Over the past couple of years I have been putting together a little book, Dusk, Night, Dawn. It is a collection of nature writings about my encounters with wildlife during the twilight and night hours here in the UK and on trips abroad.
The book started when I was having mentoring with Amy Liptrot. She commented that much of my writing was about dusk. I then collected a few pieces together and set out to have more experiences that I could write about. These included the time when I saw nightjars in King’s Wood, Kent and looking for bears in Romania. Some of my pieces have been published in magazines, on websites or blogs and in anthologies, but I have put them all together in one book and have included pen and ink illustrations to accompany many of the pieces. Here is an example:
I submitted my book to WriteNow in 2017 and it was shortlisted. I submitted it to Spotlight Books and again it was shortlisted, but it didn’t win. It was suggested that I should include more of myself in the book and make it into a narrative. Well, it is what it is, a collection of writings like an anthology. I have sent it to a couple of publishers but I am expecting to hear the same problems with the book, so I won’t be surprised when I hear back from them. In the meantime I’ve put together a mocked up copy with the help of my partner Kevin.
It took Kevin quite a while tp format and lay out the book ready for printing and help design the cover. He took it on as a project.
Having got the printing done, I was keen to investigate ‘perfect binding’ to put it together. This means that when the pages are put together, there is no creep. I researched how to do perfect binding and Kevin made me a page vice. Some commercial printers only do staple bound, so I chose to do the whole thing myself.
I applied PVA glue to the vice-bound page edges and attached the cover.
Here is the finished book, front and back:
The process was tricky but fun. I’ll wait to see what the publishers say before I do anything else with it.
After noticing the lime tree in Withdean Woods (see last blog post), I remembered that the tree planted in remembrance of my mother, is a large-leaved lime, Tilia platyphyllos. I took a mini pilgrimage across town to the woodland cemetery to spend some time with my mum’s tree.
There are three lime trees native to the UK, small-leaved, large-leaved and common. Large-leaved limes like to grow on lime rich soils.
Lime trees are also called linden trees in Europe. They are pollinated by insects, so will not produce as much pollen as wind pollinated trees like oaks or beech. After the last Ice Age small-leaved limes dominated the lowland forests of the UK, especially in the south and east.
The lime tree was considered a sacred tree in Eastern Europe. The Polish word for the month of July, Lipiec, is named after the word for lime, lipa, and the names of many villages translate as Holy Lime.
Within the dark branches of this beautiful tree dwelt goddesses and gods. In countries such as Lithuania, Laima, a goddess of fate, fertility, childbirth and death held the linden as her sacred tree. She was worshipped by women, who prayed and carried out rituals within the tree’s leafy shade. When a child was born they made offerings there to the goddess. Laima is often associated with the cuckoo, Gegute, who watched over time and the seasons.
In German folklore the lime tree was an important tree of Freyja, the goddess of truth and love. It was thought of as a lover’s tree, perhaps because of its heart shaped leaves. In pre-Christian times it was believed that it was impossible to tell lies while standing beneath a linden tree. For this reason communities held judicial councils, along with celebrations such as weddings and festivities, beneath the tree that was often found in the centre of the town or village.
Sitting for a while in the grass in the shade of my mother’s tree, I listened to the birds, wrote some notes in my diary and pressed a few leaves between the pages.
Then I replenished the seed in the bird feeder and hung up a simple string of feathers, shells and beads. The feathers once belonged to a green woodpecker, the “Rain Bird“, so named because it was thought to foretell the coming of rain. I think the trees need rain, but I’m quite happy with sunshine at the moment.
Goddesses, cuckoos, lime trees and rain birds – I’ve drawn an illuminated letter for the lime tree, beneath a sun and a crescent moon. Click on the image to see a larger version:
I have decided to research and write a small book about tree and forest goddesses to accompany my book, Goddesses of River, Sea and Moon. Below is a picture of Laima.
“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering
I’ve been aware of Glennie’s books and illustrations for some time, as I’ve submitted artwork to the Earth Pathways Diary that she jointly founded. I was very pleased to have been gifted her latest book by a kind friend.
Glennie explores thirteen trees native to the UK in thirteen chapters. Each chapter investigates a species of tree under various headings. First there’s an overview of the tree. Then each tree’s signature picture and qualities are covered, along with associated myths, legends and folklore. There are subheadings covering kitchen medicine, crafts, how to grow the tree, it’s Ogham symbol and how it fits in with the wheel of the year. Lastly there’s Glennie’s personal account of being with each tree. A comprehensive appendix rounds off the book.
