Liz Proctor

A writer and fundraising consultant, Liz lives, works, walks and writes at home in rural Suffolk, re-learning (mainly in the garden) how to navigate the world as the intense early years of parenting recede and the self begins to bloom.

Website: lizproctorwriter.wordpress.com
Twitter: @LizProctor5

Diary 2021 - Festival Writing

Imbolc

The Wisdom of the Season

Even the tallest tree begins life with the tiniest shoot: “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.” Beginning can be scary, and first shoots can be delicate, but what beauty and strength can grow from even a hesitant and fragile beginning.

Everyday ritual

Challenge yourself to find a flower. Bright yellow winter aconite perhaps, or a snowdrop – everyone’s favourite. (Here’s a tip: look at the trees. Catkins are flowers too.) If not a flower, then a leaf-bud, a shoot, a tuft of grass springing from a crack in the pavement. Celebrate: the wheel of the year is turning again.

Acceptance

Fragility and frailty are within all of us. Fragile can be beautiful: think of the thin, patterned ice crust on a winter puddle. A snowdrop may be delicate, but she withstands the snow and ice and opens the door to spring. Remembering this, accept your own fragility, and accept the hidden strength within it.

Dreaming

Spring is the season of possibility, the home of “what if?”. What if anything were possible? What if you knew that dreams come true? What would you dare to imagine then? Will you allow yourself to believe that what you imagine might be possible – even if you can’t see how? Give your dream a chance to grow a new, green shoot.

Imbolc © Liz Proctor 2019

Spring Equinox/Oestre

The Wisdom of the Season

The gleam of the moon, the gentle morning light, the start of spring. All these speak of promises kept, (winter is ending, dawn is breaking) and promises for the future: good things will grow. As winter ends and spring begins, there is always, always room for hope.

Everyday ritual

Now is the time to begin. Without thinking too hard about it, make a start on something. Large or small, it doesn’t matter; the magic is in taking the first step. Begin the thing you’ve been putting off, the thing that scares you, the thing that you desperately want to do but don’t know how to complete. Don’t think, don’t plan, don’t worry about the next step – just start. There will be magic and momentum and the next steps will become clearer.

Acceptance

Spring is Nature’s busy time. It seems she never stops growing, changing, reproducing. She knows her time of rest will come. It will be easier to accept your own busyness if you know that rest will follow. Accept today’s reality, and accept your responsibility to ensure that you can rest and be renewed tomorrow.

Dreaming

Light and dark are in balance at the Equinox: day and night are equal length. What would balance look and feel like to you? What might need to change to take you there? Dare to dream – and take – a tiny step 34 towards feeling balanced in your own life.

Spring Equinox/Oestre © Liz Proctor 2019

Beltane

The Wisdom of the Season

Beltane is raw physical power, rising in sap and root and shoot. At Beltane, go deep into your body, for there lies truth and wisdom. Feel.

Everyday ritual

Seek out the delight of physical tiredness. Walk, work in the garden, dance, run – whatever makes you feel your body working. Whatever your physical limits – even if standing or raising your hands is as much as you can do – move your body. Feel it stretch and sweat. Feel how amazing it is.

Acceptance

Change is everywhere. All is growing, moving, becoming. Leaves unfurl, flowers open, bare soil is covered with green. Change is constant throughout the seasons and never more so than at the fertile festival of Beltane. Accept that change can be beautiful, embrace the possibilities it brings.

Dreaming

If you could harness the glowing power of the Beltane fire, what would you do with that limitless energy? What might burst forth? How will you find and make positive use of this season’s strength and warmth?

Beltane © Liz Proctor 2019

Summer Solstice

The Wisdom of the Season

Solstice is pause. Solstice is breathing. Solstice is the sun standing still. As the sun stops, so can we.

Everyday ritual

Today, step outside and stand barefoot in the grass. Breathe. Feel your feet, your connection to Earth. Barefoot in the grass, we pause and breathe. Barefoot in the grass, soaking in warmth, rooting in Earth. Barefoot on the grass, we are a bridge between Earth and Sky.

Acceptance

If you find – as surely you must in this season – that the Outside finds its way inside in the form of soil, grass clippings, sand, insects and the sound of a lawnmower, welcome it as you welcome the blue sky and sunshine. Let the Outside in and take yourself outside.

Dreaming

Turn inward. Remember, the sun stops. We can stop. The sun shines, and so can we. What, in this season of the sun, is shining in the silence of your heart? Allow yourself to wonder: what does your heart need? How might you find it in this pause?

