Monday Meditation: A January Day in the English Countryside Part II

Last year at this time, I posted photographs of a walk along the local lanes on a clear, warm January day in what turned out to be another mild winter.* This year, the weather couldn’t be more different. We had 7” of snow before Christmas, sub-zero temperatures and cowered under numerous storms as we shivered by the woodburner and gradually desiccated in the central heating. This past week has again been freezing and wet, and we’ve just had another two days of sleet and snow.

This particular afternoon, however, the wind abated, the rain stopped and the sun peeped out for a look-see, so we took the chance for some fresh air and exercise and decided to retrace our steps from the previous year.

There was so much mud, debris (squashed plastic water bottles and other litter blown hither and thither by the gales) – and horse manure – on the lanes and verges! But I spared you all that detritus and picked out as much green as I could. We didn’t see the animals on the smallholding, which seemed abandoned, but we did see some sheep. Here are the photos I took this time around:

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This proud wood pigeon wasn’t at all camera-shy, he posed for a very long time, allowing me to get the perfect picture, making sure I only caught his good side, though!

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If you zoom right in on the next photo, you should be able to see a flash of orange just a little left of the tree trunk in the middle. This robin flitted about the whole length of the lane but was always in too much of a hurry to get a decent shot.

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This squirrel on the other hand sat motionless for so long he could have been an ornament. He was so well camouflaged, much darker than all the other grey squirrels, it was a while before I realised he was there. We had met a friend of my husband’s and they stood chatting under this tree. I had my eyes skyward, looking for birds when I spotted him.

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Do you remember the odd long pods that looked like suspended grey broad beans from last year’s post? This year, there were hardly any, those that were in evidence were shrivelled and black and much smaller, but there were many more of these pink, blossom-like flowers on the twigs. I still don’t know what it is.

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From the colour of this sky, you wouldn’t believe we have had endless days of heavy dark cloud, rainstorms and winds strong enough to blow you along the street. My mum’s fence was blown down last week! It was so calm this afternoon, but cold enough to freeze your breath.

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I think this is my favourite photograph from today. 

It was such a refreshing break to be outside amongst the nature we are so privileged to have all around us. It is threatened, sadly, by endless new housing developments which have taken up all the open fields around the schools here. These views are on opposite sides of the lane we walked. The view on the right used to be the same as that on the left.

 

 

We make the most of it and appreciate it while we can.

*Monday Meditation: A January Day in the English Countryside

Copyright: Chris McGowan

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Monday Meditation: A January Day in the English Countryside

Originally published in January 2017, now updated.

A few pics from our impromptu afternoon out when we were in need of fresh air and space after being cooped up for some time. It was a grey but fine day with no icy winds to sting our faces and make our eyes water, unlike the storms currently battering the UK a whole year later. We did the same walk this week and when I compare the views, it is noticeable how much greener, calmer and more fertile-looking the land was last year. This year there is a lot of mud and debris from all the winds and rain. I’ll be posting the latest photographs in a companion piece later.

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Lots of crab apples!

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A gnarly old tree, one of many!

Does anyone know what plant these grey pods belong to?

 

They look like they are from a climbing plant, they were growing next to some lovely yellow winter jasmine overhanging a garden wall and had a few small pink flowers like blossom on their branches. They look like grey broad beans! (A year later, there were hardly any pods, and what there were looked black and shrivelled from the frost).

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An English country lane. We saw a fat grey squirrel leap from the bare twigs of a tree on the right hand side of the road into the large pine tree opposite, very athletic! Such a contrast between the lush green conifers on the left and the bare-twigged hawthorns on the right. We were accompanied by a robin we saw a few times down this lane, but he was a little camera-shy, he kept flying off before I could take his photo.

Some farm animals on a smallholding, the grey goose did not like our presence one little bit!

 

This poor goat was looking at us and bleating the whole time, both when we passed the first time and again an hour later. Then we realised it was in exactly the same position. It was clearly quite distressed and we realised it was tethered so tightly it could neither turn around, lie down or move in anyway from this position. I can’t stop thinking about how disstressed it was and how much stress there must be on its joints etc. having to remain in that position. There was no-one around to do anything about it.

When we retraced our steps exactly 12 months later, there was no sign of any of the animals, the land looked abandoned; they could have been in the out-buildings, but we heard no sound.

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(None at all 12 months later).

 A lonely glove. This one’s for the Tom Hanks’ collection! Did you know he collects photos of discarded/lost gloves?

