Today I am being a hill

I am being quiet, feeling the rain sluice down my flanks and pool around my skirts. The air is thick and damp. The countless little rootlets that grow along my outer skin are swelling with moisture and exulting. Beetles tickle me as they seek shelter under leaves or in crevices that curve upward and will not fill with this cloud water that has the taste of far away. But these are only surface things. They move in faster time. Far beneath these, deep down in the earth I feel powerful currents of water and deeper still rivers of fire. They are all part of me too because although I am hill I am also everything, a heart of fire and a sky of stars…

I have been reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s delightful book, Braiding Sweetgrass where she describes the frustrations of trying to learn her ancestral language of Potawatomi. Apparently only 30% of English words are verbs whereas in Potawatomi it is around 70%. These people were far more finely attuned to being than we are.

In her book RWK describes a moment in which she at last understands what it means “to be a bay.” She had to give up the insistence that a bay is a thing, an object, a type of noun, a dead accretion of features…

We forget that we see only a tiny and illusory fragment of our world. We think we know everything and yet we know nothing.

Yesterday was sunny after a night of rain. Each day has its perfect use, when timing meets need like a comfortable and perfectly fitting garment. I chose to weed, it somehow felt right. The usually rock hard earth was moist and weeds with long stubborn roots just slid gently out of the soil.

My tamed feral cat lay on the ground nearby, enjoying the gentle warmth of the sun, but I noticed how aware he nevertheless was of everything: a bird that flew there, a noise from the forest, a flax leaf that shuddered in some fleeting unseen air current, a fluff of white duck down (from the ageing muscovy ducks) that drifted through the air and was suddenly snatched by a swooping swallow…

I tried for a few moments to be cat, sensing the world the way he senses it and realised I simply couldn’t approach the richness of his world. I was too untrained.




Winter in an earlier year

It has been a mild winter even in this sub-alpine area. But occasionally there have been stretches of days when temperatures fell below freezing at night. And I discovered something new: I have a couple of back up water troughs for the animals, made from half mussel floats that someone gave me years ago. On cold mornings the surface water in the troughs is frozen. What has amazed and intrigued me this winter is the both dramatic and delicate patterning that develops on the surface of the ice. Each day is different. On some days the patterns are sharply angular and crystalline in nature. On others they may be soft and flowing and organic. And sometimes they are a mix of both. Regardless, they are always unique, and I had a sharp realisation one morning that life is like this, if we could only see it truly: every moment completely new and full of fresh possibility. It is the mind that deludes us into thinking we are stuck and that situations cannot change.

Here is a photo I took yesterday morning:

fullsizeoutput_6c0 Can you see the delicately shaped fern frond (or perhaps it is a pine tree?) at bottom centre? And up at the top centre, slightly right, is a giant snow flake form.

What bemuses me is how these shapes are formed. Is it the interaction between air and water? Or are these shapes somehow intrinsic to water – a higher potential that lies hidden in the transition from liquid to ice? (Think of the exquisite and very varied forms of snowflakes when seen under a microscope.)

I’m blessed to get my water from a deep bore. It is very pure, mineralised water that doesn’t need to be treated. I don’t know if that makes a difference to its freezing properties. Nature is always engaged in the process of creating afresh. Rather like how the cells in our bodies are continually replaced and renewed. Nothing stays the same. Sameness is a trick of the mind.

But I’m still enchanted by how freezing water can fleetingly display the building blocks of creation.

A planetary system in unusual harmony

I wrote a while back about how scientific observations have unexpectedly highlighted the fact that sometimes the Earth’s magnetic field comes into full harmony. See my earlier post here.

Today’s New York Times has a wonderful article about a planetary system orbiting a star called  Trappist 1 in an unusual state of harmony: The Harmony That Keeps Trappist-1’s 7 Earth-size Worlds From Colliding.

“In February, astronomers announced the discovery of a nearby star with seven Earth-size planets, and at least some of the planets seemed to be in a zone that could provide cozy conditions for life.

The finding of these planets circling the star Trappist-1 40 light-years away came with a bit of mystery. The orbits of the planets are packed tightly, and computer calculations by the discoverers suggested that the gravitational jostling would send the planets colliding with each other or flying apart, some to deep space, others spiraling into the star and destruction.

Now new research provides an explanation for the dynamics of how this planetary system could have formed and remained in stable harmony over billions of years.

“It’s actually a very special system,” said Daniel Tamayo, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Toronto Scarborough and the lead author of a paper appearing in The Astrophysical Journal Letters…”

“The scientist in the office next door to Dr. Tamayo found musical inspiration from the Trappist-1 planets. Matt Russo, an astrophysicist who is also a musician, turned to Dr. Tamayo’s computer simulations for help turning the orbits into notes, and they have produced a sort of music of the spheres for the 21st century.

