I’ve written and illustrated three more pieces for my local Preston Pages magazine, Fox Hour for April, Sparrowhawk for May and Swifts for June.
As I write in the Swifts article, I’m doing a swift survey in my neighbourhood. It’s made me much more aware of all the activity happening in the skies above the city. Swifts are declining and the RSPB is monitoring them and encouraging people to put up swift boxes. To learn more, and see how you can help, go to the RSPB website.
The breeding season for many birds is well underway. Some birds are even on second broods. In May I went out to the woods and surrounding countryside to watch and listen out for birds and other wildlife but also to see what I could collect in the way of discarded eggshells and any other natural finds. Below are my eggshells – so far this year:
In the photograph you can see two song thrush, a magpie, a blackbird, some sort of wild duck and a moorhen. In my wanderings I’ve also found a pike’s head, but that’s a bit too gross to show here! (I need to clean it somehow for displaying.)
I’ve been keeping an eye on a crow’s nest in an ash tree next door. I can just glimpse some frantic wing flapping through the leaves – fledgings? I’m guessing the young will leave the nest soon, but the parents are still tooing and froing and circling their territory.
On the subject of nests, in May I went to see the exhibition, Natural Selection at the Towner Gallery by Andy and Peter Holden. Peter Holden is an ornithologist and his son is an artist so they teamed up over a period of years to create ‘Natural Selection’. The exhibition shows a collection of nests from around the world:
a video installation, various creations inspired by nests,
and a room of hand-painted egg replicas in boxes:
I like to think I straddle both arenas, the art and science of nature, sometimes art has a slight edge, but overall I’m a naturalist. Anyway, I’ve started to keep some of my small natural finds in a printer’s tray my sister gave me for my birthday:
Inspired by the exhibition, I’ve decided to create natural exhibits using old cigar boxes. Here is one I’ve started:
As I have a thing about nests, I’ve made another altered book, Buzzard’s Nest and a Song Thrush Nest box frame. Both are in my Etsy Shop.
For the March issue of Brighton’s Preston Pages magazine my piece, Dawn Chorus in the City was featured along with the illustration below:
The Preston Pages’ Dawn Chorus in the City was a shorter version of a piece that was originally published on the City Creatures blog and which I’ve now added to my other nature writing website, From the Fields and Woods. I wrote the piece last year and there have since been changes to the garden my flat looks down on.
In January our next door neighbour had some of our trees cut because she wants more light in her garden. i felt very sad about this and requested that as little as possible be cut so the garden was still a wildlife haven. Below you can see photos of before the cut and after. I’m used to it now but the trend in cutting down city trees saddens me whether they are in the street or in peoples’ gardens. I’m all in favour of a bit of wilful neglect so wildlife can flourish in peace – and I mean birds, foxes, badgers or whatever (I draw the line at rats).
It’s not so bad!
Anyway, I’d like to create a Dawn Chorus artwork beyond an illustration. So far I’ve created a candle lantern:
Here is an MP3 recording of the dawn chorus from my balcony:
Back in March I took two painted boards to Herstmonceux Castle for Waterweek as I had been invited to contribute some creation. When I took them in on the second evening, one of the artist organisers looked as though to say what on earth have you brought us! I left hurriedly without attending the evening talks, embarassed as I am about these things and made off into the night across the misty Pevensey Levels. I had dared to show something, I had taken the risk! I didn’t see any of the week’s events as I desperately needed to escape the clamour of Brighton and spend the week cosied up beside a roaring woodburner in a shepherd’s hut down in Dorset.
When I returned to pick up my boards, we – Kevin and I – were taken up through the castle corridors and shiny-floored halls to a main room by a friendly caretaker who knew all about my boards. And there they were placed up in a bay window which I thought was a lovely prominant position.
Why I’m writing this is that I’ve recently had a dream about Herstmonceux Castle. It is perhaps strange that of all the wonderful things that happened that week, all I can write about is my dingy dream. But the castle definitely made an impression on me.
I was at Herstmonceux Castle working on my Memory Tree story in a library there. From the windows I could see the fresh green growth of the trees. I was with my mother who was lingering and wasting time when I wanted to go into town with her. I decided to leave her but felt torn. I have many images of her beside a window, sunset without, feeding the birds.
Life is rich on deeper levels. I reach back into a distant past within the walls of the castle of my mind or being. Mystery, intrigue and beauty are words that come to mind and darkness too, which is strange as we are now tipping into Spring and light streams into newly unearthed spaces. I am feeling the desire for life with Spring but also a resistance after Winter.
I shall not forget
The open window
You with your gifts of bread and love
leaning out with your familiarity
At one with the birds
They came in numbers
And you named them
Each and every one
Native American names
I thought of your gift with them
Those that came in numbers
To feed in your presense
I shall not forget
And shall stand now
At my open window
Inviting in the birds
And I’ll call them by names
Each and every one
To be at one with the birds.
