Yalding Walks – Giving Service

A 3 hour round walk, to and from Yalding High Street. March 2020

At this time, when we are not allowed to leave the house more than once a day unless there’s an emergency, and should only be doing it for the purposes of exercise, my awareness of the connections between nature and our situation is alive in my mind as I walk.

Thatched cottage on the left and tiled on the right of the lane behind the wooden bench. (Photo taken in the evening of another day)

There’s a little lane off Yalding High Street, between the white-boarded, thatched house and the pale daffodil-yellow brick one with matching tiles (on the same side as St Peter’s and St Paul’s church). It takes you past the churchyard and through a gate which is now propped open with a sign saying it’s because of the corona virus. (It took me a while to work out why, but I think it’s so that you don’t have to touch the wood and possibly leave or catch germs). The cemetery with H’s grave and the rifle range are almost facing each other and you can see the controversial new builds and the rubble which has been left over. The Kintons is a well-used sports and dog-walking patch of grass with a children’s play area.

The Kintons

In the far left hand corner, past the bluebell woods, is a track which darts straight ahead – a field was being mowed to the right, a rather portly little dog scampering behind; and scrubby woods, with the back entrance to a grand mansion, are opposite. A woman was coming towards me and she couldn’t avoid being closer than two metres due to the narrowness of the track, but she awkwardly tilted her upper body away from me. I had a lot of bible teaching when I was a child and these stories often pop into my mind even though I am no longer a practicing Christian. So, I had been thinking about the image from the Good Samaritan bible story of people crossing over to avoid having to help the injured and needy. Nowadays, we are taking care of each other by doing just that: by-passing on the street. Equally, many of us are going out of our way to look out for others – the phone and the doorbell ring approximately seven times a day at my mother’s house where I am currently staying, with folk from near and far checking if she is OK because she usually lives alone and is over 80 years old.

Crossing Vicarage Lane at a slight angle, I clambered over the stile, sleeve pulled down over my supporting hand to avoid skin contact, tromped through the grass, crossed an access road, and followed the footpath signs (you do not have the Right to Roam in England as we do in Scotland).

There are little streams and waterways everywhere, often almost hidden by overhanging undergrowth, Kent

Water weaves through this landscape at the best of times. It floods regularly, inundating the copses and arable lands; contrastingly, it is often so dry that great fissures appear and hose pipes are banned. Locals are constantly reminded of what is vital to life, forced to focus on conserving it and appreciating it when it is in balance. This virus we are now dealing with, is, maybe unwittingly, protecting our landscape (yesterday drones were spying on the Yorkshire moors to even stop hikers (for different reasons)). Although many fear that we have damaged it for good, we do also know how resilient nature can be.

Wide expanses of sandy coloured, cracked earth, Kent

The earth was bright in the sun, hardening and whitening every day now Spring is here. Often so solid and unyielding in the south east of England, there are still sodden patches and the odd sinkhole of wetness left from Winter and you might not be so safe if you stepped there. I reflected that it is change, especially unforseen changes, which challenge our sense of security. Although we want to trust that we will one day be able to plan and move around the world again, we do not know when that will be. In fact, we know deep down that nothing will be exactly the same; we understand that this is serious enough to bring about a new order. We don’t yet know what shape that will take. because, metaphorically speaking, the ground underneath us has shifted. This is why walking, even when we have to watch our footing, is such a reassuring activity – we still get from a to b and survive the experience. I could feel myself becoming grounded, and then I sighed and felt a movement in my heart area. (Chinese medicine practitioners: in the Five Phases, when the child’s happy (Earth), so is the mum (Fire)).

Contrasting colours – the yellow green of the tree with its new vestments and the blue of the lakelet and sky, Cheveney, Kent
Banks of Lady Smock around the water, Cheveney, Kent

Walking towards Grove Lane, there is an almost imperceptible gap on the left which opens out to a small lake. It looked grand. Skirting it, I admired the wild flowers. What a beautiful setting on such a day, with the cool wind causing mini waves and turning the surface a myriad of shades of blue.

