Leaving no trace

There is the wood and there are the leaves. Such a beautiful poignant summer, waiting for news, wandering in a forest of fears and little shadows.


Carelessly, without thinking, really thinking as in awareness and  considered choice, I began searching for my  missing sister and brother on the Internet, all over the place, advanced or refined or chancy searches. Nothing. They are not to be found and  when I stood up from my desk, the holes were as deep in me as graves. I want to know they are well, happy, alive, perhaps ready to try again. But they are nowhere to be found. I fell asleep last night thinking of children led into a dark forest and  who had only a trail of white bread crumbs to follow back home. The moon behind clouds and  when they  tried to find their way back — the children abandoned by their parents who had no food to feed them — the birds had eaten the crumbs and  there was no path back to the known and familiar.


I should not let my mind be hijacked by the thousand-and-one subtle and treacherous promises of the Internet —


But oddly, as if in compensation, an old acquaintance, a man I knew when he was 23, popped up on social media and there was a friending of sorts. How many of us will walk one another home across the airy distances of the Internet?


The housemate calling again to find out the elusive results, bracing herself for  more visits to specialists, hard or complicated choices. We make toast and coffee, chat in sleepy morning voices, the sun spills into the kitchen, there are birds calling from trees. The elder, the English hawthorn in its froth of green and coppery leaves, the pin oak, the gingko, the tipuana, the Halleria, the yellowwood, the loquat, the olive, the flowering catalpa.


From gardener-poet Sarah Maguire’s Almost the Equinox:


the constant pull of elsewhere
mooring us outside ourselves. The colchicums
come naked into the early autumn air.
Bruised into mauve and purple,
their frail blooms admit the memory of harm
in their risky flight to beauty. Packed bulbs
underground harbour their secrets.
Now that we have witnessed
the flare of that ginkgo spilling up
beside St Paul’s – its roots woven
deep beneath a graveyard of graves,
its slim knotted branches, sleeved
with airy, fantail leaves –
it will return to us, suddenly,
years from now.


The long waiting

No results yet, the tests going on. A season of winnowing, of letting go again and again. What will be will be.


Yesterday I went out into the damp summer garden and picked starry white-whiskered myrtle and a flowering branch of dark purple Buddleia ‘Black Knight’. A moment of pure happiness, the bushes and trees I have planted over these last years tall and flourishing around me.


Seamus Heaney, whom I read at night with lines to murmur as an invocation:


The Disappearing Island


Once we presumed to found ourselves for good

Between its blue hills and those sandless shores

Where we spent our desperate night in prayer and vigil,

Once we had gathered driftwood, made a hearth

And hung our cauldron like a firmament,

The island broke beneath us like a wave.

The land sustaining us seemed to hold firm

Only when we embraced it in extremis.

All I believe that happened there was vision.


Buddleia davidii 'Black Knight'

Home alone with dogs

The housemate is staying with a friend near the city hospital as she undergoes her tests, so I am alone at home with three dogs. Which is fine and comforting — there is work to be done ( a relief) and I potter around in the garden, revise fiction, make myself regular meals, drink my tangy oolong tea and watch the charred buds of compressed and rolled tea unfurl. I collect small samples of interesting teas from time to time — green teas, smoked teas, herbal infusions, tisanes. Then I wake up one morning and know that only a mug of strong coffee will do and I stay with morning caffeine for a month or so. After which I go back to teas.

Sat and tried to work out where to plant a new lemon verbena — it has a wonderful fragrance and is very pretty in flower. I need to put it somewhere the dogs will not trample it and where it has room to spread a little. A single leaf tucked under the base of a sponge cake or muffin filling will give a fresh appetising scent. I do the same thing with scented pelargoniums, the rose geranium as it was once called.


And of course, I have a houseful of books for occupation, preferable at times to the silly twittering of the Internet. Books have helped me map the digressive journeys of my life and kept me company on sleepless nights. Robert Kaplan:


“You don’t find the books that change your life by accident; nor by design. One finds them the way a ragpicker finds something useful in the garbage, or the way a hunter accidentally encounters his prey. The enterprise demands vigilance, says the philosopher Walter Benjamin: it takes practice to lose one’s way in a city in order to discover something important about it.”


Last night, reading about Thomas Merton’s close friend the hermit poet Robert Lax, who went off in 1964 to live in solitude on the island of Patmos, I was reminded of something Lax wrote:

Learn how to look. Take time to look to see what’s right there in front of you, to let what you see sink in. When you look at a flower opening or a tree moving with the wind, you just relax and take it all in. Try and see everything like that, if you can.

Looking and listening lead into everything… . You become more totally aware of reality. It’s so true — everything we need to live well is already within our possession. Wisdom is right before our very eyes.

In hard times everything gets simple. Not easy and I walk around with a knot of dread inside, but just staying in the moment, not chasing hopes or fears, just doing what has to be done for now. And paying attention, taking comfort from the everyday routines and rituals that  have shaped my life for years now.



Living amidst uncertainty

Another week of waiting. More tests and specialist consultations for the housemate, hopefully with some conclusions drawn. Uncertainty is horrible.

On Saturday I bought a small packet of ginseng oolong tea, imported, from a stall at a farmer’s market. Tea is one of my panaceas, the ritual of warming a favourite tea pot, steeping loose leaf tea in boiling water, pouring the fragrant steaming tea into small porcelain cups and drinking it slowly — soothing and refreshing. A small helpful distraction.

From Theodore Roethke’s poem The Waking:

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.


Apricot season in the countryside, calls from friends in the city asking where they can buy ripe red apricots. In a fortnight, there will be water melons and  honeydew melons (our spanspek melons) ready for stalls along the roads through farmland. High summer, abundance and fullness, the wheat harvested, white crystal grapes swelling on vines, the deep shady embrace of old oak trees.

I’ve sprained my left  foot somehow, inexplicably, usual clumsiness no doubt, and hobble back and forth with watering cans, drenching pots and newish herbs. I was about to buy more pots of Greek oreganum and chives at the farmers’ market on Saturday when I realised I had nothing to carry them in and would end up covered in wet potting soil. Now of course I dream of them as if I had lost two holy grails. I cleared the raised herb bed because the celery and pineapple sage had gone crazy enough to monopolise the entire bed, and I want a smaller more versatile collection of  oniony pink=flowering chives, Chinese garlic chives, winter savory, oreganum, chilli bushes.


The housemate in constant pain and very tired, putting up a brave cheerful front. I am subdued, irritable and chew my inner cheek, grind my teeth, clench my jaw all night. I hope the oolong tea ceremony calms me down. My meditation sessions are like a crowded house of projections, hungry ghosts and Mary’s Worst Moments combined.


And on we go.


Overberg summer