Alexander Averin

Wednesday 31 December 2008

New Days

Dear Diary,

Sorry I have been absent for so long. I blame the season, is it safe to come out now?

To wish you all a Very Happy and Peaceful New Year, here are just a few pictures of the hoary frost that has hung around all day. Last night's dark fog turned into bright beauty and it stayed with is all the day long. We took the dogs for a walk up in the forestry.

The walk begins.

This is 'our river' further downstream and the rest are views from a 'high spot'.

I'll leave you with a poem by the late John O'Donohue whose words are still missed.

The Inner History of a Day

No one knew the name of this day;
Born quietly from deepest night,
It hid its face in light,
Demanded nothing for itself,
Opened out to offer each of us
A field of brightness that traveled ahead,
Providing in time, ground to hold our footsteps
And the light of thought to show the way.

The mind of the day draws no attention;
It dwells within the silence with elegance
To create a space for all our words,
Drawing us to listen inward and outward.

We seldom notice how each day is a holy place
Where the eucharist of the ordinary happens,
Transforming our broken fragments
Into an eternal continuity that keeps us.

Somewhere in us a dignity presides
That is more gracious than the smallness
That fuels us with fear and force,
A dignity that trusts the form a day takes.

So at the end of this day, we give thanks
For being betrothed to the unknown
And for the secret work
Through which the mind of the day
And wisdom of the soul become one.

John O'Donohue


Go mbeannai Dia duit,


Tuesday 16 December 2008

Birches and a river view

Dear Diary,

I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow
to keep an appointment with a beech-tree,
or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines.

Henry David Thoreau, 1817 - 1862

Just pictures and a poem today.

The poem is by the great American poet Robert Frost and was introduced to me by Mountainear in a comment on my last posting. Thank you Mountainear; I love this poem.

The first picture is a photo of our river taken by M.


When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay.
Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust--
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
(Now am I free to be poetical?)
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows--
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Robert Frost

Though a tree grows so high, the falling leaves return to the root.
Malay proverb

Do not be afraid to go out on a limb ... That's where the fruit is.
- Anonymous

Bye for now,


Sunday 14 December 2008

Poetry on ice

Dear Diary,

The most important tribute any human being can pay to a poem or a piece of prose he or she really loves is to learn it by heart. Not by brain, by heart; the expression is vital.

George Steiner.

I am writing this with my dear cat Molly laying on my lap and I haven’t the heart to push her off so please accept my apologies if there are typing errors.

I just love Sundays, it is truly my favourite day of the week, especially in Winter when there are fewer folk around; no tourists, speeding motorcyclists, lorries and the like. Today I am blessed with another frosty, sunny day which draws me outside to see what treasures are awaiting me.

But Sundays have their own little routines. I fear I am getting Set in My Ways and there is No Hope. I have enjoyed a long lie-in with Edgar Sawtelle but this book is quite harrowing and I am getting in a bit of a state worrying about the outcome (you have to read it).

I breakfast on boiled eggs and listen to the tail end of The Archers (I am an addict) and then I just have to hear my favourite Desert Island Discs as I do a few indoor chores; today it is someone called Michael Healy, a film director. I am not well up on film directors but I gather he directed The Deerhunter. I quite like some of his music choices. He mentions he started school far too early and I am surprised when he says he was six years old! Then I realise he meant he was sent away to boarding school at the age of six and so grew up not having an idea of what family life was like and didn’t have a ’normal’ relationship with his mother and could never be a proper father himself. How sad is that? I had no idea of a normal family either so can empathise but my reason is an entirely different one.

Finally, chores over, I can layer up, gather the dogs and make my way out to the field. And as predicted, there is treasure indeed. As I enter the field gate with the dogs I look up in the sky, there are aeroplane trails in the sky and they are making a big cross sign - not a religious cross shape which might be appropriate for a Sabbath, but rather a huge kiss shape and it makes me smile.

The dogs and I have a good wander, well they mostly run and I mostly wander - there is ice underfoot, all the boggy parts and what we call the pond are still near-frozen though the brilliant Sun is doing her best to melt them. I come across a biggish puddle of ice and again I curse myself for forgetting to bring my camera because the shapes in the ice puddle are amazing. They resembles a lattice of highways criss-crossing each other, forming diamond shapes and other geometric patterns. How it has been formed I have no idea, it is not as symmetrical as a spider web, they also always look stunningly magical when frozen. Nearby is another little pool, this has rounded ice patterns, lots of little petal shapes. I consider going back to the cottage for my camera but with me laziness always wins and I make a mental note to send M out with his superior camera later on to see if he will capture this unusual phenomenon for me.  (The picture above is not taken here by the way).

We return to the garden, the sun is till shining, I haven’t seen one car and all is quiet and still. I do a bit of clearing up outside and fill up the bird feeders again. It is amazing how much time ‘just pottering’ takes, but on days like this it is a joy to be outside, the feel of warm sunshine on one’s face is such a treat in December.

I’ll sign off with a poem now.