Summer Solstice © Liz Proctor 2019

Lammas (Lughnasadh)

The Wisdom of the Season

Every ending is also a beginning. This is traditionally the start of the harvest season: grains are ripening, fruits are forming. This harvest is the culmination – the end – that nature has been working towards, and yet every fruit and every grain contains the potential for new life and new beginnings.

Everyday ritual

The Celtic god Lugh, who gives his name to this festival, is a sun god. His day is a time of feasting and celebration. In our time, it’s also holiday season for many. Whether you’re on home soil or in foreign lands, take a few minutes to stand and absorb the sun’s rays on your skin. (Morning and evening are safest, and a few minutes is plenty.) Feel its warmth and strength. Recognise that all life – including yours – depends on its heat and light, all year round.

Acceptance

Today contains the fruits of your yesterdays and the seeds of your tomorrows. Accepting that, what harvest might you begin to work towards?

Dreaming

What if there were no plans to be made, no list of jobs to complete? What if, like the birds, your busy time was over and your responsibilities had fledged and flown? Even if just for a moment, can you step into the slow, sleepy sunshine and sink into this moment? Can you carry that feeling through your day? Can you imagine doing the same tomorrow?

Lammas (Lughnasadh) © Liz Proctor 2019

Autumn Equinox

The Wisdom of the Season

Poised and perfect. Ripe and ready. Balanced at the peak. The haze of golden, slanted light says it all: take what is readily and freely given. Enjoy the fruits of the year so far. Celebrate! Make the most of every drop of sunlight and every juicy morsel. Earth is generous.

Everyday ritual

Your hands were made to gather. So gather something. An edible harvest if you can: rosehips or the last of the blackberries; apples from an orchard or crab apples from the hedgerow; pull a carrot from a garden if you’re lucky. Savour the embodied sunshine as you eat. And if you live far from an edible harvest, gather pebbles to paint, twigs to use as decoration, or better yet – harvest litter and recycle or bin it. Your landscape will thank you and your hands will remember their purpose: gathering and generous giving.

Acceptance

You are worthy of life’s gifts. Accept goodness, sweetness and possibility with gratitude for what is freely given. Don’t reject positivity because you feel you don’t deserve it. Accept your own worth, accept your gifts. (And if you still doubt your own worth, pretend you don’t. Act as if you’re worthy. You may just start to believe it.)

Dreaming

Autumn is magical, wild and alive with glowing light and roaring energy. What if you, too, are magical, wild and alive? What spells will you cast, what magic will you weave? What power will you unleash? Dare to dream your own magic.

Autumn Equinox © Liz Proctor 2019

Samhain

The Wisdom of the Season

Less, stripping away, laying bare. Less, less, always less, so we see the clear reality beneath. Not always comfortable, but always necessary and freeing. Leaves fall, but branches stay strong and clear.

Everyday ritual

Tidy, sort, give away. Strip out the broken, the “might need it someday”, the “don’t know why I still have this”, the “never liked it anyway”. Purge, lighten the load. Pare back and you may catch a glimpse of those few things that really are essential.

Acceptance

Emptiness. How unnerving emptiness can be when we see it as a lack. Empty time, empty space: our instinct is to fill them. Accepting emptiness, resting in it, we can see that emptiness is just another word for potential. In an empty place, there is room for growth. The first step is to accept the emptiness, just as it is.

Dreaming

As leaves fall and flowers finally fade, trunks and branches stay firm and strong, and roots hold fast. What keeps you strong and true? What will you hold on to even as you let go of what’s no longer needed?

Samhain © Liz Proctor 2019

Winter Solstice

The Wisdom of the Season

Drawing in. Drawing to a close. Resting and retreating. Slumber. All these things are as necessary as breathing. As the Earth sleeps, she dreams. As you rest, dreams may find you too.

Everyday ritual

Go to the window. As you open the curtains in the morning, welcome the daylight, however faint and grey. In the evening, as the light outside fades, draw the curtains closed and honour the nurturing darkness, for darkness brings rest and renewal. Live with the rhythm of the season.

Acceptance

Darkness. Fallow times. Even sadness. We cannot live always in the glare of the sun. Accept even the dark, and you will find its beauty and magic.

Dreaming

Even now, deep in the soil and within seemingly dead twigs, life pulses. What secrets pulse within you? Do you need to let them go, decompose to fertilise new dreams, or is there a spark of life in your buried secret that’s gathering its energy, preparing for its time to come?

Winter Solstice © Liz Proctor 2019

 

Calendar 2021

How hard it is, in one season, to imagine another. In summer, cold is an impossibility. In winter, the sun will never shine again. Autumn’s rain is eternal.

