#52weeksofnaturepoetry, Poetry

#52weeksofnaturepoetry Week 9 – Says Hedera Helix

I cover the ground,

I cover the trees,

I snake up walls

and trail down my leaves.

When the year turns, I flower

and produce succulent berries

that hungry animals feast on

until they’re full and merry.

You’ll often find me

in the shadiest of places,

and for this I was once banned

from a range of holy spaces.

They associated me with

the untrustworthy and thieves,

refused to comprehend my emerald lustre

and took me down from the eaves.

But a mighty comeback I have made –

indeed, I’m even celebrated in song!

And regularly pepper festive décor,

remaining bright long after the season is gone.

For my roots, they are many,

and their determination always goes uncontested.

Thus, my previous worth has been reinstated and I symbolise

fidelity, endurance, and everlasting friendship.

This poem is part of a project I’m doing to raise money for the RSPB, a UK wildlife conservation and protection charity. Being autistic, nature is often my only place of solace, and I want to do all I can to protect it. As I’m not very comfortable around other people, most of the standard ways of helping out (volunteering, sport-style fundraisers etc) were not a good fit for me, so I came up with #52weeksofnaturepoetry, where I have to post a nature poem here on this blog each week for an entire year without fail.

If you’d like to help, please share this poem to encourage others to take joy in nature, and if you have the time and means to donate, you can do so here. Let’s help keep our wildlife wild!

Uncategorized

12 Plants of Christmas!

Hi everyone! I thought I’d do something a little different from my usual ramblings, so here’s a list of plants associated with Christmas/Winter Solstice. Some are used specifically for decoration, others are used for cooking, and some are used for both. I’ve also made some notes on either the traditions behind each plant, or how they’re used now. Enjoy!

Holly – A very hardy shrub, holly is the sacred plant of Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture, who was celebrated around Winter Solstice time. As Christianity took over, the use of holly as decoration was adopted from the older festival.

Ivy – A climbing (and potentially invasive if left uncontrolled) evergreen, ivy was used initially by pagans to decorate their homes in winter due to its rich green tones that brim full of life. Due to its ability to latch on to almost anything, it often represents faithfulness, friendship and loving relationships. It was apparently banned by the church at one point though because of its shade loving nature, which gave it associations with shady (no pun intended) or inappropriate behaviour.

Mistletoe – Partly a parasitic plant, as it takes nutrients from whatever it’s growing on. Apparently, druids believed it to bring luck and ward off evil spirits if hung around the home, and in Norse mythology, it is a symbol of love and friendship. In more modern times, having mistletoe around at Christmas comes from the idea of bringing something living into the home at a time when most plants die down. As mistletoe produces berries in winter, and those berries contain seeds that in turn become new plants, kissing underneath it became a sort of good luck act for couples wanting to have children.

Norway Spruce – Native to Northern Europe, it’s one of the most popular trees grown for Christmas. However, its popularity in the UK is fairly recent (compared to some other trees that are often used), and came about because of Prince Albert, who introduced the German tradition of decorating them with candles. As thanks for aid given to Norway during WW2, the Norwegian capital, Oslo, gifts large specimen trees to the cities of Edinburgh, London and Washington DC each Christmas, where they are displayed in each city’s largest square.

Poinsettia – Native to central America, poinsettias are actually a type of shrub, and their signature red ‘flowers’ are in fact leaves that change colour in response to lower light conditions. The real flower is tiny and clustered in the centre of the red leaves. These plants are associated with Christmas because of an old Mexican legend about a poor girl who had no gift to present to baby Jesus, so she gathered a bouquet of weeds instead, which then turned into bright red flowers. (Fun fact: you can keep poinsettias going long after the festive period as a year round houseplant, though you need to trim off the top bracts first as the flowering stems often die down once they’re spent. Once this is done, the growth reverts to the plant’s usual deep, lush green. It is possible to get them to change colour again, but it takes some investment. I’ve left mine green, and I think it’s just as lovely that way, and it’s gone woody too, so reminds me of a mini tree.)

