Found in the Cracks

Celebrating the small; grown from a Twitter series (@WalkNoDonkey) early 2020 during lockdown #one.

I was with my mother in Kent and she has a wonderful garden. She has always loved to allow her plants to seed themselves, finding little places they can inhabit. Here is evidence of the resilience of nature, of which we are a part. Much has been written about that attribute during this past 18 months, and if you look with an eagle’s eye, you will find that some of these are once again popping their heads between stones, a year and more on.

Self-seeding violets, Viola odorata in the paving slab cracks 15 March

Resilience is the ability to withstand, to stay healthy in the face of adversity to bounce back. It is borne out of a stable environment and it can be eroded by continued stress. Someone who shies away from noise and horror, senses that their resilience levels are low. Perhaps they never had the stability they needed.

Grief affects our ability to be resilient. Almost all of us find that our sense of resilience is affected by bereavement (whether due to the death of someone, or losses such as moving house, leaving home, divorce and other life changes).

On the 4 April 2020 the BBC reported:

‘A five-year-old child with underlying health conditions has died of coronavirus. The latest figures showed 4,313 people with the virus have died to date in the UK – up by 708 on the previous Friday’s figure. There are now 41,903 confirmed cases, according to the Department of Health.’

We will not forget those people.

Forget-me-not, Myosotis 4 April

Resilience means that we can be strong and are able to stay that way, even in distressing situations, however, we notice that we cannot necessarily do this all the time. This implies that it is a specific trauma which affects our ability to maintain a level of calm at certain times, and with particular people. Moreover, it can be unpredictable. Being less resilient is not a weakness, nor anything to be ashamed of. It is real and can cause a raft of symptoms from the physical through mental and emotional to the spiritual.

Posting a photo of pulmonaria in early April was rather apt, sadly, given the high numbers of people suffering lung issues as a result of Covid-19 in April 2020. This is in memory of those who lost their lives.

Lungwort, Pulmonaria oficinalis for the lungs – see those white spots. 6 April

The same occassion can be one of joy to some and stress to others. If empathy is not felt with the one who is feeling stressed, acceptance must nevertheless be the response, at least if we aren’t to cause a re-traumatisation.

Primroses, Primula polyantha 7 April

Peace and quiet and being amongst plants and wildlife is often a place where people can build up their resilience. In general, these places offer the opportunity, less of a threat, and so give our heart the chance to rest, but not always. For some people it may be the opposite. We can only listen to find out, not make assumptions.

Violets, Viola odorata. My grandmother’s name-sake, the Sweet Violet 8 April
Purple Grecian windflower, Anemonoides blanda opens her wee face to the sun 10 April

How many of us have a habit of trying to keep things inside, buried?

The beginnings of columbine or Granny’s bonnets, Aquilegia 12 April

Mum and I were two people living together who were not used to doing so. Not since I was 18 and leaving home have I lived so long with her. However much love we had between us, there were a few cracks and out came the niggles, some serious, some not. There were weak places in our relationship where things leaked out. We didn’t argue about leaving the lid off the toothpaste tube, but often it turned out that I was acting on expectations and assumptions. I didn’t realise, but I was falling back into following rules of behaviour I thought I had learned as a child, daughter with mother, thinking they still stood, that I should do x or y in a situation. It turned out that no, that wasn’t expected of me. It transpired that the many years that have passed since then, meant we have changed. Of course we have, obviously, but old habits die hard!

Quite a lot later the aquilegia had reached a great height and, though attracting greenfly, were in bud

We managed to talk about the difficulties afterwards, painful though they were, and we apologised to each other, and managed to keep on going together with love. The pandemic meant that we had to, we couldn’t get away from each other – thanks, pandemic. That’s the way to build resilience in a relationship and every now and then it was tough going, however I think we learned more about each other in the process, and overall, I look back on that 5-month period as a wonderful time, a way of getting to know each other as adults in a different way. We had fun together.