Or maybe it’s the opposite: we long for change. Whatever we want, it isn’t this. In sunshine, we long for shade; in snow, our bones cry out for warmth. In a dry spell, we thirst for rain.

Yet there’s no need to project forward, to imagine a new season into being. This season, the one in which we find ourselves today, is abundant and wonder-full. We need only live in it, absorb it, taste it, to learn from it how to be in this season. Tomorrow will bring lessons and wonder of its own – when it comes. And it will come in its own time.

This Season © Liz Proctor 2019

 

Diary 2020

Step outside. Breathe. Listen. Feel.
A wild joy breathes just below the surface, even in this cultivated land.
Beauty is soil-deep, soul-deep.

A Wild Joy © Liz Proctor 2018

 

Calendar 2020

I dream in dragonflies, hot summer sun,
All red and green and flashing golden lace
And clockwork wings that rattle, click and chime.
I dream in dragonflies, a secret race.

I dream of hidden growth beneath the surface,
As slender threads are knotted one by one,
To fashion folded hope of future flying,
A silver gauze for hope to rest upon.

I dream of metamorphosis, hard skin
That cracks and ruptures, tearing up the past.
The mist that kisses silent waiting water
Enfolds the naiad taking breath at last.

Dragonfly Dreaming © Liz Proctor

 

Diary 2019

A slow walk: steps forget to measure the path, stop beating time, begin to wander, dawdle and play.

A noticing walk: the kestrel hovers, rich brown against blue; fields ripple and sparkle; a bee settles on rose-pink clover.

A listening walk: branches sway and creak, a beetle rattles past, there is rustling and cawing and a gently breathing breeze.

A sensing walk: damp soil scent, yesterday’s rain rising in today’s sunshine. Green-smelling grass, musty twigs, freshness of moss, and the baby-fingered blessing of cool air on skin.

A sinking walk, sinking through layers of thought and sense and time to arrive at this season, this moment, this feeling.

Slow Walk © Liz Proctor

Basket in hand, walking
through bushes,
through centuries, searching,
spotting, sniffing, testing,
gently pressing, checking
for ripeness, for rot,
for other tiny diners.
Eyes pick out morsels, hands
deftly gather, lips
pucker at sweet-sharp
exuberance, tongue
rolls the taste:
through the centuries, knowing,
savouring, swallowing,
absorbing the land.

Absorbed © Liz Proctor

 

Diary 2017

Go outside! Go outside! Whatever the day brings, it will be better outside. You were made to breathe the open air, feel the sun on your skin and taste the rain on your face. It doesn’t matter where you go, how far you travel, who you’re with, or how the weather behaves. When you don’t know where to turn, when everything is too much, when you feel a yearning for a nameless something you can’t identify – you need the wide sky and the wild world. Four walls can never give you the space your heart needs to soar. Go outside!

Go outside! © Liz Proctor

 

Contributors Showcase

Go outside! Go outside! Whatever the day brings, it will be better outside. You were made to breathe the open air, feel the sun on your skin and taste the rain on your face. It doesn’t matter where you go, how far you travel, who you’re with, or how the weather behaves. When you don’t know where to turn, when everything is too much, when you feel a yearning for a nameless something you can’t identify – you need the wide sky and the wild world. Four walls can never give you the space your heart needs to soar. Go outside!

(This has been one of my most popular pieces in Earth Parthways; several practitioners have told me they read it to workshop participants.)

Go Outside © Liz Proctor

Millstone grit, high limestone pavement,
Peat bog, moorland, mountain crag.
Dead man’s fingers, golden plover,
Moldiwarp, garth, ness, ram, hagg.

Bedrock, scar, clints, purple moorgrass,
Yat, tor, tarn, toft, thwaite, ling, shale.
Harebell, chunter, spuggy, mawky,
Croggy, ouzel, cavern, swale.

Dale, vale, keks, karst, crack, cleg, curlew,
Rugged buzzard, laiking shrike.
Spout, fall, pothole, cliff, escarpment,
Barn, cave, cove, rock, calcite, grike.

Blanket bog, twite, scree, brook, bracken,
Merlin, torrent, lapwing, rigg.
Chert, gorge, ginnel, gormless, snicket,
Sinkhole, peak, oolitic, brigg.

Sedimentary, cleft, mire, river,
Mither, chapel, narky, sedge.
Cottongrass, grouse, nouse, heath, crevice,
Claggy, snipe, beck, skylark, edge.

Fly agaric, birch, gill, bogbean,
Thorpe, slack, stang, ouse, sphagnum moss.
Hart’s-tongue fern, stone, carr, spelk, clarty,
Crosswort, pignut, manky, foss.

