Running The Red Line

Running The Red Line.jpg

What an enormous privilege it was to be invited to capture some images of a vibrant and wonderfully ‘alive’ book launch for Julie Carter’s Running The Red Line on 21 April at The Skiddaw Hotel, Keswick. There’s nothing quite so wonderful as a room full of inspiring and inspired, encouraged and encouraging, charismatic and articulate friends – gathering to celebrate something profoundly rich – and thereby ‘write in light’, creating living poetry in the electrified air.

Broadband users, please click on the image above for a photobook (pdf) which will download in around 30 seconds.  Best viewed full screen.



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Sometimes the stories of
the garden of our lives
are written in ink or
by ribbon or toner and
machine, engineered
instrument or flight-capable

Sometimes the stories of
our flowering and light
are written in soft breath
gossamer touch, sunlit
thread, the sudden
resurrections of graces
we’d thought might be quite

Sometimes the stories of
images arise in our hearts
the aching loves and the
false starts and the hopes
and aspirations turned, as on
a wood-artist’s lathe: formed

And so day by day I return
to the garden to be still –
howsoever the stories are
inscribed, however revealed
my spirit knows that in this place
simple, silent and smiling –
they will



photo at pixabay


It is time for all the heroes to go home
if they have any, time for all of us common ones
to locate ourselves by the real things
we live by.

Far to the north, or indeed in any direction,
strange mountains and creatures have always lurked –
elves, goblins, trolls, and spiders: – we
encounter them in dread and wonder,

But once we have tasted far streams, touched the gold,
found some limit beyond the waterfall,
a season changes, and we come back, changed
but safe, quiet, grateful.

Suppose an insane wind holds all the hills
while strange beliefs whine at the traveler’s ears,
we ordinary beings can cling to the earth and love
where we are, sturdy for common things.

William Stafford
The Way It Is – New & Selected Poems

A few key dates in William Stafford’s life: born in Kansas in 1914. A conscientious objector in World War II. A man whose habit was to write something daily, who would rise at 4.30am to ‘sit and wait’ for what he knew lay within to be written. His volume West of Your City published by Talisman Press in 1960; Allegiances published by Harper in New York in 1970; the author of over fifty books, he died at his home in Oregon in 1993.

William Stafford thoroughly understood that once we have tasted far streams … / found some limit beyond the waterfall, / a season changes, and we come back, changed …

And therein lies our hope for this old world in our own time and season.

Dreadful elves, goblins, trolls and spiders have always existed. Some of them, some of us too, have sought to be ‘heroes’ – fenced around by their and our own ignorance. It is time for all the heroes to go home.

How then may I and we locate ourselves by the real things / we live by – ?

Perhaps – having tasted – it has always to start with me, with what I now clearly see: that instead of kidding myself it’s my job to change the entire world (whoever I am, whatever my place of birth, gender, skin colour, creed or lack thereof, and wherever on earth I think myself called to be the hero, the unsolicited ‘saviour of the world’) my best contribution to that same world will be to allow seasons and experience to change me.

While strange beliefs whine at the traveler’s ears,
we ordinary beings can cling to the earth and love
where we are, sturdy for common things.

Note sturdy. Not wimps without cogniscence of – or willingness sometimes to act upon – right or wrong. Not people who turn blind eyes to goblins and trolls. Not people who do not grieve, or hope, or offer healing or hospitality, or pray, or live and die. But sturdy. Believing in the possibility of being positively changed. Experienced in the quiet and slow methods and the poetry of seasons.










The songs of small birds fade away
into the bushes after sundown,
the air dry, sweet with goldenrod.
Beside the path, suddenly, bright asters
flare in the dusk. The aged voices
of a few crickets thread the silence.
It is a quiet I love, though my life
too often drives me through it deaf.
Busy with costs and losses, I waste
the time I have to be here—a time
blessed beyond my deserts, as I know,
if only I would keep aware. The leaves
rest in the air, perfectly still.
I would like them to rest in my mind
as still, as simply spaced. As I approach,
the sorrel filly looks up from her grazing,
poised there, light on the slope
as a young apple tree. A week ago
I took her away to sell, and failed
to get my price, and brought her home
again. Now in the quiet I stand
and look at her a long time, glad
to have recovered what is lost
in the exchange of something for money.

Wendell Berry
The Sorrel Filly, Collected Poems: 1957-1982

What is to be done after a reading of Wendell Berry? A walk outdoors as soon as possible. And if the poem has been feasted upon in early evening then a sunset walk will probably be necessary – with a camera close to expectant hearts.

And so it was … and tonight we did ‘stand / … glad to have recovered what is lost.’ And though these images are written well enough upon the aforementioned hearts, still the photographs, the written record, will remind us, over time, to stand … glad, again and again and again. Awed.



Photo at Pixabay

A bibliophile and a lover of words, I also delight in empty new journals of all shapes and sizes. The latter condition probably owes a great deal to the former.