By May 21 the aquilegia were out

This flower is thought to be named because part of the flower resembles the talons of an eagle (aquila). Eagles are far-sighted and powerful and they have talons with which to grip fiercely. Tenacity is something which has also been talked about with regard to the pandemic. The tenacity to keep going when so much of life’s normality is threatened, tenacity to see what is important – maintaining contact (even electronically or from the garden gate), and random acts of kindness (like getting in the shopping for someone, or sending a thoughtful note).

Lily of the valley, Convallaria majalis making their way into the world. You can clearly see that they are of the asparagus family. 13 April

When I look at these photos, I think of life between tower blocks and plants growing between paving stones in cities and towns, whether welcome or not, sometimes weed-killed, more recently near my home, allowed to flourish. Thorny brambles sinew between railings onto the pavement, and tree roots break through concrete. In Chinese Medicine, it’s the upthrust of Wood energy.

And here they are sporting their scented white bells

Then I imagine my nerves threading between vertebrae in my spine, linking the central nervous system to the periphery. I think of broccoli between the teeth – isn’t that so annoying! Of hernias, pockets of our internal organs escaping through openings, like the stomach poking through the oesophageal sphincter, for example, a hiatus hernia.

Stinging nettles Urtica dioeca. The first thing I drink in the morning, for my joints 15 April
Lemon balm, Melissa officinalis for soothing stress and improving the mood 16 April

In April 2020, so many people were struggling (and still are) with isolation and the various difficulties brought on by restrictions in movement (then, it was recommended that we stay within a 2 mile radius in order to stop the virus spreading). I used lemon balm because it is refreshing and restorative as a herbal tea, and sometimes I just rubbed the leaves gently between my fingers and had a good sniff!

Periwinkle, Vinca minor stretching her neck. Soon to be lavender blue. 17 April
St John’s Wort, Hypericum androsaemum. Tutsa, known as Balm of the Warrior’s Wands. 18 April

It was at this time that we were standing outside our houses once a week clapping the stalwart NHS ‘warriors’ who now , in 2021, need support more than ever after such a long slog without a break and the emotional strain. Many are exhausted and I know that I, and my fellow Shiatsu practitioners, are hoping that we can support them in hour-long, gentle touch sessions for relaxation, stress and rejuvenation.

Shining Cranesbill, Geranium lucidum 20 April. So delicate
Purple deadnettle, Lamium purpurium, also known as purple archangel as it shows itself around the Feast of the Apparition on May 8

According to legend, the Feast of the Appearing of the Archangel Michael (a Christian event) took place on Mount Gargano, Apulia, about the year 492, and immediately the mountain became the site of pilgrimage.

Mexican fleabane, Erigeron karvinskianus, from Greek meaning early (eri) and old man (geron) because of the white beard-like rays around the yellow floral disc. 1 May
Roman chamomile, Chamaemelum nobile, fine and feathery. Formerly Anthemis nobilius with essential oil of chamazulene for calming, teething babies and itchy skin. 14 May
Strawberry plant, Fragaria hybrid ‘pekan’ about to fruit despite being in rather overcrowded cracks. It’s a companion plant to borage – they benefit each other. 28 May
Borage, starflower, bugloss, Borago officinalis. Great for nappy rash in cream form

Float some blue borage flowers in your Pims or lemonade and see what happens! *

Two holyhocks, Alcea rosea, flowering despite their diminutive size. 1 July
Michaelmas Daisies, Aster, heralding the approach of Autumn. 25 August and back in Edinburgh

Though actually celebrated on 29 September, this is another flower named after St Michael and one of his festivals – Michaelmas, again part of the Christian calendar. It also includes the angels Gabriel, Raphael and sometimes Uriel. Close to the equinox (when the sun is directly above the equator 23 September and 20 March), in Medieval times, it was the harvest, the end of the fishing season, and the start of the hunting one, time to settle bills and count the livestock for planning the winter. stores

In August, in the UK, we had our first respite from the Covid limitations on movement and so I travelled back home to Edinburgh. The open nature of these blooms captures the feelings we had when it was warm enough to socialise outdoors and everything seemed more positive again.

