BurnedThumb

Website of poet Elizabeth Rimmer


Walking the territory


  • After the Storms

    A pale blue iris just opening in a very wet border

    We have had two named storms in three days, which is something new. Now things are quieter, but still very wet and the burn behind the house, which is normally nothing more than a deep damp ditch, is running noisily down the hill to join the Lightburn and into the Clyde. I went out to see if the greenhouse and all my pot plants were intact, which they were, mostly, though I think I’ve lost a cowslip seedling. The quarter tray it was in was spun round and upended, and the contents are probably halfway across the garden.

    But the new warmer temperatures have spurred the garden into growth. Everywhere I look there are daffodil, snowdrops, tulip shoots and iris springing up, even a lone and battered crocus underneath the roses.

    snowdrops, their flower-heads showing but not yet open, coming up between houseleeks.

    The first witch hazel blssom is out and many of the perennials in the garden are putting up vigorous shoots. Of course, the place is a mess, as I try not to cut everything down too vigorously – if you leave the dead stems it provides hibernating spaces for ladybirds and other useful creatures, but I must admit, I’m longing for a dry day to get out and create a little order and room for the new plants. I have bought many of my seeds now, mullein and agrimony, soapwort, wormwood and mugwort. I’ve tried several times to save seeds from the wild plants down along the Clyde Walkway, but without success, so I bought some from Earthsong Seeds, whose seeds worked pretty well for me last year.

    I have some more ordinary seeds too, thanks to my grandson who say he wants to grow rainbow carrots and lettuce and some gigantic yellow sunflowers with me, and I’m going back to my favourite Harbinger tomatoes. I tried Ruthje from Vital Seeds last year, but I wasn’t impressed, though I think the (relatively) cold summer, and the late start might have had a lot to do with it. And now my fingers are itching to get started.

    The birds are getting restless too. Before the cold snap there was a definite increase in birdsong, though it seems to have tailed off a bit, and the pigeons are playing kiss chase in the cedar tree two gardens down. There was a robin staking its claim to one of the hawthorn trees along the burn, and the magpies are playing King of the Castle along the rooftops. It’s been a long dreary January, but finally, we are inching towards spring.

    witch hazel branch, the first blossom untangling itself.

  • I Have Brought You to the Ring

    a chamomile bed in full flower

    I think that’s the end of summer. The children are going back to school on Wednesday, andour youngest grandchild will be among them, which will be the end of an era. The swifts have gone, and the starlings are beginning to show winter plumage, and the pinks of willowherb and thistle have been replaced by the first red berries on rowan and hawthorn. We have had the potatoes and the first courgette, and there are beans lengthening on the poles. There are still bees on the borage and butterflies on the buddleia, but there are spiders in the house and there was condensation on the windows for the first time this morning. The year is turning, and I am back at my desk, getting back to work.

    We went to Edinburgh for the start of the Festival to see the Grit Orchestra, and it has developed a few more thoughts on culture and tradition first inspired by a short on-line course I took dealing with the archive at Tobar an Dualchais, which I want to develop over the next few posts. There is a crossover with the thinking I was doing on healing and recovery earlier this year, and the work I am still trying to do on the Nine Herbs Charm, via the concept of ‘Lǣc’. I wrote about it a while back

    ‘Lǣc’ is the important stuff you do when you aren’t ‘working’ – what my Church used to call ‘servile’ work’ – all the life admin, busywork, earning a living, mundane day to day stuff. ‘Lǣc’ is ‘recreation’ spelled re-creation as the self-help books do, holiday spelled ‘holy day’ as they used to do in the Middle Ages, the difference between ‘relieving symptoms’ and ‘healing’.

    It’s a bit more than healing, though. It’s a communal activity, with a link to the sacred. It is demanding, and needs ‘duende’ – when I first read about it I thought of the Zen art of archery, or the tea ceremony, and the ‘lek’ where grouse and capercaillie meet in forest clearings to strut their stuff. And this brought me to the Eightsome Reel and the William Wallace quotation in the title, from before his country-defining victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. It occurs to me that this art, this culture, is serious stuff:

    To sing here you will need

    to open the heart,

    the lungs and voice,

    and meet it square.

