Today is Earth Day.
From where I write this, in 2017, the world seems to be on the very brink of self destruction.
We can all say nice words about 'saving the planet' but when it comes to the natural miracle that is life on earth, well, the future seems terribly bleak.
I wrote this poem for Earth Day.
Blackbird song was plaintive, crying
"Hurry now the earth is dying"
Swallow, Swift no longer bring
their magic flight to welcome Spring.
Summer sun is hazy, fleeting
Glimpses of the past repeating
Echoes of a life now gone
With little chance to carry on.
Mankind killed us all, abandon
All the life he killed at random
Pumping gases, poison raining
on the earth, no life remaining.
All the beauty now has perished
All the wondrous life once cherished
Leaving but a barren waste
Where once the whole of life embraced
The miracle created here.
Man made the magic disappear.
© Jason Endfield 2017. All rights reserved.
Whether or not one believes in angels or divine intervention, sometimes we can experience a moment of touching truth and generosity of human spirit that can leave us feeling as though angels might just exist...
Well, yesterday I was walking our very elderly dog, Ozzie. In spite of shaky legs and the occasional wobble (that's both him and me!), he still loves his walks, although these days he rarely gets as far as the local park, preferring to stay near to the house so that when he does feel tired it's not too far from home. As an ageing dog owner, I too appreciate this more leisurely local approach to walks on occasion.
So there we were walking slowly along the pavement near to some shops. Ozzie is friendly and sociable but can come across as aloof sometimes as he feels that when he has met someone (human or dog) and wagged his tail a couple of times, well then it is time to move on. He rarely stops to chat for long and is not very tolerant should I pass the time of day with someone for longer than a minute or two. First he will pull on the lead, then if that doesn't work he will huff and puff until we carry on our way. And why not, it's his walk after all. If I want to stop and chat on my walks, then that's my own business, that's his point – and I can't really argue with him on that.
Well on this occasion, Ozzie was sniffing at the corner of a shop front on his normal route, when we saw a homeless chap just ahead of us, sitting cross legged in front of a wall, a blanket over his legs and a carrier bag crumpled up at his side. His black hair was long and messy and it was clear he was not having an easy time. He seemed resigned to his situation and his eyes were kind rather than sad.
He called Ozzie over. As I began to explain that our dog is not always terribly sociable, Ozzie, making a liar out of me, trotted over to the man and wagged his tail. The homeless man patted Ozzie's head, asked his name and looked a little wistful. “They know, don't they, when they are getting old?” I nodded and replied ”yes, he's well over fourteen now but he's doing okay considering”. The man smiled and Ozzie wagged his tail, in no hurry to move on. Then the man looked directly at Ozzie and said “well you're okay now, you've met me, haven't you?”. He placed his hand on Ozzie's head and then just said the following words which floored me, “Here's some more life for you Ozzie”. I felt tears well up in my eyes. What lovely and powerful words “more life”. Ozzie wagged his tail, I thanked the man and we walked on. The man shouted after us “I'll say a prayer for Ozzie tonight”.
The next morning I took Ozzie on his usual slow and careful walk, pondering on the encounter we had the previous day. Ozzie is a big part of the life and soul of our little household and my wish is that he will continue to be for some considerable time to come. Who can tell. At fourteen he is already doing well and beating the odds in so many ways.
But I do believe in angels and I like to think that we met one in our homeless man. If that's the case then I feel hopeful that Ozzie will be enjoying walks into the future, however long we still have together.
“More life”, what a beautiful gift.
As we approach the time of year when Jewish people everywhere prepare to mark the Passover, it is worth remembering why this is such an important occasion - and not just for those who are Jewish....
Why? Because although Passover specifically commemorates the flight of the Jewish people from slavery under Pharaoh in Egypt, it remains entirely relevant today some 3,300 years later.
In this age of technology and fast paced living, it is hard for some to comprehend the fact that something that happened so long ago remains in any way important today.
But it does, and never more so.
The fact is that slavery has followed mankind throughout all of its history. From the days of Exodus which we remember at Passover, through the abominable centuries of the shocking African slave trade in which around 12,000,000 Africans were transported from their homelands in terrible conditions (an estimated 15% died before even reaching the Americas), to the 20th century which saw Nazi Germany abduct and enslave another 12,000,000 people in less than a decade.
