Entries by alice_ashwell

A personal transformation

I’m one of those people who finds marketing myself very difficult! I love ‘doing the work’ but publicising it is not easy. So, I thought I’d let one of the participants in the last ‘Transforming the Dementia Journey’ course tell you about her experience. I’m so grateful to Allyson for letting me share her story. […]

Born of desperation – a book by Henry Spencer

The term ‘desperation’ describes how many of us feel as we try to come to terms with Alzheimer’s disease. But the desperation Henry Spencer speaks about relates not to the disease itself, but rather to his frustration with many of the myths about Alzheimer’s disease that mislead those of us affected, especially those that offer […]

Dementia and the mid-life breakthrough

Mid-life is a time when many of us have the opportunity to care for a person living with dementia. Whether that person is your parent, partner or friend, their diagnosis can be life-changing. The term ‘mid-life’ is often associated with another word: ‘crisis’! Dementia is unlikely to be the only challenge we have to cope […]

STRiDE – towards a National Dementia Plan

Imagine South Africa developing a National Dementia Plan! This is a goal of the STRiDE project – ‘Strengthening responses to dementia in developing countries’ – coordinated by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) in collaboration with Alzheimer’s Disease International. Involving seven developing countries, STRiDE aims to build research capacity to help these […]

True friendship

I don’t enjoy boxing. I have never understood why anyone would pay money to watch a couple of people intentionally beat each other up. So, on a recent flight, I wouldn’t have chosen to watch Journeyman – a film about a boxer – had it not been one of the top-five movies recommended by the […]


Keeping connected as caregivers

This disease is isolating. Friends recede, family members back away.  – Support group member. I belong to a number of on-line dementia support groups. Recently I posted a comment about research that shows that connection to community is the most important factor influencing our health – even more than a healthy diet, exercise or not […]


Healthy by nature

It is common knowledge that spending time outdoors is good for our physical and mental health, and yet many people with dementia live most of their lives indoors. Activities like walking, swimming and games develop physical fitness, stamina, strength and balance. Exercise improves a person’s mobility and reduces the risk of falls. It also stimulates […]


Sharing our gifts

Music was Mum’s greatest gift. Author Malcolm Gladwell maintains that ten thousand hours of practice are necessary to achieve mastery in a field. As a student, concert pianist and music teacher Mum had rehearsed and performed for many more hours than that. Music-making was hard-wired into her whole being – from her brain, to her […]


Don’t try to go it alone …

I subscribe to a few dementia support groups on Facebook. These are safe, moderated, on-line spaces where people caring for their loved ones with dementia can share their stories, seek advice, and experience the solidarity of others who deeply appreciate what they are going through. Many posts are from people who are almost single-handedly caring […]


design for dementia – part 1

When people have dementia, they can experience changes in the way they perceive and make sense of the world: Many older people experience deteriorating eyesight, making it harder to see in dull light. Peripheral vision may deteriorate, making it hard to see things that aren’t at the centre of the field of vision. They may […]


Slow down, be present

Trying to communicate with a loved one with dementia can be hugely frustrating … until we learn to slow down and be present with them. This didn’t come easily for me! I was in full-on ‘busy adult mode’ when Mum started slipping into dementia. Having to answer the same question over and over, and listen […]


a care-giving journey – part 3

This is the final of three extracts from an interview by Tom and Karen Brenner, which was published in two parts on Bob de Marco’s Alzheimer’s Reading Room blog: http://www.alzheimersreadingroom.com/   What are some of the lessons you learned from your mother’s dementia that you would like to share with other caregivers? Fundamentally, I learnt […]


a care-giving journey – part 2

Here is the second of three extracts from an interview by Tom and Karen Brenner, which was published in two parts on Bob de Marco’s Alzheimer’s Reading Room blog: http://www.alzheimersreadingroom.com/     How did your mother’s dementia affect your life and the life of others involved with your mother? Initially, I found it very hard […]


a care-giving journey – part 1

Tom and Karen Brenner, authors of You say goodbye and we say hello: the Montessori method for positive dementia care, interviewed me recently about the experience of my mother’s dementia journey. Their questions enabled me to reflect on our experiences as a family, from the early stages of the condition to mum’s passing early this […]


a daily blessing

The work of the late anthropologist Angeles Arrien helped me to see a deeper, more personal layer of significance in natural cycles. Most mornings, I love to greet the four directions – the rising sun in the east, the north where (in our hemisphere) the sun will be at its strongest, the place of the […]