Walking With Trees is beautifully written – far from field guide, but just as informative – and it features the author’s lovely drawings.
Reading the book I feel much more intimate with the trees and want to go and commune with them like Glennie does. I particularly like her personal accounts of sitting with or experiencing companionship with each tree that close each chapter.
One thing that really stands out in the signature qualities of almost every tree Glennie writes about is how communal they are. Community shouts loud and clear, over and over again. I know that trees form vast interconnections beneath the ground with mycorrhizal fungi, but I wonder if this says more about Glennie herself than about the trees. I also wondered whether there are trees that thrive in solitude, until I read about Bristlecone Pines in an article in Aeon magazine. They’re not UK natives though – far from it.
My only other query with the book so far is how Glennie writes that Elder trees aren’t found together. Perhaps that’s usually true, but walking the springline of the South Downs I’ve often found areas thick with elder trees. They’re not exactly my favourite trees, although I’m admiring those in the garden that are currently full of blossom. I’m encouraged to collect a few flower heads and make elderflower cordial :)
As I was walking through my local Withdean Woods a week or so ago I noticed the fresh, apple green leaves of a small-leaved lime. Glennie’s book doesn’t cover Lime trees, so I thought I’d do a little research myself and write about them in my next blog post :)
*Update: The book does cover solitary trees afterall!
Towards the end of April I visited the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire with my partner in the hope of seeing wild boar. I’ve written a simple piece about our search that is published today on Caught by the River. Soon I’ll put it on my writing website, From the Fields and Woods.
Here is a wild boar illustration, Summoning the Boar. (Yes, it features brambles once again!)
I’m not alone in loving a wild, secret garden. Tangled ivy, vines, roses, brambles and signs of faded grandeur- all of these I’ve tried to feature in my new altered book, Wild Garden
For me gardens are places to contemplate, reflect, lose myself in layers and textures of shrubs and flowers, layers of time. They are special places to retreat to and hide in. Yes, hide, they are meant to be hidden in – and meant for memories. They are places where time stands still. I think I need quite a lot of still time. But,
The house where I grew up had a garden with a willow tree. I used to climb into the willow tree and sit up there at night. We were in the centre of town, but I had the sky and imagined myself elsewhere, somewhere wilder and more interesting.
I’ve been working on my Wild Garden altered book for the Open House exhibition that I’m involved with in May (more about that soon). I’ve put a lot of hours into the book and lost myself in the detail. Perhaps it has a little too much detail :)
I wanted to add a door that can be opened – to the next layer. A door, symbol of transition from one world to another…
I didn’t find this altered book as easy as some of my others. This may be because I’m more happy with wild natural themes – forests – as opposed to enclosed spaces. That’s why I wanted to draw a slightly wild, neglected garden – the sort of garden where foxes hang out and a few brambles overun shady corners.
I visited a few gardens for inspiration such as the walled garden of Preston Manor just down the road from me. It’s a 17th century, flint walled garden. At this time of year the magnolia tree is in full bloom. Preston Manor is supposed to be haunted by a certain White Lady. I wonder if she haunts the garden?
Preston Manor garden is lovely and an oasis of peace in the busy city, but I wanted a garden with statues or sculptures, so I chose to visit Charleston House gardens in East Sussex that’s a moderate drive away.
It has one or two interesting sculptures and statues including one beside a pond, a Levitating Woman, known as The Dreamer:
and a classical statue of a woman emerging from shrubs:
With gardens in mind, I can’t help but think of the book, Tom’s Midnight Garden, that I read as a child. It’s a mystical, ghostly, beautiful book in which time warps and a garden from the past becomes manifest. The garden may be the projected memory of an old lady, who lives upstairs in the old house, but we can only surmise. I’ve made a quick illustration for the story, but I don’t really think I’ve done it justice:
I have recently learnt, via an email from Sussex University, about a virtual reality project called Tree VR that enables people to “become a tree”. Intrigued I looked up the project and found the Tree VR website and a couple of videos.
