All the living things

Where has it come from, this conker?

How have I only noticed it now, with its

halo glow, on my carpet?

I find conkers in the washing machine

after a walk in the woods. Or on the university campus

where I wipe them on my trousers and turn them

around and around in my pocket–

an inconsequential secret as I talk

with acquaintances in the street.

But this Springtime conker by my shopping bag,

it’s a surprise. A real surprise.

And it’s sprouting.

How long has it been there, growing like that?


It has me thinking of all the living things in my home;

plants, yes, children, yes. But there’s also

the mold by our freezer, and the sourdough starter.

Potatoes. Spiders. Flies.

It has me remembering the Autumn I suspended

redbud pods around our dining room ceiling light;

a chandelier of wide, ribbony pods

swaying above our heads each time the back door opened.

A chandelier harbouring hundreds of seed beetles

that scratch scratched their way out above our heads one Spring evening.

That, too, was a real surprise.

But these unexpected things are really not so unexpected

–things must make their homes somewhere after all, and they must one day move.

And are we not dead if we do not move nor change?

So I consider the bread that has risen once more;

the mold that spreads further behind the freezer;

the plants multiplying themselves without assistance;

the children who have again put holes in their trouser knees.

And myself–still unfolding like a tendril or a beetle searching for light.


Three things: Snow food, Tending The Wild, and The Lieutenant





Is Spring here? I don’t know. I just know that last week Aberdeen was covered with enough snow that we were able to sledge across town (seriously) and everyone around me looked 10-days-of grey-skies glum, and that this week the sun was shining on my coat-less back and I noticed my rhubarb had punched its first leaf up through the soil. So exciting! The rhubarb crown was from a lovely friend who gave it before she left the country to move back to her homeland.  :^(  It will be nice to have a seasonal reminder of her family on our porridge and in our puddings. On on particularly snowy day, L. and I invented a delicious dessert: we cooked up the last of our frozen brambles, strained the juice (eating the fleshy seedy bits separately), added a little honey, and waited until it was cool before pouring it onto fresh snow. Yum!

I just saw this documentary about traditional environmental knowledge of the indigenous peoples of California. Highly recommended!

I finished my first Kate Grenville novel–The Lieutenant–this morning. I’ve been meaning to read one of her books for years, and just found this one at my local community centre second-hand book shelf last week. I shall be reading more! I loved the subtle development of the main character through his (platonic) relationship with a young girl who teaches him her land’s indigenous language. At the end of his time in New South Wales, he looks back from the ship to where his friend, Tagaran, is standing, and the image of her starting to blur into the landscape has a beautiful symmetry with this observation of learning her language:

“What he had not learned from Latin or Greek he was learning from the people of New South Wales. It was this: you did not learn a language without entering into a relationship with the people who spoke it with you. His friendship with Tagaran was not a list of objects, or the words for things eaten or not eaten, thrown or not thrown. It was the slow constructing of the map of a relationship. […] Learning a language was not a matter of joining any two points with a line. It was a leap into the other. […] Until you could put yourself at some point beyond your own world, looking back at it, you would never see how everything worked together” 

Naming things

‘Fuck!’ he shouted when we were at the end of the dairy aisle,

pointing somewhere beyond the checkout counters and queues.

Again a definitive, high-pitched ‘fuck! Fuck!’ and

the gentleman beside me, choosing between alternative milk yoghurts, gave me a look–

a look I interpreted as an exasperated ‘ugh.

Parents these days… let their kids say anything. Mind you,

the language coming from the parents is no better’ look,

but was probably just a ‘I know what he is trying to say

and it isn’t that hard to understand

if you’re an attentive parent’ look.

I guess it’s possible he might have just had a face that looked like that,

one that wasn’t actually saying any of that.



It’s the pet food aisle we glide back through, always having forgotten

eggs or oats or some other staple.

He squawked, ‘do’! Do’!’ at a Labrador on tins

(at least, I think it was a Labrador,

but as I come to describe it to you now,

all I can describe is a creature that looked like a dog, any dog:

fur, droopy tongue, soft brown eyes

full of desire for affirmation),

and ‘ca! Ca!’ at a cat.

I’ve no idea what kind of cat.

There are kinds of cats, right? Oh yeah,

for example, the ones without tails: Manx.

It wasn’t a Manx.


My groceries chugged along the conveyor belt and, while he grasped

at names for vegetables and fruit, I replayed

in my head the conversation I had last week

with an acquaintance in which I said

things that were stupid

but so did she

and I hated myself every time I thought about it for five days after that.

Day eight today, and I hate myself less. Because when she said,

‘you should keep an eye on that. What if it gets worse?’ and

all I heard was ‘blah blah–stupid stupid–you’re a stupid person–

do you really trust your own stupid intuition?’, she didn’t know,

and she didn’t know that it was for herself that she worried.

And I didn’t know it at the time, but I do now,

and I did at the supermarket yesterday.

So I said it to myself at the checkout,

and grasped at names of thoughts and feelings,

thoughts and feelings as big as categories of ‘dog’ or ‘cat’.


‘Fuuuuuck!’ My son toddled

over to get inside one of those… what would you call them? Trucks.

You know, for toddlers. The ones that take a pound and are always by the checkouts.

Three things: ILtR, music for writing, and sunflower seed biscuits



Some good news in my household is that the half of us who are not citizens of the UK received our ‘Indefinite Leave To Remain’. Hurrah! (Although, if you ask me, it is a little like climbing aboard a sinking ship having paid an extortionate amount for the pleasure… but what a thrilling ride to join in on). We celebrated by sledging down snowy hills in blizzard conditions. The conditions are still ripe for celebration and the sledge has been more convenient than the buggy this week.

