Denise Levertov, “Conversion of Brother Lawrence”

I particularly love the lines “your way was not to exalt nor avoid
the Adamic legacy, you simply made it irrelevant” – which neatly summarises Brother Lawrence’s way of deceptive simplicity.

Let us enter into ourselves, Time presses.’

Brother Lawrence 1611-1691

1.

What leafless tree plunging
into what pent sky was it
convinced you Spring, bound to return i
n all its unlikelihood, was a word
of God, a Divine message?
Custom, natural reason, are everyone’s assurance;
we take the daylight for granted, the moon,
the measured tides. A particular tree, though,
one day in your eighteenth winter,
said more, an oracle. Clumsy footman,
apt to drop the ornate objects handed to you,
cursed and cuffed by butlers and grooms,
your inner life unsuspected,
you heard, that day, a more-than-green
voice from the stripped branches.
Wooden lace, a celestial geometry,
uttered more than familiar rhythms of growth.
It said By the Grace of God.
Midsummer rustled around you that wintry moment.
Was it elm, ash, poplar, a fruit-tree, your rooted
twig-angel of annunciation?

2

Out from the chateau park it sent you
(by some back lane, no doubt,
not through the wide gates of curled iron),
by ways untold, by soldier’s marches,
to the obscure clatter and heat of a monastery kitchen,
a broom’s rhythmic whisper for music,
your torment the drudgery of household ledgers. Destiny
without visible glory. ‘Time pressed.’ Among pots and pans,
heart-still through the bustle of chores,
your labors, hard as the pain in your lame leg,
grew slowly easier over the years, the years
when, though your soul felt darkened, heavy, worthless,
yet God, you discovered, never abandoned you but walked
at your side keeping pace as comrades had
on the long hard roads of war. You entered then
the unending ‘silent secret conversation,’
the life of steadfast attention.
Not work transformed you; work, even drudgery
was transformed: that discourse
pierced through its monotones, infused them w
ith streams of sparkling color.
What needed doing, you did; journeying if need be
on rocking boats, lame though you were,
to the vineyard country to purchase the year’s wine
for a hundred Brothers, laughably rolling yourself
over the deck-stacked barrels when you couldn’t
keep your footing; and managed deals with the vintners
to your own surprise, though business was nothing to you.
Your secret was not the craftsman’s delight in process,
which doesn’t distinguish work from pleasure—
your way was not to exalt nor avoid
the Adamic legacy, you simply made it irrelevant:
everything faded, thinned to nothing, beside
the light which bathed and warmed, the Presence
your being had opened to. Where it shone,
there life was, and abundantly; it touched
your dullest task, and the task was easy.
Joyful, absorbed,
you ‘practiced the presence of God’ as a musician
practices hour after hour his art:
‘A stone before the carver,’
you‘entered into yourself.

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200 Years of Tipperary’s Lost and Found Wellington Monument 

200 Years of Tipperary’s Lost and Found Wellington Monument 

Along the Grange Crag Loop walk,near the village of Grange in the Slieveardagh Hills, one comes across an arresting monument built two hundred years ago. Almost unbelievably (when you contemplate the scale of the structure today) it was overgrown and only rediscovered in the 1990s. Here it is:

And here with a view of the more recently added spiral stairs that take one to a viewing platform:

From the Slieveardagh Website
:

The Wellington Monument
In 1817, Sir William Barker, the then landlord of Kilcooley Abbey estate caused a large structure to be erected in commemoration of the Duke of Wellington’s victory over Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo two years previously. The Wellington Monument has a finely carved dedication stone on its 15 foot high west or ´front end´. The south side is also impressive but the remaining side of the monument is half the ‘Light’ and clearly shows that the structure was designed to be viewed from the west and from Sir William’s manor house at Kilcooley a mile away. The monument – technically called a folly, became completely hidden by forestry in latter years and its reappearance in the early 1990’s, following Coillte’s clear felling was a pleasant surprise to all.

The site features some of the most impressive explicatory plaques I have seen anywhere (there is even more on the other side):

I didn’t know that Napoleon was of an average height for his time, and that British propaganda portrayed him as the short prototype of Small Man Syndrome. And while I had known that Wellington did not say “just because you are born in stable doesn’t make you a horse”, I didn’t know that in fact Daniel O’Connell said it, in modified form, of him.

There are magnificent views from the top:

The top was a little vertiginous. While the structure is reassuringly solid and I knew I was safe, I felt like I did on the Glasgow Tower. This distracted me a little from the excellent display explaining what one could see (and meant I didn’t take as many photos as I would have liked. And I did find the typo at the end of this description of Gortnahoe appropriate, for me at least:

I would like to re-iterate that this is a wonderful site to visit and that the structure is very solid and secure…my own reaction to heights is the issue. The local community deserves immense credit for its work and I highly recommend a visit here.

A butterfly in the woods: guerrilla forest art in Millennium Forest Kilkenny

A butterfly in the woods: guerrilla forest art in Millennium Forest Kilkenny

Walking in the Millennium Forest in Kilkenny I saw in the distance what seemed like an unbelievably considerate butterfly lying still on a tree trunk:

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As I approached, it was suspiciously still and increasingly, well, plastic looking:

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On closest inspection, it was indeed a plastic model someone had inserted onto the trunk:

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I prodded it with a twig, just to make sure. Yep, my ability to distinguish a real butterfly from a plastic model remains undimmed by the passage of time.