Creeping wood sorrel, Oxalis corniculata

In the past, I tried to hide my concerns and put on the smiling face that I thought others deserved, that I thought I should if I was going to be a good mum and work colleague. It didn’t work for long. If I have something important to say, worries that need to be expressed, they just come out in other ways. Otherwise I wander towards a fault line in my mental health, start to ‘crack up’.

Knapweed, Cyanus triumfetti

Anyway, it didn’t take long to recognise that the people around me knew me well enough to sense when I was uptight and holding onto something. I am not sure that any amount of anger or resentment can really be hidden if we are in close proximity to people we love or work with. It is always about finding ways to put my feelings into words, let them out in a constructive way, or accepting when I flare with anger, apologise, and finding support from a friend or counsellor to try and work out why I did that.

Knapweed in full bloom
Rock fumewort, yellow corydalis, Pseudofumaria lutea
Piss-a-beds, dandelion, Taraxacum officianale, most common, companion to nettle in my morning tea

Dandelion – bees love it (see No Mow May) – and it ‘helps one see further without a pair of spectacles’,according to Culpeper’s Colour Herbal. I take it for my liver.

Probably woodbine, do you think? A vine like Virginia Creeper and Honeysuckle
Twist of ivy through the smallest of gaps

These plants all have invisible roots, they thrive in the bleakest of situations, in mere grains of soil or even the substance of the stone wall itself. They are evidence of resilience and tenacity, and photographing and thinking about them gives me strength and supports me in understanding myself better.

Links

Chitra Ramaswamy is @chitgrrl on twitter and she wrote about nature being allowed to bloom in the corners of urban Leith, Edinburgh at a similar time.

The Royal Horticultural Society is a great resource for plants. They are @THE_RHS

Gardenista are worth following on twitter @gardenista for their sometime focus on plants like

* They change to pink

Via Sacra, Austria – Day 7

The Via Sacra pilgrimage runs from Vienna to Mariazell, Austria. This is an account of my day 7, 11th October 2017, the first half of Stage 4.

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Annaberg from the youth hostel.

I was on foot with my backpack, not walking overly far each day although there was a lot of uphill. Without stopping for more than 10/15 minutes twice, I was savouring the countryside because such beauty should not be rushed. Moving slowly from a to b to c, this is wandering rather than hiking at speed, so it took me longer than the guide said it would. Taking photos was, as always, almost obsessive: to share and to show those who have not visited. I also answered messages sometimes (unnecessarily), and constantly checked the map as I went along to avoid getting lost.

‘..follow the Buddha’s simple advice: “When walking – just walk!”‘ quotes Adam Ford in ‘Mindful Thoughts for Walkers, Footnotes on the Zen Path.

Today’s route: Annaberg, by-passing the towns of Joachimsberg and Wienerbruck which are on the road, up Josefsberg (berg is mountain in German), that is, over the Türnitzer Alpen and down again to Mitterbach. It was the gentlest morning followed by a terrible climb, but all in glorious sun.

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I had this gorgeous peak in my sight all day.

Birds trilled as I left the youth hostel (Junges Hotel). It had been a strange and rowdy experience there: no-one spoke any English and indeed, the mirror in my room was framed with the word ‘Welcome’ in every imaginable language except English which is unusual for an internataional place. The staff were friendly enough, despite being so very busy.

I startled a single deer under the trees – no wonder she did not usually expect any one to be there as it was thick undergrowth: nettles, twigs, a steep slope and a river to cross. Of course I had taken the wrong route but I could not turn back – somehow that was the worst of ideas. I emerged scratched and panting, to admire the wonderful mountain.

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The alp (here resembling a volcano) had snow on it.