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: The Edwardian Gardens of Victoria Park, Stafford – & Lots of Ducks!

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A few weeks ago, we had occasion to take refuge in The Edwardian Gardens of Victoria Park in the centre of Stafford, a vast award-winning site of colourful flower gardens that also includes a bowling green, a glass house, an aviary, sculptures, the official town war memorial and a couple of listed buildings.

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29933792_UnknownThis park has everything for everyone. Previously, we’ve only been there with the children on a hot summer’s day. There is a separate huge play area for children of all ages, including a splash pad which our young grandchildren loved: spouts of water shooting up from the ground at different times and heights, great fun, and a concrete skate bowl. These are at the far end from the more peaceful flower gardens, however, and there is no need to fight your way through over-excited children and buggies to enjoy the flowers, the birds and the waterfowl – oh, I forgot to mention there’s also the River Sow running through it! You can picnic by the river and take shade under the weeping willows.

This time, however, we were there for a little respite on a chilly early autumn afternoon after spending a couple of hours in the bank registering Power of Attorney for my mum’s accounts. This was our second trip as the first time I didn’t have the right documents – have you tried proving your identity these days without a passport or driving licence? It was draining and time-consuming, and I was feeling the stress and anxiety of having to acknowledge that Mum was struggling and I was now responsible for taking care of her and her finances.

When we came out, I suggested we have a look at the gardens, I wanted some air and time to destress, but I also wanted to see if they were accessible for Mum. I find that everywhere we go now, I am assessing the access and whether it is somehwere Mum would like to go. This was definitely her cup of tea. Sadly, despite obvious attempts to make it so with entrance ramps, they were much too steep for an elderly woman who can only shuffle with a walker. My husband thought we could hire a wheelchair but I burst out laughing and said they would both end up in the river!

These sculptures are of the cricketer, W.G. Grace, and the 17th century writer, Isaak Walton, most famous for ‘The Compleat Angler’ but also author of several short biographies.

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 Even at this late time of the year, there were plenty of brightly coloured borders to walk by or sit alongside – there are lots of benches all over the park. It is much more structured than other parks or woodland areas I’ve written about (and usually prefer), but it was lovely to reacquaint myself with this vast area of parkland, trees and flowers, and of course the ducks! I couldn’t believe how many there were, far more than I could fit into the photos. In one of the photos it looks like they’re either queuing up for a boat ride or about to dive in for a race!

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We couldn’t spend long there as the light was going amd it was threatening rain, but we strolled about and stood and watched the ducks and birds. It was long enough to let go of the stifling couple of hours sitting on an uncomfortable chair in a tiny cubicle in the bank. The young woman who dealt with us couldn’t have been more helpful or understanding and patient, but it takes as long as it takes and I was grateful for this short respite. Our forefathers had incredible foresight in designing and constructing public recreation areas like this one, in the middle of the town. For me, they are a lifesaver. Being among trees and wildlife is rejuvenating, it allows me to let go, to breathe in the clean energising air and to look beyond what is currently taking up my thoughts and time: my mum is adjusting to the idea of moving to be near us, but there is a lot to do and she needs constant reassurance that it’s the right thing for her now.

When we arrived home, my brother and sister-in-law, newly ensconced in the US, Facetimed us before we had chance to remove our jackets and, now relaxed, I was able to give them a positive rundown of the afternoon’s proceedings and give them a laugh about the wheelchair.

Look at these beautiful birds. We are so fortunate to have access to wide open spaces of natural beauty and the wildlife therein.

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: In Search of The Gruffalo on Haughmond Hill

29668880_UnknownMy husband has oftened mentioned Haughmond Hill as a place we might visit, since it’s one of the (many!) café stops his local cycling club makes when out on long rides. I wasn’t at all sure about this proposed adventure as the mere fact that it was called a hill rendered it on a par with Everest as far as my hiking abilities go.

We have often driven past on our way to or from Shrewsbury and had visited the nearby Haughmond Abbey the previous summer, and every time we did he told me there was a café there and suggested maybe I’d like to go. Now, as much as my husband loves stopping for a cup of tea at the drop of a hat, I’m not a sitter and drinker, I like to be doing and the thought of just driving all the way there to sit and watch him drinking tea wasn’t exactly appealing (I don’t drink tea or coffee).