    You can’t sing from hiding,

    nor drunk or afraid.

    You can’t sing this softly

    like chocolate in the sun.

    You must give yourself

    to the fight with all your strength.

    It will take all you’ve got.

    It will feel like death.’

    The Outcry from The Wren in the Ash Tree, in Haggards

    Now that summer is over, I am here, at the ring. Now to see if I can dance!


  • The Hopeful Post

    garden with buddleia, foxglove, marshmallow, costmary, alchemilla and violets

    This photo was taken in early June, and things have moved on a little since then. There are blue-grey phacelia flowers there now too, and blood-red poppies, but the foxglove has gone over. The high water mark of wild roses and elder flowers is just past its peak, but there are marigolds, borage, St Johns wort and sweet peas, and I’ve harvested two or three strawberries most days, and the first new potatoes. The nestlings have all fledged, and the rooflines are cluttered with baby starlings all startled at how much world there is, and the ferocity of seagulls. Best of all, there are swifts this year and housemartins, who are venturing closer now that there is less building going on in the estate.

    buff beauty and tuscany superb roses

    School holidays begin this week and there are lots of children here so it will be much noisier. Many people are in houses with gardens for the first time, so there are lots of barbecues. We have a few gardens that are all astroturf and trampolines, and the Facebook group has several posts from people freaked out by caterpillars and magpies rooting through the planters, but also some neighbours who are into food forests, and wild flower meadows. There’s a sea of ox eye daisies and red campion at the end of the road, which I’m sure was deliberately planted. I hope that we show a large tolerance of the children wandering about, making dens among the bushes, exploring the burn and getting to know the wild fringes of what could be a very narrow and conventional suburb. There are many sociable and imaginative people here – it could be wonderful.

    We could do with a bit of wonderful in this house, and we might get it. My husband has been in hospital since the last post (hence the silence) and it’s all been a bit fraught. But finally there is progress and we are hoping to have him home in time for his birthday this weekend. Writing and editing has been on hold all this time, but maybe soon……….

    herb patch with sage chives and lemon balm

  • Light and Airy

    a clump of speedwell

    If you’re used to seeing flowers growing in lawns where they are cut down to size every time the mower comes out, seeing them growing in open ground is quite a revelation. We have buttercups waving their yellow heads on knee-high stems along the footpath, self heal more than 20 centimetres tall, and these speedwells, which I thought were short stemmed, creeping at ground cover level, coming up light and airy, and creating a sea of blue in some places that I almost mistook for bluebells. This gives a feeling of lightness and movement to the understorey of the trees, and adds to the sense of exuberance I’m getting this spring. We are in peak hawthorn time now, with elder and rowan just beginning, and the place looks like Fat Sam’s at the end of Bugsy Malone, sprayed with foam everywhere.

    I wrote about the blossom last time, because it was the first thing that impressed me about the new territory, but this year I have been struck by the number of lime trees. They are everywhere, sheltering the Kirk, lining avenues in the park, ornamentals on the mowed verges, but in the older parts of the Lang Toon, they were used to demarcate the boundaries of front gardens, and many of them are still there. Some of them have been allowed to grow

    a tall lime tree in full leaf

    some are cut back to the bare minimum

    pollarded lime stumps

    but this one gives you the idea of the look the original planners must have been going for in the days when a pleached lime avenue was the must-have for the professional owners of the new suburban villas.

    lime trees in full leaf, pruned into arches

    In a small diversion that isn’t as devious as it first appeared, I’ve been reading this essay from my friend and fellow geopoetician, the ethnologist and activist Mairi McFadyen. https://www.mairimcfadyen.scot/fragile-correspondence/2023/essay dealing with the clearances and the consequences of the community buyout of Abriachan Forest. She talks about how the loss of language leads to the loss of local knowledge, the exploitation and degradation of the land, and in this case, the removal of the local people. It’s a wonderful essay, raising many of the issues and preoccupations that inform my poetry, and I can’t recommend it warmly enough.