I am used to giving wildlife a wide berth, but this time I startled the flock of geese who were grazing on the grass a long way ahead. They made ‘We are very disturbed noises’
Seed heads from last winter

I crouched down to watch a bee collecting from between delicate mauve petals. He was only just about holding his own way in the breeze, but he kept on, goal clear. I admired the water birds and the Daisies with their sunshine faces. Bird’s Eye nestled at their feet, making another stunning combination of hues. There were sharply serrated Nettles and whorls of Thistles. Neon orange lifebelts hung at either end, and the whole was chicken-wire-edged so that I made an entire cycle before exiting precisely where I entered, stepping over the fallen fence.

These polythene tunnels are from another farm nearby, but you can see the silver-looking straps hanging down which attach to the plants. 10 days ago the old plants were on them, the next day they had been removed, now they are being replaced for the coming season

Doubling back on myself by the lane which curves around the lake, my attention was attracted by men’s voices, the first of several groups I passed during the morning, working away hard in close proximity. They were setting the strawberry plants onto the stands under the plastic hoods.

Trees in unseen communion
Coot on Cheveney Mill pond. They are also inhabitants of the upper lake I visited on this walk


I heard the coots before I saw them and I suspect that they were born here, that their life has been, and will continue to be, spent in this pond, (according to the RSPB they are resident here all year round), just as the trees in the wood next to it have stood in the same place for 100s of years. Other waterfowl return to their homes, well to their second homes every winter like Brits on the Costa Brava.

Witness the staying power of trees!

Witness the staying power of trees! There they are, in one spot, come month, come year. And what do they do while they’re standing there? It turns out they are very quietly, and probably slowly, fostering their community through their roots, just as so many of us are only now starting to do.

The word ‘Foster’ is associated with the Old English ‘fostrian‘ meaning to supply food, nourish and support.

Kentish footpath

At the same time as processing the CO2 (carbon dioxide) for us, looking beautiful and smelling divine, trees offer a home to insects, birds and other creatures. And yet, so many humans were living and suffering alone before this crisis and are now even more isolated. This can be an unnatural, even a dangerous situation for certain people. Questions arise: What can we do to make sure that those who want it can get support and companionship? How can we plan in advance for the next virus? Trees will grow taller and straighter, needing less pruning, if they are planted close to each other in the way that they naturally reseed in a woodland area. What a lot we have to learn! What a lot we are learning right now, thanks to the Covid-19.

Sunken tyre
Discarded farm machinery

The path took me around a corner where some old equipment was half buried and put out to pasture. Wide open fields were flattish, a gentle rise in the distance and the wind from the north was chilly except when sheltered by the hedgerows.

Looking uphill in the direction of West Farleigh, Kent
Dad’s gravestone at St Mary’s Parish Church, Hunton, Kent

I took the Permissive Path (that is, not a public Right of Way, but one which is permitted by the landowner) over a tiny, planked bridge to West Street and stopped at Hunton St Mary’s church to visit my father’s grave. I took a quick photo of the Village Hall to send to my sister – she got married there – and then crossed back over, past the Engineering Works and went right. I wandered beside more agricultural land until I reached the junction between Barn Hill and the wonderfully named Lughorse Lane.

Manure for sale
Mare’s Tail or Horse Tail (thanks to Mick Summersgill; and in Icelandic it translates as Claw Lightening (thanks to Robyn Vilhjalmsson). Equisetum arvense

Clumps of proud daffodils with orange trumpets kept their eyes on me as I passed. There were also some plants which resembled long and upright poos, or if I am to be less disgusting, vertical pine cones in the deep grass (see above).

Stick to the footpaths!

Before long there was a footpath off to the right and I started to climb quite steeply. It was peaceful. This was my exercise (in case any(official)one is reading this). There was stubble from what appeared to be bamboo on my right, but I doubt it; more likely wheat. There were mostly Magpies, Pigeons and Crows around although I did see a Jay a few days ago which was exciting. I spied a raptor nearer the top, most likely a buzzard, sailing on outstreched wings, but the photo was too indistinct to reproduce it here.

