River Voices

I have just got back from one of my favourite places, Penpynfarch, in a beautiful wooded valley in Carmarthenshire, Wales. As I wandered the river, lakeside and woods I listened to the many ‘voices’ I always hear when I visit, voices of the river and trees. It’s as though moments and memories from times past and future speak from the very soils, hidden spaces and waters. I found myself listening, searching and waiting, and the words ‘deep song’ came into my mind, the deep song of the river and woods.

Nant Gwyddyl

Nant Gwyddyl

With my new mp3 recorder I recorded the many voices of the Nant Gwyddyl; returning to rivers, that mean so much to me.

Listen,
Rock, cleft, moss, stone,
of memory and eternity,
the River speaks
voices of rock and root,
echoes of shoot and bark,
algal smooth
chasing
animal pelts of weed,
into
a whirlpool of laughter
an eddy of thought,
rush smooth,
babbling,
gone.

a kingfisher,
riot of dazzling blue.

A child’s voice,
A deep vowel,
sonorous tones,
silt of silk,
a current
secretly shifting the world.
A haunting harmony
carries me along by thought and dream.

I am river.

I have many photos from a few years ago, little has changed.

The ruin is a bit more overgrown,

Ruin

the wrecked caravan a little more hidden in its green swathe of undergrowth,

Wrecked Caravan

Wrecked Caravan

there’s no sign of goshawks in the trees,

Looking for Goshawks

Looking for Goshawks

and the lake is still peaceful.

The Lake Pen Pynfarch

Then rain came as it always does in Wales. So I walked in the rain and watched the herons flying to and from the heronry, the river rise, it’s voices a little stronger.

Now I am back home again I need to be patient and listen more deeply.

I am reading two books at the moment, both have “river” in the title. The first, The Other Side of the River by Eila Carrico, is a memoir and exploration of the meaning of water both physically and metaphorically in our lives, especially in the lives of women. It is written as a river flows, shifting gently here and there. The second book, At the Bottom of the River by Jamaica Kincaid. Perhaps I am drawn to anything with the word ‘river’ :) Both books flow with rivers of words or beautiful language, both weave in nature and hint at tropical lands.

Books I'm Reading

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New creations

It’s the time for nests! Everywhere I hear birdsong even in the middle of town and it’s lovely. As a child I would climb trees in the hope of finding a nest. Sometimes I did, but those I found – and collected – never had any eggs. I wouldn’t have disturbed them if they had. It’s very special getting a glimpse into a nest with eggs.

In our garden there are a couple of magpies building a nest in the top of a dead sycamore tree. The nest looks oval with a sort of thatched roof. They’re probably not yet tending eggs – my egg book says April – May. It’s good to watch them in action. I like magpies although they have a bad name and are so numerous these days. I remember a lovely animation featuring magpies on the IPM Radio 4 website that accompanied a short programme about bird watching and dementia.

Magpie Page in Egg Book

Magpie and Nest

Magpie and Nest

I have a few new creations that feature nests, apples and wings – altered books and small canvases. My Blackbird Nest altered book was on Folksy and sold very quickly:

Nest Altered Book

As it’s Spring, I had to create a Spring altered book which depicts a blackbird nest and woodland scene.

Spring Altered Book

Another one illustrates the poem, Song of the Wandering Aengus by William B. Yeats. I have chosen to illustrate the last few lines of the poem:

..And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

The left side of the book features the moon, half the tree of silver apples and a woman. The right side features a man sitting in the sun below the half of the tree with gold apples.

Silver Apples of the Moon Golden Apples of the Sun

The poem is an old favourite of mine, first heard to music sung by Donovan in a youtube video with some lovely, loose illustrations.

The altered books are part of the Words Exhibition at Obsidian Gallery in Buckinghamshire. I also have Memory Tree Books, a little “Winged” canvas and some cards in the exhibition. The Wings canvas is similar to a commission, Stone Angel Wings, that I did last year (see photo below) It was originally based on an altered book I created some time ago.

Stone Angel Wings

Stone Angel Wings

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Ulmus Memoriam

There is a new, temporary, sculpture in the park near me, a gateway or screen, a memorial to the Elm tree. It stands beside the two of the oldest elms on Earth, the Preston Twins of Preston Park, Brighton.

Ulmus Memorium

The sculpture is carved from elms felled in the River Cuckmere valley last year due to Dutch Elm Disease. Elm trees around the country were wiped out in their millions from the 1970s by the disease. In Brighton effective control measures were introduced, so it is the last stronghold in Britain for mature English elms. There is still a wonderful variety of elm trees here, originally planted by the Victorians and Edwardians.

Ulmus Memorium

The sculpture is the creation of wood sculptor Keith Pettit and part of a project called Ulmus Maritime organized by The Conservation Foundation along the South coast. He created the screen as a memorial to this fated tree.

On the front are flying birds – rooks – a copse of Winter elms and a sun. Along the bottom are the words:

“Ad gigantes augustos olim per terram nostrum pervagatos, nunc defectos” which means “A memorial to the lost, majestic giants once spreading through our land.

On the other side are swirlly clouds like waves and the hopeful words:

“The last bastion, shielded so future generations may still know of them.”

One of the Preston Twins

The Elm tree had its own nymph in Greek mythology. She was one of eight tree spirits or Hamadryads and her name was Ptelea. Elm trees feature in ancient literature including the Iliad and the Aeneid, where in the Underworld there is found the Stygian Elm of the River Styx or Elm of Dreams:

Spreads in the midst her boughs and agéd arms
an elm, huge, shadowy, where vain dreams, ’tis said,
are wont to roost them, under every leaf close-clinging.

