9 November 2013

The Art of Translation

Three translations of a poem by T'ao Ch'ien (Tao Qian)
365 AD - 427 AD

Return to My Country Home # 3

The weeds flourish but not the bean sprouts.
Morning, I get up to weed the fields.
I return, shouldering the moon and my hoe.
On narrow paths through thick grass and brush
evening dew soaks my clothes,
but wet clothes don't bother me
so long as I follow my heart.

Translated by Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping


Returning to the Fields and Gardens (II)

I plant beans below the southern hill:
there grasses flourish and bean sprouts are sparse.
At dawn, I get up, clear out a growth of weeds,
then go back, leading the moon, a hoe over my left shoulder.

Now the path is narrow, grasses and bushes are high.
Evening dew moistens my clothes;
but so what if my clothes are wet -
I choose not to avoid anything that comes.

Translated by Arthur Sze



I planted beans below South Mountain.
A few sprouted, then brush took over.

I get up early to clear weeds, and
shouldering my hoe, return by moonlight.

The path is narrow, the brush and trees
thick, evening dew pierces my clothes.

But they're not too wet - just damp
enough it reminds me never to resist.

Translated by David Hinton


The translator's art never ceases to surprise me - how varied the outcome can be; the possible nuances or leanings or fixations on meanings; alternate translations carrying distinct stamps and melodies - sometimes altering the very nature of the original poem itself.


This poem of T'ao Ch'ien's is from
Home Again Among Gardens and Fields

Arthur Sze: Silk Dragon: Translations from the Chinese
Copper Canyon Press (2001)

David Hinton: The Selected Poems of T'ao Ch'ien
Copper Canyon Press (2000)

2 November 2013

An Abundance of Apples

This year the autumn season has offered an abundance of fruits and nuts. We've gathered hazel nuts, acorns and crab apples from several locations near to us here in southern Cumbria, and have planted them, both in pots and in various protected spots throughout the landscape, hoping to have seedlings arise in the spring.  

In September we came across a local organic Community Orchard, filled with an incredible selection of apple trees, but also plums, damsons and quince. We were so very grateful to return home with our pockets filled - we baked two beautiful apple crumbles with our bounty. Surely every community should invest in creating orchards and other communal edible landscapes - what an abundant, healthy world this could be if such a simple practice was adopted by all.

Yesterday, out on a walk across from the cottage, we found two wild crab apple trees growing amidst the rocks and scrub grasses, their pale green apples littering the earth below them, enriching the soil and offering an abundance of food for wildlife. 

Planting as many edible native trees and shrubs as possible, especially here in this very much deforested landscape, is one of our passions. We can only hope the seedlings will survive the harsh winds and sheep-grazing during their first few years of growth - and then be able to seed themselves in the future. 

Wild Apple Tree, Cumbria

19 October 2013

Writing Into Winter

I had promised at the inception of this blog to also share poetry, literature and art, and with the autumn darkening into winter and the garden nearly all tucked away until spring, I've found myself venturing inside, returning more exclusively to the company of books and my writing desk.

Here, the view from my window is of fells covered in russet-orange bracken and gray stones, scree, the scars of sheep-paths through the grasses and a few solitary trees - rowan bright with red berries, ancient ash, and a fringe of willows growing alongside a small beck that marks the edge of the nearest field. Some days are like twilight from morning until evening; the sky close and gray, not even a crack of sunlight penetrating through.

And so my poem choices reflect this time of change and the beauty found in starkness.
Thomas A. Clark and Nina Bogin christen the cold walk towards winter.



where the path gives out
among glacial debris
droppings of mountain hares
above the cliffs above the sea
a great skua scolds from a rock
the hours drop away
winds blow up from nowhere
I forget my own shape

rowan scrub huddles
out of the biting wind
salix thrives in ravines
exposed ledges erode
I follow the wind furrows
it is cold the sky is clear
large contours spread before me
glitter of rock and water

high up the moor
is ringed with crags
dark presences that brood
or retire behind cloud
it is good to walk
for hours in the silence
good to sit for a while inside
the din of falling water

all day in shadow
in silence and cold
tumbled rocks piled up
a dance among disasters
at the head of the glen
ice crystals in grit
I climb onto the ledge
to leagues of light and air

today all the tints
of grey are nourished
by a gentle rain
each thing is extended
in tenderness beyond
its own outline
hill moistened into sky
birch into larch wood

on the edge of the forest
a moment of hesitation
the trees crowd together
the stillness is complete
am I bold enough to enter
the moment stretches out
deep moss beneath pines
a few shards of cold light


These first six stanzas are excerpted from the poem BEINN FUAR
from the collection "Tormentil and Bleached Bones" by Thomas A. Clark (1993)
The poem has twenty-four stanzas altogether.
For more information about the work of Tom and Laurie Clark, please visit: http://cairneditions.blogspot.co.uk/



Thick weave of winter. Skeins of brown
and dun. Wrapped in these

garments, the sky
heavy on our backs,

we stand in the rainfield
and make a covenant with the silence:

let us trample this trampled ground
as the long-eyed horses do,

go cross-field through rain
and ask for only

blue clouds, slow across
hilltops. Dark footholds of earth.