the sweet spot

One of the great gifts of being alive is the experience of care. To care deeply about a person, a community, a creature, the Earth, or an issue in society is to glimpse the possibility of oneness. However, when care becomes attached to a particular outcome, we may find ourselves in the territory of ‘overcare’. […]


come to your senses

This poem came to me during a solo hike this past weekend. A tiny orchid in the grass alongside the path attracted my attention, reminding me of the gifts that are waiting for us to open our senses to the world.   Come to your senses: Feel the breath breathing you, Witness all that is. […]

illusion most real

It was a still autumn afternoon as I sat at the weir on Nursery Stream at Kirstenbosch. The reflections of the forest trees were so clear that I could hardly make out the rocky bottom of the shallow pond. Something as immaterial as a reflection in the pond’s surface had effectively obscured what was ‘really […]

bitter-sweet aloe

Aloes are amongst the best defended plants I know. Their thick spiny leaves and bitter sap safeguard their watery reserves through the long dry summers. These defences make aloes look like really tough characters. But the aloe plant I sat with the other day told me a different story. Like many of us, its prickly […]

the unseen work

There are many stages along the stream of life – some boisterous and exciting, others still and reflective, and others where it feels like we’ve dried up completely. In the Dell at Kirstenbosch where I spent my nature solo recently, there’s a place where the stream disappears underground. Yet, despite its course being marked only […]


a lesson in releasing

I love eucalyptus trees. Together they create a living cathedral, with marble-like bark, arching branches and the pervasive smell of incense, that leaves me feeling hushed and in awe. And they are such wise teachers. Whenever I spend time with them, I feel that I’ve learned something from their example … A lesson in releasing […]

tangle’s gift

It’s been a while since I posted … that’s seasons for you! Anyway, the holiday season has given me time to return to my nature solos. One of my nature solos in December took me into a ‘scruffy’ wild area beyond the carefully tended lawns and beds of Kirstenbosch Gardens. Despite my initial misgivings, a […]

a world without us?

It’s not an uncommon speculation these days: wouldn’t the world be much better off if human beings just disappeared one day in a puff of smoke? Seemingly intractable conflicts, impoverished communities, runaway viruses, marine dead zones, corrupt leaders, depleted aquifers, crises of financial systems and of the climate … there seems to be no end […]


Matter, when sufficiently insubstantial, transmits the light of life. Petals, when vulnerable and translucent, smoulder with rich warm glow. Sunlight, when I dare to face its radiance, reveals the soul of you.

these two oak trees

Today two oak trees Tell a story of change: One cautious, starkly bold Holds onto winter; One precocious, softly crowned Rushes into spring. Each responds in its own time To the call of lengthening days. Now is the time. Feel the urge to emerge From a winter of waiting. Out of dark, deep stillness Sweetness […]

being erica

being erica you live frugally wiry and determined through summer drought In dirt-poor sand being erica you grow quietly; inconspicuously catching sunlight, waiting for spring being erica you give lavishly of nectar and beauty; from soft pink cups butterflies sip being erica you die willingly flames engulf and consume; trusting the seed you let go […]

Self-care for Earth carers

The path of caring To be human is to belong, and care is both the expression and the gift of our connectedness. Heart-felt care motivates us to make our best contributions in life. And expressing care not only feels good but is actually good for us, having been shown to strengthen the immune system! The […]


soul expression

This Saturday was another delicious day at Silvermine. The slopes shone with sunshine cone-bushes, but it was a tiny yellow bulbine that held my attention. Growing amongst sandstone shards on top of a rock, this fragile little plant was defying the challenges of its harsh surroundings. With scarcely any soil to grow in, and only […]

song is a salve

Rasping, gurgling, twittering, piping, the mountain birds declare themselves. Shouting from cliff to distant slope like dwellers in the Valley of a Thousand Hills.  Their songs delight. I do not judge the cadence or the melody, touched as I am by their candour, the utter exuberance of delivery.  Song is a salve to heal the […]

know sorrow, find joy

You who love this miraculous Earth, will you allow yourself to grieve? It’s a Friday morning and I’m at another workshop, hungry for insights and skills that I can integrate into my life-coaching practice. I tell myself that I’m only here because I may learn something that could help my clients. I don’t really need […]

stream dance

˜The winter rains have arrived in Cape Town. In between the cold fronts, I spent time contemplating a boisterous mountain stream. It reminded me of a joyous party, with each of the elements in turn inviting water to dance. Each element engaged with water in its unique way, bringing out different aspects of water’s character, […]