Orange – Now quite affordable, oranges were once luxury fruits, and one of the stories as to why they’re traditionally put in Christmas stockings is down to a tale about old Saint Nicholas himself. It says that one day, Saint Nick, who was a somewhat wealthy and generous bishop, heard of a widower with three daughters struggling to make ends meet. So Nick snuck into their house and left gold coins in stockings left to dry by the fire, meaning that the girls had dowry money and could get married. Due to their initial rarity, oranges were used to represent the gold coins.

Rosemary – This perennial herb is used for so any things that it’d take a long time to list them all, but I’m sure most of you know it as a seasoning. It’s also long been used in winter decorating, and is now grown in shrub form as a small, potted Christmas tree. Historically, Roman priests used it as incense, and in other cultures, it was said to ward off evil spirits. It was also sometimes burned in the homes of people who had died from illness, as well as being placed on coffins before the graves were filled in.

Pear – Why was the partridge in a pear tree? (Or in any tree, for that matter, as they usually nest on the ground.) Well, I couldn’t find the answer, but pear trees, particularly wild pears, are said to represent good health and future happiness. Their fruit has also long been associated with the female form due to its curvy nature, so is often used in art and symbolism to represent femininity and fruitfulness.

Mint – This humble plant is used in a variety of foods during Christmas, from mint sauce to candy canes, and has many older uses, too – like being used to treat upset stomachs and being scattered around the home as a deodoriser. As it grows fast and spreads everywhere if you’re not careful, it’s very easy to get hold of. (It also grows well indoors too, though it can attract aphids.) Mint gets its name from Greek mythology, in which a nymph named Minthe tried to seek the attention of Hades, but Persephone grew jealous and turned her into a plant.

Brussels Sprouts – These small balls of green are often present at Christmas dinners, and seem to be the object of extreme distaste, particularly with younger family members. It’s also interesting that there’s not much in the way of records as to when or why sprouts were introduced into Christmas festivities, though food historians suspect the Victorians had something to do with it. The general thought appears to be that they’re easily grown during wintertime and produce good crops, therefore making them readily available during the season. (My personal thought on sprouts is that they’re edible as long as they’re covered in gravy and cranberry sauce. But they’re not my favourite vegetable by a long shot.)

Sage – Often used alongside onion as stuffing for the Christmas roast, sage is a very aromatic herb with interesting blue/purple flowers. Long before its use as a seasoning, it was grown for its medicinal properties, and indeed, its name comes from the Latin word ‘salvare’, meaning to heal or save. It has been used all over the world to treat a variety of ailments, and to protect against spells. (It’s also quite easy to grow, too!)

Cranberry – Commonly used as a condiment for Christmas dinner and also a popular winter fragrance, the wild cranberry is native to America, and was a popular source of food, drink and medicine for many Native Americans. However, the cranberry vine wasn’t commercially grown until the early 1800s, though once it was, its popularity steadily grew, and in 1940, its use as a sauce/jelly was born.  

So, there you are, 12 plants of Christmas. If you’d like to know what research sources I used for anything in particular or want further reading, just let me know in the comments. (I was going to leave a list of links here, but WordPress decided to auto-embed them and it messed up the rest of the post.)

Wild Ivy (Hedera Helix)

#52weeksofnaturepoetry, Poetry, Uncategorized

#52weeksofnaturepoetry Week 5 – Night Walking

Sounds of the road niggle at our backs,

shaking the illusion that we’re in the wild.

But I can ignore it, for a time.

Tonight, eagerness fills me:

We’re out after dark! What creatures will we see?

New torch in hand, I creep along,

ears honed to each whisper of leaves,

each disjointed splash

from the regular gurgling of the stream alongside us.

Light swings to the area; I temporarily summon the sun.

Feathered ferns sprawl from the ground, young maples at their sides.

Bramble, ivy, a fallen oak with spindly fingers of fresh growth.

