Autumn is on its way and the garden is beginning to shut down. Soon leaves will start to turn orange and red. I am told that the weather this year has been unusually good for photosynthesis and as such many plants are carrying high levels of sugar. This means we are likely to see a particularly colourful autumn this year. Add to that, the fact that some plants have been tricked into flowering again by a last minute Indian summer, and it is a truly amazing time to be looking at what is happening in the garden.
A few months ago when I was working I remember rushing out to the car sticks in hand bag falling off shoulder and running into a web that a spider had spun across the archway. I remember cursing the spider as I removed silk from my face and then, having had a pang of guilt recriminating myself for destroying his/her web. I ended up concluding that it was a stupid place for a spider to put a web. I then threw everything into the car and rushed off to work.
A couple of weeks ago I was again leaving the house, this time considerably slower and less cluttered. This time I had time to stop and admire the spider's work before ducking under it and heading off. The image of the beautiful web hanging in the Jasmine framed archway around our front door stuck in my mind. It is now two weeks later and I can still see how the sun glinted on the web which was set off by the greens of the jasmine leaves.
That day I learnt a valuable lesson; When you rush through life you may occasionally notice things, particularly if they slap you in the face, but the memories of them are indistinct and fade, smothered by the adverse feelings associated with rushing. But if you take time to live each moment of your life at the speed at which it was designed to be lived at, you will notice more, remember more and enjoy your life more.
Who knows if you then take the time to write about it, you may even be able to share the moment with others and make a moment in time seem like an age.
Here is my poem; not as grand as the spiders web and not as beautiful as the Jasmine, but enough for me to share the moment. I hope you enjoy it;
Broken sun light shines through the jasmine
which wrecks the symmetry of the stone arch.
The jumble of green leaves and white flowers,
burst from the frame, as if to claim nature has no order.
Yet at the apex of the curve, the light hints -
as it glints through drops on a line, that this is not so.
Here in this space, of scented chaos
hangs a pure symmetry of silken thread.
Did the spider know when it wove its web
of nature’s plan to frame it?
In 1991 I was presented with a Blackthorn which bears a silver ferrule engraved with a message from the team who gave it to me. The stick is beautiful, 91cm of deep black knobbly Blackthorn with a marbled golden brown root ball for a handle and a brass ferrule to protect the foot end when being used.
Of all the military keepsakes I was given, which included several marvellous limited edition statuettes; this one is my favourite. As a young man I believed I would never need it but it got lugged around the world as I travelled with the Army.
Following the accident I began to use the Blackthorn, I quickly learnt that it had a little trick up its ferrule. The root ball handle would wear a small hole in my hand if I leaned too heavily or used it too much. I took this as inspiration, understanding it to mean “hey you, you've got your own legs - use them!”
Unfortunately my condition worsened and I have regressed to using two sticks and now carry a small lump of hardened skin in the palm of my hand! That said one of my current pain management goals is to be able to 'park' the sticks in the shell case in the corner of the hall untill I am an old man.
Over the weekend I attended an excellent poetry workshop which was hosted by Livia Bluecher and Candy Neubert and sponsored by the Guernsey Arts Commission. As one of the exercises I was asked to write a poem on the loss an object feels when its owner leaves it. My Blackthorn was beside me as I wrote this;
We spent many hours together
on the cliffs or in the heather.
I bore your weight, steadied you,
quietly listened to you,
and checked the path.
You held me in your hand
as we plucked blackberries out of reach.
You pulled me up
when I sank in sand on the beach.
Your hand warmed me on icy days,
took comfort from my strength.
and propped beside your stripped bed,
my handle gathers dust.
My silver ferrule, so lovingly polished, tarnished.
To them I am a stick.
To you I was freedom;
you shared your life with me,
you gave this blackthorn reason.
I walked out of a classroom where I had been studying database engineering, conscious that the background noise had changed. On entering the headquarters, I kept hearing words ‘America’ and ‘New York’. Back in the office silent faces were turned to the wall mounted TVs which screened a permanent live news feed. I turned to look at the screen just in time to see the second attack take place.
Within minutes everyone was busy implementing plans that had been outlined to cover such events. All over the country military and government establishments were being cloaked in a huge security blanket which within hours would cover the whole nation. All the while eyes kept flicking to the TV screens which continued to play pictures of the tragedy in New York.
As that day unfolded images were forever scored onto billions of people’s retinas, images that will live with generations of people around the world. The towers slipping into the dust cloud, people jumping, and the tear stained dust covered faces of men and women who were on the streets of New York that day.