I remember the dry scent of the paper stock room in my primary school more than fifty years ago. The sight of a stack of brand new unmarked exercise books delighted me then, as now. Odd, though, that while my head was full enough of stories, I always wanted to keep a brand new writing book brand new! There was (and is) an instinct for preserving things in me somewhere, together with a distaste for ‘spoiling’ something already beautiful. But such energies conflict – for I also delight in re-reading journal entries years after the writing. A ‘finished’ journal delivers enormous satisfaction and recollection.

Perhaps the psychology is bound with invitation still afforded by blank sheets, where full ones speak of something already done and dusted? Maybe empty journals are a happy call to silence? Or being reminded of long gone days and ways – and the school stock room? But I think blank journals are just plain beautiful too. Do you?


There is a slight lifting of the air so I can smell the earth for the first time, and yesterday I again took possession of my life here

May Sarton
Encore: A Journal of the Eightieth Year

May Sarton, cheerful, reflective, and just back in the US from a happy trip to London, smelled the earth and again took possession of her life there. The very next day she was afflicted by an old trouble, that of believing her life was a chaos!

The affliction is probably chief reason so many love her journals: just like them! – or me.

I want to abide for a moment with the notion of the earth’s scent, and repeatedly taking ‘possession of my life here’. It’s not a once and for all thing. ‘Chaos’ in its many forms is part and parcel of everyone’s life. Great potential rests in our ability, contemplatively and daily, to sense ‘slight lifting of the air’ and come to our senses again, and then again, and again.

Family and friends, and sometimes that quiet old friend the journal, help us to do that.

Turning point

May we be drawn forward by profound questions.
May each of us discover the turning point at which
the limitations of our previous history become the
liberation of our collective future.

Dawna Markova
I will not die an unlived life

Teaching people “the most important lesson anyone can ever learn – how to listen to one’s own heart and how to live with heart and mind wide open” has become Dawna Markova’s life work.

It’s a strange thing that many human beings are prepared to listen to almost anybody and anything except our own heart’s instincts. Turning points, whether we like them or not, along with the questions that life inevitably throws up for all of us, can prove to be the liberating cycling superhighway that we’ve all-unknowingly longed for.

Discoveries. Life cycles. The desert’s hidden wells – unexpected kindnesses.

Light-possessed atmosphere

Last evening I mentioned the Jodrell Bank Observatory – home to star-gazing telescopes, and the International Space Station – temporary home to some of the world’s highest and best trained scientists and explorers. Tonight I’m thinking of a favourite American poet and journal keeper, herself a kind of human observatory whose powers of empathy, invocation, perception and reflection have me returning “into, out of, under” her works over and over again. Here’s May Sarton’s


Come out of the dark earth
Here where the minerals
Glow in their stone cells
Deeper than seed or birth.

Come under the strong wave
Here where the tug goes
As the tide turns and flow
Below that architrave.

Come into the pure air
Above all heaviness
Of storm and cloud to this
Light-possessed atmosphere.

Come into, out of, under
The earth, the wave, the air.
Love, touch us everywhere
With primeval candor.

May Sarton
Collected Poems: 1930-1993, page 364

New Year’s Eve

Reflecting this evening, I have so much to be thankful for – mind’s eye images of many immeasurable blessings celebrated and received in the past year – in my own life, in the lives of loved ones, and in the life of the world. But painful and utterly tragic images flash before my eyes, too. So, in saying farewell to the old year, I’m quietly praying for deeper thankfulness, healing and peace, for the peoples of the earth, wherever they are, and for me and my part in all that lies ahead, and for you, too, in the new.

Little Icon

Shepherds, wisdom seekers, astrologers, hoteliers, flute players … Everychild, Everywoman, Everyman – any and all of us may find ourselves surprised and touched to the core by the advent of an infant. A tiny little living icon. The contemplation and the meditation come naturally as we take in the miracle: eyes, nose, little mouth, fingers, toes …

The life lessons – for all of us – begin with the the wonder of perfectly proportioned littleness, moving on to the realities of words beginning with every letter of every human alphabet – words like awakened, becoming, crying, dependence, education, feeding, growing, hoping, imagining, joy, knowing, learning, mothering, newness, otherness, purpose, quietness, radiance, simplicity, thankfulness … 

Whosoever and wheresoever we are in the world, with or without faith tradition, with or without much expectation or imagination, we’re never very far from a tiny little living icon of Life present to and with us, a living, breathing wonder of both immanence and transcendence, a reminder of where we’ve all come from and where we’re all heading, encouragement in hope and strength, and in weakness and vulnerability.

Tiny little living icons turn our lives upside down and right side up again, and in each and every one of them, in good times and in bad, theirs and ours, we come face to face with the imprint of the Life-giver, with the Immortal, with the Invisible, and – even if unknowingly – yearn to become Wise. Oh, Shalom, precious little Icon. Shalom.

Communion beyond words

Parker J Palmer, renowned author, Quaker elder and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal, is a weekly columnist at On Being. He writes

I met Thomas Merton a year after he died. I met him through his writing and through the communion that lies “beyond words,” met him in the seamless way good friends meet again after a long time apart. Without Merton’s friendship and the hope it has given me over the past forty-five years, I’m not sure I could have kept faith with my vocation, even as imperfectly as I have.