Buston Manor – disused oasthouses without their cowls, the white oparts with a sail which move with the wind
The Elizabethan chimneys of Buston Manor
Capacious barn and other red brick outbuildings at Buston Manor, Kent
Flowering Currant looking bonny against the clear sky
A dinosaur of a trunk with scales

Although a dogwalker took the private road uphill on the right, I turned left on the official way and walked through the Buston Manor yard. First a jogger and then a proper walker with a staff who wore headphones, came towards me. But I was drawn aside by the gardens, architecture and tree bark design, never mind the extensive walled garden. I was told, later, that it is often used for filming TV and features.

Right at the end of the walled garden, Buston Manor, Kent (they obviously dump their garden waste over the wall!)

Up again and a little sit-down to eat my satsuma, wind in my ears and at the back of my neck. We have to be careful of that as an acupoint GB20, aptly named Wind Pool, where Wind can enter causing headaches or worse (flu), certainly making us vulnerable. My (and my grandmother’s) advice – wear a scarf!

Once more at the top, she and her dog went one way, I another
Call that a footpath! Kent

Through a metal gate, I went left onto a farm track of very dark loam, ploughed by machinery wheels and criss-crossed with tree shadows and sunshine-saturated grass. Steeply down now, until I unfortunately spied a Public Footpath stone and so took a right up a slight bank and out into the open again where there was one of the ‘footpaths’ I have walked the length of before in this area. This narrow enclosure drew me along and then, suddenly ending in a field, it showed me up to the right (where admittedly the vibrant green of ground-spreading chamomile was growing alongside left-over broad bean seedlings) and, without realising where I was heading, I was through another metal gate and onto Yalding Hill.

Yalding Hill is to be avoided at all costs if you are on foot as it is a very busy, narrow road with no pavements. Being very familiar with such situations, I was brazen and made sure every vehicle speeding towards me knew I was there (waving my arms, making eye contact, thanking them afterwards), but many were going too fast and several times I had to flatten myself against a bank. Had I known this in advance, I would have turned back.

Tip: Do turn back if you find yourself on Yalding Hill. Find another, safer way down.

Towards the bottom, where the village starts, are some very attractive gardens, the Walnut Tree pub and Village tearooms (both now closed of course), and the war memorial. The Greensand Way is off to the left

I walked through the garden gate three hours to the minute from when I left – good timing!

Best selling book – The Hidden Life of Trees

Human beings can adapt to anything.

Winnifred via elizabeth_gilbert_write on Instagram

Have you been having any thoughts about nature and the virus? Please do share them with us in the comments below – I would love to hear from you.

The flora and natural beauty of Estonia

Spring 2019, southern Estonia

Try listening to native Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel here while you feast your eyes on some of Estonia’s lovelist spring flowers and other natural wonders.

Hepatica nobilis or Blue Flower / liver leaf / crystal wort

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Blue, white, yellow (alder lily) and purple on the forest floor

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Wood anenomes

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I cannot find out the name of this flower

Eight days of sun and purple violets showing between tree roots amongst the dry crunchy leaves of the winter gone

Shy yellow heads: one dandelion-ish, the other cowslip.

Cowslip

It looksed like iris and wild rose in their infancy along what used to be a path which I followed through the forest, stepping over fallen logs, twigs crackling under foot.

Grasses

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Wiggly, furry – what are they?

Fungus with orange edging growing on the underside of a fallen log in the forest

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The new seed heads of moss growing very close to the ground

Tiny green seed flowers

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Just opened today (24.4.19)

New fir

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The only stem of its kind, a one-off

Grape hyacinth and burgundy shoots

Celandines

Star shaped leaves of lupin amongst the brown winter grasses

Close-up of the prettiest moss ever

Budding leaves

The pink heads of rhubarb just poking through

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By a small lake, bulrushes like popcorn exploded and mimicking candy floss fluffing

Unfortunately I have not managed to identify a lot of these. Please do let me know if you are better on naming than I am. I would be very grateful.

Thanks to this blog for information on the Blue Flower names.