    But the point I’m working towards is that the Lang Toon doesn’t really have those problems. On the contrary, throughout its very long history, people have been brought here to serve whatever needs the ruling classes felt were important at the time, and abandoned. These houses were built for the managers of the mines, all gone, and later of the electrical industry, all gone, and now we are mostly a commuter town with people living here and working in Glasgow or East Kilbride. This too has consequences for land use, local knowledge, and community building, and though I feel there are grounds for optimism, I realise there are a lot assumptions I’m going to have to unpick as I go into the next poems, the next book.

    This may be a slower process than I like. One of the long-standing medical conditions that plague this family has struck again, and we have someone in hospital. He’s getting good care, but not being able to drive makes things very complicated! There may be very little activity on this account for the next few weeks.


  • The Second Year in the Garden

    rose border, fronted by opening daffodils

    This year’s gardening has started in earnest, now that the frost is over, and the borders are beginning to fill up. The early morning is full of birdsong from the trees in the valley, and a lot of very excited rooks, jackdaws and magpies from the gully behind the house. The burn is flowing strongly and the early shrubs – wild roses, honeysuckle and hawthorn – are showing their first leaves. In our garden I can see the beginnings of bud burst on the damson and apple trees, and I am cautiously optimistic that we will have blossom, although this is only their second spring here.

    There is good progress on the greenhouse, and I am hopeful it will be finished soon, as there are a lot of seeds waiting to move in!

    aluminium farme of small greenhouse on the patio
    cold frame full of seeds trays and young plants

    I have even started some opportunistic early potatoes in bags beside the shed – my favourite Pentland Javelin. After Sunday, when frost is forecast, the hardy annual herbs – chervil, parsley, dill – will go into the garden, as well as annual flowers for cutting. And then the real adventure will start, as I sow new perennial herbs. My aim is to get the overall structure of the garden in place this year, and try to attract as many pollinators and butterflies as I can, but I know I am already distracted by the thoughts of vegetables I can sneak into the gaps.

    In the house there is the same sense of burgeoning chaos. Editing slipped a bit during StAnza, but I’m almost finished one book, and getting started on three more. There will be a LIVE launch for The Well of the Moon – among many others which came out in lockdown, at a Red Squirrel Press showcase in April – watch out for more about this next week – and the Ceasing Never website went live. There are three articles up now, and it has attracted a lot of interest, and some very favourable comments. The collective includes eleven exciting poets, so there should be a lot to read and think about over the next few months.

    And also there is a new booklet in the works from Roncadora Press

    bracelet formed of tiny red and black books, containing an illustrated poem
    left page Hugh Bryden's picture of an owl, right page poem In Darkness
here the howlet sing/through the desolate night./Who will comfort you?/Oh, who?who?/ Who? Me! She answers

    The poem is a tiny sequence of Charms for the Healing of Grief, which I wrote about in the Group Hug post. There are seven charms, five herbs and two birds – all iconic Scottish species. Hugh Bryden illustrated it, and made the beautiful breaclet – which you can wear, if you dare. Because it would be so expensive to buy, (but get a look at it, if you get the chance – the construction and the little zoom-in pictures are FABULOUS!) he has also created a limited edition of the booklet, and there will be more about this when it is ready.

    I’m still reading a lot – I sold eight books at StAnza, and bought eleven, learning Irish and planning a big review of Jim Carruth’s amazing Auchensale Trilogy as well as my own stuff. No wonder I feel breathless! But there are moments of loveliness – this is my spring garden, finally doing its thing.

    white hellebores, red wallflower, some snowdrop and primrose plants in dappled sunshine

  • The Rune for Harvest

    on a wooden background, a pewter pendant with a rune on it

    This is the s- rune, which is never a good one to pick. In The Wren in the Ash Tree, which formed the last section of Haggards, there are lines about runes:

    And the völva is casting the runes.
    The leather bag is thick,
    tough and unbending,
    and gives away no secrets,
    but the stones mutter
    and grind against each other.
    The black angular lines –
    tree, hammer, wealth,
    ocean, ice – will come together,
    fall in the right configuration,
    give their bleak verdict soon enough.