However, this particular morning, I weakened and agreed to go and see what all the fuss was about. It was only when we arrived at the bottom of the hill that Husband admitted he didn’t actually know where to park or what the terrain was like as they only ever cycled straight to the café!

29668736_UnknownWe sorted out the parking (you have to pay) and wandered over to some signs with maps on. Haughmond Hill is managed and maintained by the Forestry Commission. It is a working forest and covers a vast area of dense woodland containing ancient oaks and younger varieties of trees with 4 walking trails of differing lengths and difficulty mapped out. Apart from a few benches and the café area by the car park, the whole place is natural, with minimal human interference.

Three of the trails are named after famous people with ties to the area: Wilfred Owen, the War Poet; Henry lV, who massed his armies there before one of the biggest battles in Britain, the Battle of Shrewsbury, fought around Haughmond Hill (there was a spectacular performance of Shakespeare’s Henry lV Part One in the nearby abbey in 2003). The third trail is a tibute to the Corbet family who previously owned the estate, including the Abbey, whilst the fourth, the Geo Trail is so named because it takes in the view of the quarry below. The Hill is a geologically renowned site as it is made of precambrian stone and affords one of the best views across Shrewsbury.

We chose the easiest, the Corbet Easy Access Trail, which has a surfaced route, is mostly flat and accessible to wheelchairs, buggies and mobility scooters. There are also benches along the way. The trails are well-signed and inter-connect at various points, so if you’re feeling more adventurous you can switch to a longer route or rougher terrain.

It was a mild, sunny day and the woods were very peaceful. We met the occasional dog-walker but for the most part we felt like we were the only ones there.

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There was the occasional muddy patch or pond next to the trail and I kept thinking of my 2 year old grandson whom we would probably have to keep rescuing if he came along too! We took our time and had a gentle stroll, breathing in the fresh air and soaking up the vastness of the place and the overwhelming majesty of these ancient sky-scraping giants.

And then we started coming across signs with pictures of characters from the Julia Donaldson story book The Gruffalo!

 

I had forgotten, but a friend had told us a while back that there is an app you can download to accompany the walk that allows you to scan the signs and is interactive. Children can look through the holes in the signs and see other characters to spot along the way. Some time later, I was telling my neighbour’s girls about it and they had the app and had followed the trail, having a lot of fun doing so.

Near the café area, there is another character from a Julia Donaldson story, The Stick Man, as well as several sculptures, one of them a magnificent owl carved by chainsaw sculptor, Paul Catling.

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There were several young families enjoying playing around them. The Hill seemed to appeal to people of all ages, and I noticed signs for a bike trail and orienteering route as well.

We sat to have the inevitable cuppa outside. I had taken a juice with me but to my surprise they sold herbal tea. We watched a couple of toddlers walking along the spiral sculpture, and we were joined for a while by a robin.

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The young guys in the cafe cabin allowed us to borrow a chair to take outside as I can’t manage picnic benches and for once I was quite happy to sit and just be. I didn’t want to leave.

Oh, but before we did, I hid one of my painted rocks* in the claws of the owl and a couple of days later, it appeared on Facebook in the hand of a smiling, happy child.

*Monday Meditation: Mindfullness and Rock Painting

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: An Autumnal Walk in the Park

29670864_UnknownA few weeks ago, we had to return a couple of items to a clothing store in the town centre and I realised it was near the vast Telford Town Park. I have never been there because it is huge, nor had I previously been able to manage the slightly uphill walk from the car park to the children’s area, which in the past would have been the part we would be visiting. It was an iffy sort of afternoon, it had all the appearance of being fine and unthreatening when we set off, but by the time we left the store it looked like it could turn at any time. We decided to risk it.

I wasn’t feeling great that day and was lacking in energy, so we took our time meandering just far enough to feel the sun on our faces, take some uplifting photographs and enjoy the peace and the autumn colours. The experience was eye-opening. I never knew this oasis existed in the middle of this urban conurbation. I was only aware of it as a venue for mass Bank Holiday events, mostly aimed at teenagers and young adults.

There is a small lake just inside the park and I was delighted to see geese, ducks and swans either snoozing on the banking, gliding over the morror-like surface or – in the case of the geese – apparently having had a bit of a tiff and taking time out!

I love the reflections. It was a huge privilege to witness this family of cygnets enjoying the late afternoon sunshine.

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The goose on the right looks in a real huff and none too pleased at my appearance! I abandoned the notion of any type of mediation. He didn’t attempt to wander off though and I stood watching for quite some time.

