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THIS spring as it comes bursts up in bonfires green,
Wild puffing of emerald trees, and flame-filled bushes,
Thorn-blossom lifting in wreaths of smoke between
Where the wood fumes up and the watery, flickering  rushes.
 I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration
Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze
Of growing, and sparks that puff in wild gyration,
Faces of people streaming across my gaze.
 And I, what fountain of fire am I among
This leaping combustion of spring? My spirit is tossed
About like a shadow buffeted in the throng
Of flames, a shadow that’s gone astray, and is lost.

from Amores Poems by D. H. Lawrence

It’s good to be amazed by Spring but I guess many of us will feel lost and bruised from being tossed about over the last year and more of living with the virus. We’ll take a walk today, Easter Monday, to warm ourselves at the green fires of Spring, like this bank of wild garlic.

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Finding your feet

It’s a few years since Abel found his feet, but the little boy in the park this morning was just getting used to his holding him up and getting him places. He took a step forward, away from his mother who was queuing for drinks from the little kiosk cafe. He was not expecting his step to ring out, but his foot landed on the metal cover for the fountain stop tap. A step back. Another step forward. Back and forth with a look of intelligent concentration, oblivious to his mother or anybody else or anything at all, except the sounds he was making with his feet. A special moment that he will not remember, but I will.

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Snow day for gardening

I had a job to do at the garden, a snowy weather sort of job, fixing warning notices for would-be tresspassers. Those who came over the summer always left a mess of takeaway containers.

It was a surprise to meet a couple of snow people outside the gate, but the church looked lovely in the snow, as did the garden, and the notices are in position and giving out their message, loud and clear. An enjoyable morning in a thaw, if only temporary.

The footprints are from Fox, Moorhen with the partly webbed toes, and robin, hopping along rather than walking.

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Lightening the garden’s darkness

In central Canterbury, between the Marlowe Theatre and a branch of the River Stour, a short new footpath was created a few years ago; it’s a useful off-road cut through for the family Turnstone making for home.

This dogwood (cornus) was cut to the ground a year ago. For another month it will be shining on grey days as well as sunny; then it may well be pruned hard again. I must check on my cuttings!

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Somewhere recently I saw these called Candlemas Lilies. That rang a distant, tinkling bell; it must have been in childhood. It’s easy to forget Candlemas (2 February) these days, Christmas disappears into the distance and normal life takes over.

But this year – this year, whatever your beliefs, take a Christian custom and make it your own. Dining alone, with partner or family, light a candle on the dining table to be a sign of hope in these dark days of covid.

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A proper Winter’s walk

On Sunday we walked through Fredville again, enjoying the frost both close-up and into the distance. After a stop at Barfrestone Church we walked a different path back to Nonnington with the sun behind us seeing off the last of the white – which hadn’t spoilt the sheep’s appetite. If you didn’t know that the Hurricane had been through here in 1987, you’d hardly guess it. The carefully planted mature trees lead the eye to look around and take in the beauty of the land; if some of the trees are past their best, there are smaller ones planted here and there, and we did see a tree nursery on another walk.

frozen Old Man’s Beard

The car park is now closed, which puts the bushes at the back further away from any human interference. The sparrows have caught on; when we were walking Abel home from school on the dankest, darkest afternoon of the year, they had gone to roost early, but they hadn’t gone quietly! I’m sure I’m not alone in enjoying their chatter.

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Pleasure in the plot

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A book I return to is Come into the Garden, Cook, by Constance Spry who had connections with the village of Barefrestone, where L’Arche Kent began. I missed New Year’s Day, when I’d meant to post this, so here it is now, rather than waiting 360 days. Spry was writing in wartime to encourage creativity in cooking. She was also an artist in floristry, which shows through in this post. Enjoy your garden, and happy new year!

On this first day of January (1942) I will tell you what, in even an indifferent vegetable plot, gives pleasure. There is a splash of bright green like a rug thrown onto the brown earth lying next to rows of grey flags, just common or garden parsley and leeks. There’s a breadth of what might be grey-green tropical fern, but is, in fact, chou de Russie. (Russian kale) There’s grandeur and colour in rows of red cabbage and the purple decorative kale.