Riga, Pärnu, Massiaru

April 2019 – backpack travel.

Disclaimer: the sky really was that blue – it wasn’t a fancy camera filter!

I travelled to Riga in Latvia (one of the 3 Baltic States) by plane from Edinburgh, arriving late on Thursday night.

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Early April morning, St Peter’s Spire, Riga, Latvia

I took 22 bus from the airport to the centre and walked through the underpass to the Wicked Weasal Hostel which I highly recommend. It is clean and the staff are really friendly. I was offered a free beer and there’s tea (including green) and coffee in the well stocked kitchen. I was in a shared dorm with a Spanish soldier and ended up reviving my Spanish until late at night as we swapped life stories!

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The Art Academy of Latvia, Riga, Latvia

I stayed less than 12 hours so have very few photos to show for it. On the way out I passed the astonishing golden domes of the Riga Nativity of Christ (Russian Orthodox) Cathedral, and the statue of Rainis (Janis Plieksans, a famour Latvian poet, playwright, translator and politician in the Riga Esplanade park.

 

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Unusual clock behind the Art Academy, Riga, Latvia

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Mural in the Pärnu bus station, Estonia

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Pärnu River, Pärnu, Estonia

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Pärnu River, Pärnu, Estonia

I took two buses that day – one to Pärnu along the main highway, and the other which doubled back south for some of the way and then headed slightly inland to Massiaru – four hours in total.

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A church I snapped through the bus window on the way – the majority of Estonians say that religion is not important in their lives. The ones who are, are either Christian or Orthodox

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This part of Estonia (south west) is flat and forested. In many places they clear the pines and leave the silver trunks of the birches

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Everywhere there are brightly coloured timber houses – pink, yellow and blue

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Many of the houses have smaller buildings in their gardens which are buried up to the roof on three sides

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I am staying in the small village of Massiaru in the Pärnu region of Estonia

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Russia is to the east of Estonia, Finland to the north west. I came north from Riga in Latvia

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In the old school house, Massiaru, Estonia

Every day I walk for a couple of hours – on the first day to the south, then to the north, the west and east. The roads are straight and wide, some dary grey tarmacked and some stony and pale apricot. It is monotonous walking – mentally relaxing.

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Pussy willow, one of my first successful close-ups enabled by my new phone camera

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I am surrounded by trees including the familiar Scots Pine

Standing amongst them
The patience of trees
The forebearance of trees
The pure being of trees
Do you think the birds tickle them?

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Mostly silver birch and various types of pines

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Also some oaks in the garden which has farm land around it

I find a sunny place in the mornings to do my swinging exercises, T’ai Chi and to ‘Stand Like a Tree’ (a chi gung exercise) for my general health and to counteract the 6-7 hours a day of cerebral work writing hours at my laptop.

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There is a new pond in the garden. The reflection reminded me of a natural green version Dali’s Mae West lips

I sit in the sun to have my lunch, topping up my vitamin D levels after the Scottish winter. In contrast to my trips to Spain in previous years, I have gone back in time coming here, leaving the Spring behind me, but it is getting warmer every day and the plants are shooting nicely.

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The forests provide for many people’s livelihoods – logging and wood preparation. The hay bales are in long, white plastic covered snakes

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Nearby is an industrial building

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Nepeta cataria (catnip). The primary resident is creating an artist’s herb garden – cultivating and planting seeds in hanging trays in the old classrooms, and creating presentations indoors in the bedrooms through the winter

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Hawthorn and Dandelion – 2 more residents

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I am writing about death and loss, so this window sill display is most appropriate

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This thrush was not killed by the kittens who live here as they were kept in after their operations. A sleek grey lynx was spotted in the field next to the garden that day, but I think it was more likely to be the visiting cat

 

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Before they left, M and R took me to the beach on the Baltic Coast near Kabli which has a camp site where the RMK Estonian Hiking Route walkers can stay close to the end of the trek

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The patterns in the sand are amongst the most impressive I have seen. Beach, Pärnu Region, Estonia

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This green painted Orthodox church is 3 kms away in the village of Urissaare

 

 

Zagreb 7 – Maksimir Park

Maksimir Park is in the north east of the city, well served by trams 4, 7, 11 and 12 (same fare wherever you travel).  The park was full of people. There are wilder parts and very well frequented paths with street lighting as in Norway. I saw two cafes but only the Gazebo one was open. The Swiss House must be a summer only venue.