The mallard, however, was to all intents and purposes, having a siesta, but as I drew closer I realised he had his beady eye on me and was watching my every move. He did not twitch or flinch or show any signs of being disturbed by my presence and allowed me to take several photos. I felt humbled and honoured to be given this opportunity to be so up close, to see the textures and colours of his beautiful plumage. I seem to get on well with ducks!*

Eventually, we walked slowly away and sauntered around the play area. It was a school day, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. These are extensive grounds but I only saw a tiny portion. I was tired and it started to drizzle so I just took a few photos of the trees, the magpies and a beautiful sculpture comprised of assorted shiny metal leaves:

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I am ashamed to admit I almost laughed at the quote. For anyone who knows Telford, it has been the butt of jokes since its inception as a new town comprising mainly industrial parks, ugly modern buildings and roundabouts, similar to East Kilbride in Lanarkshire and other New Towns. It was built to provide a hub for several outlying smaller towns surrounded by the beautiful Shropshire countryside. However, I looked around me and shed my preconceptions. I turned a blind eye to shopping centre (mall) at the far side of the lake, with all its junk food outlets and gaudy hoardings, and looked at the wonderful undulating landscape of the park, extending further than I could see with its woodland areas, lakes and abundant wildlife.

It had given me a couple of peaceful hours in the company of waterfowl and birds, amongst autumnal colours of every hue. I was sad to leave and go back to the car, but it was getting late and the light was fading. It was beginning to drizzle. I made a mental note to come back in the summer when body and blooms are at their best.

*Monday Meditation: A Study in Perseverance

Copyright; Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: Mindfulness and Rock Painting

A few weeks ago I wrote about finding a small painted rock by the canal with instructions to post a photo of it on Facebook and rehide it.* It made me smile when I was in a lot of pain. Since then, I’ve discovered painting and hiding rocks is quite the thing. At the end of the school summer holidays, I saw some young children leaving their out-of-school club holding small painted pebbles and looking very proud of their efforts. One little boy was so over-excited, he wanted to hide it straightaway and despite his grandma’s efforts to dissuade him, he couldn’t contain himself and just had to hide it there and then: he put it under the privet hedge of the house right next-door to the school. I loved his enthusiasm and it made me smile.

Soon after, my neighbour’s two young daughters came back from their holidays and told me about sitting on the beach painting stones. I said I’d like to have a go but couldn’t find any smooth stones as it’s all gravel around here. They brought some back from their next trip and we are going to have a joint rock painting session one rainy day in the half-term holiday.

29668112_UnknownSince then, I have really acquired the rock-painting bug! Every time my mum phones, she asks me what I’m doing and I reply, Guess! My first efforts were not much to write home about: I just tried out different media – acrylic v. poster paint, felt tips, matt or gloss varnish, glitter glue – just to see what worked and what didn’t.

I eventually learned that acrylic paint is best, poster tends to lose its intensity and can smudge if you put varnish on with a brush, but if you use a couple of coats of poster paint and a fine spray sealant, it can work well (be aware of solvent fumes and use in a well-ventilated area. I’m going to buy some paper face masks and spray outside!) Permanent markers work better than ordinary felt-tips which tend to bleed.

I soon discovered you can make it as simple or as complicated, as cheap or expensive as you like. I used 20 year old acrylic paints and varnish, 15+ years old paint brushes and a metal water pot I’ve had since I was at school! You don’t have to be an artist, there are many stones out there painted by very young children and not so young adults that have a few stripes or spots on or are sprinkled with glitter. What matters is the doing, the hiding and finding and giving people a smile. It’s a great activity to do with children, especially on rainy days or during winter months.

Painted rocks can make lovely gifts too, and even send a message: many people are painting Halloween stones at the moment but also ones with red poppies for Remembrance Day (see my poppy ones below), others like to write uplifting or humorous quotes on them. I’m thinking of giving the neighbours Christmas stones instead of cards.

The benefits of this activity are many: When I’m painting, I am totally focused. After some time, it comes as a surprise to me that I am no longer repeatedly turning over current family concerns, I haven’t looked at a screen or a clock and I am smiling. I am completely relaxed.  

I liked the goldfish above, and hid it on the girls’ front door step while they were out for the day. They have since rehidden it on a woodland walk. Remember Henry, the young boy next-door whose rabbits kept escaping?** I left my first effort on his rabbit hutch. He was so pleased to find it and then so disappointed when the next thing he found there was a bag of our homegrown tomatoes!

