Website of poet Elizabeth Rimmer


  • 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.

  • Half a Hundred Herbs Week 45 – Hawthorn

    terrnov 016There is a belt of trees on the riverbank. Some of them are covered with ivy and intertwined with wild roses:

    terrnov 015At this time of year they are a magnificent sight. There are blackbirds and thrushes most of the year round, chaffinches, robins and wrens, and most of the time the magpies jackdaws and rooks hang about there too, watching for food opportunities in the fields around. And any day now, the winter birds – waxwings redwings and fieldfares will be joining them from northern parts.

    But hawthorn isn’t just good for wildlife. It is one of the most iconic trees in the herbals – only elder can come close for folklore references, and I think on the whole, that the hawthorn has it. They are the fairy trees of legend, and there are many roads in Ireland with an inconvenient kink in them so as not to take down particularly significant thorn bushes. If you sleep under thorn bushes the fairies may gain power over you – perhaps the famous Eildon Tree where Thomas the Rhymer met the fairy queen was a hawthorn? They are often planted at the boundaries of property – perhaps because they grow so quickly, perhaps because the thorns are a pretty good deterrent. It was a rite of passage one summer in my childhood to push through or jump over all the hawthorn hedges in front of all the houses in our street, disregarding the scratches and the irate neighbours, but those hedges were mostly clipped very short and neat. The ones that had been neglected were a different proposition.

    The tree is one of the first in leaf and the flowers are the high point of late spring, a rising tide of foam on the eye-popping green. You aren’t supposed to bring them into the house, because they bring death and misfortune, (Mrs Grieve says they were believed to smell of the Plague, others associated it with TB especially in Ireland where the disease was common) but you can hang them over the cowshed to protect the milk. In Northern Ireland a hawthorn globe made of the berries can be hung on a house to protect from fire and lightning (maybe this is Seamus Heaney’s haw lantern?). Not a tree to be messed with.

    The leaves are edible – children used to put them between bread and butter, and they must have been a good fresh bite of vitamin C in early spring. The berries are edible, too, though you are supposed to let them ‘blet’ like medlars before the taste is worth having. I’ve seen recipes for hawthorn chutney and fruit leather too.

    Medicinally, however, hawthorn is very significant. Tincture from the berries is said to be good for the heart, for the circulation and for kidney troubles. I’ve seen it recommended for Raynaud’s syndrome mood, swings, restlessness and even ADHD. And Mrs Grieve says the timber is good for small articles, having a fine grain and taking a good polish. Better ask the fairies for permission first, I should think!

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