By Nina Bogin
From her collection "The Winter Orchards" (2001) published by Anvil Press.

18 August 2013

The Waning of the Light

The light has shifted, the days are cooler, and mist and rain are beginning to replace the sun and warmth of July. The summer is waning. But some beautiful wildflowers and wild fruits are now arising in the hedgerows, including Harebell, Fireweed, Yarrow, Devil's Bit Scabious and a plethora of ripening Blackberries. Elder berries and Wild Rose hips will soon be ready for gathering - they are both valuable ingredients for winter cough syrups and make delicious, vitamin-rich jellies or jams. We are seed collecting also, beginning with English Bluebell - their papery seedcasings are filled with minute shining black seeds. This beautiful native wildflower is becoming scarce due to the prolific nature of the imported Spanish Bluebell and the resulting hybrids, so we'll be spreading its seeds throughout the coming weeks.

We've also collected the seeds of Devil's Bit Scabious and are searching for those of Ragged Robin - both populations are in decline due to habitat loss, mainly stemming from modern agricultural practices and the draining of wetland environments. We've collected and sown seeds from Jack-by-the-hedge, also known as Hedge Garlic and Jack-in-the-bush, in a corner of our garden - its leaves and young flowerheads have a mild garlic flavour and can be added to salads or sandwiches or made into pesto. I will be posting more on this plant soon.

In the garden, the courgettes, or zucchinis, were an epiphany for us this year - such generous and prolific plants.

We grew four plants in large pots and they've given us about two dozen courgettes so far. We pick them when they are about 3 -4 inches in length. We discovered a wonderful recipe for zucchini bread (a cake really due to its sweetness) - the best we've ever tasted - and we've made several beautiful loaves with our own lovely produce plus as many local, organic ingredients as possible. Here's the recipe:

Courgette/Zucchini Bread Recipe

(Please note: We're using British measurements)

2 cups/300 gr plain unbleached organic flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp allspice or ginger
1 cup/150 gr organic sugar
2 large free range eggs, beaten
100 ml organic rapeseed or sunflower oil
250 gr of grated courgettes, with the skin left on
1/2 lemon, juiced
Dash of agave or honey
(You could also include 3/4 cup walnuts, and/or 1tsp organic vanilla extract.)


Pre-heat the oven to 150C/300F. Grease and flour a 9 X 5 inch loaf tin. (Alternately you can grease and then line with baking paper).

Sift the flour, salt, soda, baking powder, and spices into a large bowl. Whisk in the sugar.

Beat the eggs and rapeseed oil (plus vanilla extract if you're using it) together. Add the grated courgettes and lemon juice, then mix.

Stir the wet mixture into the dry mixture, mixing until well combined. Stir in the walnuts if you're using them and add honey or agave to taste. 

Bake in the heated oven for 55 min - 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the loaf comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin for about 15 minutes or so before turning out onto a wire rack to finish cooling. Delicious toasted and served warm with some cold butter, or with homemade jam.


Botanical names of wildflowers used in this post:

Devil's Bit Scabious; Succisa pratensis
Elder; Sambucus nigra
English (or Common Bluebell); Hyacinthoides non-scripta
Fireweed (or Rosebay Willow Herb); Chamerion (or Epilobium) angustifolium
Jack-by-the-hedge (or Hedge Garlic; Jack-in-the-bush); Alliaria petiolata
Harebell; Campanula rotundifolia
Ragged Robin; Lychnis flos-cuculi
Rowan; Sorbus aucuparia

Wild Rose (or Dog-rose); Rosa canina
Yarrow; Achillia millefolium

1 August 2013

The First Small Harvests

Here in the fells we are enjoying our first small harvests : crunchy, sweet mangetout (sugar or snow peas), garlic, chives, the first small onions and courgettes, and our very first tipped pot of early new potatoes (they were late this year). Plus lots of greens: garlic mustard, rocket, various lettuces and Japanese mizuna and mibuna. And the nasturtiums have finally begun to spread - their leaves and flowers are edible, and have a distinct sweet, peppery flavour. We also have two blackcurrant bushes which are bursting with fruit, and a lovely gooseberry bush - last year it had three berries - this year its branches are full of lovely, sweet, gooseberries - I found a variety in a local market last year which has pale purple fruit rather than green, and it has a truly delectable flavour which I would liken to slightly tart raspberries. 