We have since found 2 stones and hidden 5 of mine (see below), one of which turned up on Facebook a couple of days ago. I can’t describe the joy and surprise of seeing it in a child’s hand with the message that they had rehidden it.

(This sculpture of the hares was made with a chainsaw).

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My second crop are a little more adventurous:

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I am particularly proud of the hedgehog and may have to keep him!

Any time I’m on my own, have time on my hands or feel a little overwhelmed, I hide away with my rocks and paints. I fear my supply will soon dry up and like any addict have taken to the (occasional) illicit purloining of rocks from neighbourhood driveways! I decided that couldn’t go on, it was a very slippery slope, so the other day, I traded baking apples from our tree for a few gorgeously smooth pebbles by our friend’s back door!

Here’s my latest batch:

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IMG_4101Why not have a go, leave them on benches, in parks or on woodland trails, in your or your grandchildren’s garden  – anywhere where people saunter or children play; tag them and write a message with instructions to rehide. I even left one in a bistro recently. Join or form a Facebook group so you can track them and other people can join in. Currently I belong to #shropshirerocks and #staffssmilestones . It’s a great way to make friends through a shared hobby, swapping tips and recommending brands of supplies.

It’s a wonderful way to switch off, get creative and relax. The result can also give someone a lift who is not having the best of times: the stone with the lopsided smile and mismatched blue eyes (above) went to a dear friend in hospital last week. She loved it and it made her smile. 

*Laughter Really Is The Best Medicine – Paint a Rock & Give a Smile to Someone Who Needs It!

**Ever Tried Wrangling Young Rabbits?

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: Taking Time Out To Just Be

 I had a whole week’s ebreak. Rather greedily, I was hoping to make it longer: it takes a couple of days to get used to not checking for mail/posts etc. but then I really enjoy the liberation that comes from being unfettered by phone and iPad. However, I generally have to email a company about a product I need to return, or do some online banking or some such thing, and it’s impossible to avoid noticing there are a gazillion emails awaiting my attention, and that’s just the inbox I use for my blog!

But even just a week away from screens is enough to make me feel calmer, and it’s good to take time out to reassess and plan changes.

A week away from all the negative news works wonders, lifting the spirits and renewing a deep-seated faith in human kindness, friendship and compassion. And there is so much more energy and motivation to tackle things that have been ignored for too long: you know that growing mound of paperwork that needs attending to, but with which you vainly try to avoid eye contact? I attended to mine! It felt so much better to have that done and dusted and no longer have it in the back of my mind, gnawing away.

We spent a lovely day collecting our Bramley baking apples and cherry tomatoes, swapping them with our neighbours for eating apples, beetroot, advice on growing potatoes for Christmas. I say ‘we’ collected, I just pointed and tried to stop him falling off the ladder!

 

We had so many face-to-face conversations with neighbours and enjoyed catching up with old friends, recently returned to our street.

We – or rather, my husband, again, I just supervised! – did some work in the garden, dead-heading, pulling up the sweetpeas and collecting seeds for next year, planting potatoes and ordering a pear tree from our local nursery. Time outdoors is never wasted time, whether it be just sitting watching the birds, the ants, or children running about, or walking in the woods or park. I feel my shoulders relax and my mood lift; my breathing slows and I take time to really look and absorb what’s around me.

When indoors, I painted and crafted, made cards and wrapped presents. On sunny days, I went for walks, collected leaves, watched squirrels, took pictures (the squirrels were too fast so excuse the poor quality!)

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I did get one to sit still though:

 

This sculpture was carved from a tree trunk with a chainsaw! Such talent. There is another sculpture of two hares in a circle, but I’ll save that for a future post about my rock painting as I hid one there.

I met this friendly little chap. We communed for quite a while, he posed quite happily for photographs before eventually hopping off through the hedge.

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Such a lot of butterflies around this past week, too, of varying colours. I saw the one below on a walk near my house. It alighted on the lamp-post as I approached. My 2 year old grandson sent me some conkers he had collected. We planted 2 as well as the acorn. On another afternoon I sat in the garden and watched the various layers of clouds moving and changing shape, brightening and darkening by turns.