Drystone wall, laithe, rowan, wagtail,
Heather, parky, fell, crevasse.
Bilberry, fettle, sneck, tyke, parkin,
Yorkshire fog, hike, moor, muck, brass.

(This poem was first published in the wonderful Dawntreader.)

Northern Childhood © Liz Proctor

Basket in hand, walking
through bushes,
through centuries, searching,
spotting, sniffing, testing,
gently pressing, checking
for ripeness, for rot,
for other tiny diners. Eyes
pick out morsels, hands
deftly gather, lips
pucker at sweet-sharp
exuberance, tongue
rolls the taste:
through the centuries, knowing,
savouring, swallowing,
absorbing the land.

Absorbed © Liz Proctor

I know the kestrel’s favourite tree,
Her dead branch hideout, watchful skewer-beak.

I know where bramble claws the sky,
Pink summer promise blooms to autumn juice.

I know where badgers dug their sett
In deep-ditch-depths where cool sleep ends at dusk.

I know where crab-fruits cobble grass
And blackthorn wears a vicious crown of sloes.

I know where wind and lively clouds
Enfold the year and blow the seasons round.

I know where I would make my den:
This hedgerow hollow, sheltered, sun-warmed, still.

Belonging © Liz Proctor

There’s a moment when I begin to speak
wise parental words as I chew this tuna
sandwich, but tears come first – a surprise
to me as to you, but I know
where they come from
                         And it’s far away
from here, in another time, when rollerskates
were kicked to a corner of the garage
and growing up meant leaving things behind,
not rolling words around every gleaming spider-bridge
that shone between the stars
when there was a perfectly good normality to be populated,
and certainly not wasting the rational
brain that would follow
the straightening tracks and knew
what to do and understood
that loving stories and pens and the way
the wind catches the leaves in spirals
is not the way to get on.
                         Thank heavens
The whispers wouldn’t leave me alone.
     (Thirty years, though.)
                         Play
your drums, my love.
                         Don’t listen to me.

Listen © Liz Proctor

Back door boots
Wait for wild weather:
Whipping wind, whirling snow.
Wickedly whispering wilderness words,
Weaving a wonderful web.

Back door boots
Wheedle till they get their way:
Walloping around in wellies
Whips up the wildness in the mildest,
Wondering where their dignity went.

Back door boots
Whoosh through puddles, whoomph in snow,
Walk a winding wisp of wonder,
Waken winter-sleeping wishes,
Welcome thoughts of wilful surrender.

Back door boots
Whisper wilderness,
Whisk up wonder,
Wander wide expanding horizons.
Wicked wellies.

Back door boots © Liz Proctor

Long shadows. Low winter sun.
Thorns and berries blazing.
Joy and silence.

Woodsmoke drifts its way deep into my heart,
And the sun’s glint on ice-glazed mud is a glimpse beyond.

Wrens, two scraps of brown velvet, flicker in the hedge.
A stand of naked blackthorn is misty mauve,
Shading to deepest purple as it melts into the earth.

Three birds call, high in barest branches, dark against the sky.
A sound of spring on this frozen day,
And in the shelter of the trees the sun whispers softly
Of new shoots and secret hidden flowers.

Winter Walk © Liz Proctor

January always seems a long month. I have a friend who vows every year to start a campaign to move Christmas to the end of January. It’s no longer a midwinter festival, she argues, in these days when winter hardly starts until December. We need something to look forward to in the dark days of January. She almost persuades me, and yet there’s a special quietness about the new year that I wouldn’t want to lose. It is what it is. There is no Christmas rush and fewer obligations. There is silence and solitude, inside and out. And there is a whispered promise in the stirring of the garden bulbs and in the slowly lengthening days. When for weeks night has been falling around 3.30pm, there is a certain magic in looking out of the kitchen window at 5pm as you peel potatoes to see that there is still a glimmer of light showing off the dark scratches of the tree branches against the sky. That’s the promise of the season: spring in the midst of winter’s stark beauty.

Some years the garden is a sea of mud; other years there’s a carpet of snow. It varies in thickness, that carpet. Most times it’s a gossamer lace doily draped apologetically over the dark green grass. Sometimes it’s a joyous cushion that makes children shriek and looks soft enough to sleep on - until you open the back door to the icy blast. Either way, all too soon it turns to slush and puddles. But if we’re lucky, it will stay long enough for us to discover fox footprints in a straight line across a field, deer tracks by the hedgerow, and dainty four-toed marks where a blackbird has hopped across the lawn.