“I think Trappist is the most musical system we’ll ever discover,” Dr. Russo said…”

It’s rather wonderful that such things are possible. If any of these planets hold life, I wonder if this state of affairs influences these lifeforms in special ways?

Returning to Ancient Chinese Ways


A mode of government we might do well to consider?

“Seeking Harmony

The soul of the I Ching is Seeking Harmony.

The oldest document preserved in China is The Book of History. Its first piece of writing is The Canon of Yao. It is a proclamation issued by King Yao, the chief of a tribe-commune in China 3,000 years ago. It says:

Select a virtuous and able person to be the chief and train him to seek harmony with nine clans.

After the nine clans get along well, then handle the affairs of a hundred different surname families.

After the affairs of a hundred different surname families have been well managed, then seek harmony with ten thousand nations.”

From Understanding the I Ching: Restoring a Brilliant, Ancient Culture by Alfred Huang.

It all starts with self. How does one bring about harmony within oneself?


Nurturing Moments

Each day has its special moments, often unobtrusive and readily missed, yet filled with a deep sweet energy that can warm and nourish the heart. These moments can infuse other parts of the day in the same way that an arresting idea can. I rarely cut flowers but there was a stem of gladioli that was going to be ruined by the rains from Cyclone Cook last week so I cut it and popped it in a vase and it has been delighting me ever since. Last night I was feeling stressed about something and found that looking back at a photo I had taken of the gladioli was deeply calming:


Even the wilted flowers carry a richness of colour and texture, like some exotic butterfly with wings furled or a heavy brocade hanging, that arrests my eye:


The nights have been getting cold, deep as we are into autumn, so I closed off my dilapidated home-made mini tunnel house the day before yesterday, Yesterday was a golden day, a cloudless sky, the sun turning the leaves of the purple leaf plum into blazing glints of red flame. (I am always compelled to photograph this sight but haven’t yet been able to capture the magic that my eye sees.)

I undo the top right hand corner of the little tunnel house so I can test the air temperature inside. I’m met by a twirling chartreuse tendril from one of the Peruvian caigua. They bear a plump green curved fruit, shaped like a fat crescent moon. I pick then when they’re about an inch and a half long and either eat them straight off the vine or slice them raw into my salads. They add a fresh crunchy texture.



Air warm with the scent of tomato and the pepperiness of nasturtium wafts out. As I peer inside I can sense the sheer happiness of the plants and somehow that happiness seeps into my body as well.



The calendula blossoms are fully open this morning. They seem very responsive to light, often staying half closed if it’s clouded over, but now they are luxuriating flagrantly in the warmth and the sunlight ricocheting off the bubblewrap and into the tunnel house.  It has been such a cool summer, the caigua – always a slow starter up here – has been struggling, and the tomatoes, though prolific, have seemed reluctant to ripen. The added warmth should speed up the process. Last year I had tomatoes through until mid-winter. This is the first time I have grown caigua under cover so perhaps it will extend its fruiting season too.


Caigua fruits

It is a fiddly business opening up the end of the tunnel house fully but I worry that the plants might cook as the morning grows warmer. Then in a moment of inspiration I realise I might be able to regulate the temperature sufficiently by just leaving the top right hand corner of the tunnel house open, and that proves to be correct. When I peer in again later I see that an enterprising bumblebee has found its way in through the gap and is rubbing its belly ecstatically over a constellation of tiny parsley flowers.

I always let my plants go to seed. I think it’s their due, to be able to complete their full life cycle, and they often reward me. I found that some French parsley I let go to seed last summer returned in force this summer, better even than in the previous year, whereas a plant I had purchased has been struggling. And I often add a young flower head or two to the mixed leaves I have at breakfast.

Yesterday morning while I was still out on the deck I gathered a sprig of tender parsley flower buds, several sage leaves, and some fronds of minutina, a hardy Italian herb with long dark green serrated leaves that I planted the previous summer and that has now resumed growing after some time off bearing seed. To these I added a couple of vibrant leaves from some narrow-leafed plantain that has sprung up here and there. The seeds are edible too, although I haven’t tried them. Psyllium comes from plantain seeds.


Narrow-leafed plantain

I stroll through the vege garden. The cos lettuce are going to seed in fine pagoda-like fashion but somehow still offer some vibrant looking young leaves that I can pluck, so I collect several of those:


The conditions this last summer seem to have suited the rosemary and the oreganum. They are so bursting with life that my eyes almost stutter as my gaze swings over them. They look so healthy – the oreganum seemingly intent on world domination – that they arrest my vision.  I carefully pick some sprigs.