 

So much achieved in a few days away from that ever-hungry screen, that devours so much of our time and attention. Yet, I didn’t feel stressed or overworked. I highly recommend it.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: Osteopathy, Rest & Recuperation in Nature

 I recently took an ebreak to have osteopathy and give my long-suffering body a welcome rest – see Taking a Break to Rest My Broken Body + Tips to Cope with Chronic Pain 

My wonderful osteopath treats me at home. In my case, she uses cranio-sacral osteopathy which is such a gentle therapy, not the bone-crunching type you see on tv! It not only realigns everything and increases the flow of blood and spinal fluid, it helps my sinus problems and blocked ear. We have become good friends. We have a catch-up chat, a laugh, and exchange book titles. I give her some of our tomatoes or apples and she brings me Scottish oatcakes from her holiday on Arran. Then I fall asleep! I spend the next two days in and out of bed, relaxing with audiobooks and this time an occasional look at The Vuelta (I can’t not watch the cycling, it’s taken over my life, I think I need a support group!)

I originally chose complementary therapies on the advice of my orthopaedic surgeon because nothing else worked; they are non-invasive and they allow me an opportunity to completely switch off and focus on myself and my health. There are no prescriptions, no potentially toxic chemicals involved, no equipment, just hands-on care and compassion. 

Sooner or later, I have enough of lying down and need to be outside. I enjoy sitting quietly in the garden, or sauntering around, absorbing the colourful surprises that have occurred while I’ve been otherwise engaged – this time, the rudbekia was positively glowing in its burnished yellow, standing to attention, facing skywards to soak up any spare rays that happened to be around that day (left of picture).

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I love the crossover of late summer and early autumn colours in our garden: all shades of yellow, orange, red and green. In September, it is warm enough to sit out but not so hot you get burned in our suntrap of a garden. The birds always treat me to some delicate twittering and whistling at this time of year, they are not showing off quite so much. It is a tranquil place, where I can sit and contemplate, take time to close my eyes and absorb the gentle sounds (having made sure my husband is not going to be tinkering away on bike repairs or talking bottom brackets and derailleurs with customers!)

Later in the week, we took a drive to the canal, we parked in a different place and walked over the small hump-backed bridge. My husband suggested we take a photo to send to our young Australian friend who had her own photo taken 23 (!) years ago (aged 18) when the two of them cycled there together.

 

It really is a beautiful place, full of trees and flowers, well-kept gardens (there is a plaque proudly pronouncing Best Kept Village 2015), and of course the boats moored alongside. They look so modern nowadays, they even have solar panels!

(I hid one of my stones by the canal – see photo of the mooring – but more about my painted rocks in another post).

The large grey geese kept their eyes on us, honking every now and then if they felt we overstepped our boundaries. I felt a little sorry for them, penned in a patch of nettles while the hens, roosters and bantams sauntered around at will, pecking at anything interesting, not paying us any mind. They lead such an uncomplicated life.

It was a cooler day and the increasingly dramatic clouds were threatening rain, I was still quite stiff and sore so we kept it a short visit. Short as the trip was, I could quickly feel my shoulders relax, my lungs fill with cool fresh air and the pain-strained muscles of my face form a beatific smile! We are so fortunate to live in a place where plants and trees grow so bountifully, in hundreds of shades of green, where we can roam at will and experience a calming freedom just a few minutes from our doorstep. If it weren’t for the rain about which so many complain, we wouldn’t have such an abundance of greenery and autumnal colours to enjoy.

In another post, I’ll share my therapeutic efforts with brush and paint, goo and glitter!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: A Study in Perseverance

On a gloomy day and in much pain, I asked my husband if he would drive me to the next village where we could sit quietly by the canal. I felt in need of fresh air, of some quiet time with nature while observing the sedate and elegant barges moored or gliding by in their unassuming fashion, a smile and a wave from the owners as they pass.

We parked in the car park of the country pub and made our way down to the towpath to find a bench. It wasn’t easy, my back was very stiff and painful, not helped by the damp, chilly conditions, but the tranquil atmosphere began working its miracle immediately.

There were lots of barges on the canal that day, most were moored but there were others passing through, immaculately painted and often decorated with pot plants. They left gentle ripples as they crept quietly by, almost surreptitiously.

Weeping willows graced the opposite bank and further along there were interesting, often eccentric, gardens leading down to the water:

29667200_Unknown29667376_Unknown29667616_UnknownBut what fascinated us most was a male mallard. Seen first at some distance, on the towpath by himself, he was paying particular attention to something on the ground. We couldn’t see what it was at first and we approached slowly and quietly. He didn’t pay us any attention, he was completely focused on the thing he kept picking up and dropping.