    The rune for harvest is the same
    as the rune for the day of reckoning.

    Even the right way up the S is ominous, and if it is reversed, it foretells the apocalypse. That bit of The Wren is pretty apocalyptic, though it does move to a more positive mood later on (and the wrens are quite cute!), but the S-rune feels appropriate for the time we are in, not altogether doom-laden, but preparing for winter, warm clothes, jam and pickles and facing the realisation that what you have done is what you’ve got.

    Now work in the garden is coming to an end, the trees are losing their leaves in a blaze of magnificence, and before we start thinking about next year, next time, I’m making my reckoning. A few weeks ago we reached a whole year in this house, and we are no longer the newest on the estate. I’ve seen the seasons change, discovered the potential of the garden, worked out how we are going to use the rooms, begun to understand the weather and the seasonal changes. The house and garden have revealed their personalities, and roots are being set. There are poems at last. We have more herbs and less grass, more bookshelves and fewer cardboard boxes – we gave thirty boxes to one of our newer neighbours when they were moving in.

    We have weathered several changes in our family awareness as we navigate the ways to live with neurodiversity, and the need for more support. Some things will never be as easy as we hoped, but there is more kindness and help than we imagined. We have learned new ways to be involved in our community and different responsibilities. You have to deal with many more guisers at Hallowe’en here!

    Hallowe’en is a good time for this kind of evaluation. My pagan and witch friends are celebrating samhain and their ancestors, my folklore friends thinking about ghosts and hauntings and my own tradition makes this a time to remember our dead – the famous ones in Heaven and the dearer ones we hope are there, but who are still with us through the communion of saints. And I know everyone is trying to finish up the last jobs, the last maintenance so everything is ready for Christmas.

    Harvests are not all feasting and celebration, especially this year when there seems to be so much more cause for anxiety, but when the harvest is in, there is time for rest and recovery, for remembering and coming together, creating space for something new.

    an apple hanging from a branch against a blue sky

  • High Summer on the Hill of Stones

    hawthorn trees in front of a row of houses. A wide strip of long grass in front of that. Bright sunshine

    When I was seven, just before leaving infant school, we were suddenly allowed to play on the field behind the playground, which had been out of bounds for years. The land had been sold for housing and the grass had grown wild easily to chest height for small children. For days we lost ourselves in the grass, exploring, hiding, and laying ambushes for each other, and it was one of the happiest and most unusual memories of that time. The bit of haggard land behind our house in the picture above has been similarly neglected this year, and the grass is lush and seeding. And last Friday, five small boys spent hours there, playing hide and seek and jumping out on each other, just as we did. It was brilliant. Two nights ago, there was a fox barking there, at another fox up in the fields up the hill. It is strange to be able to see and hear things like this when our estate is so relentlessly, predictably suburban, but this bit of Glasgow is like that.

    hogweeds

    It has been – and still is – a very flowery summer. Vetches, honeysuckle, meadowsweet, fireweed, enchanters’ nightshade and all the umbellifers of the roadside have given us their best. Now there are rowan berries, apples forming on the wild tree along the footpath and the first blackberries are ripe. The garden is quieter, but the robins are practising for their winter territory grab, and the goldfinches are investigating the hawthorn trees behind the house. This year’s gulls are trying out their voices – as raw and wobbly as teenaged boys, and the swallows and house martins are stretching their wings before they leave.

    The garden has dried out a lot – I’ve even had to water the lavender – but the betony has found a bit of shade, and I suspect, an underground watercourse

    wood betony in flower, in the dappled shade of a fence

    The borage and marigolds have enjoyed the sun

    marigolds in full sun

    but I’ve had to move the mints into the shade – they were beginning to look quite shell-shocked. The rain forecast for Monday will be more than welcome!

