Saturday, 27 October 2012

Today's gifts

First frost of the year. My Beloved brought me a frosted autumn leaf, "quick,look before it melts!". Some gifts last only seconds but are no less special for that.
Butterflies still, a Red Admiral and a Comma, wings outstretched and quivering to catch the last of the sun.
The pinks and oranges of a spindle tree against a blue sky.
Deer prints in the mud.
A kingfisher landing a few short feet away.
Finding new places to wander and wonder - an imaginatively planted woodland with cherry and spindle and sweet chestnut, willow and walnut, maple and oak.
The nearly full moon rising in a lavender sky in the east, the sun setting in a fiery western sky.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

4, 3, 2, 1...3

I have been watching swan family dynamics with interest over the last week or so. This particular pair had two nests washed out earlier in the year until they realised that the canal might be less prone to flooding than the nearby river. So on their third attempt they have succeeded in rearing four healthy and robust cygnets. To protect them from being attacked by their parents, their feathers remain grey until they are fully grown, the appearance of white feathers seeming to trigger an aggressive response and the cygnets are then chased away when they are ready to fend for themselves. However, the parents of "our" swan family seem divided in opinion as to whether the cygnets are ready to leave and continue with the next stage of their development into independant adults.
The cob has been steadily losing interest for quite some weeks now - he seems to need a lot of "me time" while the rest of the family are content to drift along nibbling reeds and harrassing boaters for bread. On Sunday we stopped and watched as the pen and all four cygnets stood at the top of the slipway, combing their feathers through and shaking out the loose ones until they stood on a soft downy white and grey carpet. We watched as they stretched out long, beautiful wings each with a full set of perfect flight feathers. Just a few weeks ago, their wings were short, stubby and downy. We realised we were standing quite close to these birds and no warning grunts or hisses were forthcoming - several of the cygnets being bigger than their mother and they looked more like her minders than her offspring.
Next day, Dad had returned but there were only three cygnets. I was very worried about the missing one, imagining all sorts of things that could have happened until I noticed how aggressive the cob was being towards the remaining cygnets, and how irritable they all were with each other. Their feathers are no longer solid grey and some white is beginning to show through.Then the three became two and two became one. Yesterday morning an adult swan and a mottled juvenile were hanging around near the boat. Suddenly the adult snorted and made off very swiftly, after a while the juvenile followed - much to the disgust of the parent bird. It occurred to me that we were perhaps supposed to feed the cygnet and cause a distraction so the parent could get away. Just after sunset the same day two adults and three cygnets came visiting. Having watched the behaviour of the adult birds over several days, it seems that Dad is busy driving the young away, while Mum is rounding them up and bringing them together again. It seems that she doesn't want to let go of them, just yet.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012


Gabrielle Roth, dancer, shaman, creator of 5 rhythms danced into stillness today.

I met her only once, a few years ago when she came to the UK for the last time and ran a weekend of Slow Dancing with Chaos. But I came across her books about 15 years ago and was lucky to be living in Bristol with easy access to 5Rhythms teachers.  I had a flirtation with yoga for a while, but it didn't suit me or my body and seemed to create more rigidity than flexibility. Then I gradually found the courage to dance! I've never been someone who fits easily into a group, but on the whole I have found more encouragement, acceptance and love among other dancers than in many other places.

I gave away all three of her books when I moved onto the boat, and I wonder now if I should have kept them...but I have read all the words over and over. Now is the time to dance and find my own words.Through dancing I found the poet and storyteller within myself, and for that I am grateful to Gabrielle, the teacher of my teachers. If she hadn't listened, hadn't accepted her gifts and offered them to the world I and many others would be in a different much poorer place, mentally, physically and spiritually.

Sometime soon I will find a way to dance in her honour in a space 50 feet by 6 foot 10.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Each day, something new

This may sound fanciful but it seems narrowboat Netty has her own ideas about where to go and where to moor up. Two days ago we planned to return to a particular place which we had enjoyed in the summer, with wide grass verges. It would have been good for our little cat since the cyclepath veers away from the edge of the canal keeping the dog walkers and bikes at a distance. There are trees and owls and it is quiet. But no. Netty refused to get her nose anywhere the bank and complained it was far too shallow and muddy for her, even though the water levels are much higher than they were during our last visit.
  So we continued, and found a different spot. We have been down among woods for a few weeks and now we have emerged into more open countryside. As we were mooring up, geese flew overhead calling to each other, a sound that pulls at my heart in ways I cannot explain. The swallows are leaving, taking the summer with them, and canada geese are bringing in the winter. The crows gather in the stubble fields and willow leaves drop like feathers into the water. Two  russet foxes hunt in the fields at the water's edge. Too much time in the woods saps the light, saps my energy. Here it is open and bright, there is colour everywhere and even as the three inches of rain promised by the weather forecasters begins to fall, I feel awake and alert and alive.

Monday, 1 October 2012


We are being stalked and it's all our own fault. It began innocently enough, the admiring glances and a few kind words. The breakfast meetings were probably a step too far. I see it now. It didn't stop there, soon they were banging on the side of the boat at lunchtime and suppertime too. I thought that if I gave them what they wanted they would go away, but no, they lingered silently in the darkness not accepting that no means no. After a week or so we moved a few miles down the canal. They followed us at a distance until the first swing bridge and then they were gone. We missed them despite everything and our uneaten crusts went to the ducks.
Then, the evening before last I was standing on the stern listening for owls when I heard a familiar sound. "Ship ship" they said. "Ship ship". They knew we had been to a farmers market and had fresh bread. They sounded like the mute swans we had left behind some days previously, but I did the lettuce test just to be sure. According to the website of a swan rescue centre, they can be fed bread and green leafy things like lettuce or spinach. They need to drink with their food so it is best thrown into the water. I threw some lettuce out to them, and sure enough, Mr Swan nibbled half heartedly while Mrs Swan swam in supicious circles around the floating leaves.  I went and got some of the good stuff.
I am not alone in being fascinated by these birds, they have been at the centre of myths and stories for centuries. They have a reputation for agression, and according to a present-day myth can break a man's arm with a single flap of a wing. I'm sure this might be possible...if the swan has been trained in unarmed combat by the SAS. In truth they are far more vulnerable than dangerous,  being at risk from discarded fishing tackle and power lines.
I want to write more about the birds that live on and around the water here, but for now, it is getting late and if I turn out the lights and keep away from the windows then I might just get to the other end of the boat without being seen...