the box of delights

The internet is my box of delights. Today I opened an advent calendar story about a handmade angel on the top of a Christmas tree. I found a turfed roundhouse to buy in a wooded Welsh valley. I discovered that Switzerland is holding a referendum on stopping banks controlling the money supply. I saw taiko drumming in the golden haze of dim London lamps. I wrote to friends and recalled shared memories. I remembered other times. I imagined other times. I glimpsed other places.

And all while I sat here at a small stained table in our unheated and unfinished upstairs room, quietly warmed by bright wavelengths of electronic light and the variousness of the world, until I closed the laptop lid and carried it away. Such a portable portal. What will it open next?

Pontycymer, Glamorgan, South Wales
12th December 2015

Acer palmatum

Acer palmatum is the technical name for the Japanese maple. A Swedish botanist named it in the 18th century after the hand-like shape of its leaves. Most maples’ leaves are hand-like: Canadian sugar maples (of the flag and the syrup) have broad palms flatly spread. The Acer palmatum, however, has small dainty palms with tiny tapered fingers curling like a child’s hand (the Japanese had already variously named it after the hands of babies and even frogs). And they seem especially alive, these little maple-hands, lifting and shifting and shyly beckoning.

But what do they offer? The fruit of this palm-maple is “a pair of winged samaras,” each holding one seed. A samara? “A samara is a winged achene,” a flat papery thing, shaped to allow the wind to carry the seed far from its parent tree.

“A samara is sometimes called a key,” (wikipedia continues) “and is often referred to as a wingnut, helicopter, whirlibird…” And they do travel. I was always picking up green sugar and silver maple keys as they parachuted around the sidewalks when I lived in Montreal. Their fine veined forms intrigued me. I collected them superstitiously, as if they might actually unlock something: open something, lighten something, transport me through a new sky. You’d find them in all sorts of places, birled around by the warm breezes, often with no maple tree in sight.

The little red keys, achenes, samaras of this Japanese maple are so much more delicate though. They could take off on the faintest breath of wind. Indeed, I plucked one from this tree in this garden last spring and carried it with me until I flew to Japan in the autumn and let the seed fall. The seed itself wasn’t so old but the dream was, long-carried and finally coming to fruition, as maybe a wee many-handed maple is now, in the wooded grounds of an old Shinto shrine somewhere in deepest Tokyo…

red winged keys of a Japanese maple against green lotus leaves

Bryngarw Country Park, Glamorgan, South Wales
9th June 2015


It feels quiet up here, and protected, as if I am insulated within the inarticulate drone of the plane. Above, the air is blue. Beneath, the mountains fold and the plains stretch themselves out, and across them, the landscape is writing itself.

It begins first as one line, an elegant calligraphed curl scrolling out across the horizontal distance; then proliferates, until there are several lines, breaking and branching from each other, scooping and scrawling in liquid loops of sunlit gold.

They look a little like Arabic forms, like continuing sentences, slowly writhing on; scribed and scribbling, delicate yet definite. The spread plains between them are pocked – punctuated – with still water, like ink spilt and spattered and gathering into myriad tiny pools.

As we fly further north, snow softens the mounds and valleys and the curves unwind, becoming thick and white, and finally coalescing into great lakes, held high on the bronze plates of the sun.

It is quiet up here. No-one is talking since most of the plane’s inhabitants are sleeping. But my eyes are alive with this beautiful unspoken language, this secret script of low sunlit water and wide wind-smoothed snow.

Flying over Siberia
21st October 2014


echinacea head with a bumblebee on it

          fat heads of echinacea
              pricking a bumblebee’s arse

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada
23rd August 2014