Millions more were murdered at the hands of the Nazis, 6,000,000 of them Jews.
Today as we march into the 21st century at a pace, slavery remains a shameful problem in a world that has apparently not learnt any lessons from history.
And so the Jewish people, who have survived many attempts to wipe them from the face of the earth, even as recently as the 20th century, again remember their flight from Egypt and their escape from slavery.
3,300 years on we can all take a moment to remember that slavery, persecution and oppression are still very much with us today and affect us all in some way. It remains the moral responsibility of all of us to acknowledge this fact and our duty to combat the cruelty that one human being is capable of inflicting on another human being. It may only take one person to cause pain to another but it can also only take one person to fight it when we encounter any kind of prejudice or persecution.
It can begin with each and every one of us – and indeed it must.
Do trees feel pain?
My heart sank the other day when I passed by an open space in my city. Where a few days earlier there had been around twenty majestic Maple trees, now there were hacked stumps and scattered branches, each of them broken and butchered while still in bud and anticipating Spring. Cut down in their prime to make way for a multi storey car park of all things. Nothing less than murder really and certainly very short sighted of the local council.
In spite of dubiously enforced 'protection' orders, such sights are increasingly common not just in city centres but also in residential areas where one might have thought that home-owners would value the fact that house prices generally increase by 15% in neighbourhoods which are blessed with tree-lined streets and well planted gardens. In my own neighbourhood there were many mature trees at one time but they have been systematically destroyed in the two years since I’ve lived here. Those that have not been felled completely have unceremoniously had their tops hacked off and their graceful lines defaced. Our Holly (Ilex aquifolium), at a modest twenty feet tall, now stands out as one of the few trees surviving in the whole road. It is a haven for the dwindling number of remaining birds. The small population of squirrels has gone now, moved on to who knows where.
There appears to be a dogged determination by many local home-owners to fell any tree that happens to be considered 'in the way'. These misguided people have decided that trees are messy or spoil the clean lines of their artificially 'astro' turfed gardens.
As American columnist Bill Vaughan once wryly noted: "Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them."
It breaks my heart, trees are wonderful for so many reasons. Here's a short list of why we should do everything we can to preserve them - and to protest when we see any plan to kill and remove them:-
*Trees absorb carbon dioxide while releasing oxygen back into the air.
*So they clean and filter our air, absorbing pollutants in the process.
*Neighbourhoods without trees have a higher level of social violence and those neighbourhoods often also have decreased house prices.
*In hospitals where patients have views of trees from their windows, those patients will heal faster.
*Trees provide a haven for all kinds of diverse species of wildlife from insects to birds and mammals. Without trees many of these insects, birds and animals will disappear, upsetting the fine ecological balance on which we all, including humans, rely.
*They are the longest living organism on the earth......given the chance to live of course.
*Just because you can't hear a tree crying, it doesn't mean that it isn't......some studies have shown that trees and plants feel and react to pain.
Treat trees with respect – or pay the consequences. We rely on them far more than many people realise.
I think I'll leave the last word to John Muir, a Scottish-American naturalist who even a hundred years ago was warning about the perils of man's destruction of our environment....
“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
I've discovered relatively recently that inner peace comes from knowing who I am.
We spend so much of our time getting to know other people, and trying in the process to make a good impression on them, that we forget to allocate time to really get to know ourselves.
And that's a shame because so many of us are really nice people!
Here's the test, if you locked yourself in a room alone, all by yourself, for two days and nights, without so much as a television or a radio (and of course with no mobile phone or similar diversion), how would you get along with yourself? If the thought fills you with terror then its probably high time to examine your reasons for not wanting to spend some quality time with yourself.
As a lonely young man, I found myself in my own company much of the time getting to know the person I was then.
I've written about it in earlier posts, I'd spend days wandering remote hills and coasts in an effort initially to escape - both myself and the scary world around me - and later to get to know myself on some basic level, something I soon began to realise I'd never done. All I had been doing up until that time was reacting to the perception that other people had of me, and allowing that to inform how I saw myself. Anyway, I quickly found that you can't run away from yourself, you just end up taking a whole lot of baggage with you and dumping it down when you arrive wherever you thought you were going.
It was a very unhealthy and destructive way to be living. It took many years for me to get to know - and like - myself for who I am with all my foibles and quirks. As an individual.
