Three things: Autumn foraging, Death Cafe, and climate change

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One benefit of living in the city is that the squirrels don’t get to the nuts before we do. We’ve been collecting beech nuts on the university campus. In the past, I have shelled these things until my fingers have bled, so I am relieved that the older one has developed his own technique (a delicate sort of boot crushing) and I only have S. and myself to shell for. And, with a nearby street lined with oaks, acorns have become the new conkers. I have to fish them out of pockets before they spin around the washing machine. For a few years now, I have been wanting to make acorn flour but now that I have enough acorns to bother trying this out, I just don’t have the time. So these beautiful ones are now either sitting on a mantelpiece or rolling about the floor and under pieces of furniture. Those beautiful beans are from the runner beans we grew at our flat this year. They’re called ‘Enorma’–extremely prolific and delicious–and I picked them up a couple of years ago at a seed swap in Edinburgh.

Over the weekend, I attended my first Death Cafe. Have you heard of this initiative? There are cafes running all around the world and their aim is to take away the taboo of death by normalising conversation about it and to help people recognise the value of their lives now. I felt very connected to the group–all of whom were strangers to me. This meant I could share freely my experiences and anxieties around death and grieving while others also shared freely. You might think it a rather morbid and depressing thing to go to, but actually, I think we all left the meeting a lot lighter than we entered it. I would recommend Death Cafe to anyone who may die in the future or know people who may also die.

I am feeling quite overwhelmed about the recent IPCC report on climate change, which tells us that we have only 12 years to limit catastrophe. I knew things were bad… just didn’t realise they were that bad. My kids will be in their mid 20s when they are living with the great weight of their parents’ and their grandparents’ choices and shortsightedness. I have a lot of things to keep me awake at night at the moment, but this one has got to top the list. We soon have some international travel planned and my carbon footprint will expand exponentially again–and I guess I need to take responsibility for my kids’ footprints too. Even though I am relatively conscious of my environmental impact, the report has been a wake-up call for me and I am trying to think twice in all aspects of life about how to reduce my impact further. I wonder how you approach this stuff with your kids? So far, my approach has been to follow the advice of Richard Louv, and I think I will stick with it a little longer (although I’d love to know if you’ve got ideas, too). He said in his amazing book ‘Last Child in the Woods’ that a lot of kids have such great anxiety about the state of the natural environment that it’s debilitating. He suggests that if kids are encouraged to enjoy being the natural world, they will come to realise that they are actually a part of the natural world. This is in essence what love is. And if you love something, then you will care for it. It’s good advice for grown-ups to experiment with for themselves too, I reckon.

Our friendship (for Carolina)

The sun stretches a parallelogram further across the grass and soon shade

will be nipping at our feet and the kids will be sitting in our laps.

Stuck for words again, I nod and smile; and she nods and smiles a smile handed down

 

from generations I’ve never seen, save for the tiny pictures by her front door.

Like the melon seeds drying on the kitchen window sill, the kettle in the garden shed boiling for tea,

the two-second silly dance she did with her son until both sets of eyes became almonds–

 

the photos are fragments that shed but a sliver of light on the mystery of her.

I sit here, and she sits there and so few words are spoken;

it is not possible that she is all I see of her, and I am all she sees of me.

 

I could start to add up the sum of all the obvious parts–starting with the pictures,

the melon seeds, the kettle, the two-second silly dance with the almond eyes–

but I’d only come up short against what is actually here inside this lengthening parallelogram of light.

Be at peace with one another

Last Sunday (Proper 26) I preached at my church. The readings I concentrated on were Mark 9:38-50–in which Jesus tells the disciples they are better off cutting off body parts that cause them to sin (yikes!)–and James 5:13-20 which focusses on speech within community. In writing this sermon I took some unexpected turns and ended up with a message I didn’t realise I was setting out to give. It was great to hear more thoughts and insights of those in the congregation afterwards. 

