Walking with sticks

D K After a day of working I gathered the Gray Dog and a walking stick, dog lead and whistle, crochet, hook and pattern and headed up the hill, searching for peace of mind. The stick is new, to me, but old.

You see, last weekend my mum and Dad celebrated their 6oth Wedding anniversary. Mum had called a few weeks before and asked me what I was doing on this particular Sunday and I had said, well, I will be working because I will have been away. She sounded a  little disappointed so I asked her why and she said it was their 60th, and Max, my sister was coming and Paul, and cousins, but not to worry. She knew I was busy. She understood I had work to do.

A couple of days later I called back. ” You know when you asked me if I could come to your anniversary? And I said, no? Well, what I should have said was yes, of course I can. It will be lovely.”

So, last weekend I stopped work, drove to Broadway and spent the weekend sitting knitting and talking to my folks, and it was just a little bit blissful.

We talked about tramps, gentlemen of the road, travellers. My dad used to come home sometimes, and riffle through his wardrobe then take clean clothes to give to a homeless person. And he would pop across from the police station and my mum would make sandwiches which they wrapped and he took away. He spoke of how he gave two huge doorstep sandwiches to one ‘gentleman of the road’ who ate one with gusto, then wrapped up the other and put in his pocket. “I thought you said you were clammed,” my dad said to him.” “I am, but that’s for tomorrow,” the man said, tapping his pocket. I asked my dad what ‘clammed’ was and he said it was a Black Country word for hunger. Later I found it was more than just being hungry. It was that fierce hunger that claws at you. And you could be ‘clammed with cold’ too.


I took Ivy and we retrod some paths familiar but lost a little in memory. And I asked my dad if he still had any sticks that he had made. He used to make walking sticks, with wood and antlers. He gave me the last that he had, with hazel from the hill and antler from Northumbria.

60 years of being married. They still hold hands when they walk down the road together.

maandpa60Back home I got settled into the work I was so late with, but also still took time to walk, with the Gray Dog, with the White Cat. And with the stick that my father made. And as I walked I thought about things.

I had had a long phone call with mum and dad on my return. We all agreed it had been a lovely weekend. He told me that when he was at school he was Head Boy, and one of the tasks and responsibilities that came with the title was to have all the keys to the school. He would go early to school each day and open up the classrooms. He would then ring the bell, the school bell, the one called all the children in to school. He was, he said, the first to ring the bell after the war had ended, because the ringing of bells was a sign of invasion so while the war was on the bells were silent. He left school at the age of 14, went to work for Austen, and he talked a little of his work there, saying that whenever there were show vehicles to be made he was one called on to make them. And he said, “Now I think about it, that was such a responsibility to have. All those keys. And I knew which key was for which class, and one of the teachers called me the wizard of the keys. And the bell. The teacher took me up to the tower to show me the mechanism and how it worked. Not everyone who tried could ring it. I was good at that. And I was good at The Austen. But I was always told at home that I would never amount to anything.”

I was told at home that an education was a wonderful thing to have. My mum and dad were told once by friends how lucky they were, because they had two girls so they wouldn’t have to bother educating us. Both my sister and I went on to do the work we wanted to, because my parents saw the value of giving us that wonderful grounding of ‘a good education’. My sister was the youngest female officer cadet in the Royal Navy. I went to art college.

My dad used to take me out walking, telling me stories of when he was a kid, walking miles to school, eating hawthorn leaves ( which they called ‘bread and cheese’) He taught me how to recognize the song of a yellow hammer, where to look for skylark nests and those of other birds. Showed me fragile eggs cupped in nests. We went blackberry picking and searching for conkers and walked the Malvern Hills and Clent Hills. We watched for watervoles down by the Avon in Evesham.

He was a policeman. There were times I would wake and he would be sitting on the end of the bed watching us sleeping and I knew that something bad had happened at work. One day I came across a press cutting. He had been awarded a medal for bravery, for rescuing a woman from a house with a gas leak. And when we were talking the other day he was telling me how he used to walk the beat, and how more than once he got into trouble because he would stay after all had gone from the home of people where their child, or father, mother had committed suicide and he would clear and clean up, because that was what was right…. you couldn’t just walk away he said, and leave it for the family to deal with. There’s not much you can say after that.