The military and civil servants in our headquarters were hardened people, most of them had been involved in preparing, supporting and conducting a wide variety of military operations around the world but this was different. We had all seen the effects of war and terrorism on civilian populations and many of us had witnessed genocide, but attacks on this scale and of this nature were almost unthinkable and there was an air of shock and disbelief.
Whilst the concept behind the attack was not new, (Tom Clancy wrote two books in the mid 90’s in which a passenger aircraft was flown into Congress.) it cannot be denied that the attacks on 9/11 were masterful in their simplicity and almost flawless in their execution. As military personnel we knew that the people who had planned the attacks would be sitting somewhere watching events unfold with a real sense of satisfaction, perhaps even pride. I doubt that even they could have anticipated such a spectacular success. The attack was so monumental and so well publicised that mention the date; 9/11 anywhere in the world and people will instantly know to what you are referring.
Ten years have passed and America and its allies have been in a constant war against an enemy which lives in the shadows; rising occasionally to strike before falling back into the darkness. It is true that America has had its successes most recently with the summary execution of Osama Bin Laden but when all is said and done; two wars have been initiated, hundreds of thousands of people have been maimed or killed; at a cost that would bankrupt many small nations (some would argue it has helped bankrupt the USA). Yet despite this the average American could not put a pin on a map of the world to mark countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Iran.
What is perhaps more worrying is that after all this time most Americans would not even begin to understand why their country was attacked in the first place. You may ask; ‘why do I say this is worrying?’ Well, I believe that the Chinese General and strategist Sun Tzu sums it up about 2400 years ago when he wrote;
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
Though the smoke and dust are gone,
the souls of three thousand live on.
Two thousand parents taken away;
and three thousand children had to stay.
as four planes of terror crashed
the hopes of years to come were dashed.
Ten years on; a nation greaves
in city streets strewn with leaves.
In quiet suburbs beneath blue sky
people bow their heads and cry.
Images within their minds reside
of the day a nation’s innocence died.
A war on terror was declared
the people of world were scared.
Far off lands were torn to shreds
as troops dragged people from their beds.
Searching for the men who dared
attack a nation so unprepared.
Patriots of the United States
were unaware of all the hates.
They didn’t understand
why people in a far off land
could hate them for the way they act
with so very little tact.
Ten years have passed since the date
when terrorists expressed their hate.
America has waged a war
With dirty tactics we all abhor.
Torture and Extraordinary Rendition
are tools of hatred by tradition.
As they bow their heads and pray
for the souls lost on that fateful day,
may they see the reason it occurred
and realise spreading hatred is absurd.
They say; all men are created equal
Lord; please help them avoid a sequel.
I have been experimenting with semi educational poems recently, researching a topic, such as Bananas, and then putting a poem together to present the subject to the reader in a way in which something might be learnt. The following poem introduces the Tapetum Lucidum which is a layer in a cat’s eye which reflects the light back into the retina and by so doing making the light twice seen, and the cat better at seeing in the dark.
He owns the night
that owns the light.
Tapetum Lucidum and Retina
do their work.
Twice seen light
makes night, light;
and light night
This morning I was having my breakfast and chatting about the state of the Middle East with my daughter, as I talked I realised that the whole state of affairs is absolutely bananas. With this in mind I thought I would share a poem I wrote a few weeks ago which is about that fruit.
Mile on mile of broad leaved plants
adorned with plastic bags,
grown by corporations
and cut by men in rags.
The fruit is called “banana”
and each one looks the same
they cut them when un-ripened
which is a crying shame.
They’re shipped worldwide in coolers
And stacked in airtight stores
They’re ripened using ethylene
which also kills off spores.
The inner flesh of creamy white
is in yellow skin encased.
It’s firm, but slightly mushy
with a most distinctive taste.
Commercial bananas are engineered
biologically they’re the same
designed to have a shelf life
but the taste is rather lame.
The crop’s parthenocarpic*,
As such it can’t evolve
A pathogen could wipe it out
A problem hard to solve
But bananas grown in the wild
Are a very different thing
they’re constantly evolving
and variety’s built in.
There are little ones and big ones,
many coloured; not just yellow
Cooking ones called Plantains
and sweet ones; oh so mellow.
The banana is a staple food
For many populations
And served up cooked or eaten raw
It’s a mighty fine creation.
John Carré Buchanan 16 July 2011
* In botany and horticulture, parthenocarpy (virgin fruit) is the natural or artificially induced production of fruit without fertilization of ovules. The fruit is therefore seedless. If it affects every flower, then the plant can no longer sexually reproduce but might be able to propagate by vegetative means.