I’ve been on my computer more the past couple of weeks and have discovered the music of Moses Sumney. His music has a looping quality which helps me to stay focused. What do you listen to when you’re writing? My partner listens to anything by The Decemberists which he knows inside-out enough that he won’t pay too much attention to it. On the subject of writing, I am committing to writing a proper poem each week… already I feel mildly stressed about it… but perhaps telling you up front like this will help me to just to do it.

This week, after about 8 months of renewals, I returned this cookbook to the library and thought it might be time to let someone else have a turn with it. I have made so many of the recipes from it, especially enjoying the ‘nomato sauce’ (although, L. did remark recently that he thought it tasted like tree bark) and her ideas of fermenting staples like garlic and turmeric. These are the sunflower seed thimbles which we all agree taste delicious.

The 23

This bus comes past our flat every ten minutes during

the day, and every thirty until late in the night. If I didn’t know what

time it was, I could tell you from the bus. Its frequency. How many

buggies, how many people with walkers or canes. How many

children in which kind of uniform. You see, there’s a marking off

of my day according to this bus, beginning with my son rushing to the window

at the screech of brakes at the top of the hill,

at the corner, and at the stop

across the road. As I start to make tea,

the 9-5ers come off in larger numbers and

and I am glad to not be on that after-dark bus

with its white flickering lights. A travelling display case of

people doing the most ordinary of things: nose picking,

phone scrolling, book reading, and quiet bickering.

When the woman with the blue hair and beagle looks in

at me wearing my dressing gown, pouring hot water into my cup,

and handing a carrot to my son, it occurs to me

that I might be wearing this gown, doing these things,

the most ordinary of things, every time she comes past

on the 17.54 bus. That every time our first bus of the day

comes past, my son might be licking the window that he has licked

since he started spotting buses, and to some person in this city he will

only ever be ‘that child who licks the window ‘. That every time

I am washing the big dishes of the day, for a few moments

an NHS employee will observe me in

the yellow kitchen light, turning large bowls under

a stream of water. And I wonder if she is curious about me; if she thinks

I’ve had my tea, or am about to have it; if she knows that my hair is

always pulled back like this and not just in the evening; whether she suspects

a two-year-old at my feet pouring milk into the salad spinner. So much

just outside the frame of this time and place, and I am

one of Hopper’s figures in a lit kitchen window, rinsing dishes,

absently staring beyond the front garden hedge into

a bus of people staring absently back.


Three things: Witch hazel, zoology building, and Jason Lewis






We have had a week of beautiful winter weather–blue skies and pink cheeks. And the witch hazel in my garden and in the Cruickshank Gardens got me making a list of the plants I am wanting to add to my garden this spring… and then I was told that an Arctic chill is going to be bringing us some cold temperatures and lots of snow in March… so the list remains in my notebook and is not on an order form yet. I love the spidery-ness of witch hazel and their joyful colour when everything else is a bit grey.

One of our regular stops through the year is a local university zoology building (which I am sure I have probably covered before, but doesn’t hurt to say it again). It is host to many taxidermied animals and birds, creatures in jars, erect skeletons, and pinned insects. S. is a hazard, preferring to pinball himself between glass cases and crawl under ropes, so we limit the time from display to display, but there is always long enough to admire the colours, textures, and patterns.

The Move Your DNA podcast has changed formats, and Katy Bowman now interviews others though her movement lens about their work (which, so far, has included human-powered earth-circumnavigation [there’s got to be a better word for that in German], animal tracking, and food foraging). My favourite was her interview with the ‘menschliche Erdunrundunger’ (‘human-powered earth-circumnavigator’). In spite of his amazing accomplishment–that arguably is not over yet–he makes it very clear that he was not/is not an expert in this kind of physical work. That the journey itself would be the training for the journey itself. I like that idea of St Benedict’s, that ‘always we begin again’… that every day there is the possibility of new things, of learning, of growth, and that we need not be experts to begin something, and that we will never fully arrive at perfection. (Actually, it is also reminding me of a mantra that I am telling L.–and myself!–a lot at the moment ‘we can do hard things’). Anyway, his trilogy ‘The Expedition’, looks great, and I think I am going to put the YA adaptation on my birthday wish list.

Coming home

Two years ago I watched as a man lopped branches

from his cypress trees in a neighbouring garden. He removed

two or three branches at a time, leaving six inches

or so for him to stand on to cut the next round.

I was in early labour, and all day I watched this

performance from my bedroom window until

but two of the twelve shaggy conifers were reduced to

jagged poles.


For weeks, a pair of wood pigeons circled and skimmed

the treetops daily. I recalled coming home to another neighbour–

another neighbourhood, another evergreen–drunk and sobbing

about the pigeons he had displaced. ‘I didn’t know’, he swore,

cupping a nest, while its pigeons perched on a shed

roof across the lane.


I had forgotten all that until this morning when

two more wood pigeons landed on top of

one of the remaining trees. This cypress was four fifths de-branched

before the arborist (my spellcheck wants me to write ‘abortionist’)–

on learning the trees were his neighbour’s–aborted his efforts,

leaving a Dr Seuss mop-headed tree. Two years

it has looked like this. A peculiarly perfect place for a nest–

a tree that looks like a full tree, a healthy tree, from the perspective

of home. But on entry, and re-entry, and entry again, they must know that

something is not right.