Here are the secret beginnings of spring: hard black buds on the ash tree by the road; snowdrops under the hedge and a purple hyacinth in a pot on the windowsill - until its heavy, sweet scent gets too overpowering and it’s relegated to the greenhouse. In this mild south- eastern county we even see spears of crocus leaves and daffodil buds appearing in January. They are tempting, even misleading. They lure me into setting out my seed potatoes to sprout too early, so that by the time the soil is warm enough to put them into the ground they have grown a tangle of enormous white roots and even leaves. I begin to wonder if it’s too soon to start sowing tomatoes in a tray on the windowsill. (It is. Sow them this early and the result will be spindly, crooked, sickly plants desperately reaching towards the weak winter sun. I know this from experience, yet every year I am drawn helplessly to the seed packets and some years I still can’t resist sneaking a few tiny, hairy tomato seeds into cold compost, just in case this year might be different.)

Still, despite my hankering for spring, January is a month for hunkering down, for snuggling, cuddling, regrouping and recharging. Watching a film on a Saturday afternoon isn’t the crime it would seem to me in July; it’s part of the need for comfort and warmth, the cultural equivalent of mashed potato. It’s a month of semi-hibernation interspersed with sudden attacks of acute cabin-fever leading to bitingly cold excursions to tidy the garden or stride across the frozen - yet somehow still muddy - fields. It’s an indoor month whose occasional bright blue days draw you outside like land-locked sirens, promising sunshine and delivering frosted cheeks, icy fingertips and a wonderful warm thawing when you step back inside to cook up toast and hot chocolate.

January © Liz Proctor

Last night we toasted marshmallows in the garden. The fire didn’t light properly and the boy complained that they cook better over a flame, and the whole thing only lasted about ten minutes - but it was perfect. We were all together, doing something with no purpose but enjoyment. There was something to satisfy every sense: the heat and the gloopy stickiness surrounded by charred crunch for touch; smoke and burning sugar for smell; crackling kindling and giggling chatter for hearing. There were sights aplenty, from the boy’s beautiful, sticky, charcoal-covered grin to the orange flames and the blue summer sky - and for taste, of course, there was the intense auger-sweet-smoky-burnt sensation of the marshmallows. It was a moment with no purpose at all but to be itself.

Oilseed rape is drying as it stands in the fields now, its seedpods rust-coloured in the sunshine. Larks are singing and goldfinches are busy in the hedgerows.

July is bright and still. Doors and windows stand open, and flies and moths invade the house, buzzing and fluttering. The lawn begins to dry, while in the fields the early crops are already being harvested: golden barley and oilseed rape are turned to stubble. Light evenings bring games of tennis and football in the street and late bedtimes for the children, with still later bedtimes for the adults who linger in the garden to soak up the sights and sounds of a summer evening. Swifts wheel and screech overhead; sometimes a tiny bat flickers silently by.

At 6am the sun is already bright and warm, although the shadows are chilly. The birds have finished their dawn chorus but are still chirping to one another and the tireless swifts are hunting again after a brief sleep on the wing.

The garden is beginning to give up its harvest now. We pick plump peas and dark green courgettes, and the strawberries of June continue well into July. They are sweet and juicy, although here and there a sour, seedy one lurks.

Sometimes the day is too hot to venture far or do too much. We spend it cursing thunder bugs and pollen beetles and wondering whether it is better to be outside and tormented or indoors and stifled. We avoid wearing yellow, or else we will be a magnet for the little shiny black pollen beetles who mistake us for a giant flower. As the harvest in the fields progresses, tiny, crawly thunder bugs arrive in their thousands, appearing suddenly on any patch of bare skin to begin their unbearably itchy, creeping journey over arms, face, ears, legs - they get everywhere.

And of course there are the wood pigeons and collared doves, whose everlasting cooing is the sound of summer in the garden. The only times they fall silent are in the heat of midday when the courgette leaves are limp and drooping, and in the gentle velvet darkness of the short summer night. But they are soon back on duty: the wood pigeons clatter onto the wooden garden fence and plop into the garden, stalking as delicately as their sleek plumpness will allow towards the pond for a drink. They are wary, looking around carefully withe their beady eyes before quickly dipping their beaks into the water.

Anticipation is in the air as we gallop towards the end of the school term. Children seem permanently grubby and dishevelled, and occasionally fractious - worn out by the frantic end- of-term activity and the heat. They still refuse to sit still, however hot it gets.

On the footpaths the long grass is crisp, its seedbeds opening, and goldfinches are busy in the hedgerows.

I harvest shallots. Their papery copper skins rustle as I rub the dry soil from them and lay them out in the sun to dry still further. Even in the midst of summer, they speak of autumn, and as I glance up at the bright afternoon sun there is just the tiniest hint of an autumnal slant about its light.

July © Liz Proctor