Basically, Tree is a multi-sensory exhibition in which participants can experience the life of a rainforest kapok tree from it’s time as a seed to it’s growth as an adult tree. As part of Tree participants are exposed to various sensory inputs to enhance the illusion of being in a rainforest – sounds, scents and breezes. Tree was shown at the Davos conference in Switzerland.
Here is a little video of the first part, Tree VR – Seedling:
There is another video with more about the installation.
“an international non-profit organization working to build strong forests, healthy agricultural landscapes, and thriving communities through creative, pragmatic collaboration”.
Rainforests and forests in general are so important for the health of the earth. Sadly, they are still being cut down at an alarming rate. Scientists have found that they are vital for carbon-capture and the best thing to offset the effects of climate change. More trees in the ground!
I really wanted to experience Tree VR so was pleased to find a website where you can download it. All I needed was somewhere with the right VR equipment to “play” it.
Luckily Kevin, my partner, has a friend, Andy Baker, who is well into VR. So we went to his house and tried it out. Tree was my first VR experience.
It was all a bit mind-blowing, not real but surreal. It was an excursion into an alternative world, an interior world like that of dreams and the forests of one’s imagination. I was amazed at the very real sense of space and depth all around me. As a seed I climbed through metres of soil. On the level of a giant mushroom and leafcutter ants I broke through the leaflitter and ascended higher and higher. Macaws, morphos and bats flew all around. At first my arms were leafy blades but soon they became proper branches with bark and leaves and hung with lianas. My body became the tree’s trunk. Looking down I felt a touch of vertigo. Night came along with a huge moon, stars and birds flying home against the darkened sky.
I won’t say how Tree ends as that would spoil it for anyone who gets the chance to have a go.
In the rainforest mood, I thought I’d make another rainforest altered book – another forest of my imagination – but this time in colour. Based on a Central/South American rainforest, it features a kapok/ceiba tree along with a tapir, agoutis and scarlet macaws.
I plan to display this altered book at an open house I’m particupating in during Brighton Festival in May. I think I’d like to donate some of the sale price to the Rainforest Alliance or another rainforest charity. I’ll write more about the open house nearer the time.
I went a step further and decided to grow a kapok/ceiba tree. I bought a few seeds and have just sown them in a tray after soaking them in tepid water for 24 hours. Somehow I need to create an acidic rainforest environment and try and keep the seeds warm – they need an optimum temperature of 25C. With this warm, Anthropocene February we’re having, under plastic on the window sill might do fine.
My interest in trees, forests and geology continues. On Saturday, Kevin and I went to Pett Level beach, east along the Sussex coast from Brighton. We arranged our trip to coincide with a low tide because when the sea is out the wave-cut platform reveals the remnants of a prehistoric forest. A peaty layer of ancient tree trunks, roots and boles can be seen covered in seaweed and pock-marked by piddock holes.
We were surprised at how easy it was to see whole tree trunks. Some of these may have come from shipwrecks off the coast, but the spongy wood is likely to be from the sunken forest, which is about 6000 years old. Evidence of alder, birch, hazel, alder buckthorn, yew, ash and willow trees have been found along with brambles, sedges, meadow rue, bedstraws and marsh marigold. This mixed woodland flourished when the sea level was 60 metres lower than it is today.
It is strange walking over this ghost forest imagining the animals, large and small, that roamed among the trees and the people who possibly hunted there.
Our day was enriched by the sight and sounds of oystercatchers, cormorants, fulmars, curlews and a peregrine that sat on a cliff perch in the weak sunshine.
High up in the cliffs that overlook the area, we saw a cave now occupied by fulmars. but where archaeologists have found flint tools. They propose that it could have been a lookout used by Neolithic people for spotting game in the forest below. No doubt the cave was much more extensive in earlier times.
The cliffs are eroding fast, up to a metre a year. On our way back we watched as a trickle of stones fell down a section of cliff, where people had been walking a moment earlier. This was followed by a loud crash as a bush from the scrub above came down. I have never heard the earth sound so loud. Fortunately no one was nearby when it happened.
Further back in time the area was frequented by dinosaurs, their footprints have been found on the beach. We didn’t find much in the way of fossils or footprints, but Kevin found something else of interest and called me over. He wondered whether it was a piece of crab carapace. When I saw it I thought it must be a piece of skull as it had sutures, the wiggly joints between skull plates. We decided to take it home.