I love my dad. And my lovely mum.

So, now I have my stick that my dad made, and it’s like having him with me when I walk. So glad that I asked if he had any left.


stick lights walls rest setting

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Today is a day to use a word wisely.

For now, I think this, and all that lies behind it is my favourite poem.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver (1935- ) is a Pulitzer Prize winning poet. She has published several poetry collections, including Dog Songs: Poems(Penguin Books, 2015).

Learn more about Mary Oliver at The Poetry Foundation


Please feel free to share yours in the comments below and ALWAYS credit the maker. I’ll send a bundle of badges, a jigsaw or some cards out to ones that I find particularly lift the soul.

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Dark Valley

Back home at the cottage in the wood after a busy day. Sitting in the sunshine with Ivy, when she becomes unsettled and darts back inside the house. Next minute the valley changes. From peaceful with bird call and late evening light to houndsong and horns then distant shouting. I feel sick. Stags call. The hunt is coming through the valley, people shouting, driving deer and the dogs bark in excitement at the chase.

I sit for a while following the sound, feeling the fear ripple through everything from bird call to leaf. Now Ivy, who is not adverse to chasing after deer herself, sits huddled at my feet in fear. So glad we were not walking in the valley.

In Britain hunting with dogs is banned. But you can hunt deer so long as the dogs are called off and not left to rip the ragged, exhausted beast to shreds at the final ‘kill’. Then it has to be shot.

This morning I walked in twilight. Ahead of me a deer stood, silhouetted gray in the early light before colour has returned to earth. Then, from across the field and into the wood at a steady pace a line of does and a stag made their quiet way. Ivy, me and Larry watched, so close, then returned home for breakfast.

How different a way of being. Even when I painted a hunt, it seemed the dogs were running with the stag, rather than in pursuit.



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How to watch deer in the wild woods.

First you need to find a wise woman who, without being asked, will make for you a shawl. The shawl has to fit you in such a way, each being different, as all people are different.

shawl3 shawl6

Yesterday I was given such a garment by a very wise and beautiful woman. She had knit it with love in each stitch, for a special event. There is green, for the nettles Eliza must knit, picked by her soft hands, spun into thread. And into the shawl nettles were woven.shawl4

Feathers too, white for her swan brothers and gold for their crowns. Moss green ribbons tangle through the fabric, rough hessian for the forest floor and soft white silks. Seashells from the beach on which she finds her brothers weight each hem.

And a small black ribbon, in a bow ties up the mourning, for Eliza is mourning her mother still, and I have my own heart’s losses to gather and hold close, safe in a ribbon knot.

And because she is wise and kind the piece that drapes around my neck is fine and soft as swan’s down against my skin.

Once it is finished let her wrap it around you and she will find a scent, in my case the rarest of moss oils, to stroke into the fabric.

shawl2 shawl1

Once you have such an item you can walk into the early morning wood (though I was late to rise this morning, tired after yesterday’s event at the ancient fort in the hill where the green man of the trees holds firm to the old ways). Be quiet, in your heart and mind and as you walk wrap the shawl around you until it becomes your hide. Grow from your head a set of antlers, not too large as you do not wish to challenge. You will find deer, they will find you. Red bright in early morning light, a small herd of does and stags, one rich red, the other darker. And when you do, stand still, hold fast to the glamour you cloak yourself in and let your eyes watch the wildness of the beautiful wild things.

Thank you Jan. Pure magic.



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So, acorn: or, an answer to Meg Rosoff’s question.

Meg Rosoff asked me yesterday ‘do you EVER do any work?’

My answer is:

Out, walking, early.


710 9All the time I was walking I was watching the light through the trees, the squirrels in the canopy, deer in the woods come in to focus while I stood watching thinking ‘only trees’ but, no, an ear twitch and there was deer, camouflaged to perfection, creature of woodland. And all the time I was walking I was catching in my mind’s eye the double page spread for the word ‘acorn’ for The Lost Words book, and knowing that I could NEVER paint what was in there, but would muddle through to do the best approximation I could manage. And all the time I  was walking I was thinking about how I would use my time this afternoon, reading from The Wild Swans.