And everywhere, single strands of glossy spider silk

stretching up, up,

like Rapunzel’s hair if she were given a sudden electric shock.

Too thirsty to care that our heads are turned its way,

a rat breaks through the foliage to sip its fill.

Yet aside from that, nothing else ventures near.

Nothing calls. Nothing chitters.

Have we walked into a void?

Is the fog, inching in so quietly,

dampening the area’s breath?

Or is the traffic hum, with its heart-thudding sirens,

too much for all but the boldest to come?

My fingers stiffen in the cold, clutched around the torch handle.

Massaging them awake, the light shifts position

and momentarily decorates my vision with spots.

I click the thing off.

Ink moves in around us. The night sighs

and spills with life.

This poem is part of my #52weeksofnaturepoetry project to raise funds for UK wildlife charity RSPB and to encourage an appreciation for nature. If you enjoyed it, please consider sharing it and/or donating to the RSPB via my Just Giving page here.

Help keep wildlife wild.

#52weeksofnaturepoetry, Poetry

#52weeksofnaturepoetry Week 4 – Layers

On the surface, she looked healthy.

But a gentle prod revealed the bruises underneath.

It was time to peel back the layers,

time to aerate the spiralling thoughts within.

Scarf wrapped tight and fingers gloved,

she trekked out into the crisp, late autumn air

leaving breath-ghouls behind her.

Down to the river, taking the quieter fork:

stray buddleias, some woody giants, others only pups,

lined the roadside. Escapees from fenced houses nestled by the bank.

Ivies stretched out to take her hands, while

nettles lifted their serrated leaves

to reveal the delicate white blooms hugging their stems.

Robin, that friendly chap, popped up

once the path diverted to the trees.

He tolerated her pleasantries, then both

went upon their way.

The air was fresh in her lungs now,

its sweetness already working the rot away.

Her strides grew more confident

as the song overhead bloomed;

blue tits and blackbirds adorning bare branches in place of leaves.

Closer to the river, coots eyed her, as did moorhens –

the ducks would have too, had they been awake.

Attempting to walk the same path as before,

she found the tide had all but swallowed it.

Try a new adventure, the water lapped, don’t look back.

About turning, chance caught her:

a snow-white egret, ankle deep in a puddle,

pausing for fan photos

before taking to branch, displaying its golden feet.

Delicate green erupted from the seeds of wild

within her heart,

evoking a rare feeling. Calm.

Her thoughts had settled.

Yes, that was definitely it. Calm.

This poem is part of my #52weeksofnaturepoetry project to raise funds for UK wildlife charity RSPB and to encourage an appreciation for nature. If you enjoyed it, please consider sharing it and/or donating to the RSPB via my Just Giving page here.

Help keep wildlife wild.

Poetry

From bones it grows

The night is fading and you can taste morning in the air.

The vague shapes swallowed by the darkness

awaken again as the flowers begin to open.

Not skulking monsters as they sounded, shrieking,

without the light,

but the bones of buildings covered in green carpets,

rich and plush and full of a life that was once

cut back hard, considered a weed,

a pest, a threat to those who hoped to dwell.

Time’s mark is clearer than footprints

and has no patience

for those who refuse to see it.

It grasps them all with tight fingers,

pushing them aside so the first ones

to arrive at the waterhole can have their fill

and flourish

as they should have for all these years.

 

Poetry

The Shrouded House (Inspired by ‘When Marnie Was There’ by Joan G. Robinson)

Tucked away by a shroud

of blue-silver trees

is a house. Honeysuckle

clings to one side, sucking at the foundations,

and ivy to the other,

attempting the same, but

it is still too young to force

the bricks and mortar to crumble.

How old the house is, no-one quite knows,

and nobody wonders anymore.

It has simply always been,

part of the landscape of the sleepy village,

like the trees, the marsh, the hills

and the little creek that trickles

beside the gravel path.

Villagers move away and return,

families grow and people die.

The house watches it all,

making no comment except

to occasionally flap its shutters in the wind,

waving goodbye to old friends.