Up Close and Personal with Janey Colbourne
All my life, I have felt most at home in green spaces. Nature is my family—living beings in relationship with each other and with the Earth. So much of life exists because of the mutual support we call symbiosis. My work as a herbalist connected me deeply to nature, feeling awe and reverence for the power of plants, and for human beings and our capacity for healing.
I came to writing via a winding path. In my thirties I became seriously ill, and it was a seven year journey to diagnosis and surgery. Nature was my source of comfort and inspiration.
Moss living on bare rock, dandelions pushing up through concrete, new shoots sprouting from tree stumps; I drew my resilience and strength from observing theirs. Everywhere life is striving and thriving, even in the most unlikely places. I wanted to paint a picture of how I felt but didn’t know where to begin. Then it struck me that I could paint a picture with my words. I sat in the woods to write. I felt inspired and the words just flowed, starting with the sensory experience and emotions evoked in me. Then my mind meandered around meanings and connections, and on to the wider context of environmental and social issues.
I am a lover of the miniature worlds within worlds revealed when you get up close and notice the detail. The carpet of mixed mosses and lichens is a forest within the forest. Delicate eyebright and wild thyme hide in the short grasses grazed by sheep. There are myriad colours in the layers of peeling bark on a silver birch. Even daisy and dandelion are astounding in their perfect beauty, if you really look.
The more I looked, the more I saw. Coltsfoot along the path. Wild garlic in the woods. Butterbur beside the river. There is a gnarly old hawthorn in my local park that’s a perfect shape to climb. Her lower branches have been worn smooth and shiny over many years by children that come to sit in her lap.
One summer I was honoured to have tree bumblebees nesting in my kitchen roof. I got to know them, to understand their life cycle and daily habits, and to recognise the queen, the workers, and the male drones with their distinctive yellow moustaches. We lived together calmly and harmoniously, with respect for each other’s space.
Close encounters such as these bring me joy, wonder and gratitude, and I want to share those feelings, so I write.
I have discovered another way I can paint a picture of the nature I love. I’m working on an embroidery, a thread painting. I immerse myself in the experience. Stitching is like going for walk—a rhythmic meditation that allows my mind to wander happily. In the language of textiles there are many metaphors for life, and my embroidery, inspired by nature, in turn, inspires me to write. And so, I pick up the threads…
Janey Colbourne October 2023
Janey Colbourne - Writing Portfolio (clippings.me)