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twelve-project-day-four

Day Four of the Twelve project – 12 images, 12 months, 12 posts over 12 days.

In April the garden filled with colour as the bulbs we planted months ago shot up and expressed themselves with fabulous flowers. There’s an old saying about “March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers”, but Nature is never as predictable as that. Nature doesn’t use protocols or obey a limited set of strict rules. But there’s still something in that old phrase, not least a call to remember that wind and rain are necessary factors in the seasonal cycles of plants.

I start every day by stepping outside into the garden. I open all the wooden shutters to let the light in through the windows and I turn my gaze to the garden, the field, the vineyards and the sky. Colour catches my eye. A splash of white, red, yellow or blue. I’m drawn towards it. So on this April morning I was drawn to this particular flower and as I bent forwards to look more closely it took my breath away.

The water droplets beaded along the edges of the pink-fringed petals caught the morning sun and sparkled like precious jewels. The shadows of one petal inside another gave me the impression that light was actually emerging from within the flower itself. The delicate pattern of the pink on the white petals looked as if the flower had been lightly dipped into red paint, some of it running slightly from the edge down into the rest of the white petals.

It looked brand new. Freshly made.

Here in this one flower I could see the emergence of the alchemy of Nature working with the four elements – creating its green stalks and white petals from the earth, drawing the energy of the fire of the sun to grow and unfold itself, gathering the elements from the air to forge them into substance, and all with the life-giving power of water.

And maybe more than anything else, it is utterly beautiful. A true work of art.

How lucky are we to be surrounded by such magic and beauty.

“L’émerveillement du quotidien” – the wonder of the everyday.

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twelve-project-day-three

Day Three of the Twelve project – 12 images, one for each month of 2016, used to create 12 posts, one each day for the 12 days of Christmas.

In March 2016, I visited Marqueyssac gardens in the Dordogne. This wonderful place has several, vastly different areas, from woodland scattered with art works, to winding rocky paths on the edge of a cliff, to this astonishing area of topiary.

I’ve seen lots of topiary elsewhere but usually its the odd bush shaped like an animal, or a small planting of bushes shaped into pyramids or spheres, but here…..well, for a start there are more shaped bushes here in one space than I’ve ever seen before, and, more interestingly, they retain a fundamentally organic form. They don’t just look like bushes fashioned to appear like something else. They retain the diversity you usually associate with Nature. The way they grow together also gives a strong impression of a community, or, from a little further back, a whole organism.

This was my inspiration this year for my writing about the two universal forces – whether we think of them as the forces of chaos and order, of wildness and discipline, or of flow and structure, we find them at work everywhere. And here, in Marqueyssac we see how something utterly entrancing emerges when we get a true integration of these two forces.

This has been such a year of divisions. Dualistic, or binary, thinking seems to be on the rise – you have to choose sides. One is good, the other is bad. You can choose science or art, reason or emotions, right wing or left wing….and so on. When we do that with the fundamental forces we end up emphasising order and control at the expense of freedom and wildness, or we choose structure over flexibility, but actually, in the universe, the greatest beauty, and the release of the greatest potential comes when we aren’t forced to choose one at the expense of the other.

I think the clearest way to think about integration is to consider the relationship between our heart and our lungs. They are completely different organs, grown from distinctly different (“well differentiated”) cells. The heart works best as a heart, and the lungs work best as lungs. Neither would do so well if our body chose between them and supported only the heart, or only the lungs. Turns out that the heart can’t be at its best without the lungs, and the lungs can’t be at their best without the heart. They work together for their own, and for each other’s mutual benefit.

That’s the definition of integration which I like best – the creation of mutually beneficial bonds between well differentiated parts.

And that’s what I see when I look at Marqueyssac gardens – discipline and wildness, structure and chaos, beautifully integrated.

Even without any of these thoughts, these gardens would have been wonderful to visit. Take your time. I spent about three or four hours there and could probably have spent longer (if I’d started earlier!) What an experience! It stays with me, not simply as a memory, but as an inspiration, a series of images, a stimulus to my imagination and my thought.

Places like these are the special places on the Earth – they act as our muses. They lift our spirits, and reach deep down into our souls.

 

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Day Two February.jpg

Over twelve days, starting on December 26th, I’m selecting one photograph from each month of 2016 and sharing it here with you. My choices are based on the images themselves, plus what they represent about my life here in France.