On Monday morning we contacted Archaeology SE to see if they could identify it. Their forensic archaeologist identified it as the back of a human skull and told us to contact the police as soon as possible! Three police officers came to collect it and took our details.
Perhaps it belonged to a sailor aboard one of the ships tragically wrecked along the Sussex or Kent coast. Such shipwrecks include RMS Alaunia in 1913, in which two crew members lost their lives. Hopefully we’ll find out a little more about it in a few weeks time.
i’ve created a couple of little booklets. I always feel good when I can combine drawing with writing, especially nature writing.
Fox is a flash fiction story about an urban fox. The writing won me a prize a few years ago and was first published in Creative Future‘s Impossible Things anthology :) The story is based on a fox encounter I had on the streets of Brighton. I’ve added three illustrations to this six page, hand-bound, A6 booklet.
The other little booklet is Hare. This is a piece of creative non-fiction that originally appeared in the summer anthology of the Seasons series published by Elliot and Thompson in 2016. It is about the hares on Havergate Island, off the coast of Suffolk, that I saw when I volunteered there. I’ve added a pen and ink illustration to this seven page booklet.
…As evening slides into night, I put on my coat and head out into the street. The night is sepia and a sleepy half-moon rests its belly upon the chimney pots of the houses opposite…
Towards the end of last year I was approached by writer Caroline Greville, who asked me if I’d like to design a cover for her book, a memoir called Badger Clan. Caroline had found me via Twitter and we also both had pieces of writing published in the Seasons anthologies by Elliot and Thompson in 2016.
I was very happy to design a cover and had a strong image in mind when Caroline told me what the book was about and what she’d like. I’ve also been drawing badgers quite a lot recently too – badgers are never far away!
The book has just become available on Amazon as a paperback. Below is the front cover:
Here’s the blurb from the back cover:
Discovering badgers isn’t hard when you know where to look.‘The only badgers I ever get to see are dead ones.’ ‘Well, if you keep seeing dead ones, their family can’t be far away.’This throwaway conversation niggled, leading Caroline Greville to seek out her own neighbourhood badgers near her Kent home. She found them and was soon well-acquainted – so too were most of her family. A sense of interconnectedness developed as they had more badger contact than they could have hoped for. Badger Clan charts a simple quest that turns into a full-blown obsession. From loitering near a sett to working as local contact for a regional badger group, this memoir tells of wild encounters and gradual, intimate knowledge of the local clan. The story is rooted in rural village life, while the family are honestly depicted and relatable. A feel-good read in which enthusiast and elusive creature become inextricably bound.
Maybe you are searching among branches for what only appears in the Roots. ~ Rumi
I have recently received a contributor’s copy of the journal, Minerva Rising, as I have one of my pictures, The Dreaming Tree, featured in its pages.
My picture sits opposite a poem, Coyotes Talks to Me by Gina Hietpas. Gina contacted me to say she’d like to send me a photo of a tree she loves that is somewhere in the US. It is a magnificent tree with roots exposed to the sea and wind, a real Tree of Life. I should love to see such a tree, but, for now it is in the photo and my imagination.
It is strange to see what is normally hidden, revealed.
I have been thinking about roots, origins and belonging. The theme of this issue of Minerva Rising is roots. Roots physical and metaphorical, have found their way into my drawings and writings since I first started doodling and, more recently, they’ve appeared in my altered books.
…What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water…
The Wasteland T.S.Elliot
Roots – I have the need to look beneath the surface of things and to look within. It may reflect a need to return to earth, the ground beneath my feet and look deeper. Up above a branching canopy transcends the troubles and problems that seem to pervade everything at ground level. Roots give shelter, a shield against the chaos of the world. If I was another sort of animal it would be good to be a bird, but I think I’d probably be a subterranean, crepuscular animal right now. A kiwi, perhaps, pottering among the subtropical roots of a podocarp tree.
I have always liked trees and roots. As a child, I loved the book, “The Tree that Sat Down” by Beverley Nichols, with the shop within the base of a willow tree.
Over the past ten years I have had a sense of being uprooted, a persistant upheaval carrying me away from what really matters and cutting me off from my source. This sounds dramatic, but off and on it has been quite unsettling and I’ve had to fight to root myself. This goes along with a sense of unbelonging, but then I’ve always really had that.
In Brighton I notice the roots of elm trees heaving up the tarmac in protest.