Because the tiny vege garden is fenced off from the wild rabbits it is one place where dandelions and yarrow can flourish. For the most part I let them have their way. I treasure tender young dandelion leaves in my salad and I enjoy watching the pleasure the honeybees take in the yarrow flowers . This morning I pick a few young yarrow flowers for my salad.



After looking miserable all summer some kale that I planted in the spring have suddenly come into their own and will likely take me through until next summer. Another lot, these ones self-sown, are just completing their seed cycle but somehow still offer up small but sweet leaves. I gather several leaves from both. My eye falls on a chard that has gone flagrantly to seed. It is covered in bursts of flower buds. They look so attractive and healthy that I pick one of those too.

Then I head back inside. After I have rinsed them I lay the larger leaves flat, one on top of the next, then layer in the smaller sprigs and leaves, roll the whole lot up into a bundle and and then slice them finely. I sprinkle the yarrow buds on top, and then add some of the micro-greens I grow inside – red cabbage, broccoli, black mustard and a few remaining sprigs of daikon radish.


Meanwhile I have steamed an egg – 7 minutes makes it soft-boiled. After I have shelled that, saving the shell for the compost, I add the egg, along with some avocado and a dash of cumin. Salt, pepper, a dash of olive oil, a few drops of apple cider vinegar and juice from a lemon I have grown in the tunnel house. The egg yolk is the colour of calendula petals.  Another moment to savour.


Indoor micro-greens

Have ants mastered telepathy?

I was reading a science paper abstract from the Smithsonian about ant farming this morning that rather delighted me:

Ant agricultural revolution began 30 million years ago in dry, desert-like climate

World’s first sustainable, industrial-scale agriculture began when crops became dependent on their ant farmers

However what really puzzled me was this section:

Just as humans living in a dry or temperate climate might raise tropical plants in a greenhouse, agricultural ants carefully maintain the humidity within their fungal gardens. “If things are getting a little too dry, the ants go out and get water and they add it,” Schultz said. “If they’re too wet, they do the opposite.” So even when conditions above the surface become inhospitable, fungi can thrive inside the underground, climate-controlled chambers of an agricultural ant colony.

Who decides that the humidity needs to be modified??? How do they even know? Unless they’ve been hiding things from us all these years, they don’t use fancy gadgets to measure the humidity. And how are these decisions communicated without language?

Or does the appropriate part of the ant colony just somehow know that this needs to be attended to?

How did they learn all this? And how is this knowledge passed on to their descendants?

Which leads to my next question: Are ants a higher form of life than we are? How do we get to arrive at this level of intrinsic intelligence without external technological crutches?



Thanks to Google’s daily doodle thingummy I have just been introduced to Abdul Sattar Edhi, a Muslim gentleman the Huffington Post once identified as possibly the world’s greatest philanthropist. Others called him Pakistan’s Mother Teresa.

He is the greatest person never to be nominated for a Nobel prize.

Edhi was born in India and when he was 11 his mother became paralysed from a massive stroke. He nursed her until she died when he was 19. He had no formal schooling. When the British partitioned India and Pakistan came into being he and his family fled to Karachi. Edhi became a street peddlar, selling pencils. He was appalled by the poverty he saw around him and in his early 20’s, with donations begged from merchants and other people with money he set up a tent that served as a free dispensary for medicine.

Later he set up what became known as the Edhi Foundation. It cared for the homeless and dispossessed, set up women’s shelters and centres for the mentally disabled. By the time of his death last year it had trained 40,000 nurses.

“A single generous donation from a businessman, a fellow member of the Memon community, allowed Edhi to buy his first ambulance, which he drove himself around the city. Once asked why he was prepared to help Christians and Hindus alike, Edhi replied, “because my ambulance is more Muslim than you”.*** A women’s dispensary would later open and then a maternity clinic.”

In time, as it grew in size, the Edhi Foundation became involved in international relief operations, including Hurricane Katrina.

But discrimination has a long history. According to Wikipedia-

In the early 1980s, Edhi was arrested by Israeli troops while entering Lebanon. In 2006, he was detained in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, for 16 hours. In January 2008, U.S. immigration officials interrogated Edhi at the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City for over eight hours and seized his passport and other documents. When asked about the frequent detention Edhi said, “The only explanation I can think of is my beard and my dress.”

Edhi owned only two sets of clothes. He never took a salary from his Foundation.

A truly remarkable human being. He once said “People have become educated but they have not yet become human.”

[***After discussing this quote with an elderly friend I realise that its meaning may not be self-evident. The point is, mainstream Islam believes in tolerance to other faiths. The Koran says “To you be your religion, to me be mine.”]