Wandering in the Tokai Arboretum this week, I came upon a grove of eucalyptus trees with their trunks smooth and shining. The last strips of the previous year’s bark were being sloughed off like the spent skin of a snake, revealing the purity beneath. Through the gift of forgiveness, we too can release the past […]

between the winds

Today has the texture of silk sheets and cashmere after seasons of sackcloth scratching the skin.  I’ve lived like the wind. May this still day remind me, soft as feathers on water, to breathe gently in.

blatt … oh dear!

I have a deep, irrational fear of cockroaches. They belong the Order of Insects called ‘Blattodea’ – a name that proved prophetic for one particular cockroach that I encountered this week on my nature solo. His apparent determination to get ‘up close and personal’ with me ended badly for him. The revulsion I felt towards […]

another gift from mother earth

Poised between Earth Day and Mothers Day, my heart is full of gratitude to the Earth, the ultimate Mother. There is no end to the blessings we receive from our precious blue-green home. Perfectly positioned in Space, our Goldilocks planet is neither too hot nor too cold, but just right for the three phases of […]

sand stories

The poem from my nature solo this week is dedicated to the memory of John Winter, past Curator of Kirstenbosch Gardens in Cape Town. John passed away on 8 April at the age of 77. I worked at Kirstenbosch towards the end of John’s long career in the Gardens, and remember him for his quiet […]

seasons turning

Autumn fog bleaches the day. Insipid views turn my focus towards the earth. Sandy mound – no grandeur here, save sinking sun illuminating the ordinary. Droughted shrubs tired of summer, grass responding, invited by the early rains. Seasons turn. Tough determination obeys the call to make way for the delicate.

celebrating equinox

One of the benefits of spending solo time in Nature each week is that I feel increasingly tuned in to natural processes and cycles. Quality of light, shortening of day, direction of wind, emergence of Haemanthus – these and many other signs have been announcing the arrival of autumn in Cape Town. Haemanthus lily announcing […]

autumn paradox

It is the time of the autumn equinox in the southern hemisphere. Observing nature this week, I realised how my concept of autumn has been shaped more by cultural images than by the reality of my surroundings. So often we trust our assumptions more than our senses! The oaks have started rusting – goldening their […]

a child until seven

This week, I again visited the Silvermine Dam for my nature solo. The intersecting circles of ripples in the dark water of the dam fascinated me. As I settled down to write, I realised that it was 14 March, my father’s birthday. Our relationship was not an easy one, but as I thought about him […]

at the end of my tether

At the end of my tether I go rowing – in the middle of the lake lifting my oars to drift amongst morning wave-glints that slap against the bow like a heart murmur.  At the end of my tether I find you, weary moon, setting behind Muizenberg hiding from the rising sun as clouds spill […]

elemental embrace ™

˜  Warmed by the fire of sun Refreshed by water’s ripple Supported by firmness of rock Touched by the wind’s caress … From your embrace springs life The lovechild of the elements Irrepressibly emergent Co-creating our blue-green world. Bask in the light of Nature’s truth Quench your thirst for wisdom Feast on the beauty of […]

murmurs of love

A murmuration of starlings Picture from http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/20299004   Murmurs of love In celebration of Valentine’s Day, my husband and I went to the Labia Theatre in Cape Town to watch Occupy Love, a documentary by director Velcrow Ripper. In this film, interviews with activists, philosophers, elders and everyday lovers punctuate footage of peaceful protests from […]

cork oak

This week my nature solo led me to a circle of cork oak trees in the Tokai Arboretum. The tremendously thick, rugged bark of these trees protects them from forest fires in their native Mediterranean habitats. As the tree grows in girth, the bark cracks and splits. The trunk seems to be made of rock […]

in praise of grandparents

Twice this week, I’ve experienced the joy of watching grandparents playing with young children in nature – sharing with them an experience of fun, freedom and fascination. In contrast, less than a week ago the country’s attention was drawn, yet again, to the terrible abuse that so many innocent children suffer at the hands of […]


In the forest yesterday, I was touched by the apparent tenderness with which the decaying trunk of a fallen tree was nurturing a new generation of fresh young seedlings. Oh fallen one, Your hull hollowed By the adze of time, How softly you hold The tender-green tomorrow In your crumbling heart.