From Constance Spry, Come into the Garden, Cook, London, Dent, 1942, p11.

Photograph by Marc Ryckaert

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Green grows the lettuce, oh!

I walk this way a couple of times a week. Stour Street runs parallel to the river. Its old houses have post-war buildings in between them where bombs and at least one fire removed others. The street is narrow here; the 19th Century house has a strip of flagstones and a low wall but no front garden – except for this 25 cm square with its specimen of a lettuce. It brightened up a grey day!

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Almost the last preserve of 2020

A week ago we walked across the fields and found damsons, small, black, sour plums that were sweeter than they would have been a month ago. The label on the jam jars reads as follows, printed beneath this picture.

Foragers’ Final Flourish 
November 2020 
Damsons, crabs, and other hedgerow delicacies.

The good Mrs T had brought home the windfalls a while before that. Their bruises were romping away like a rugby forward on warfarin, so now there are jars of apple puree awaiting the winter. I’m always gratified to hear the click of the jar lids as the vacuum takes effect!

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The Art of the City

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As part of the Canterbury Festival, much pruned down this year, L’Arche Kent and others have produced an art trail or pilgrimage across the city. I’ve captured a few of the pictures, but the some of the photos are beset with reflections; if I’d used the flash it would have bounced off the windows, hiding the pictures, so here the windows are, mostly taken on a wet day.

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Are we inside looking out, or outside looking in? The reflection makes a different picture to what the artists intended!

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More from L’Arche Kent’s Rainbow artists, and in the next picture.

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Support for the National Health Service staff with the rainbows here.
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A window with a message, linked to the next, which showcases some recycled clothes. I saw the artist assembling this exhibit; he seemed to be enjoying herself and doubtless enjoyed the making of the party outfits. The arch is a ghost image from across the street.

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People’s experience of being locked down. Have a good read!

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Catching Lives is a local organisation for people who are homeless.
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Finally the front window of L’Arche Kent itself at the Saint Radigund’s Street Office! A show of talent.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little autumn pilgrimage across Canterbury. Do keep L’Arche, Catching Lives and all struggling artists in your prayers.

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Manna from heaven

It was a day that demanded a Sunday Walk. With foraging bags. Just as well, since the chestnuts are beginning to fall. Christmas preparations are under way. Small nuts will make stuffing, many are large enough to roast in the fire.

The local rector, Jo, was out foraging the day before. Her post reminded us to be grateful for God’s bounty. Amen to that, and how good to live in this part of the world! The chestnuts are a reminder of manna: we foragers have only to go out to gather them in – but they do not have to be eaten the same day.

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Just a light breakfast, please.

There was a spring in my step, despite the Autumn day and my Autumnal years. I had just been told that my cataract op had been successful, healing was proceeding according to expectations. And the sun came out.

Why not have fish and chips for lunch at Herne Bay clocktower? The shop recommended by Abel was open. I had to wait for the meal to be cooked, and it was all I could do to eat this ‘small’ portion, or so I thought. All of it was delicious.

This board advertising a light breakfast caught my rejuvenated eye. I’m not sure I’d have put that away even when I was doing hard manual work for a living! No doubt it will be as well cooked as the fish and someone will enjoy it, to the last little bean.

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There is always something to see. Behind a hedge, skirting the tarred footpath this array of silvery white caught the eye. Not flowers, but the seed heads of honesty, or lunaria to give its official name. Lunaria comes from the moon, of course, and I was told that honesty refers to the way the seeds can be seen in the silvery pods. Can any of us claim to have nothing to hide?

No need to hide this wild flower if it springs up in your garden! The pods will stay on the stem for most of winter, following stems of purple, pink or white flowers.

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1 June: Richard Jefferies I: Apparent indifference

walk5I was looking for something else when I came across some of the extracts I made from Richard Jefferies’ “The Gamekeeper at Home”, first published in 1878. Ian, a lad I once taught, had an ambition to become a keeper, and enjoyed reading this book together, despite the sometimes old-fashioned language. He had the capacity to stand and stare that Jefferies describes here. The book is available at Project Gutenberg.