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Three things: Autumn, Rumi’s ‘Unmarked Boxes’, and an open letter to Friends of Duthie Park

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It’s as though the leaves started to change colour the day of the Harvest Moon. Just like that, the park I drive by twice daily was no longer the green of summer. Conkers and acorns are filling our pockets again, and I am drinking even more tea than I did last week. Part of that is that the weather is getting cozier and I am making more time for reading. The other part is the slight relief tea-drinking gives my hayfever-ish head. Does anyone else have awful allergies at this time of year? I find I spend a lot of time hiding in darkened rooms hoping that my kids will keep their outside voices outside.

This stanza of Rumi’s poem ‘Unmarked Boxes’ makes me want to make a list of all the unmarked boxes of joy I see around me… so many in Autumn!

God’s joy moves from unmarked box to unmarked box,

from cell to cell. As rainwater, down into flowerbed.

As roses, up from ground.

Now it looks like a plate of rice and fish,

now a cliff covered with vines,

now a horse being saddled.

It hides within these,

till one day it cracks them open.

Finally, I want to share a letter with you I sent a while ago to a local park that my family loves to visit. In recent months I have heard murmurings about graduate students being quietly persuaded not to even bother applying for cultural funding from the Scottish government for academic projects that look into Scotland’s darker parts, like its part in the slave trade. The letter below is not about that directly, but it is about what I perceive to be another example of wilful ignorance with respect to this country’s role in colonialism and the slave trade. I wonder what your thoughts on this might be? As yet, I have not heard back from the Friends of Duthie Park.

Dear Friends of Duthie Park,

my family and I love visiting Duthie Park to play at the playground, talk to the cactus, and eat our picnic lunch on the green.
We were there recently and it was the first time I paid any attention to the signage that describes Aberdeen’s relationship to other Aberdeens around the world.  As I read them to my six-year-old, I became very disheartened. It is for this reason that I write to you; these information boards tell the “victor’s history” but there are other perspectives…
Many of these other Aberdeens were inhabited by people before Aberonians settled there (the Arikara Indians in South Dakota, for example), and these places already had names. They were landscapes that to the Scottish eye may have looked unworked, but they were traversed, cared for, and understood by indigenous cultures. To settle in these places was not a benign act; it was a disruption. It was colonisation. In some of these places (namely, the Caribbean and Africa), Scottish settlers were hanging on the coat-tails of other colonials, continuing exploitative practices and profiting from a history of slavery. 
On the surface, there is something sweet or novel about seeing the name of one’s city scattered across the globe–I know this from finding my own (English-colonised) home city’s name in other countries I have visited–but there is a dark aspect to it that is important to acknowledge. From what I understand, Aberdeen is known as a Fair Trade City. I wonder if a part of that claim is to recognise that it has a history of participating in “unfair trade”?
I hope that you might consider changing the signage to something that respects the original stories and peoples of these lands, without diminishing the important connection Aberdeen has to these places.
Yours faithfully,
R.W.

Three things: The blues, plums, and toxic masculinity

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Some very satisfyingly blue hydrangeas we found on a neighbourhood walk this week. 3.5 metres of Ikat fabric that I bought at the Oxfam shop recently. I think I am going to make this skirt and maybe some pajama bottoms. And a terrible photo (a windy day and a two-year-old trying to climb up me as I took the picture) of one of my lovely blueberry bushes. At my flat I am slowly growing a hedge of them and all of them have given me a handful of sweet fruit this year.

My friend was afflicted by inudanated with plums and gave me about 10 kilograms this week. There’s a crumble in the works for a BBQ this weekend, some fruit leather to dish out as treats into the winter, and a number of jars of chutney to distribute to unsuspecting friends. I am also chipping away at a green bean glut.

I am really appreciating the podcast ‘Men‘ by Scene on Radio (who bought us ‘Seeing White‘). You should listen to it. And ‘Seeing White’.