the fellowship of aliens

‘Alienation and belonging’ is one of those recurrent themes in my life. It’s not just that I’m an immigrant – I’m also something of a maverick. So my primal need to belong lives uncomfortably alongside my need for freedom and authenticity. I am familiar with the feeling of ‘otherness’, which may explain my empathy with […]

Each new breath …

Mum’s abundant heart …    Starting over January 2014 – a new year – a new beginning – an opportunity to start afresh, to set new intentions, to start living that better life. For years I’ve tended to wait for formal beginnings before making an effort to replace old habits with new practices. Next Monday […]

the gift of attention

Gently Cloud shadows stroke the earth The solar spotlight pans Across slope and dell Highlighting individuals Celebrating communities Drawing attention to The taken-for-granted ones  Flowers too Emphasise otherwise overlooked Individuals In the grey-green bush But flowering is attention sought The true gift comes unwarranted The kindly light Of a loving gaze    

the sacred garden

The year 2013 is ending – the 100th anniversary year of Kirstenbosch Gardens in Cape Town. Ever since my dad first brought the family here when we arrived in South Africa in 1970, I have loved this Garden. And this year, it has been the place I have visited most when looking for somewhere to […]

a tribute of hope

Today Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was laid to rest in the rural village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape, where he spent much of his childhood. Since he passed away on 5 December, the world has been united in paying tribute to this great soul. His life expressed the finest human qualities. We shall miss his […]

beach pilgrimage

Sometimes solo time in nature means looking for a place where you can be physically on your own in a natural setting, without any other human beings present. That is a special experience. Sometimes solo time in nature means going quietly within your own soul, while all around you other human beings relate in their […]

Contentment and the end of Empire

Thanksgiving month mobile … Yesterday I nearly overdosed on internet videos. It all started when I received an e-newsletter with a link to The End of Suburbia[1], a documentary on peak oil that I’d wanted to watch for some time. Falling down the YouTube rabbit hole, I then watched What a Way to Go: Life […]


Lying on a mattress of roots In the lap of a rooi-els tree Beneath a greenly translucent canopy I learn about … Surrender ™ New leaves intercept the sun They shade and starve The ageing boughs below. An old branch, overshadowed, Accepts it’s time to go. The tug of wind The pull of earth Invite […]

a gift of renewal

in her wisdom twice a day grandmother moon draws the edge of the ocean up the shore – felling our castles erasing our traces wiping clean the troubled sand beyond the tide-line this new beach beckons bare feet to create new impressions in firm sand: release your burdens renew your vision receive this offering from […]

forest connections

  In the forest, all have value – none is greater than the other. Soil praises the canopy for its gift of nourishing leaves; Germinating seeds give thanks to birds for transport to receptive soil; Saplings pay homage to a fallen elder as they reach towards the light; And tall trees honour the fungal underworld […]

a delight of ferns

Towering above me the masters of the forest make a bold impression, while here below on the forest floor ferns delight me with their humility. They greet with grace the co-creators of their flourishing: sheltering canopy seeping dampness filtering sunlight fallen leaves. Slowly unfurling they toss back their heads raising their fronds in a gentle […]

the still time

In a world that seems to value us more for ‘what we do’ than for ‘who we are’, it can be difficult to accept those times when our lives become less busy, and less defined by a particular role. The empty nest, retrenchment, retirement … all these times threaten our sense of identity. Who am […]

A Thanksgiving month invitation

The tradition of Thanksgiving Every culture brings special gifts to the world. Strangely, it’s not always the most inspiring ideas that spread the furthest. So while North America’s fast food brands are consumed in most countries on earth, their tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving as a national holiday hasn’t had quite the same reach (Puerto Rico, […]

the same wind

Pat and I are privileged to live on a canal that leads into Zandvlei, an estuary in the southern suburbs of Cape Town. I was out paddling on Tuesday, and my relationship to the wind that day gave me some insights into how I choose to relate to life more broadly. the same wind it […]


Lemniscate was created from leaves on the forest floor during a land art hike on the Garden Route of the southern Cape, South Africa in August 2013. This is one of my favourite symbols of life’s ongoing, regenerative cycles of change.

my very first post

I know that nature does my heart good, but despite this I often find that days go by without me making time to connect with nature. So this month I’ve made myself a promise … to spend time in nature each week and to record my experiences in words and pictures. I plan to post […]