We are surrounded also by wild brambles, or blackberries, which are now in flower and covered each day with buzzing insects - bees, hoverflies, flies, butterflies and countless others which I have yet to identify.

Mangetout blossom

I wanted to share a little more about how we're gardening. Since we opted to expand our container garden this year, we've had to buy about ten bags of peat-free, organic compost. But we've been composting our kitchen and garden waste since arriving here, and hope to have our own source of compost soon. We mulch everything. This both keeps down on weeds, and conserves water in the soil. I collect spent bracken stalks and leaves for mulch, plus I use grass clippings (before it goes to seed) which I spread thinly over the garden. It dries quickly and makes a light, useful mulch. I've also mixed in sheep's wool around the edges of the garden beds - we live in sheep country, so there is plenty of wool strewn about the fields. I've been told it also has the added benefit of deterring slugs -  it seems to be working, though I suspect that the weeks of warmth and sunshine have been the true deterrents... and perhaps also the resident frog that we see each evening in the garden...

Courgettes (Zucchini) in Container

Our water is piped in directly off of the fell, and though there is of course plenty of rain here, we are still very keen on water collection. For this purpose we are using a large green bin in the field garden and several smaller buckets in the container garden.  I'm also making nettle 'tea' for fertilising in another bucket - I fill up the bucket with nettles, add water and let it sit for a few weeks - this solution, diluted and added to the watering can, is a good source of nitrogen for the garden (which supports stem and leaf growth), with trace amounts of iron, magnesium and sulphur also. It is particularly helpful for plants grown in containers which need their soil regularly topped up with nutrients. If I was growing comfrey, I would be doing the same with it - it is especially useful for flower and fruit production due to its potash content. 

Freshly harvested Courgettes

Our courgettes are growing especially well - I grew them from seed and now have four containers full - which I hope will be enough for two adults. I'm picking them every few days now, when they are about 4 inches long. We're using them both raw and cooked, and are about to experiment with making both bread and muffins with them. 

Gardening, and the gathering of wild foods, by their very nature, bring us into alignment with the seasons. Eating seasonally - having access to vitamin-rich, freshly picked fruits and vegetables, experiencing flavours and textures that are entirely different from what we can purchase at the supermarket, and saving countless food miles by growing as much as we can within our own backyard - this is both a revelation and a joy.

15 July 2013

A Practice of Observation

It's incredible to witness the swift succession of plant life as the weeks go by. Just as we are beginning to learn about the wildflowers and plants that surround us, those which were dominant for weeks vanish, and new plants alight.

Lesser Stitchwort Herb Robert with Bracken

The spring began with Hairy Bittercress, Nettles, Cleavers, Wild garlic, Bluebells and Herb Robert. Then Mouse Ear Chickweed, Pignut and Stitchworts began to cover the fields, soon joined by Cotton grass, Buttercups, Foxgloves, Red Campion, Curled Dock, Jack-by-the-Hedge and Sorrel to name but a few.

Beck-side Umbellifer The roadside towards home.

Now the Brambles are flowering, and just as the Foxgloves are beginning to wane - the first Harebell.

Discovering the local plant life is a continuous practice of observation. As I try to uncover the possible medicinal or edible aspects of one plant, it - seemingly as quickly as it arrived - is going to seed, and being replaced by entirely new plants as the seasons progress.

As the weeks pass, I'm having to adjust my presumptions about what is here - and what I'm able to gather for food or medicine - just as I have to adjust my gardening practices to suit this soil, weather, flora and fauna.

I must learn from what already flourishes here; observing what grows, what conditions dominate, what is able to thrive - and in so doing, adapt my practices and behaviours to, hopefully, thrive here also.

HarebellRagged Robin

A list of Common and Botanical names used in this post:

Bluebell; Hyacinthoides non-scripta
Bramble or Blackberry; Rubus fruticosus
Buttercup, Bulbous; Ranunculus bulbosus
Buttercup, Creeping; Ranunculus repens
Buttercup, Meadow; Ranunculus acris
Cleavers; Galium aparine
Cotton grass or Bog cotton; Eriophorum angustifolium
Curled or Yellow Dock; Rumex crispus
Foxglove; Digitalis purpurea
Hairy Bittercress; Cardamine hirsuta
Harebell; Campanula rotundifolia
Herb Robert; Geranium robertianum
Jack-by-the-hedge or Garlic Mustard; Alliaria petiolata
Mouse Ear Chickweed; Cerastium fontanum
Nettle; Urtica dioica
Pignut or Earthnut; Conopodium majus
Ragged Robin; Lychnis flos-cuculi
Red Campion; Silene dioica
Sorrel, Common; Rumex acetosa
Stitchwort, Greater; Stellaria holostea
Stitchwort, Lesser; Stellaria graminea
Wild garlic or Ramsons; Allium ursinum