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The first lake I came to in Maksimir Park – blue sky reflected with Autumn colours.

Basically I was in heaven!

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Dusk and the lights from the stadium over the road.

People ran and cycled and wandered.

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The Pavillion of Echoes – mother and daughter whispering.

They played and kissed.

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The Pavillion of Echoes – typical feature of the early romantic garden based on the English model.

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A saltire flag of pansies.

Some seemed to be preparing for the camino with 2 walking poles a-piece and going at a fair speed.

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Birch Cottage built between 1853 and 1862. An old man, the only person to speak to me except a boy who said bok (hi) stopped and told me all about the architecture (I think) in fluent Croatian.

There are several open air theatre type spaces.

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Path and stream on the Police Academy side of Maksimir park.

Alzthough I smiled, almost everyone looked straight through me without changing their expressions – bioth here and in the city, although in the shops and museums they are friendly when I make an effort to say my first word – hvala, thank you.

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I saw a man climb these what I thought were sculptures. Maybe they are part of a fitness regime?

Lots of ancient oak trees, with beechm birch, chestnut and many others. It is the trees which are the spectacle here. The trees and the lakes.

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St Jurajs Chapel, named after Archbishop Juraj Haulik who designed and created the park.

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Misty Autumn seedheads.

There are ducks on all the lakes, and birds singing in the trees.

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More reminders of my Scottish home, in sky and reflection.

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Tiny toasdstools I found inside a rotting hollow of a fallen tree.

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More felled trees – the park is beautifully managed.

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The education centre I think. Looked like Hansel and Gretels place to me.

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Red catkins  and those ´sculptures´ opposite.

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There is a Dahlia Valley but I think the best must have been over as there were a desultory few in a couple of beds. Always remind me of my Poppa who gave me my first tubers when I was student in London.

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Grasses.

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Lighting straight out of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. They looked magical when they were all lit as I was leaving (but didn´t make good photos).

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The Gazebo. ´Typically Palladium motifs varied by the Viennna architecture.´ There is a cafe here.

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St Jeronimas Church near the entrance to the zoo which is also part of the Maksimir Park.

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The first statue of a woman I have seen (excepting the Virgin Mary).

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There is some more information and extra photos here on the Zagreb 4 blog.

Nature pleases – Picardy 4

End of October 2018

Wu Chi – undifferentiated timelessness, the un-manifest aspect of the Tao. In peacock feathers from the garden birds.

I enjoyed teaching an introduction to Chi Gung for a group of Masters students (Greek, Dutch, American) from the Netherlands before I left. Their performances at Thursday’s showcase were stimulating: a two-hander addressing non-binary issues in an appropriately naïve style, and a quirky performed reading reminding me of the toymaker in Copélia.

View from the garden. It was colder in the final days, but I still did T’ai Chi there in the morning sun.

Delicate ivy ‘drawings’ on the wall.

Silver birch bark – surely the origin of the design of camouflage clothing!

Autumn leaf burning by E. I sat and watched the burning embers and the small flames lick as the sky darkened. The fire was still warm in the morning.

The walk back to the station took me past Halloween house decorations, the luminous sumac tree, and a village hall (last time the gate was shut and I couldn’t see in, so this time I crept up and peered in the window – they were all playing cards in there!). Then there were two furry friendly (hungry?) donkeys who I was instructed not to feed, and several people who kindly stopped to offer me a lift, which I declined so I could walk.

Sumac tree.

The WW1 memorial for the dead soldiers, significant given that the topic of my studies is death.

German troops occupied these small villages between 19 14-18. Britain helped out. There are information boards all along the roads of this area of Picardy with photos of these times.

Strips of roots growing across the bottom of the tree.