I caught a part of Woman’s Hour this week and heard Daisy Goodwin talking about the BBC’s reading poetry aloud competition for schools. Back in the mists of time I was lucky enough to have an excellent grammar school education where the correct and proper use of English grammar was instilled in me. I have no complaints on that score, only a deep gratitude. My junior school education in South London was also excellent and we learned to spell (!) and to recite tables by rote so that by the time we left at eleven these things were second nature.

Unlike a lot of people I know I have never learned poems by rote and although I have such a passion for poetry now, I was never really inspired at school. For there we used to dissect poems, that much I remember and while doing so we would read them in class, taking it in turns - I remember the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner for one. I have studied English literature since leaving school, as a mature student and again it was all about pulling text apart and examining the use of language, something which to be honest, I have never quite felt happy with. I am always reminded of U A Fanthorpe’s poem when I get on this subject - I have blogged it before but for those of you who missed it, here it is again.

Dear Mr Lee
Dear Mr Lee (Mr Smart says
it's rude to call you Laurie, but that's
how I think of you, having lived with you
really all year), Dear Mr Lee
(Laurie) I just want you to know
I used to hate English, and Mr Smart
is roughly my least favourite person,
and as for Shakespeare (we're doing him too)
I think he's a national disaster, with all those jokes
that Mr Smart has to explain why they're jokes,
and even then no one thinks they're funny,
And T. Hughes and P. Larkin and that lot
in our anthology, not exactly a laugh a minute,
pretty gloomy really, so that's why
I wanted to say Dear Laurie (sorry) your book's
the one that made up for the others, if you
could see my copy you'd know it's lived
with me, stained with Coke and Kitkat
and when I had a cold, and I often
take you to bed with me to cheer me up
so Dear Laurie, I want to say sorry,
I didn't want to write a character-sketch
of your mother under headings, it seemed
wrong somehow when you'd made her so lovely,
and I didn't much like those questions
about social welfare in the rural community
and the seasons as perceived by an adolescent,
I didn't think you'd want your book
read that way, but bits of it I know by heart,
and I wish I had your uncles and your half-sisters
and lived in Slad, though Mr Smart says your view
of the class struggle is naïve, and the examiners
won't be impressed by me knowing so much by heart,
they'll be looking for terse and cogent answers
to their questions, but I'm not much good at terse and cogent,
I'd just like to be like you, not mind about being poor,
see everything bright and strange, the way you do,
and I've got the next one out of the Public Library,
about Spain, and I asked Mum about learning
to play the fiddle, but Mr Smart says Spain isn't
like that any more, it's all Timeshare villas
and Torremolinos, and how old were you
when you became a poet? (Mr Smart says for anyone
with my punctuation to consider poetry as a career
is enough to make the angels weep).

PS Dear Laurie, please don't feel guilty for
me failing the exam, it wasn't your fault,
it was mine, and Shakespeare's
and maybe Mr Smart's, I still love Cider
it hasn't made any difference.

U A Fanthorpe

I wonder what you think? Were you put off poetry at school? Were you made to learn poems off by heart and did that inspire you to read more or to write your own? Did you leave school with a love of poetry, a dislike for it or an indifference?

I was indifferent to reading poetry until I reached the romantic, adolescent phase and I started writing my own and what absolute rubbish it was. Romantic nonsense, but it must have been a need to get something out of my system. Is poetry always a form of therapy?

I have been trying to think of a poem that I would like to learn by heart and read aloud but so far have not been able to come up with anything. I am still on the case though. Can you think of one that you love enough to learn and recite by heart? Not one you were forced to learn as a child, but rather one that you yourself would choose? Perhaps you have written something that would fit the bill?

Poets visit schools these days and from personal experience I find that they really inspire the children to express themselves. The children need enthusiastic teachers as well of course, to encourage them and if they have access to a library and all the wonderful books of poetry about nowadays it is even better.

Reading aloud surely gives children confidence in ‘public speaking’ but I would prefer them to have a choice - either to read their own work or the work of a published poet that they themselves admire.

I shall leave you now,
Enjoy your Sunday,
Go mbeannai Dia duit,

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Over the rainbow

There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.

Edith Wharton

I may have blogger’s block as I don’t seem to feel inspired to write on one particular subject. This may have to be a bit of a ramble so bear with me.

I rose early this morning even though I am on leave from work as I had to make a little journey in the car to pick up something from the library. I throw on some clothes - layers are the order of the day again and the only way to keep warm. A quick drink of fruit juice and a yogurt and I’m off, tea and porridge will have to wait for my return. It’s another cold morning, hardly above freezing and still ice lies about so I have to be very careful, especially underfoot. Luckily the main road has been gritted, our gritting angel comes regularly; another unsung hero is that man.

When I arrive back home about half an hour later it is still only nine o’ clock and I take the dogs for their run in the field. We don’t venture on the bridge in the garden as it is ‘skew wiff’ - it still lies at an angle where it was ‘moved’ in the Great Flood and it will also be icy. I know from past experience how quickly one can slip on (or off!) it so I am not taking any risks with myself or with Finn and Kitty . Much as Kitty loves water, I doubt that either dog would relish falling into an icy river.