This wasn’t there a week before. Someone has evidently placed it on this prominent tree beside a bench (possibly the single most prominent tree in the forest)

There seems to be something of an underground trend of what could be called guerrilla forest modification (I am sure there is a better term than that) I’ve posted before about a seemingly spontaneous sign proclaiming a spring in Wilderness Gorge in Clonmel a “Holy Well.” While the popular fairy trail concept is generally an officially sanctioned one, I have seen unheralded Fairies and Fairy Doors in Castledermot Co. Kildare and also on a recent visit to St Berrihert’s Kyle (in a grove of trees beside the Kyle itself)

While one can imagine This Kind of Thing going a bit far, it is a pleasingly spontaneous artistic intervention, one that seemingly has occurred without official sanction or the need for some kind of proposal to be written.

Maren Meinhardt on an urban tree

From the TLS, June 2nd:

Outside my window, there is a tree. Even without it, the view is not at all unpleasant: a row of Victorian houses, cars, a skew-whiff estate agent’s sign, a lamp post. But it is the tree that transforms the scene into something more than just an accumulation of things. The movement, the colour, the presence of something living – together, they create harmony, and beauty. The occasional bird flies from the tree’s branches, leaves move gently in the wind, and the eye is naturally drawn to it. The scene calls to mind, for me, the way Humboldt talks about plants. There is “dead, motionless rock”, and then “the animate plant cover, which puts, as it were, gentle flesh on the skeleton”.

I am writing all this because the tree is scheduled for removal. “Removal” has a calming, sensible ring to it – prompting an image of a tree being gently lifted from its plot and, perhaps, reinserted somewhere else. The reality, of course, is quite different: it will involve tree surgeons – who, not entirely pursuing the vision of the medical practitioners implied in their name – will spend the best part of a day sitting in the tree with chainsaws, cutting it down branch by branch.

I know this, and can picture the result, as this is exactly what has taken place in the street next to mine. I don’t know what the reasons were for cutting down the tree in that case, but I think it’s safe to say that the effect is not desirable, or pleasing.

In the case of the tree on my road, a sign tied around its trunk with council tape informs residents that the tree has been “implicated in damage to an adjacent property”. It seems a rather vague, and at the same time damning, accusation. “Works”, therefore, the sign goes on, will “commence shortly”.

….

And seen like this, trees, particularly mature ones, probably are quite an irresponsible proposition: there they stand, making houses harder to insure, causing cost by needing to be pruned, and dropping sticky leaves on to people’s cars. But it’s hard not to feel that to view them like that is to miss the point. Not only because, in a world of climate change and air pollution in our cities, it would be absurd to say that a tree causes greater damage than, say, a car. But also because we must ask ourselves where all this is going, and how we want to live.  Do we want the bits of nature that surround us subdued and manageable, in the form of those little “architect trees”, the ones Ian Jack wrote about so eloquently in the Guardian last month, pointing out that they “represent the new orthodoxy in planting: small trees for the short term, easily replaced”?

More info on the tree (and the campaign to save it!) here

“Reciprocity”, John Drinkwater

From the ever wonderful First Known When Lost blog, a meditative post which features the poet John Drinkwater. All I knew of Drinkwater before this was a school text which lumped John Masefield and he as mediocrities notable only for indicating the depth of amiable banality poetry had sunk to before the genius of Eliot swept it all away.  As Stephen Pentz often writes, it is the individual poem that matters, not the poet.

Reciprocity

I do not think that skies and meadows are
Moral, or that the fixture of a star
Comes of a quiet spirit, or that trees
Have wisdom in their windless silences.
Yet these are things invested in my mood
With constancy, and peace, and fortitude,
That in my troubled season I can cry
Upon the wide composure of the sky,
And envy fields, and wish that I might be
As little daunted as a star or tree.

John Drinkwater, Tides.

‘Storms call in question the assumption that the ‘normal’ state of a tree is upright.’ – from ‘Woodlands’, Oliver Rackham

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Twenty years ago people thought hurricanes occurred in other continents and killed trees. Learned writers treated ‘storm mortality’ as subtracting old trees from wildwood. Few remembered the ‘Great Storm’ of 26 November 1703 that sank the Fleet and destroyed the Eddystone lighthouse. Fewer remembered 15 January 1362, when (as Piers Plowman puts it), ‘pere-trees and plum-trees were poffed to þe erthe … beches and brode okes were blowe to þe grounde.’

 

Reality intruded with the events of 16 October 1987 and with storms in 1990. 1999 (on the Continent) and 2002. The chief lessons learnt (or not learnt) were:

  • storm effects were greatest in the interior of woods and plantations, less on the edges; least among freestanding trees. Crowding predisposes to both breakage and uprooting
  • Uprooting was commoner in planted than wild trees
  • Both uprooting and breakage were commonest among big, young, fast-growing trees. Ancient trees were least affected.
  • ‘Unsound’, rotten and hollow trees were no more affected – sometimes less – than ‘healthy’ trees. Narrow forks predisposed to breakage. A tree that broke one limb often broke others, suggesting a genetic predisposition.
  • There was no great difference among species, although certain exotics were … often more uprooted
  • Root systems where exposed, were unexpectedly shallow.
  • Trees nearly always survived breakage, except sometimes at the base
  • Most uprooted trees survived, especially where a swathe or area of trees toppled rather than single trees here and there. Fallen trees, responding to the change in the direction of gravity, sprouted at least from the base, and sometimes all along the trunk. If they died, this was usually due to the shade of neighbouring trees rather than drought. Thus lime (shade-tolerant) nearly always survived, whereas birch usually succumbed except in a swathe.

As in other countries, storms were an unmitigated benefit for wildlife. They broke up areas of monotonous shade and encouraged coppicing plants. They renewed the habitat of ground nesting birds and (in France) of deer. They call in question the assumption that the ‘normal’ state of a tree is upright.