I know from bitter experience that if you let others see you as lonely and vulnerable then they will descend like vultures... oh, yes, for example the time I was targeted by Christian missionaries who tried to manipulate and systematically destroy me and my unique identity, disguising their intentions with 'kindness' and clothing their nasty agenda in garments of 'love' and sympathy. Their imitation of love was a world away from the real love that I later found. I was into my third decade on this earth before I began to properly redefine the person I was and embrace him. Until that point I had believed what others presumed me to be - and they were mistaken.
I believe that the time I had spent by myself in my youth had at least provided a foundation of truth, which in later years when I really needed to rediscover my identity, was there, intact. Had I not been able to go back there to that place in my past, then I don't know where I'd be today, quite possibly beholden to those who in the intervening years had tried to claim me in order to bolster their own egos and selfish agendas.
So for those of you who could not spend two days alone in your own company, please, for your own sake, put aside some time to get to know yourself, don't let others decide for you who you are.
Recently I dusted off my old record collection, something I'd been meaning to do for years ever since I had reluctantly consigned my treasured vinyl LPs carefully to boxes in the depths of the loft, my record player having finally succumbed a few years earlier to a worn drive belt and a dodgy needle - and me having succumbed to the dubious lure of CDs and streaming mp3's.
But not long ago I purchased a budget record player of the new generational type, the sort with USB sockets and built-in 'conversion software' which I'll probably never use, and I began to sort through my very heavy boxes of LPs.
I was quite pleased to find that my musical taste has remained remarkably consistent down the years.
I still enjoy listening to Abba and all my cheesy 70s disco compilations, on vinyl they sound crisp and fresh and bring back a whole raft of memories from my younger days. There were some surprises too, I don't remember buying those Nana Mouskouri records and when on earth did I sit down and listen to Mantovani? Ehem.
Then there were some poignant reminders from the past.
One such happy find was a record by the American country singer Sammi Smith.
There is a story about how I came across this much loved singer. Sometimes one goes out looking for new music and on other rare occasions music comes to you, just when you need it and just when it will make a difference. This was one of those occasions. I was in Birkenhead, a small and, some might say, insignificant town that sits on the opposite side of the River Mersey to Liverpool, it's more famous cousin. This is a town with not a whole lot of money and, as is the case with such places, the shops often reflect this. And so Birkenhead had more than its share of charity shops (known in the US as thrift shops), where one can purchase donated goods, clothes, books, this and that, for the lowest prices with the proceeds benefiting a local charity or community venture. These shops are always worth a browse and, back in the day, they usually had a selection of second-hand records.
In the particular charity shop I had ventured into that day, the records had been consigned to the basement, only CDs, which had totally ousted vinyl by now, were given space in the main shop. The place was dimly lit, damp and full of stuff that hadn't made the grade to be displayed in the slightly more refined space upstairs. The records were in boxes on a table at the back of the room. They had mostly seen better days but had obviously once been someone's pride and joy, a lifetime's collection of music that had defined a person's life, someone now long gone but who was echoed in these old boxes of time.
As I rummaged about, one record stood out. Covered in a thick layer of dust and grime, I could nevertheless make out some words and a picture. 'Something Old, Something New, Something Blue' was the title, and the artist, whose photograph graced the front of this 1972 album cover was Sammi Smith. I'll confess that at the time I had only a slight recollection of the name Sammi Smith though it did ring a distant bell for me. More captivating was the photograph of the lady herself, understated and unassuming , it spoke to me. I bought the record of course. And on returning home I very carefully and patiently cleaned first the cover and then the record itself which was coated in mildew from the damp conditions in which this treasure had lain for Lord knows how many years. The vinyl was in good condition however, and after the careful cleaning process was complete, I placed the LP on my turntable and with great trepidation I lowered the stylus on to the first track.