29667312_UnknownAs we drew closer, I realised he was trying to swallow whole acorns! He kept picking them up – they were still attached to the cup and stalk – tipping his head back and then letting it drop again, tapping it on the ground then having another go. He was completely oblivious to our presence and I clicked away.

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This went on for some time. The slight rustling of a plastic carrier bag alerted the duck to a man approaching, but he carried on trying to swallow the acorn before the man reached him. He briefly and reluctantly gave up, walked away to the water’s edge and waited for the man to pass. He then walked calmly back, past other acorns and searched for the exact ones he’d been wrestling with.

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He found them and with one almighty effort, he did it, he actually swallowed them whole! He then waddled over to the water, stood for a while like a child summoning up the courage to dive in and off he went to join the others.

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As we turned to go back to the pub, I found another rock (See Laughter Really Is The Best Medicine – Paint a Rock & Give a Smile to Someone Who Needs It!:

 

I rehid it in a flower box.

As I did so, I heard voices near by and then laughter. I looked up to see two friends coming out of the pub after having lunch. We joined them for a drink and a chat outside, overlooking the water.

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I went home, refreshed, inspired, re-energised, and proud that I’d made the effort despite feeling like I needed an oil change and a few replacement parts!

Meditation Monday: Gratitude & Faith in Nature

Meditation Monday: A Stroll Along Sustrans Bike Trail 55

Meditation Monday – A Stroll Around Hodnet Hall Gardens

Ducks Crossing! In Which We Take a Break from House Refurbishment

If you like country estates, you’ll love this!

Magnificent Trees, Olympic Medallists, A Czar & Some Sheep!

Stunning Stained Glass in a World-Reknowned Medieval Shrewsbury Church

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation : Gratitude & Faith in Nature

About 15 years ago, I bought a baby tree. The label said it was an hibiscus and that it would grow 6′ wide and 10′ tall. Its job was to fill a gap between a maturing leylandii hedge along the drive and the garage at the top of the drive, so that the back garden was enclosed and private. I liked the idea of a hibiscus tree. I had read of them in novels set in an exotic context and always wondered what they were like.

I waited and waited. It crept up inch by inch but did little to inspire my confidence in its reputed inherent beauty and ability to fulfill its allotted task.

Several years went by. It grew up, but didn’t reach anywhere near its full potential. It did not grow out. It eventually began shooting tight and tiny dark burgundy buds but they resisted any enticement to open out and show themselves off.

About 5 years ago, we released this tree from its obligation. We didn’t think it would ever have the strength or intent to fill the gap. We decided to put a fence behind it. We allowed the tree its freedom. I made sure it was kept watered during dry weather, and occasionally admired the variegated leaves. There were by now lots of plants below and around it that had more colour and vibrancy.

 

Two summers went by and I noticed the tree had grown about 5″ above the fence. It had bushed out too. I didn’t let it know I had noticed, but I kept a close eye on it.

Last year, the tree had put on about another 12″ of growth above the fence and now filled the gap! It was covered in tight burgundy buds. I realised it most likely hadn’t been happy being exposed to chill winds in winter and baking sun in summer. It was much happier sheltered by the fence and was now paying back for our consideration.

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The other day, I was walking on the drive, in a great deal of pain throughout my back and legs and trying to ease it with movement. I had been struggling for several weeks and nothing was improving, or at least, if it did it was only for a brief while and then it would come screaming back, laughing at me for thinking I could get away with making a smoothie or drying my hair. I was finding it hard to keep smiling and have faith in my improved health.

It was getting chilly and I knew I should go back inside, the cold would just make things worse. As I passed the fence, I glanced up and saw the most amazing sight: it wasn’t that big or overly showy, but there it was, a single pink flower in the middle of the hibiscus tree, showing just above the fence. I stopped to take a closer look and smiled. A broad, happy but disbelieving smile. I momentarily forgot about my back and the cold. I reached inside my back pocket, but I’d left my phone inside. I slowly made my way to the house to find my camera. I was afraid that either I wouldn’t be able to make it back outside or the flower would have dropped off before I had time to capture it.

But I did on both counts.

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It is still the only open flower on the tree. It is still making me smile, even just to think about it, just knowing it’s there. I’m so glad I held faith with this tree and it with me: neither of us gave up.

I can’t wait to see what happens next summer.

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Copyright: Chris McGowan