    Already I am thinking about bulbs for next year, and some annuals to sow in the autumn for an early start. The first compost bin has been emptied to mulch the roses. When the children go back to school next week, a new cycle will begin, with three books to edit, some new poems, a new writing project to work on, and a poetry discussion group to plan. With a lot of family changes to navigate, and all the political and economic turbulence to come, it feels good to have a place of stability to work from.


  • The Hill of Stones

    fence, and in front a ditch lined with black plastic and filled with stones

    These are stones I lifted from the front garden when I dug up the lawn. It isn’t all of them either – I’d only done half of it when I took this photo. They mark a shift in my understanding of this new territory as we go through the seasons. The ‘place of the fire’ is really down the hill in the long town, where the miners lived, and it does shape the landscape and the mindset there. But, although some fire poems are still coming, I’m feeling my new roots are being influenced by something else. We are up the hill, a mile away, on land that has always been farmed and grazed, and the territory where I live and garden is shaped by the layers of stone underneath the very wet earth. It is hilly and sometimes steep – our front garden slopes away to both sides and the front path is like a drawbridge let down onto the road in front. My hands are battered and my nails are broken by weeding amongst the bands of sticky clay, often with rocks embedded in them, that make up the garden.

    But the soil is full of invertebrates – plenty of worms, beetles, spiders and other grubs, and it is growing a lot of things I hoped for, as well as a few things I did not expect. I thought, having less space available to me, I wouldn’t bring some plants I thought might be invasive, especially as I think they might be growing wild locally. The plants had other ideas. Alchemilla, foxglove, meadowsweet and welsh poppy have hitch-hiked on the plant pots I brought with me, sweet cicely and chickweed crept in from the wild, and really, I am so glad to see them!

    alcemilla plants, edged with dew

    This garden knows what it wants, and it wants things I did not plan for.

    The wider territory is making its personality plain too. The big difference here is the trees – all those folds and inclines are lined with trees, and verges are planted up lavishly, not only with the predictable flowering cherry or oak, but bird cherry, whitebeam, lime, hazel and beech. Gardens are full of lilacs, magnolias and laburnum, and I found not only wild planted apple trees, but a community orchard in the park. There are fewer ash trees and almost no alders, but what we do have in quantity is beech, which I love. Some of my earliest tree memories are of beech – an autumn tree silhouetted against a blue sky as I came home from church, watching leaves spin gently to the ground outside my English classroom one misty November day – but here I am getting to know them very closely.

    close up of new beech leaves with sprays of flowers

    I had never seen beech flowers before, mostly because they appeared on branches way above my head, but here I walk among them.

    The understorey of beech trees, and the plant habitats here are different from what I’m used to. We have had fewer bluebells and no primroses except in my garden, but more violets, cowslips, ferns and herb robert, fewer wild roses, much more honeysuckle. And I have just seen the weird spikes of wild arum unfolding – the first time I have come across it in Scotland.

    The newness of all this has made me slow down all the plans and projects I might have had. I’m letting my herbs settle in to their new space before I harvest any, and listening more to what my new territory is telling me about how to go forward.


  • Lights, Camera, Action

    very green spring grass, with the first cuckoo flower

    On Sunday, I saw my first of these ladys smocks (also known as cuckoo flowers) growing in the forecourt of the police station. They are much earlier here in the west, than I was expecting, but it seems to me that the celandines, which have appeared en masse this week, are rather later. Along the footpath and in the park, the green things, which seemed to have stopped and started during March, have suddenly stirred into action. Ferns are unfolding, sheets of acid green petty spurge (also known as milkweed), dogs mercury – which indicates ancient woodland – and bluebell leaves are showing in the wilder bits of the park, and shepherd’s purse, ground ivy and whitlow grass are along the pavements. I never expected so much plantlife in this built up suburb, but it seems even more abundant here than back in Stirling.

    shepds purse showing seed heads and some flowers at the top

    The birds are busier too. We have several goldfinches, siskins, blue tits and chaffinches as regular visitors to the bird feeder. Though the sparrows seem to have dispersed a little, the blackbirds are back and the starlings are still here in their bronzed summer feathers. The common gulls have been joined by lesser black-backed gulls, and I can hear woodpeckers drumming in the trees along the footpath whenever I go out into the garden. All the smaller trees are wearing more green – hawthorn, birch, bramble, poplar and hazel, and the pink cherry trees the builders scattered around the estate have fat buds just ready to open.