Hummingbird has entered my life. I’m not quite sure what I think of Spirit Animals, Animal Totems, Western Shamanism, I try and keep an open mind about it all and find myself drawn to it sometimes.
I’m always interested in animals and wildlife, although this rarely creeps into this blog. A jackdaw has taken to frequenting the scaffolding outside my bedroom window; we were curious about each other. Sometimes it feels as though nature/wildlife has a message and that I should listen. I’ve found myself collecting feathers from woodland paths and even the street. Recently I found a buzzard feather and now I actively search for them – owl, jay, woodpecker – any feather of any bird. Summer may be the best time to find feathers when birds are moulting, but now is OK as well. Feathers give me a tangible link to the natural world; I even had a dream about one. I’m being drawn to birds, to the sky, to flight and freedom.
So often I’ve thought (symbolically) that my “wings” are torn and broken and however much I wish to “take off”, I can’t. It is a sort of freedom I seek, but something has always held me back or down.
My first experience of hummingbirds was in a garden in Mexico. The bird came quietly like an apparition to visit some red blooms – probably hibiscus flowers. It seemed as though it was an uncanny link with an “Otherworld” at the time, as though this was a special, silent messenger. I’ll never forget the memory.
I mentioned another hummingbird encounter in a piece of writing recently published in the magazine Earthlines:
“…After a few minutes I hear a noise, more like a vibration than something audible, coming from my left. It is like feline purring, a soft tinnitus, another sound in this place of voices. A fragment of the forest’s heart splinters off and a tiny hummingbird comes into view unlocked from its own chasm of sound, beating within its own silent bubble.
A coil of memory, recalling a poem by D. H. Lawrence, spools out in my mind,
‘Before anything had a soul, While life was a heave of Matter, half inanimate, This little bit chipped off in brilliance And went whizzing through the slow, vast, succulent stems.’
The bird hangs needle sharp, chest out, suspended in a brief blur of wings, threading the air. No brilliance here, more like a moth it hovers, patiently in the half light. But, there’s something misplaced, unravelled, something lost and found in the single, graceful poise of this tiny bird fluttering like an off key note against some invisible membrane.
I feel privileged to be caught in a moment with this bird. When the Sun seeks the Moon, says Mayan legend, it becomes a hummingbird. I feel like the moon, feel as though the bird has a message from another world just for me. The moment passes and the White Bellied Emerald is gone, disappeared into the gloom.”
Now I’m painting hummingbirds. And not just in blues! So much of my painting is in blues and turquoises – that I love – but I’ve broken the blue spell and want to paint in yellows and maroons and golds and ….
According to various sources, hummingbirds can symbolize many things – energy, joy, perseverance, flexibility, Eternity and Infinity. Apparently hummingbird wings flutter in a figure of eight, the symbol of Infinity. Hummingbirds appear playful and light encouraging enjoyment of life and positivity. I do feel joy, after sometime of shadow, should I trust it I ask myself…
A stay on Havergate Island off the Suffolk Coast in June inspired this piece of creative writing:
“We head south into weak sunshine poured through a washed out sky, up and down banks of pink thrift and close cropped turf. The shingle protests underfoot. Threadbare hares eyeball us from a distance. An old drum, a reel of wire, land scooped out in dips, mounds and barren mudflats. As we approach the gull colony, lesser black backed and herring gulls greet us with a crescendo of raucous cries. Walking into the colony gulls lift up, a clamour of screeches and cries. ‘Yarh yarh yarh’ and the sky is littered grey with birds of all sizes, motes of soot or litter in the wind. I hear the occasional peep of an oystercatcher, then a deeper more gutteral cry as, amongst the whirl overhead, a great black backed gull is mobbed by his smaller cousins.
I look down to see a confusion of loose nests, speckled green eggs and huddles of downy chicks, dotted mud-grey and well camoflaged against the grass and splattered ground. I feel a well of excitment seeing nests with eggs and stoop to pick up a broken eggshell embroidered on the inside with a trellis of red veins. I hurry to catch up with Anthony who is fast tracking it through the haze of gulls. They swoop in big arches, their cries deafening. I think I know when they are going to attack as from a distance they fix their gaze intently and then shape to dive bomb. Anthony braces against the attacks and then I receive a vicious kick on the back of my head. I feel the sharpness of feet and beak and know that blood has been drawn. I put up my hood just as a missile of guano splatters my sleeve with chalk white smears.