Some days my work is hard graft at the paper face. Sometimes it is the scent of moss, the fall of light, wild things and watching, the tumble of leaves from treetops where squirrels run and buzzards call. Sometimes my work is imagining the life of an acorn.

And when we walked home there were more deer, right by the house.

So, I guess the answer is always. That’s when I get any work done. And while I wish I had time, more time, putting colour on paper, this has been a good morning.

But Meg knows this anyway, because she’s a writer, and she’s wonderful.


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Mounsey End: Holiday, fragility.

Time moves too fast. On Wednesday we drove to Dulverton, via Keeble Antiques where I signed books for Clive who is a great supporter of my books. We arrived at Number Seven and tumbled in to the chaos of Davina and Jan getting ready for the exhibition at the weekend, the warmest welcome, an excessive amount of beauty, and a feeling of coming home. After riffling the shop for beautiful wrapping paper Davina led us to our cottage that we have booked for a week and a bit. It’s amazing. Wonderful.

The forest is creeping into the house leaf by leaf.

I’m on holiday, so I won’t say much. The first day we went for a short walk, got lost and found our way home 3 hours later. Today we walked, Ivy shot off on the heels of a deer and I thought that was the last I would ever ever see of my dog again. But she came back.

So, here’s a walk:


houseFirst, the house. So hidden in the wooded valley, down a road that looks impassable. Gorgeous.

morninglightNext, the view. Stunning. Forest.

Then the woods, with ancient castles mounds, a place of curious dreaming.

mounseycastle maddog ivybabe

Something fragile in the beautiful leaves.fragile earlymorn deerherd cleanwater

whitehorsefield riverland riversedgeLater, painting, watching, thinking, knitting.

paintingknittingmounseywatchingA heron crossed the sky as the sun was sinking.


Now, the fire is lit. Tomorrow I will be in the gallery at Number Seven Dulverton for a couple of hours, and on Sunday we will be walking into the woods to talk about white hares, wild swans and nettles. Tomorrow, bring knitting. Also, in the woods, if you wish to sit and listen and knit, that would be just perfect.

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Painting hares

The film lasts 3 minutes 56 seconds. The painting took 5 days, and 54 years.

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Maybe it was because I had phoned the vet, paid the bill, for Little Leopard who died last week. Maybe that was it. Whatever, you know how it goes. You are getting on with life then sorrow hits you like  a cold wave and catches your feet and tumbles you. Like being tumbled in the sea. So, there I was, driving to the Mill to sign more stock for Anna when it hit. A weight of sorrow, dumped on my head. And then I saw, beside the road, a sparrowhawk, wild, fierce, fat, sitting on a tumble of pigeon feathers. I slowed the van, but feared to disturb it in its meal so coasted by.

At the bottom of the hill I parked and decided to walk back up, to see.

So me and Ivy walked, along the road then up through the woods. He would be gone by the time we reached the top.


Autumn leaves were falling. Light was falling too.

greenlight woodland

When we reached the top we came towards the confetti of feathers and out from an old hawthorn tree, arrow fast at eye height a sparrowhawk, the sparrowhawk shot. He had been roosting in the tree above his kill and all that remained now were feathers and the memory of his bright wildness.


Back down to the mill. Across the road from the carpark is this shed.  Something happens inside, but the door has not been opened for years.


In the mill I signed new copies of Cat Walk, and looked through at the pages where Leopard still walks. He did make the landscape shine.


pattern knittingmill

I did a little knitting, for I seem to carry it everywhere with me now, talked a little, and  then home, to paint. I love the way the wild thing pulled me out from my melancholy, but also loved the way that sorrow hit, so like a wave. So very like a wave. And like a wave it left me, feeling fresh, calm, clean.


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I went for a walk with a cat and a dog and I sat on a hill above the sea while a raven flew circles around me. It was so still I could hear the air move in the raven’s wings.


I thought about otters and also herons, because I need images. The sun was warm.


I had sent a message to Robert MacFarlane to see if he might dream about herons. Because I need words. As I lifted my knitting what should I find, beneath the wool, but the feather of a heron, soft,grey.

There’s magic in this book.

Now, at the end of the day an email from Mr MacF. Some words. Acorn. And yes. How just right. How perfect, like a single acorn.