9 July 2013

"A Veritable Medicine Chest"

When one is collecting wild plants for food or medicine, it can be alarming how short the window of opportunity may be. The seasons and the weather may shift swiftly or unexpectedly, and the chance to gather a vital medicine may be lost for another year. This year nearly everything has blossomed late due to an extended winter and harsh spring. Here in the fells we'd been waiting patiently for the Elders (Sambucus nigra) to flower - and then suddenly they did - but amidst the damp and rain - which doesn't bode well for collecting. But luckily in the past week, dry, sunny weather has arrived, and so out we went in search of Elder blossoms, both to dry for tea and to use fresh for making cordial. 

Elder is a most remarkable tree. It was one of the first plant medicines to enter into my life, and is still a constant companion. David Hoffman, author of The New Holistic Herbal, writes "The Elder tree is a veritable medicine chest...". These words have forever stayed with me (as has Hoffman's Herbal). He goes on: "The leaves are used primarily for bruises, sprains, wounds and chilblains. It has been reported that Elder Leaves may be useful in an ointment for tumours. Elder Flowers are ideal for the treatment of colds and influenza. They are indicated in any catarrhal inflammation of the upper respiratory tract such as hayfever and sinusitis. Catarrhal deafness responds well to Elder Flowers. Elder Berries have similar properties to the Flowers with the addition of their usefulness in rheumatism."

The bark, flowers, berries and leaves can all be used medicinally. In addition, the blossoms can be prepared as fritters, made into a refreshing, tonic cordial, and the berries can be used for making wine, jams, chutneys and vinegars.

According to Hoffman, the actions of the various parts of Elder are as follows:

"Bark: Purgative, emetic, diuretic.

Leaves: Externally emollient and vulnerary, internally as purgative, expectorant, diuretic and diaphoretic.

Flowers: Diaphoretic, anti-catarrhal.

Berries: Diaphoretic, diuretic, laxative."

There are other herbals that cite Elder as having tonic and alterative properties as well. (See glossary below for definitions of these and other terms used.)

Here is a wonderful quote in praise of the Elder from English herbalist and diarist John Evelyn (1620-1706) :

"If the medicinal properties of its leaves, bark and berries were fully known, I cannot tell what our countryman could ail for which he might not fetch a remedy from every hedge, either for sickness or wounds."

Personally, I like to take the flowers as a spring tonic and blood purifier. They promote blood circulation and sweating; this is their diaphoretic quality, which means they aid the body in eliminating toxins through the skin by promoting perspiration. They are also diuretic, which means they assist in the elimination of toxins through increased urination. Both of these actions are helpful for bringing the body out of illness or weakness and into balance, especially after a long, cold winter. Along with other tonic plants found in the spring and early summer such as Nettles, Cleavers, Dandelion and Hawthorn to name but a few, Elder flowers assist us to purify and revitalise the body.


Please note that I have barely touched upon the virtues and abilities of Elder in this short post - only hinting at the contents of this "veritable medicine chest"...

To give a sense of scale, here I am beside the Elder tree. Elders can live from around 30 - 250 years, though most of the ones we see are shrub-sized, often growing in hedgerows. I suspect this one is past a century in age.


Most of the definitions I have used here are extracted from The New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman, 1990 (Third Edition), ISBN 1-85230-193-7. 


Alterative: These are herbs that will gradually restore the proper function of the body and increase health and vitality. They were at one time known as 'blood cleansers'.

Anti-catarrhal: These assist the body in removing excess catarrhal buildups, in the sinuses or elsewhere. They also help reduce the rate of production of mucus.

Diaphoretic: Diaphoretics aid the skin in the elimination of toxins and promote perspiration.

Diuretic: These increase secretion and elimination of urine.

Emetic: Emetics promote vomiting. 

Emollient: Emollients are applied to the skin to soften, soothe or protect it.

Expectorant: The expectorants support the body in the removal of excess amounts of mucus from the respiratory system.

Laxative: These promote evacuation of the bowels.

Purgative: Strongly laxative in effect.

Tonic: The tonic herbs strengthen and enliven either specific organs or the whole body.

Vulnerary: Vulneraries are applied externally and aid the body in the healing of wounds or cuts.