At the end of last year I decided to make a new altered book with roots as a starting point. I’ve based them on buttress roots of rainforest trees like the Ceiba Tree, a tree sacred to the Maya. The Maya believe the tree links the three realms – the heavens, the earthly plane where humans live and the underworld. I have written a little about it at the start of my piece, A Fragment of Forest over on my writing website.
The altered book has taken me a long time and it’s still not finished. It’s now many pages deep, both sides of the central spread. This one is just for me I think, I probably won’t be able to sell it.
I also wanted to paint a wooden scaffolding board with leaves and roots. I’ve had the board propped up in my kitchen-cum-studio for weeks. Now I wish to festoon it with intricate leaves of greens and browns, with animals between the leaves, roots and branches. And perhaps a few stars between the branches. My Tree of Life. This has come to me from many sources, including the myriad plants that surround me in my flat. Plants have been silently speaking to me as they always have. It’s good to try painting boards once again, although my basic acrylic paint infuriates me and I realise that I just can’t paint! At least I have broken the spell of ‘blue’. However, I’m toying with the idea of giving the painting a wash of blue to create a night scene….possibly.
Recently I stumbled on the wonderful botantical art of Jess Shepherd. Her Leafscapes are amazing. I find her work mesmerising and meditative. I recently went to sleep with the image of one of her leaves fixed in my mind’s eye. It stilled me and took me elsewhere. Thank you Jess, I’m following your wonderful journey in search of blue flowers down under. She has got me really thinking about plants, drawing vegetation from life and looking really closely at it. I am also reminded that I have an inclination towards blue too.
As the new year begins, I am still, taking a pause while I try to work out where I am going. I’m still waiting for a sense of direction. I feel as though I’m caught mid-stream, suspended and going nowhere. Perhaps this is what this roots exploration is about, trying to find something to anchor myself to before I can move off with the current. No doubt I’ll see in time.
I’ve recently rediscovered the joy of research. It’s like peeling away layers and discovering networks that spread and spread, mycelia of knowledge that go on and on and on. The earth is wrapped in nerves and synapses, strands and pathways – to roots and beyond. Recently I’ve read that scientists have discovered life deep within the earth’s crust. The deeper they go, the more surprises come to light. There are microorganisms that do not need the sun. Instead they create methane which they just use to repair themselves. They have been buried for millions of years. This is life living in the really slow lane, in geologic time, not in the franetic pulse of our diurnal rhythms. That fascinates me, it stretches my mind into deep time. Here is a link to the article.
As I write this I am reminded of one of my favourite novels, An Imaginary Life by David Malouf. I think of it partly because the copy I read had roots on the cover, but also because the main character, Ovid, from the cultured, tamed Roman world, becomes more aware of nature and less afraid of the wild in his last days. The writing, the plot, the themes of exile, of belonging and unbelonging, speak to me at the moment and the many layers of story and meaning are beautiful. Towards the end:
…”I am growing bodiless. I am turning into the landscape. I feel myself sway and ripple. I feel myself expand upwards toward the blue roundness of sky. Is that where we are going?
The earth, now that I am about to leave it, seems so close at last. I wake, and there, so enormous in their proximity to my eyeball that I might be staring through tree trunks into an unknown forest, are the roots of the grass, and between the roots, holding them together, feeding them, the myriad round grains of the earth…
Round the base of these roots, seeking refuge amongst them as in a forest, finding food, are the smaller creatures – wood lice, ants, earwigs, earthworms, beetles, another world and another order of existence….We have come to join them. The earth’s warmth under me, as I stretch out at night, is astonishing. It is like the warmth of another body that has absorbed the sun all day and now gives out its store of heat. It is softer, darker than I could ever have believed, and when I take a handful of it and smell its extraordinary odors I know suddenly what it is I am composed of, as if the energy that is in this fistful of black soil had suddenly opened, between my body and it, as between it and the grass stalks, some corridor along which our common being flowed. I no longer fear it. I lie down to sleep, and wonder if, in the looseness of sleep, I mightn’t strike down roots along all the length of my body,and as I enter the first dream, almost feel it begin to happen, feel my individual pores open to the individual grains of the earth, as the interchange begins….I shall settle deep into the earth, deeper than I do in sleep, and will not be lost. We are continuous with earth in all the particles of our physical being, as in our breathing we are continuous with sky.”