It started as a joke.
I can’t remember exactly when. It might have been around this last time last year. I was being characteristically irascible, rash, impatient, none of the qualities that you’d associate with being a nun.
“Sister Patience,” I heard the mocking voice of my patron god, Gwyn.
It irked me, but it also awoke and called to something deep within.
Rising to his challenge, “I will be Sister Patience,” I told him.
And that was how Sister Patience came to be.
She came into my life as an alter ego at first, as I struggled through my traineeship with the Lancashire Wildlife Trust on the Manchester Mosslands, helping me shape and find respite in the sanctuary of Creiddylad’s Garden.
I wrote this poem about her last summer:
The Sanctuary of Sister Patience
Weeks of weeding
are fundamental to the path,
to the wedding of him and her and him –
Gwyn and Creiddylad and Gwythyr.
When Summer’s King vaults over the wall
all the flowers turn their heads towards him, as if to a beam of light.
All the plants need the light and dark reaction to photosynthesise and this is written on her habit in an obscure symbol on one of her voluminous cuffs.
He who stole the light of Bel and Belisama and gave it to mankind…
When he arrives in her garden it is yestereve, yesteryear,
and all the flowers are gloaming and he longs
to know what lies beneath her cowl
for her eyes are two moons
that will shine
upon a future world that will never stop flowering with its own weathernarium…
He is all heat and fire and flame
and she is patience…
in Annwn, in the soil, in the mycorrhizae,
in the roots, in the shoots, in the leaves, in the flowers, turning
towards the light and these are the mysteries –
the poetry of nature not
of the bardic seat.
Like the ranunculi
are the wanderings of
the wild nuns knowing no order –
their names a mixing of Latin, Greek,
Norse, Anglo-Saxon, Welsh, common and binomial.
This I was taught by the comfrey I bought
when I was first learning to ‘do magic’,
which worked its magic here,
filling my garden with purple flowers,
smelling soothing as the healing of bones,
one of the favourites of Old Mother Universe.
She loves the first one or two tiny cotyledons
of every plant reaching for the light not knowing their origins.
She carries the seeds of all the worlds in the brown paper envelopes
in her pockets rustling when she walks, so carefully labelled
in the language of Old Mother Universe only she knows –
the names, the dates, the places, so distant…
With them she will build her sanctuary
beyond the trowelling
of my pulse.
Since then, slowly, imperceptibly, the miles between us have closed.
I’ve been patient. I’ve completed my traineeship. I’ve moved on into a new job as a graduate ecologist in which I’ve been faced with a whole new set of challenges. Not only learning to carry out new surveys but a whole new skillset on the admin side – providing quotes, carrying out desktop studies, writing reports, learning to see a job through from beginning to end.
It’s been a steep learning curve and not without its ups and downs. As an autistic person who likes routine and staying close to home I have struggled with travelling long distances to new places and, in particular, with night work.
One of the surveys is monitoring great created newt and wider amphibian populations as part of mitigation schemes on developments. This involves arriving before sunset to set bottle traps, waiting until after sunset to survey for newts by torchlight (as they’re active after dark), then returning early in the morning to empty the bottle traps. This work can only be done in the company of an experienced licence holder who is qualified to handle the newts.
It’s fascinating work and it is a privilege to see these beautiful creatures up close. It’s also a shake-up to my routine, most days get up at 4.30am to do my devotions, meditate, study, and go to the gym or run before cycling to work for 9am, finishing at 5pm, eating, winding down, and being asleep by 8.30pm.
I’ve been lucky to be part of a team who are not only incredibly knowledgeable and experienced, but also supportive and mental health aware. I’ve been able to be open with them about my autism and the anxiety that stems from it from the start. For now, my manager has allowed me to start no earlier than 8am, so that I have time for spirituality and exercise, which are both essential for my mental health, and to do only one night a week.
They have been patient with me and, although I’ve felt like I’ve been slow, looking back, over just a month and a half I have learnt a huge suite of new skills, from assessing habitats and writing species lists on Preliminary Ecological Assessments, wading up rivers looking for otter spraints and prints, investigating buildings for signs of bats, to mastering the routine admin.
When I’ve been tired and shaken and overwhelmed I have walked with Sister Patience and together we have shaped her sanctuary in Creiddylad’s Garden.
I have been patient.
The garden is coming into bloom.
I have found a job where I belong and feel fulfilled.
On work days I am an ecologist and, in my own time, I am Sister Patience.
I’m hoping the two sister strands of my life will one day intertwine to become one and that this job will provide the financial grounds to shape my sanctuary and, perhaps, one day, build the Monastery of Annwn*.
*Whether this is meant to be a physical or spiritual place I don’t yet know…