hardcore scary male Soto Zen Buddhist practitioners. Later, I saw how a certain kind of person, wishing to escape the world and its demanding relationships and messy emotionality, would be drawn to this use of meditation practice as a kind of evasion.

Since then, my own path has been to sink more deeply into this life, this world and its river of moments, while attempting not to get stuck in attachments that can only be transient, or evasions which tell us more about where our work needs to take place. Not to yield to being taken over by fear and anxiety; not to be toppled by wanting what is not mine to have. (As if we could 'have' anything into eternity.) It's a kind of bifocal thing: seeing through to the subtle realms without discarding this miraculous sensory world.

Time after time I'm tested on my acceptance of this, and time after time I fall through the holes in my own net into a pit of anxiety ('they' say there are three default negative states, and we all tend to succumb to one above the others when down: anger, depression and anxiety).

So my big stumbling block, my own issue, and no doubt many of us feel this, is how I get stuck in my fear for or of another's suffering; my inability to assuage it, and also fear of the loss to me of that other.

If you've been reading my blog over a little while you'll know of my deep love for and attachment to the beautiful hound, She Who Wears Her Grey Matter On The Outside (TM's moniker), Ash, who shares my life and is also my 'spirit animal', daemon. (Non-dog-people alert: the rest of this might bore the pants – I use that noun advisedly – off you.)

She's already had 50% more (average) lifespan than her breed, the deerhound type, is supposed to have. We've been lucky; her strong bright spirit has pulled her through so much. But since 2011 she's had so many crises. As my mum was dying, I was also tending Ash after her jaw and one eye simply collapsed; stopped working.

Then she had a potentially-critical reaction to an anaesthetic after she had an op to remove a fist-sized lump from her back.

Last year, she had to have another op to amputate her tail, when a second massive lump burst.

Not long after that, she accompanied me and my friend B down through France to the south for a course I was leading in the Cévennes, where she succumbed to heatstroke after a very long journey, poor animal, and I have fairly awful memories of tearing out of my room in the middle of the night, every night, sometimes several times, without a torch or shoes to rush behind her up a narrow rocky path with a chasm on one side in order to prevent messy diarrhoea being distributed around the grounds in which we were working.

The latest has been copious blood, frightening dark-red thick blood, instead of pee (hope you're not squeamish about such details). For several weeks, she's been losing blood at an alarming rate, and has been very agitated – of course – barking and waking us all several times a night. (Good news coming! – hang on.)

I have been sure that this time it would be it; and either I'd need to make a decision now, or leave a decision to my daughter and partner for the three weeks I shall be away, again in the Cévennes, from Monday next. (No, she's definitely not coming.)

She'd been on prescription canine painkillers for her back pain, rather against my instincts, as I tend to only use herbs for us all, but I was convinced that that level of pain wasn't OK. When she'd seemed to worsen, I upped the dose in discussion with the vet; she'd worsen again, and so on.

My lovely vet, who has given advice and help way beyond both the dutiful and her fees, all this time, and who supports my natural approach mostly, suggested that it might in fact indeed be a reaction to the medication, so we stopped it to see (some dogs don't do well on some drugs).

Ash was almost immediately significantly better both in herself and in her physical symptoms (such as temperature and very rapid breathing), AND she stopped barking at night; but was still bleeding heavily right up until late last night – when her other symptoms all returned. I have been thinking 'I've poisoned my dog. I've poisoned my dog.'

Overnight, sleepless (again), I prepared myself for what seemed the inevitable; gave self pep-talks about non-attachment and transience; remembered what a great nearly-13 years we'd had together.

During the day yesterday, in a last-ditch attempt, I reminded self that I do know about herbal medicine, and remembered the power of plantain and marigold, both of which grow freely in the garden, as soothers and healers; plantain particularly as an anti-haemorrhage herb, and especially good for kidney and bladder problems; marigold also as an anti-infective. So she had the fresh chopped herbs at every opportunity through the day in a variety of forms and mediums.

Plus I gave her the first of a course of the strong antibiotics my vet had left me with, just in case.

Braced myself this morning.

I don't remember any time in my life when I've imagined wanting to 'dance and sing and praise the Lord and Lady of creation' (who am I misquoting?) for – 100% clear urine. 100%. Not a trace of blood.

Who knows what did it – 1 dose of anti-bs, herbs, distant healing from my prayerful lay Franciscan sister, or simply Ash's own clear strength and my firm loving attachment (and hers to me), but – I didn't know I could weep such tears of joy at clear pee. 

Give me transience, but just not yet.


  1. I read your story about your beloved Deerhound with my heart in my mouth and hardly breathed till I got to the good bit. How we love these gentle hounds (mine are Wolfhounds - two at present but over the years seven). They are the softest, kindest animals and the wolfhounds are my heart hounds and, yes, my spirit animal/daemon. I am so happy that Ash has recovered and send her deepest blessings.

  2. Angie, how kind of you. And I hadn't taken in that you're a wolfhound woman! How lovely!

    I spent 30 years nearly hoping for the 'right' wolfhound to come my way; then I found Ash (3/4 deerhound, a lurcher, technically) and it took me 3 seconds to know she was 'right'.

    Having always lived with collies before, and their hyperactivity, sharing my life with a hound has been a complete revelation - so sweet, so obedient, so gentle, so always-there. And I've almost never needed a collar or lead.

    Lovely to hear about your dogs. Thank you.

  3. I read every word, nodding, smiling in agreement, then feeling very anxious when you reached Ash. And yet, from the tone of your voice, I was optimistic that all would be well. Even so – and I'm delighted and so relieved – I was in tears by the end; tears of fellow-feeling and relief. Sounds like the herbs did the trick.
    I remember, also, our 13 year old spaniel who died many years ago in midsummer. We had to make the awful decision in the end and, coward that I am, it was the main reason for not replacing him.
    That might be difficult to understand for some, perhaps?
    Have signed Lucy Gavaghan's petition and many more recently.

    And yes, the transience of everything is what makes it so precious. It intensifies the older you get, which is not meant to sound pessimistic!

    Bon Voyage, Roselle and see you in Oct.
    With love, Miriam

  4. Thank you, Miriam, for the fellow-feeling. It's been a tough time. And it's just as likely to have been the antibiotics - who knows what was going on?

    And I so understand your not wanting to 'replace' your dog. It's a tough one. It's just hard to imagine not sharing my life with a dog!

    Love to you. Rx


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