Now, it’s time to make this book grow and be worthy of the paper on which it is made.


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Walking, thinking.

I walked the land this morning, with The White Cat and The Grey Dog. As we walked I thought. It’s easy to think in the company of animals.

greywhiteI thought about the work I have to do, and I thought about other things and these, as we walked the beautiful land together, are some of the things I thought.


I thought of how if you share your life with animals you will at some point learn about the nature of grief, but of how I would not wish to have my life empty of these beautiful beings to save myself from mourning.

I thought of how as humans when we love we often learn that harsher grief that comes with the ending of a relationship, the losing of a lover, often tinged with green envy, heart sharp, ripping, dark grief. And yet I would not save myself from this by never loving.

And I thought about the difference of the way I love this land beneath my feet, and how animals, lovers, might come and go but the land, this land would always be here. How it fills my soul. Home.

And then, then, I thought, no. Not always. What if it was taken away. What if people, who thought differently from me came, with guns and bombs and violence and took away my home and destroyed my land and drove me out? I thought of all those people whose homes have been crushed by bombs, who have been driven from their homes and their land and their lives by circumstances beyond their control, beyond most people’s control. Through no fault of their own forced out to live in camps and wander the earth as what was familiar is crushed to dust. Taken. Those people who have risked everything as faced only with despair they have tried to move to a place of greater safety, refugees in a foreign land where they have been greeted with more violence, hatred and suspicion.

What can I do? Not much, but something. First I can call them refugee, not migrant. Because names are important. I can try to make those people who reach our shores feel welcome. And then I can try to raise money, to help. Such a small thing, but better than nothing.

To find out something more, beyond what you hear in the news, listen to this wonderful programme about food, from The BBC Food Programme. Hear people from Syria talk about their experiences. It’s worth half an hour of anyone’s time to try to understand.

So, I am going to auction the proof pages for The Wild Swans. Because there are so many pages, and I have work to do, I will do this a few at a time. All money raised will go to either

  1. Doctors of The World: They have a special appeal for Calais, where they are working in the camps providing medical attention for refugees, and also work worldwide to help provide medical care for vulnerable people.
  2. MOAS: Moas sails the Med trying to save refugees from drowning. With winter coming the death toll will only get higher.
  3. Hand in Hand for Syria: This charity is one of the few getting aid into those still left in Syria. Medical help, food, clothing, medicines. And they also run a campaign to knit and crochet for Syria. Something so simple can maybe save a life.

You choose, if you win the auction, which of these you prefer to donate too.

To begin I have just put up 1 piece. These things take up so much time and I’ve so much work to do. Starting price for each piece is £30. They are proof pages, NOT original artwork, but there are only 1 or 2 of each piece, and they will frame up nicely. Because they are only proof pages I will put an upper limit of £250 on each piece, so, first to £250 gets the page.  Happy to sign if required. Each piece is as seen.

If you want to see what will be coming up in future get a copy of the book from the library, your local bookshop or Solva Woollen Mill. It seems fitting that these pages work to raise money for refugees. To understand why take a look at the article in The Guardian magazine online.

To bid, click on the picture and leave a comment ( all comments have to be actioned by me) I will contact you by email if your bid wins. Then you can pay the charity of your choice and I will post you the picture.

This image is used in The Wild Swans. Image size 28.5 x 17.6 Proof page. Sold as seen. To bid click on the image and leave a comment.


This image is used in The Wild Swans. Image size 28.5 x 17.6 Proof page. Sold as seen. To bid click on the image and leave a comment.

This image is used in The Wild Swans. It is a page proof, one of 2 only. This one has the number 64 very small near the spider. It does not in any way intrude into the image. Image size 28.5 x 17.6 Proof page. Sold as seen. To bid click on the image and leave a comment.

Auction on this item is now finished.


This image is used in The Wild Swans. It is a page proof, one of 2 only. This one has the number 64 very small near the spider. It does not in any way intrude into the image. Image size 28.5 x 17.6 Proof page. Sold as seen. To bid click on the image and leave a comment.

Auction on this item is now closed.


Auction on this item is now closed


The auction on this item is now closed.


Auction for this piece now closed.



The auction on this item is now closed.

Thank you.

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