That’s what poetry has been and is for me, both writing – words on breath or page: “Let there be light, and there was light” – and communion beyond words. A special “other” kind of encounter with an other – and the air between us, and the space between lines and stanzas, facilitating ongoing co-creation. Heart touches heart and consequent co-creation gives heart. This is, indeed, what Parker Palmer has called A Friendship, A Love, A Rescue This is a coming to us, an advent.

Quakers and poets alike value words so much that they’re used precisely, and with care, and sparingly – because something else they share is a profound appreciation for Creation continually evolving, brought forth from the contours, depths and shapes of silence, from the space between lines, from communion beyond words.

The poetic spirit puts all forms of fundamentalist literalism to flight, calling forth life in acts of co-creation and co-operation, here and unto all eternity. Poets invite us to take little or no notice of words unless we mean also to breathe and to think deeply in the deliberate spaces in-between, for, to quote from Louis MacNeice‘s Mutations

… every static world that you or I impose
Upon the real one must crack at times and new
Patterns from new disorders open like a rose
And old assumptions yield to new sensation;
The Stranger in the wings is waiting for his cue,
The fuse is always laid to some annunciation.

A far-off clarity

New Grange

Enter ...

whirling suns resound
          engraved on the threshold,
flowers of immortal fire
          shake their sistra.
In a dark school you will overcome
          the colour of mortality
when a far-off clarity seems near.

Sally Purcell
Collected Poems, p228

Snow fell around us quickly and quietly today, creating picture postcard scenes of stillness and beauty – cause for deep gratitude in a world where graphic images and lived realities of unimaginable horror are now part and parcel of our ordinary, everyday lives, wherever in the world we are.

The late poet Sally Purcell looked forward in hope to a time when humankind “will overcome the colour of mortality …”, stirred from grave’s “dark school” (literal or metaphorical) and quickened, re-vivified, by warmth and music – shaken sistra – of “immortal fire”.

And we do well to celebrate signs of hope – contradicting hopelessness wheresoever we’re able. There have been other “picture postcard” scenes today too. Women voted for the first time in Saudi Arabia. 195 nations reached a historic agreement to work together anew in the urgent task of limiting dangerous global warming. Here in the UK tens of thousands turned out to support winter festivals in communities flooded just a week ago.

Hope and hope some more – until “a far-off clarity seems near”.

Wordsworthian weather

Storm Desmond wrought havoc on an unprecedented scale. The BBC’s stunning aerial photography in the aftermath shows something of the extent of the struggles facing thousands – to whom the hearts of the nation go out.

Cumberland’s weather has long shaped and and made it. Coleridge spoke of Dorothy Wordsworth as his friend William’s “exquisite sister”; beloved of both poets, she was herself a poet in prose. Desmond’s downpour has reminded me of some of Dorothy’s own wet weather observations in and around Grasmere precisely 214 years ago. These journal entries painted as vivid a picture then, I think, as the BBC’s excellent television photography does in our time, tonight.

December 5th, 1801, Saturday. My head bad and I lay long. Mr Luff called before I rose. We put off walking in the morning, dull and misty and grey – very rainy in the afternoon and we could not go out. William finished The Prioress’s Tale, and after tea Mary and he wrote it out. Wm not well. No parcel from Mrs Coleridge.

December 6th, Sunday. A very fine beautiful sunshiny morning. William worked a while at Chaucer, then we set forward to walk into Easedale. We met Mr. and Mrs. Olliff who were going to call upon us; they turned back with us and we parted at the White Bridge. We went up into Easedale and walked backwards and forwards in that flat field, which makes the second circle of Easedale, with that beautiful Rock in the field beside us, and all the rocks and the woods and the mountains enclosing us round. The sun was shining among them, the snow thinly scattered upon the tops of the mountains. In the afternoon we sate by the fire: I read Chaucer aloud, and Mary read the first canto of The Fairy Queen. After tea Mary and I walked to Ambleside for letters – reached home by 11 o’clock. We had a sweet walk. It was a sober starlight evening, the stars not shining as it were with all their brightness when they were visible, and sometimes hiding themselves behind small greyish clouds, that passed soberly along. We opened C’s (Coleridge’s) letter at Wilcock’s door. We thought we saw that he wrote in good spirits, so we came happily homewards where we arrived 2 hours after we left home. It was a sad melancholy letter, and prevented us all from sleeping.

December 7th, Monday Morning. We rose by candlelight. A showery unpleasant morning, after a downright rainy night …

from the Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth
edited by Helen Darbishire, p86

Ah, the enduring appeal of a diarist’s account!


Morning reunion with M and C – and reflection since on life-elements shared: art, connections, education and experience, faith, France, friendship, hearts, homes, hospitality, memories and presence – infinite ripples that radiate from the concentric facts of each of us.

Heavy cloud, a stiff breeze and driving rain whipped the surface of the lake. Cloud sculptures scurried by at fellside half-height, and the Artist’s timeless beauty stirred us, homeward-bound, in winter’s graduated greys.

Clouds and fells, rain and rocks and rivers, mountain streams and lake’s depth, sodden soils and the sun’s persisting rays, and four friends: landscapes within, before and beyond time. Ordinary concentric circling communion. Holy ground.