Tuesday, August 27, 2013


It is difficult to observe what is going on in the world this week; by all accounts the situation is far more complex than any layperson can comprehend.  The Syrian crisis consists not only of an oppressive and murderous regime slaughtering its own people; the civil war is also sectarian, and, for all we know, also tribal.
To see the West lurching towards another débacle in the Middle East has suppressed all my words.  Perhaps unilateral action can be 'justified' but as always, the West does not always, if ever, comprehend the subtleties of the Middle East or, for that matter, the East. How, for example, does the West with its supposedly clear-cut morals respond to a culture where a subtle liar is admired?
Unspeakable. There are no happy outcomes here. Such conflicts bankrupt everyone, financially, morally, spiritually, humanly. 'For such there is only prayer and fasting.'

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Season of Mists . . .

Last week I mentioned that there was a breath of autumn in the air. Although it is still quite warm during the day, when the wind blows it bears a distinct chill. The plants are already reacting as they can: their whole demeanor has changed, as they rush to put forth myriad flowers which—if we have a warm September—just might make fruit. This happened last year, but last year we had a wet, cold summer with only a week or so warm weather. This year we had a cold, late spring, so that the growing season has been very short indeed, as short as Scotland's in a normal year.
As the demands of research become greater, I have begun to realise that I can't spend as much time wrestling with seeds and seedlings as I have in other years. Anyway, with some plants—such as sweet peas—the plants I get from the garden centre are far and away better than those I start from seed. This year perhaps I planted the seeds too early; the ones I bought are still producing a profusion of long-stemmed flowers. Now that the weather has cooled off a bit, their fragrance has returned.

Gardening is like the rest of life: you never stop learning. Each year is unique; each year you learn to adapt or else run the risk of losing the fruit or flowers. Although it is almost a cliché thanks to TV 'experts', each plant, even each leaf and blossom, is unique. Until you spend time quietly among growing things, the reality of this knowledge has no way of sinking in. Someone once told me that the most important element in gardening was to look at the plants. Early morning and evening, a slow walk through the garden will tell you far more about how they are faring and what they need than anything else. Gardening may be 'scientific' in some circles, but any gardener who pays attention and is willing to say so will tell you that much of growing fruits and flowers is less about science and far more about listening and observing.

I've probably said this before, but there's an analogy to fishing: some people catch a lot of fish, and some people rarely catch anything at all. From childhood, on the rare occasions the opportunity arose, I caught fish. In Alaska people would ask, 'how do you catch so many fish?' At a loss to reply, I would say, 'you have to listen to the fish.' Of course many of the people who asked thought I was loony, but it's true.

Benedict of Nursia understood this: the first word of his rule is 'Listen!' Some writers make a lot of interior 'vision' (which, remember, is governed by the paradoxical meanings of deep mind, which means that the less visual the more seen), but vision is often a metaphor for the ear of the heart. The boy Samuel's vision is one of the most obvious examples in the bible.

And the child Samuel ministered unto the Lord before Eli. And the word of the Lord was precious in those days: there was no open vision.
And it came to pass at that time when Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see.
And ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep
That the Lord called Samuel, and he answered, Here am I. (I Sam. 3:1-4).
. . . And Samuel grew . . . and let none of [the Lord's] words fall to the ground.
Gardening, of course, is precisely letting God's words fall to the ground—each seed is a word—but the care and nurture of the plants that emerge are words that are silently gathered in the basket of the heart where they never wither or fade.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Late Summer, There and Here

Late summer in Devon.
This year, unlike last year, the trees are laden with ripening apples. It's too early for the cider smell to saturate the air during the harvest; that will come in October. Pears and plums have not fared so well, but the wheat is 'white to harvest' and in some fields, farmers are growing an old-fashioned type that still is gathered into stooks. The sight tugs at the heart. . .
It's the season for shows, large and small. My hostess took me to the North Devon show, which, alas, has become large and industrial. The younger dog's breeder had persuaded her to enter him in the dog show which, thankfully, was small and local, though fiercely competitive. This headstrong but also very laid-back young border collie behaved like a seasoned veteran and walked away with the winner's ribbon. He missed out on Best of Breed only by a whisker to his mother; he is only 18 months old, and she has been at Crufts. It was his first and last show, his owner says; it's just too easy to fall into that world of intrigue and back-biting, but more important, he is a working dog. After his classes he knew he'd done well; he loved the attention in the show ring. By the time we got home his entire demeanour had changed, and he was somehow more grown up, though just as sweet-natured as always.
Then on Thursday we went to the weekly agility class. My hostess's other dog, a nine-year-old collie, is a whiz at agility and has a canine version of a Mensa mind. She gets fed up with the clumsy humans when they get the hand signals and body language mixed up; she's very tolerant for a while, but sometimes quits in disgust. She seems to make allowances for me, as I have only just started to learn. My hostess very generously lets me handle this older collie on these occasions, and we did some new (to me) sequences. Martin Buber would have liked agility: it demands an I-Thou relationship. This older dog's attention is like a laser, and she is a small gazelle when she flows through the obstacles at speed.
After class we were asked if we'd bring the dogs to a small show on Sunday in aid of several animal charities, and we agreed. The teacher must have been very hard up for volunteers. But the old dog, like the young dog, knew something was up and her behaviour was impeccable, much better than any dog there (including the instructor's). And she ran the courses, which were much more complex than anything I'd faced before, with perfect attention to me, almost seeming to float in mid-air as she waited for the next command. She (and I) were in a kind of ecstasy, in that warp where time is suspended. She is getting on and starting to look like an old dog, but her owner said that as we ran the circuits her face was animated with joy. When we got home, the young dog realised that something had given the old dog renewed confidence, and showed his displeasure at having to share the limelight: his nose was distinctly out of joint—and their play-fighting in the big pasture yesterday morning before I left was particularly intense.
Then it was back to Oxford, trying to catch up with myself. I came home to a garden that looks like a jungle: pumpkins of various types running everywhere, climbing trellises, tomatoes, beans, sweet peas—anything they can get their tendrils on. The tomatoes themselves are laden with fruit; there was a bushel (literally) of beans waiting to be picked, cucumbers a foot long, potatoes erupting everywhere.
But there is a bit of a down side too: ten days ago the first breath of early autumn came on the breeze. Plants are hastening to wind up their business for the year, tipping towards the next season of dropping seeds and falling asleep. Although autumn is my favourite season, it is hard to lose the abundance of the garden, which, with the cold spring we had, was at its full glory for only a few short weeks.
Still, I'm grateful, very grateful, for this tiny patch of earth where I can plant and water, and watch God make the garden grow...

Friday, August 02, 2013

IT Vacation

This has been the week from hell.

It's been a long time since so many things went wrong in seven days!!!! Besides the hijack attempt, there was no refrigeration all week in the hottest weather the UK has had for a decade; there was a friendly dog with an invisible lead—O never mind, it doesn't matter.

Anyway, I am taking a week's holiday from all things connected with technology. So look for the next post around August 13.

Blessings on your summer!

PS To celebrate what Brits call 'the Silly Season' have a look at this video at the Guardian website: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/aug/02/viral-video-chart-bear-carly-rae-jepsen