Revelation! Through the miracle of recorded sound, echoing through the years, here was a magical, soulful and tender voice. I realised now why something was drawing me to this record, through some mystical magic I had discovered this wonderful singer, whose interpretation of a song was both heartfelt and heartbreaking at one and the same time. So my journey with Sammi Smith began. Over the next months I tracked down and collected more of Sammi's albums. Here in England they were fairly scarce. Sammi had a huge breakthrough hit on both sides of the Atlantic with the Kris Kristofferson penned 'Help Me Make It Through The Night' (and this, I realised, is why I recognised her name when I first spotted the LP) but she had never quite managed to repeat this initial early success and achieve the mighty heights and accolades which she so richly deserved. Not that she needed to. While Tammy Wynette and others were pursuing the popular route, Sammi took the road less travelled, becoming a country 'outlaw' rather than following the trends, singing her song in her own way and thereby carving her own place in music history with a string of quality albums. Quietly and with honesty. Those in the know revere Sammi as a true artist who did not give in to the whims and follies of the music industry but remained true to her own country roots. And this is what still shines through her music. Listen to Sammi Smith today and you hear an artist of integrity who interprets a song with truth and her own convincing honesty.
Sammi passed away in 2005 but has left a catalogue of music that I and many others return to often.
Her son Waylon Payne carries his Mum's legacy in his heart, super talented in the fields of song-writing and acting, he is also a brilliant and moving singer, telling his tales in song with great feeling and sincerity. Just like his Mum.
Funny how a 'chance' find can lead one on a journey of discovery. For me, the day I found the old Sammi Smith record proved to be very fortuitous and continues to take me on a delightful musical voyage.
Getting a new lawn shouldn't perhaps fill one with sheer delight and cause a great deal of excitement given that, well, it is just grass after all and yet my partner and I felt elated when we arrived home last week to find that we had a green space where for the past two years there had been an expanse of grey, broken concrete, seasonally forested in a thick overgrowth of weeds.When we bought the house, we knew that the garden was a problem. It was completely overgrown and totally infested with Horsetails (also known as Mares-tails), an invasive and robust weed that is notoriously difficult to eradicate.
We were, however, so thrilled with the actual house, a lovely Edwardian merchants villa, that we concentrated on revitalising the interior of our new home and we tended to ignore the garden unless we had to go out there. Even the dog didn't care too much for the space, preferring to stay indoors rather than enter the desolation of the bleak back garden.
We did try to deal with the weeds ourselves on more than one occasion with ever stronger and more terrifying weed-killers but still the Horsetails returned to taunt us.
Horsetails, it should be mentioned, are not unattractive to behold, they look like miniature fir trees and apparently they have been around on this earth for aeons, once having stood like dinosaur trees, tens of feet tall, in vast forests. Now they are tiny in comparison but no less scary if you happen to be fighting them. In fact they are a good source of silica and we did briefly contemplate cultivating them until we realised that we didn't have a clue as to what anyone actually uses silica for...
Underneath this forest of green lay a broken concrete area which once had made up an easily maintained outside space where the earlier residents might have placed large pots of colourful flowers and patio furniture from where they would survey their summery garden. Now all that was left of those heady days was a sorry looking Camellia in a large pot being strangled by Horsetails. We managed to rescue the Camellia and set it aside, nurturing it for a year or so until it recovered. This year it has thanked us with a spectacular display of bright pink blooms.
Anyway, so it was that a few weeks ago I happened to see a truck outside a house in our neighbourhood. It belonged to a gardener whose name, Mike, was emblazoned on the side of his vehicle. Knowing that this year we simply had to address the problem of our garden, I made a mental note of his name and came home. As I was browsing Facebook later that day (as one does instead of tackling the garden, or any other pressing issue), what popped up magically on Facebook but a 'suggestion' from them that I might want to check out Mike and his gardening service. Talk about Big Brother, Facebook seems to have eyes and ears everywhere though I still can't imagine how they knew what was going on in my mind.
Freaked out a little by the mind reading folks at Facebook but following this obvious pointer, I returned to the place where I had seen Mike's truck and there I found Mike himself. Within minutes, he had popped over to our house, assessed the garden situation, offered his advice and we had even agreed a price.
I guess I can actually cut this long story a little short, suffice it to say that the following week, Mike and his gang of hard-working garden chaps had transformed the desolate space at the back of our house into a wonderland of green grass and brightly coloured pebbles, the crumbling wall had been replaced with old railway sleepers which look amazing and I have already seen the first signs of wildlife returning to the garden.... okay well it was only a beetle but it's more than I've seen there in a very long time!
We are looking forward to summer with enthusiasm and a newly found love of the outdoors now as we plan what plants we will be getting and where they will be placed. Even the dog ventured into the garden today to inspect the work and he seemed pleased too.