Through more waves of thrift we reach the hide, out of the wind and into the smell of damp wood and dust. Inside, safe from the birds, I recall fragments of a dream and sit gazing blankly at the mudflats while Anthony latches open a window and sets up the telescope. I am in an alien land wearing a pink gingham dress the colour of pink thrift. The dress is one I wore when I was twelve. I mingle with a group of people I am trying to please but feel awkward and distant from them. I remember the feeling of being caught between people and a wild, other self of tree climbing, birds’ nests and wanderings alone over the Downs. The dream and memories are rosy with sunset light, the same as last night at sundown over the mudflats and thrift. Pink thrift stirs pink memories.
Later that day we move heavy sheets of plastic guttering into the garage where the barn owl is supposed to live in a boarded up corner. Weary but relieved that the task is done, I notice a couple of soggy owl pellets near the garage entrance, the round, dark remains of a barn owl meal. We prise them apart and find fine vole bones. There are no signs of life in the garage. Then I discover a barn owl behind the cabins, a hollow eyed carcass leached of life, soggy feathers fanned out white against the black bins. I am reminded of how harsh it is here.
Anthony finds a rat skull in the gloom near the decaying remains of a hare and I discover the bleached jawbone of a seabird, slender and springy as a wish bone. On returning to my cabin, I secrete it safely away with my eggshell inside an empty egg-box.”
I’ve done a new painting in a style that’s new for me. Kevin says it looks a bit ‘new agey’ and I can perhaps see what he means. It might be the subject matter or the colours, I’m not sure. I have been thinking about gathering birds, swallows in caves and starlings over the pier here in Brighton. They’re like twittering thoughts or memories in the loft of my mind; like a sixth sense telling me something is going to happen; there are dreams ‘waiting in the wings’.
The painting is not my favourite but it’s good to be back putting paint on canvas!
A quiet end to the year, a year of reflecting, writing and blogging. I stood on the balcony when the pips struck twelve and watched as hundreds of orange lanterns took to the skies. One floated quite close by from the garden next door to join the magical scene. And then fireworks on the horizon bursting forth above the silhouettes of roofs and chimneys. It was so mild compared to the recent snowy spell; I was just in a light long sleeved top.
The New Year has started well. We saw friends who took home some of my recent paintings and were curious about some of my early stuff. It was fun bringing out from storage, a large red painting that I haven’t seen or thought about for years. My last few paintings have been light or of vibrant colours but now I seem to want dark paint….and stories. Perhaps illustrative paintings. I want to continue with my Turtle Dreaming story and it would be good to finish it this year. The “Dreamcatcher Woman” in my last post was the start of painting on wood once again. It’s not a good painting but I like the depth and darkness, the hint of ocean about it. The song just came into my mind while I was scanning in the photo. Here is the next piece, “Woman, Moon, Bird” also on sanded scaffolding board.
I shall put up the end of year paintings soon if I can finally finish them. Meanwhile, wishing much happiness for the New Year ahead.
The other night I couldn’t sleep. I lay in bed, thoughts tumbling through my mind…and then the song, “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen, started up in my head. I began to sing the words and before I could think properly, I crawled out of bed and fetched my guitar, blew the dust off it and began to play. Or tried to. A friend taught me how to play it, so I can play it but not very well. That night it didn’t really matter, it was just good to be singing and switching off my work head.
Today I’ve had the day off and decided to make something related to a phrase in the Suzanne song. The phrase I particularly like is:
“there are heroes in the seaweed,
there are children in the morning,
they are leaning out for love and they will lean that way forever,
while Suzanne holds the mirror…”
I found a piece of sanded scaffolding board that I had since my “Blue Goddess” painted board and got to work. The result is far removed from children and seaweed, instead I’ve painted birds! I’d like to have painted heroes in seaweed but couldn’t quite manage it. The result isn’t great but it’s a start to getting back into creating after months of learning and working (which has been enjoyable but different.)
I shall talk about birds soon, perhaps next time, I can see a theme there….
The Leonard Cohen lyrics are great and can be found here.
I’ve been wanting to photograph the elusive and fleeting wildlife encounters I’ve experienced recently around town — the sparrowhawk that flew straight across the road in front of me making a peeping noise and with a starling or blackbird in its talons. Or the fox which slunk past me on the pavement within a metre the other day, or the one glimpsed crossing the road and disappearing over a garden wall as we were returned from a walk on Hollyberry Hill Fort. My photo of him was too poor to show here, but I’m going to try and feature an urban wildlife photo each week from now on. That could be a challenge.
Last night I had a dream. I went into a room that was my room in the house I grew up in. The room was dimly lit but I could see that there were pictures, photos and shapes of birds all around the room. In the dream I was studying nocturnal bird migration. When I woke up I wrote it down and felt inspired to do a sketchy picture of migrating birds. I had distinctly seen swallows in my dream, but they’re more like starlings in my picture. The sky is overcast, not quite like the lovely sunny weather we’ve been having! Still, it’s been a bit dull today and I’ve been wrapped up with a cold — just like autumn! I need to do something colourful to welcome the better weather!