February 2023 Digest - Mucknell Abbey
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February 2023 Digest

Welcome back to Mucknell Abbey. As we continue towards the Spring Equinox next month, we’ve all been enjoying the gradual lengthening of the days, and seeing the first signs of Spring as snowdrops and daffodils begin to flower. Each week of this month has seemed to have its own flavour: from the 7th to the 10th we were all outdoors for Estate work, followed by our Community Retreat from the 13th to the 18th. The following week then bought Ash Wednesday, and the beginning of Lent, the start of our journey towards Easter.

Estate Work

Our regular February Estate Week came round again, and we were delighted to welcome Tim Vick, a former Alongsider who now works as a Tree Surgeon. He comes with a whole variety of chainsaws and other equipment that is a great help in pollarding and coppicing. The main body of work for the week was pollarding some of our willow, and then transporting the wood up the orchard. The week opened with a foggy and atmospheric morning:

It didn’t take long for Tim to generate a good quantity of willow. Previous experience has led us to an efficient way of working: the willow is stripped down to leave poles, which can then be tied on to the back of the tractor and dragged up the hill:

This then left us with all the little bits to deal with, which required some experimentation. We ended up recycling an old sheet, and then tying that onto the tractor:

And finally for the willow, here’s the pollarded trees, and the poles in the orchard:

As well as willow, there was also other activity. We coppiced some of our hazel for the first time, and Br. Adrian has already used a small amount to weave into the hedge that he has laid – for more on this, see January’s Digest. Weaving it into the hedges in this way (i.e. as a binding at the top) helps to strengthen the stakes, which in turn provide the structure for the hedge; the bits that are ‘laid’ are held at about a 35 degree angle by being woven in and out of the stakes. The hazel can thus provide both stakes and binding for the hedge. Coppicing helps to prolong the overall life of the tree, which in turn ensures that they can continue to provide a good habitat for a whole variety of species, including the hazel dormouse, which we are fairly sure we have living on site.

We also planted a variety of shrubs and small trees such as dogwood on the bank leading up to our hermitage, again with the aim of providing a varied habitat of both deciduous and evergreen plants. The hope is that the mix of plants here will benefit the local bird life, and will also provide something of a natural ‘fence’ for the area around the hermitage, I was also able to use one afternoon to get some wood put away in our woodshed.

Community Retreat

We have two Community retreat weeks a year, one just before Lent, and the other in October. We keep silence all week, and have a daily reflection. We sometimes have someone external come to guide us through this time, and on other occasions members of the Community sign up to offer a reflection each day. We followed the latter model this time, and heard a great variety of pieces chosen by different people; it’s one of the many times when our diversity is a real blessing. This pre-Lent time gives us a bit of space and quiet to reflect, read and pray, and to prepare for Lent. We have a Lent Rule as a Community, which includes things like some extra silence in our day, no desserts (except Sundays), and a call to focus on our common life and the work we do to sustain the Community. Each of us is then also invited to write a brief personal Lent rule, which includes, as Benedict requests, a book that we will read during Lent. This year I’ll be reading The Tree of Life by Bonaventure.

Other News

Our Br. Philip was in attendance at General Synod earlier this month, as one of the 4 Religious Communities representatives. He came back pretty tired out from what was an intense week, but was glad to have been able to take part and be present for the debates. He particularly noted the importance of building relationships across the various “tribes” which often seem to dominate, and also of recognising our unity in Christ with those with whom we disagree. He also spoke about the importance of praying for all those who would be disappointed, upset or angry with the outcomes of the LLF process, a call which resounds with our own community’s commitment to pray for the unity of the Church.

And finally, Sr. Sally has become a grandmother once more, with the arrival of Finley earlier this month bringing the total up to 5. She’s enjoying lots of cuddles, and enjoying the time with her son, daughter in law and their other children.