Down in the bottom right hand corner of France, the region in the south east which borders onto Italy, is a town called Menton. I’ve visited it a few times in my life and have always liked it. I like its fabulous synthesis of French and Italian culture. I love the colours of the buildings, the views of mountains and sea, the variety of cafes and restaurants, and the ease with which you can pop over into Italy and back. Once a year, the town of Menton holds an event called the Fête du Citron. It lasts for three weeks with a parade through the town each Sunday, a night parade midweek, installations of sculptures made from oranges and lemons, and various other events. In 2016 the theme of the event was “Italian cinema”.

I’ve never seen such immense sculptures made from fruit. They are absolutely astonishing. Some are the size of buildings, some are pulled through the town during the parades, and all are simply, astonishingly colourful and beautiful. But here’s what made the biggest impression on me – the celebration.

Maybe it’s because of the shocking and disturbing terrorist attacks and the appalling stories of brutality and oppression reported in the news in this era but to see thousands of people parading sculptures, no, whole scenes, made from orange and yellow fruit, through the streets of the town, with the buzz of the admiring crowds, the loud Italian movie theme music, the marching bands, the street dancers, the joyous smiles and laughter on the faces of participants and spectators alike…..it was SUCH an antidote to all that horror. This celebration. This delight in dressing up, singing, playing music, dancing, creating works of art, this enjoyment of the spectacle, is such a unique human experience. Yes, it seems some humans have a very mean-spirited, anti-life approach to living, but here was a great example of that opposite pole. Here was a celebration of beauty, colour, music, art, storytelling, dancing, singing, and laughing together.

Uplifting.

Life-enhancing.

Joyous.

Wow, am I grateful to have been able to participate in this celebration of being human.

February 2017, the 84th Fête du Citron will have a theme of “Broadway”. It’s likely that, like this year, about a quarter of a million people will visit and share the celebrations.

 

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goddess-of-the-garden

I stumbled upon a goddess in the gardens today. She looks well pleased now she’s finished painting all of the leaves yellow.

I think she’s every right to be pleased. She’s done a fantastic job!

ginkoes

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dragons-and-crystals

Everywhere you look you can see the effects of the interplay between the universe’s two forces.

When I looked up at the ceiling of the Chapel of Saint Blaise in Toledo I was entranced by the colour, the gold and the eight pointed stars. It was only later when I was back home that I realised that the centre piece contained eight dragons, out of whose mouths poured not fire but crystals…..at least that’s how it looks to me.

Dragons for wildness, crystals for discipline, to bring together David Ward and Thomas Berry, for this is how they each describe the two forces.

Without the integration of these two polar opposites our planet would not exist, and nor would we. Astonishing. Awe inspiring. Wondrous.

Look around and I’m sure it won’t take long for you to spot these forces at work.

 

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on-reflection

The sunlight reflecting on the leaves of the lilies caught my eye, but once I’d uploaded the photo and looked at it more closely I realised there were three completely separate areas of reflection in this one image.

There is the one which initially caught my eye. It’s so bright that the leaves are hardly green at all. They are like silver plates floating on the river. Right next to them is a reflection of the clouds passing up above. The ripples in the river give these clouds the appearance of a water colour painting. Quite beautiful.

Between them, these two reflections put me in mind of Monet’s paintings of lilies in the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris….which is definitely one of those places to put on your bucket list.

monet-lilies

To stand in one of those galleries with Monet’s astonishing paintings filling the entirety of your visual field is one of the most amazing experiences you could have in an art gallery.

Finally, right at the top of the photo, there are the reflections of the old watermill, the entrance to the park, and a bridge, all seemingly a much more literal kind of reflection somehow.

I hadn’t really thought much about different types of reflection before, but this one image has inspired me. I hope it does the same for you.

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multiple-stars

I seem to have developed a fascination for eight pointed stars. I’m seeing them everywhere.

Up on the ceiling like a kind of night sky.

lion-star

Or constructed from pieces of wood with emblems in the middle.

window-stars

Cut into the roof to create star shaped sources of sunlight.

tile-star

On the floor.

wall-star-lines star-on-blue

or on the walls.

Aren’t they beautiful? In their variation, in their detail, and in their design.

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