So we go over the road bridge and enter the field gate. Everywhere is cloudy except one far side of our valley which is bathed in sunlight. These are the foothills of the Cambrian Mountains and they shine a rusty gold, interspersed with small blankets of green, the sky a bright blue; it is like a distant oasis of summer amidst the cold and grey of a chill November.

The dogs and I set off for a stroll around the five acre field. They run well together; Kitty is the more energetic, she is still young and being a border collie her energy is boundless. Finn is an elderly lurcher with the heart of an angel and he tolerates all Kitty’s tormenting as she play bites him and charges, tempting him to race with her.

It rains on and off, the sun peeps out at me from behind another hill and then as I turn to look again at the mountains I see the arch of a rainbow and it brings a little lurch of delight that I feel somewhere in my solar plexus (the sixth chakra?). A friend of mine saw a double rainbow last week, they are quite a rare sight and I am sure they would bring double delight in their wake.

I am still dreaming of rescuing two donkeys, I cannot make my mind up yet. I will think on it until the spring as that would be a good time to get some. Donkeys keep haunting me, as things do when you have them in your mind. The air is pure and crisp and I am tempted to stay outside but I have to do a few little jobs in the garden.

The first job is the replenishing of the bird feeders, the rate at which they get through the nuts and seeds is amazing and they adore M’s home made bread, I saw four blue tits fighting over a crust of it yesterday. Like everyone else I am trying to make savings but cannot bring myself to stop feeding the birds. I have even bought a new ‘feeding station’, (a grand name for a set of metal hooks), but the ground has been too cold for M to install it in what will be its new home by the river. This morning my little friend the robin speaks to me from the wooden bird table, I understand his language of course but invariably he says the same thing ‘Where is the food?’. Sometimes he appears at one of the cottage windows and just stares at me. There is no need for words.

The nuthatch is the first to arrive on the newly filled nut holder, even he is less shy than he used to be. I call him Norman, God knows why.

I have some new solar lights to install as well but that job will have to wait for a thaw.

It is raining steadily now but it is like my beloved Irish ‘soft’ rain, the kind I feel at home in and could be happy walking in all day but M is calling and is mentioning tea so, somewhat reluctantly, I go indoors, throw off my wellies and a few of my layers and plan the rest of my day over a nice big mug of Yorkshire Gold. (There is no tea like it except perhaps Barry‘s from Cork!).

A poem before I go?

It has to be William Blake.

On Another's Sorrow

Can I see another's woe,
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another's grief,
And not seek for kind relief?

Can I see a falling tear,
And not feel my sorrow's share?
Can a father see his child
Weep, nor be with sorrow filled?

Can a mother sit and hear
An infant groan, an infant fear?
No, no! never can it be!
Never, never can it be!

And can He who smiles on all
Hear the wren with sorrows small,
Hear the small bird's grief and care,
Hear the woes that infants bear -

And not sit beside the nest,
Pouring pity in their breast,
And not sit the cradle near,
Weeping tear on infant's tear?

And not sit both night and day,
Wiping all our tears away?
O no! never can it be!
Never, never can it be!

He doth give His joy to all:
He becomes an infant small,
He becomes a man of woe,
He doth feel the sorrow too.

Think not thou canst sigh a sigh,
And thy Maker is not by:
Think not thou canst weep a tear,
And thy Maker is not near.

O He gives to us His joy,
That our grief He may destroy:
Till our grief is fled and gone
He doth sit by us and moan.

William Blake
Songs of Innocence

And will there be blessings?

I try to be original in my choice of blessings but the same ones do keep recurring and I apologise for that. Is there a limit to the blessings one can receive in this life?

Rainbows. Need I say more? There has been sad news all around lately and I hope the rainbow is a symbolic message that all shall be well.

The great writer Maya Angelou was at the Hay Festival a few years ago and she spoke of rainbows. She said

"When it looks like the sun isn't going to shine anymore, God put a rainbow in the clouds,"
She also said that poetry had become a rainbow for her. I can identify with that.

The power of the group. Community. Even an online group can carry great energy, can be a comfort, can bring about friendships that would otherwise never be. What a great force for good the Internet can be and it has been life enhancing for so many. So Purplecoo you are a special blessing and not just for today.

Talking of groups I must mention the book group. We met last night in the library and it was another very enjoyable meeting. We discussed Martin Booth’s Industry of Souls, a very good book that was shortlisted for the Booker some years ago.

Talking of good books I am reading a great one at the moment. It is The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wrobleski, I am only half way through it, it’s a long one but it is one of those books you don’t want to put down. If you are a dog lover you may get more from it but even if you are not I would say it is a must read.

A new song that can lift the heart, A new voice that can touch one.

But here’s an old one. A song for you all. Enjoy.

Bye for now,
Go mbeanna Dia duit,

Thursday 4 December 2008

Sing for You - Tracy Chapman

My daughter just sent me this song, one I had not heard before.  I've always been a fan of Tracy Chapman.

This song is catchy and will make you feel happy, there's something about it.