Often and often, when standing in a meadow gateway partly hidden by the bushes, watching the woodpecker on the ant-hills, of whose eggs, too, the partridges are so fond (so that a good ant year, in which their nests are prolific, is also a good partridge year) you may, if you are still, hear a slight faint rustle in the hedge, and by-and-by a weasel will steal out. Seeing you he instantly pauses, elevates his head, and steadily gazes: move but your eyes and he is back in the hedge; remain quiet, still looking straight before you as if you saw nothing, and he will presently recover confidence, and actually cross the gateway almost under you.

This is the secret of observation: stillness, silence, and apparent indifference.

Easter Morning 2021

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Three Easter Morning photographs: Easter Lilies and the Easter Garden from Saint Mildred’s Church, and just around the corner was the Weeping Willow having its moment, newly in leaf and flower, and leading the way to spring.

Happy Easter to all!


How Japanese people revealed an unconsidered treasure in Canterbury.

In the years before Lockdown, we in Canterbury grew accustomed to the sight of Japanese people taking pictures of each other in front of the sites: the Cathedral, the crooked bookshop, or the Westgate Towers. With the Japanese Chaucer College closed, not to mention national borders, such activity ceased. Until today. A small group were taking turns to snap each other by an ugly public toilet within a few metres of Westgate Towers. Here they can be seen comparing their pictures, but whatever … ?

It wasn’t the toilet, of course, that had roused their interest and glee, but the nearby spreading cherry tree, covered in blossom. They were so happy to see it, brightening a dismal corner of the city, and they opened my eyes to one of our city’s treasures. A remarkable tree that deserves to be celebrated by Canterbury people as well as Japanese.

SPRING QUIET by Christina Rossetti

Mile End Cemetery

Christina Rossetti lived mostly in London, when this cemetery was still in active use; it is about 5km from the centre of town. Nowadays the thorn bushes are white, the birds sing, the sun shines shadily, and people can wander around, hearing the sea in the swaying branches. And there are tower blocks in Kentish seaside towns as well as central London suburbs!

Gone were but the Winter,
Come were but the Spring,
I would go to a covert
Where the birds sing;

 Where in the white-thorn
Singeth a thrush,
And a robin sings
In the holly-bush.

 Full of fresh scents
Are the budding boughs,
Arching high over
A cool green house:

 Full of sweet scents,
And whispering air
Which sayeth softly:
"We spread no snare;

 "Here dwell in safety,
Here dwell alone,
With a clear stream
And a mossy stone.

 "Here the sun shineth
Most shadily;
Here is heard an echo
Of the far sea,
Though far off it be."

Built on a rock – and shells.

I leant my bike against a buttress of Saint Mildred’s Church while I closed the garden gate. I returned to find myself looking at this stretch of the north wall which I estimate was strengthened in the 19th Century. The course of limestone at the top of this picture is level, top and bottom, being made of identical blocks. To get the top level the bottom had to be level, of course; difficult with flints and random lumps of limestone, required some adjustment. We can see sherds of roofing tile, thin slivers of flint – and oyster shells! I have seen them used in a garden wall before, but never expected to find them holding up a church.

From a walk near Chilham

Chilham is a village near Canterbury, a good place to start a country walk as once you leave the village you are on quiet roads, then climb up a chalk track which is much less muddy than other paths. Here is a clutch of pictures from one spot near the village.

The first picture shows a brick wall and part of the railing above it. Note the date on the brick. This was put here to proclaim the remodelling of the garden by Capability Brown and Thomas Heron. I think that’s a partly eroded ‘B’ before the date. The garden belongs to the Castle, seen here from between two railings. Grey geese rather than Canada out on the water. The railings allow the owners to show off their landscape without being over-run by visitors: you could imagine a carriage being driven slowly past here and polite admiration expressed; but no-one was getting in there uninvited!

Just a couple of metres away were these magnificent hazel catkins.

It was good to see young saplings, as in the left foreground, planted to replace old trees dying off; good to see the snowdrops behind the trees and elsewhere on our walk.

A few hundred metres away part of one fallen tree had been given a new life as a hippo.

A fierce hippo as it happens. A good number of the trees in the background look as though they might have been planted after the hurricane of 1987 when many were lost across Kent. That was fierce. Our Sunday walk was peaceful apart from the noise of scrambler bikes on another track through the woods; and so home to tea by the fire.