As Mike disappeared into the distance I looked at my smart phone and thanked Facebook for reading my mind that day. Though I have to say I am very cautious to avoid thinking too much now unless my phone is on charge somewhere safely out of sight - lest Facebook hear that we really need a new kitchen.....
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious..”, so said Albert Einstein and it is a quote I return to often as I seek to discover ever more wonder in the world around me.
Of all the mysterious natural, or more probably supernatural, phenomena that it is possible to experience, it is likely that one of the most unusual and little explained would be that of the Will O' The Wisp.
To happen upon this eerie green flickering light, that can be seen at night hovering above lakes, ponds and slow moving meandering rivers in the deepest countryside, is perhaps one of the most beautiful, elusive and unnerving encounters one can have. Even today in this bustling, modern, scientifically led world, the wonderful sight of something so enigmatic can tap in to our innermost child-like wonderment and send our imagination soaring into the realms of fantasy, both real and imagined.
Will O' The Wisps, also known by an abundance of other magical names such as 'ghost lights', 'hobby lanterns', 'pixie lights' and many many others, are documented in all parts of the world and in every culture. Here in the UK they are said to be most commonly seen in the wilds of Cumbria and Northumberland.
Many of the names for this phenomenon allude to an ancient belief in fairies, pixies and malicious goblins who lure lonely travellers away from their path and into the unknown. And so most often the Will O' The Wisp has gained a reputation for malevolence and is something to view warily and with great suspicion.
Some believe them to be lost souls, drifting in the dark.
In a few parts of the world however the story is different; in several European countries for example it was (and still is in some rural localities) believed that a Will O' The Wisp marks the location of buried faerie treasure.
Attempts to reproduce this strange, elusive and fragile-looking light scientifically have generally failed and it still remains largely unexplained, adding to its mystery and magic.
So whatever it is, please nobody try to enlighten me as to the true nature of this supernatural wonder. Whether it is a goblin lamp, a lost soul or a clue to buried treasure, I'm happy to sit in the depths of the countryside, just to watch and hope for a glimpse of my own Will O' The Wisp.
(I'd welcome comments from any readers with their own experiences of this or any other natural or supernatural phenomenon)
The sight of Camellias in flower is always a sure sign, albeit an early sign, of Winter departing to make way for the onset of that most happy of seasons, Spring.
In the part of the world from which I write, where winters are rarely severe, it is possible to witness flowers at any time of the year even in midwinter, though those that appear when frost and snow threaten are the bravest of plant souls, defiantly challenging the elements, sometimes winning, often perishing in their valiant endeavour.
So when the Camellias appear, showy, bold and confident, I raise my eyes to the sky and nod in appreciation of this surest first sign of a new season approaching.
I wrote this little poem today on seeing our own Camellia in flower in anticipation of warmer days to come.
Spring emerges, Blackbird sings,
Butterflies unfold their wings
to dance upon a fragrant breeze
atop the wispy Willow trees.
Joy pervades the fresh green scene
where once the hardened frost had been
And trees begin to stir and grow
with zest for life as if they know
That nature's gift can never last,
their memory of Springtime past
reminding them that life and time
are there for whom the stars align.
That none of us can take for granted
sunny days for seeds we've planted.
Those who weather Winter's storm
may find themselves in Spring reborn,
and only then can dance and sing
and celebrate their life in Spring.
copyright: 2017 Jason Endfield. All Rights Reserved.
Okay, so I'm bragging...
but it's not every day that I can say I knocked Oscar Wilde off the top spot on Amazon.
To my huge surprise and delight, my little anthology 'Between Worlds' hurtled up the Amazon poetry charts on its release last week and peaked at Number One (!) on Tuesday 21st February.
I'm quietly proud of it and very humbled by all the messages of goodwill I have received, besides of course being exceedingly grateful to all the people who downloaded a copy of the book on its release.
(A paperback version was released at the same time, but I have withdrawn it from sale due to some issues with formatting and printing quality. A few have made their way into the public realm and one is currently on sale through Amazon for £16, so it would appear to be an odd collector's item already. As far as I know only three printed copies are in existence at the time of writing).
The kindle version (which can be read on any device) is available to download from any Amazon site.
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