    In the garden, I have seeds germinating in the cold frame, leaves on the dwarf willow and new shoots of lily of the valley and martagon lilies. The culinary herbs are settling into their new patch, and the first flowers have appeared on the rosemary. The beds at the back are looking a little bare, as I’m moving some plants to the front, and the new herbs to replace them won’t be ready for a while, but there are tulips I didn’t expect coming out all pink and scarlet, and plenty of purple blossom developing on the lilac.

    camellia in flower. To the right, a lilac in leaf, to the left daffodils

    Settling into this new space is like folk dancing – advance and retire, hands across the set, turn and progress. You think you discover something, you realise you got it wrong, then maybe, after all …. This garden does have more light and air than our previous garden, as I expected, and the soil is as heavy, but it isn’t acid, and barren. It is rich, and though full of stones, it’s also full of worms and grubs and ladybirds, and bumble bees have come out in hundreds now the weather is warm. In winter the back of the house was in shadow all morning and the sun rose straight into my study window, but now the first light shines into the windows to the right, and by ten the sun is so high over the roofs that most of the back, as well as all of the front, is in the light. The soil is not as wet as I had imagined on the south side – in fact it seems to have dried out a lot in the last coouple of weeks – but against the north and west fences, it’s still very wet. I think there may be an underground watercourse running down into the burn behind the house, and I’m planning to move all the wet-loving herbs – the marsh mallows, the flag irises and the meadowsweet there.

    It seems appropriate too, that there are finally new poems to think about, and new kinds of writing to experiment with. I haven’t done many reviews lately, because I still have fourteen boxes of books waiting for shelves, but I am working on an essay about geopoetics as a commentary on a discussion project I am working on with Pentland poet Helen Boden, whose debut collection A Landscape to Figure In was published by Red Squirrel Press last October. Look out for this in my next newsletter, which I hope to send out next month sometime.


  • Seed Time

    five seed tray and two flower pots filled with compost and sown seeds

    A landmark day – the first seeds sown for the new garden – ragged robin (for the very wet bits against the fence), bergamot, lavender and snapdragons for the bit in the front that gets full sun, elecampane for the bank above the burn and parsley and lettuce. In the kitchen herb patch I have also sown marigolds and chervil behind the chives.

    a broom bush at the back tulips to the right. In front chives and lemon balm, to the back oregano and lemon thyme

    It has been a lovely week, when the garden tipped into spring. I have seen the first bumble bee queens and the first peacock butterfly. The roses and fruit bushes are opening their new leaf buds, and the primroses and auriculas I have transplated have taken to the rich soils with alacrity. I heard the first chiffchaffs yesterday, and saw the first celandines on the banks along the footpath.

    I have made a lot of progress clearing the rather tatty front lawn, though it looks rather worse than better so far. The turf is going to be used as mulch or compost, once it has dried out and I have shaken as much as possible of the topsoil back onto the bed. The good thing is it is full of very lively worms.

    mound of upturned and dried out turf

    The bad thing is it is also full of stones, which makes digging very hard work indeed.

    stones in a trench of black plastic against a fence

    But it can be worth it to see this.

    a row of daffodils tulips and auriculas against a brick wall

    After what feels like a long gap, I am editing a big book – Colin Will’s new and selected poems, which covers thirty years of his enormous contribution to Scottish poetry. I am planning new writing myself, both poetry and non-fiction, but some of it will only happen when the new library is built and I can get fifteen boxes of books onto their proper shelves. This looks as if it will happen next month; we are choosing colours for the walls and planning the lighting this weekend. After that, the real work will begin!



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