A whorl of bark.

Flowers found at ground level on the pavement.

Outside the old school is this lovely sundial with the inscription La grive aux raisins (thrush with grapes is a delicacy and also the name of the local newsletter) and on the gate of the village room.

View from the train to Reims.

Another sundial, a giant one in Reims lit up in the night. Cadrans Solaire de la Marne, also connected to WW1 as the River Marne, site of the battles of 1914 and 1918 where the German advancements were halted.

From the back of a toilet door at Le Maryland bar in Reims – not so very respectful of our monarch!

This bar is near the Cathedral and I do not recommend it as it was full of smokers and smoke, and with men making not so-funny remarks. I didn’t feel comfortable there on my own.

Sculpture by Armelle Blary https://armelleblary.com in a window in Reims – inspired by the work of Louise Bouregeois I would guess.

Les bunnies. At the home of Julie Martin who was my bla bla car driver 10 days before and who kindly invited me to stay on my return. Together with her lovely flatmate, Marie, I was cooked two sorts of crêpes which were delicious.

Many thanks to them for their hopitality. Check out their innovate business: Be Vegetal My Friend which offers all sorts of workshops with plants and flowers, plus you can see Julie demonstrating what she does, and go there to get designs for your wedding or event.

Julie Martin, Be Vegetal My Freind, in her element!

Reims Tourist Information

Quiet moments – Picardy 3

Nearing the end of October, Northern France

Yesterday I lay down on my back to do my exercises under a tree with my eyes closed. I was focusing on my breath and muscles, moving through my paces. I opened them on hearing a tweet and there, in the spreading branches (don’t they always spread?) and bright leaves, was one, no, two, a whole flock of little birds with long tails bobbing up and down, jutting their tiny heads and flitting fast from place to place. I couldn’t see their backs because I was underneath, but there were hints of pink adding to the brown and beige. They took no notice of me, which was nice.

As I watched, a beastie with many legs crawled up the edge of my arm and onto the top; another one went in and, thankfully, out of my ear; an ant went all round my knee.

When I went to the loo I sprayed soft moss fronds and scratchy bits of autumn twig on the floor!

Later sitting at my desk, writing, the lime greenery was only broken by the odd brown leaf and matching beech nuts opening their hard lips to the air. From the first floor I am half way up where the branches are thinner. It all shivers and sways gently, not much, almost settling, continuing its dialogue with the breeze.

Shadows on my bedroom wall from that same tree outside, like an old sepia shot.

This morning I stood beside another one to do my T’ai Chi. Just as I got to move 134 I found myself back at thirty something so I completed almost a whole second round (140 in total). I got slower and slower. In the fog I saw the tips of my fingers, covered in fine rain, shift in my peripheral vision and I felt myself sink a little.

A bit sun bleached, this photo, but it shows the thin horizontals between branches. I’ve not noticed them before.

It’s trunk was very quiet, half in, half out of the ground. I couldn’t see it move although I knew it was, inside. It stood there before I got here of course, and stands there now. I tried to emulate it. I thought of the tree, being in all weathers; watching people, animals and insects coming and going over the years. The wind rustled it. Then did the same to my hair. I stood, learning.

Then I stood still, ‘standing like a tree’ (it’s a chi gung exercise). It was lighter now (approaching 7am). I enjoyed it.

First in shoulder stand and then bottom in the air – the world looked lovely even upside down looking between my legs.

After I gave Shiatsu to a wood worker this morning, I left him on the mat and walked to the window. High on the second floor I was level with the top of the tree and there was a woodpecker. No, really. Right there. Black and white all down its back with a red top knot and knickers. The window was closed, but I saw it noiselessly tapping inbetween tilting its head to the right as if looking to see if anyone was coming.

When I looked back into the room and asked how L was doing, he said “floating” and then there was a wait. From inside himself with his eyes tight shut he added, “my body’s fizzing”.

I didn’t try to take a photo of the woodpecker in case I disturbed it. However this little critter, a ladybird, was on my last piece of apple (from the tree in the garden) when I came back in.