There were sounds of cow bells, as you might expect, and again, memories of the story of Heidi (by Johanna Spyri) with the mountain and its squat houses with brown balconies. They were all girdled by a majestic raptor: was it an eagle? It had a big fanned tail and a hooked beak and it circled through a sky blue enough to rival an Iberian one.

Once I got my breath back it seemed a good time to visit the Catholic Parish Church which I had seen from the outside the day before (a mixture of medieval and early Baroque features). The crocheted seat covers, the stained glass, the late Gothic vine painting 1440-1444, and the detail on the organ (1898, Max Jakob) where the angels seemed to be having a real drama, were all worthy of admiration.

Then the path descended, downhill through the village and out along the Annaberger Kreuzweg, into the cold shade where modern Stations of the Cross can be found at intervals. As with the Camino Frances in northern Spain which is 500 miles (800 kms) long in its entirety but can be shortened to the final 62 (100kms) in order to get the compostella (the certificate at the end), there is a shortened Via Sacra which begins here in Annaberg rather than in Vienna but still ending in Mariazell.

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Created in 1973 by Sepp Gamsjæger with a special technique.

I crossed the Brücke uber den Tannbach (built in 1870) and admired the trickling brook and pretty homesteads in the distance.

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Josefsberg seemed to be horse mountain.

It was a very steep and hot climb to Josefsberg (the third Sacred Mountain) but a relaxing stop for a snack by the horse exercising ring of white sand, and the spectacular view from the top. I peeked into the tiny square (also Baroque) chapel because my information had told me about a series of fascinating wall paintings in the presbytery. There was no sign of them inside.
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The Catholic church of St Joseph.

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There seems to be some sort of exchange going on here.

There was a woman moving boxes of flowers outside the house next door, so in my broken German I asked her where were the frescoes. She did not understand! So I tried in English and unusually, happily, she did comprehend that. Lo! she was the key holder and proudly unlocked doors, showed me around and told me all about them.

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They were painted directly onto the walls in 1830, and tell stories of the surrounding area from the past and at the time.

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They showed people visiting from Vienna.

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Different seasons are depicted and there are also some museum artefacts in the room to enhance the experience.

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They clearly illustrate the landscapes I had walked through and ones I was to visit when I left.

It was a fascinating interlude and I would highly recommend them to other visitors.

My mind this Autumn time, turned to grief and the passage I read on Facebook (and now cannot remember the source) rang true. I had time to reflect as I made my way.

‘You have to pick it up, hold it, feel the weight of it in your hands, on your heart and within your life. You have to feel the whole loss. Grief demands to be felt with an insistence that needs no sleep. You either allow yourself to encounter the feelings or you remain encased in a shell of yourself under a misguided sense of self-protection.’

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No wonder this place evokes spirituality.

A few days before I had checked out Shiatsu practitioners who lived in the area, and to my delight I received a text in reply last night offering me a bed in exchange for a session. Petra is native to Mitterbach and she lives there with her baby son Amor, his father Mao from El Salvador, and a delightful friend Gudrun. They are very active in the town, giving Shiatsu and baby Shiatsu, yoga, chi gung and dance classes, hosting festivals and being patrons of architectural murals.

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By Obed Osorio, artist, El Salvador.

I came down from the mountain with quiet echoing in my ears. I was earlier than I had anticipated so I sat in silence on the outskirts of the town, acclimatising to the busyness and noise up ahead. My meet-up with Petra was by a pond outside a cafe at 4pm. A father was playing guitar while his children played in the sandpit. Nearby a family carried a baby in a papoose with 2 other kids shrieking delightedly on a make-shift raft. Older women sipped pink wine in the sun. I felt mellow and more at home than I had so far on this pilgrimage.

They live by the Erlauf river on the main street, with a garden where we had our evening meal. I brushed up on my Spanish at the class Mao gave that evening for people in the town, and was generally made very welcome. Many thanks to these kind people who opened their home without ever having met me before.

Annaburg Youth Hostel annaberg.noejhw.at +43 2728 8496.