BurnedThumb

Website of poet Elizabeth Rimmer


spring


  • 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.

  • February Happenings

    terracotta pot with blue iris

    When you see these flowers in bloom you know that spring can’t be far off. I’ve ordered my seeds, but not sowed any yet, nor written any new poetry, but there are some special circumstances. So far February has been a very busy month, with book editing, a trip to London to see the Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts exhibition in the British Library (I’ve seen the Beowulf manuscript! I’ve seen a letter written by the scholar and bishop Alcuin to Charlemagne!), a trip to Liverpool with most of my family to celebrate my sister’s sixtieth birthday, and my daughter having a major operation, and living with us while she recovers.

    hazel catkins fully open

    I have been trying out the paces of the new camera. It can do a lot – it can practically talk to me – but it can’t do close ups so well. I’m going to need a macro lens for the flowers, and maybe a long range one for birds – this is getting expensive! but it is worth it for the way it makes me see things in more detail and in their proper context.

    I’m hoping to translate this into new and rather different poems. I’ve been reading Vahni Capildeo’s Venus as a Bear, and it is like fireworks going off in my brain – the connections between words, lines, subjects and responses are not sequential but sensual, mostly visual, like mind maps. There are plays on sounds and language and visual as well as semantic connections, and you could almost read them in any direction. I am fairly sure that I couldn’t do anything like that – I get lost too easily. But after reading those poems my brain was ready for what happened next.

    I am in the middle of reading Leechcraft by S Pollington, alternately impressed by the depths of his scholarship and startled by the limits of his actual experience. His identifications of plants refer to many learned sources, but I’m not sure he has ever seen any of them in his life, and he doesn’t seem aware of the many vernacular healing traditions recorded in Europe. But then I came across an exhaustive analysis of the many uses of the word ‘laec’ which became ‘leech’ and was later sometimes used as a synonym for ‘doctor’.

    Pollington says that this was not the way the word was used in Old English, and quotes many sources where the word is used to mean ‘healing’, ‘exercise of skill’, ‘play’ or ‘a rite of sacrificial offering’. I once heard Patrick Stewart use the word ‘laiking’ for being variously ‘truanting from school’, ‘on holiday’ and ‘out of work’, and when I pushed this, something fell into place. ‘Laec’ 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. ‘Laec’ 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 no wonder that industrialists and politicians like to confuse it with idleness and amusement, because it’s the stuff that can’t be bought and sold, and no-one else can do it for you.

    This provided the link between my random musings about colour, craft, tradition and memory, the sense of self and the bond with community. I’m off on a poetic journey, but before I go, I’ll leave you with another spring-time picture from my garden.

    white and purple hellebores



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