Festivals and boundaries revisited - a diary of days

Dear Monty Don ,

I address you again in the vain hope you still read my letters. I must admit that they may be getting a little repetitive, so I understand if you have tuned out.

Autumn is here in the little cloister garden, and with this season comes reflection and the end of the summer festivals.

9/08/17 A fox calls out in the dark outside the Band Hall - probably in the park - it sounds like a frightened child, a strange sound but one that reminds me of the seasons change. Arcadia - a vision of harmony between man and landscape - can we all have a slice of Arcadia ? I prefer a tension between Arcadia and Palladian, between form and wilderness.

10/08/17 Today I feel like I'm an actor in a film about my own life - I feel detached from the reality of it.

13/10/17 Do we all walk tightropes every day ? I walk a tightrope between good and evil - the tightrope is in my mind - it can cause me to wobble and lean one way or the other and I feel in constant danger of falling off it. I walk the tightrope when I am talking with other people - saying, not saying - holding back, letting go - constantly trying to balance.

Our minds are such complex things and it always amazes me how we have all survived on this planet for as long as we have. My mind and my heart have parted company today - or that is how it feels. How do I reconcile them ? I have forgotten how to sing.

20/08/17 A message to me - 'Guard your hearts and minds'.

22/08/17 I glory in the rust on the cast iron umbrella base and the low flight of the dragon fly and its clicking wings glinting in the morning sun. Yesterday I saw the flash of turquoise and orange of kingfishers along the banks of the Brecon to Monmouth canal with my friend Charles Hawes. I glory in the autumn bubbling tune of the robin singing to my left - it is the word of life in song, one of beauty, colour and light - but is also territorial - this is my patch !

I walked Penwyllt with the dog. Blue - grey stone almost alien - with the vast curve of Fan Gyhirych cutting clouds in two and the purple tones of scented heather - suddenly a fox a deep red with a blackened brush runs ahead of us on the disused railway line.

My village of Ystalyfera looks rural from Penwyllt - a series of terraces topped by a mountain. Below us a buzzard mews.

Back in the garden I rearrange the potted trees to produce new vistas. A raven with gravel in its throat shouts its approval as it flies overhead. The autumn borders are sparser than I would have liked - but I have moved grasses and intend to move some more when the season dies down. I am going to order some asters from bluebellcottage.co.uk to extend the season next year.

30/08/17 A week later on the same hill - the same stillness and more sun but no fox. Common blue butterflies both male and female along with small heath butterflies dance in late summer circles. I must paint some for my stand at the orchid festival at the National Botanic Garden of Wales - my annual treat.

3/09/17 Festival. I managed to get some paintings done in time for the show. A damp festival. I grabbed an early coffee and took it into the gallery space to contemplate the current exhibition. Here I am sitting surrounded by beautiful intricate drawings of endangered rain forest - huge trees and twisting vines. What is man that you should be mindful of him ? At this stage of the brief life we are given I remain 'at sea'. All I can really cling to is that having faith is what makes sense of an insensible life. We see beauty but cannot hold on to it. We see it then consume it, and it is gone. What makes it beautiful is the spirit that inhabits nature - that causes the trees to spiral and the primates arms to mirror the hanging vines. The leaves and the multitude of forms, the light, the specialised bees and the flowers.

Where is our festival ? Perhaps it is in the deep wiring of our souls. Can you find it among the stuff that crowds into our heads ?

My festival is in the leaves and colours of autumn.

6/09/17  I walk to the landscaped and reclaimed coal tip called 'The Diamond' in my neighbouring village of Ystradgynlais and see a haze of blue field scabious - as beautiful to me as the haze of blue seen in the woodland in spring. The flowers were alive with insects which lifted my spirit. There were various species of hoverfly - many common carder bees, honey bees and the first sighting this year of a pristine and intensely coloured small tortoiseshell butterfly.

10/09/17 Another wet Sunday. All the earth is under stress - it groans with the weight of our treatment of it. We have missed the target of benevolence and goodness, peace and harmony. We are outgrowing and consuming our planet. Benevolence and peace is a scarce commodity. Our brains are hard wired to create territories and boundaries to be defended.

I build walls around my personal bubble of a head life. My garden, and perhaps yours, reflects this - high walled - hedged about - a refuge, no visitors unless invited.

Boundaries are both good and bad - if we have a sense of 'ownership' then we also have a sense of defensiveness. Ownership and defensiveness go hand in hand. Once perhaps the whole earth belonged to everyone - but our brains cannot cope with equality and freedom. We see this in the news or in our own actions when someone violates our personal spaces. The more we own the greater the defense - the boundaries and the sense of entitlement.

I am struggling to see the good in boundaries - perhaps we need freedom to roam - to see the whole earth as a garden to be nurtured, tended and cared for ?



  1. Wow, Paul, this ones a biggie! My interim response is just to send you a warm embrace.

  2. Maybe we should all take time to ponder as you have done here. To wonder about who we are and why we are here and whether we are on the right path or just plodding along doing the same things and wondering why nothing has changed. Thanks for reminding us about such things and perhaps this should be our Festival this time taken for thinking?

    1. Thank you for this thoughtful reply - Yes time out to think, to contemplate our own impact on this world and our fellows, to glimpse beauty could be our daily Festival.


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