And finally here is a link to a lovely poem, ‘The English Elms’ by Carol Ann Duffy.

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Moving Below Vulture Rock

Blue tit, tree creeper, bullfinch;
fallen acorns and the dry crunch of dwarf oak leaves;
scent of lemon and lavender as I wade through cloud fields
flower husks, the dry, deadhead suns of Autumn,
burnished mists, soft on the gaze.

A cricket zips past with a flash of blue sky in its wings;
a praying mantis strikes a combative pose on the path, quizical, as I walk past lonely ruins,
rocks that could be sacred.
And above me, vultures caress the currents and gather on the pink-grey vulture rock of vulture cliff.

What is the land saying?
It sloughs off Summer insignificantly,
in layers and earth warming browns,
in shards and bones,
in dry, bone trees in skeletal stances,
twisted and rattling,
abrasive and catching at my trousers.
Birds flit from tree to tree,
tick tick, tack, tack…
browns, honey, straw colours, beiges…
Even the snake wears beige.

In this basin of rock outcrops,
place of layers and silence,
shades of blue fade to more watery, distant, blues,
a valley of liquid air,
a valley I fall into with my gaze,
that I could almost swim into if I reached out…

I am the cliff,
I am the vulture,
I swim the valley and push to fly;
I am the knarled tree,
the scissoring cricket,
the lizard’s liquid escape,
the overarching sky.

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Whispers from the forest

I am, once again, in the forest. An aqua forest… of dreams… caught up in an entanglement of roots, alert to the breath and whisper of rock, of clod, of underground river.

As in the poem, Lost, by David Wagnor, I must listen… stand still… let the forest find me.

In the Marine Forest of Dreams

Lost

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

— David Wagoner

New Year and change. Letting the silt of the old year settle; lingering in shifting currents. I took a wander through a nearby wood, the sun, bright, cold and clear through tangled hands of branches, taut and white like a drum in the sky. A forest seeded in my mind…

Before Christmas, I listened to a play by Kneehigh Theatre on Radio 4 called “The Wild Bride”. The story was based on the fairy tale, The Handless Maiden and an overview of the tale can be read on the theatre website here.

In the tale a poor forester accidently sells his daughter to the Devil. When she goes feral and becomes a wild thing in the forest, I began to listen a bit more intently;

“Her dreams became deep rooted and full of forest”.

Wild or feral people, animals and characters intrigue me right now:

– The Thing in Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast… “something human that stood dappled with leaf-shaped shadows, a child, with its thick hair hacked off close to its head and the face freckled like a bird’s egg. The body, slender, indeed thin, appeared, when the child began to move, to be without weight.”

– the wild child in David Malouf‘s An Imaginary Life“He has not yet captured his individual soul out of the universe about him. His self is outside him, its energy distributed among the beasts and birds whose life he shares, among leaves, water, grasses, clouds, thunder – whose existence he can be at home in because they hold, each of them, some particle of his spirit.”

Perhaps they represent a freer, more primitive self, a closeness to the wild spirit and nature we once had millenia back. Perhaps they simply remind us of the untamed child of our own past, I may have been somehow closer to nature then.

I took a biro, a large sheet of brown paper and inspired by Eva Jospin, doodled a forest. Here is my first Forest on Brown Paper and a photoshop-inverted one because I love blue so much. Wild child sketches follow.

Forest on brown paper

Inverted Forest

Wild Girl

Wild Child

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To Feel Again

Feel. I feel I have to start again
within my field of feeling.
I have brought down fences and the hedges are small,
I can see over chaos.
The pages of my life hang like tattered sails,
I could dance like the warm-cool breeze and they would flutter
with me.
My words have not left yet
nor the breeze, free voice of the barmy night
now the sun has gone so I cannot reach over for it.
I feel that I must begin again
within my field of feeling.

And there is promise and potential in the air
pregnant as a thought,
wordless, small to bursting.
My words like waves washed away something smooth,
a shore beneath the gulls of night.
We are beneath a gibbous moon whose pull is not enough.
I lounge and long in the backwash of this moon’s shadow.

If only I could capture this night like a moth in a jar
and savour it in my field of feeling

By day, it is alive with moths

This night is a book open in the breeze, a half forgotten chapter,
Words hang unsung, a voice unuttered, a body unstirred in an
unawakened dream.
Perhaps it is time to wake within my field of feeling
remake where words left off
and all the jars I couldn’t fill, the jars of night and stars
and milky ways and the sounds of storm petrels,
now the night is here and the moon, a nickel.

The night is bent over like a woman in indigo, a desert dreamer.
She picks her way through fields of sea campion and hares,
she dares to look between the papers and words,
the body and head,
the schisms, rifts,
the dichotomies, the hesitations, confusions, reflections.
She looks between into the field of feeling
where the rich grasses rustle
and the trees in breezes dare to speak

And she looks to the open book,
the sails beneath the nickel moon
and pulls over the blue veil til horizons meet
and from there, in the field of feeling,
she begins the dream.

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She: an icon of return

Despair Icon
Sometimes it seems I’m juggling fragments. Sometimes my art is born not from joy but despair. This picture followed other pictures I created in anguish. Here She plays with a butterfly against a background of bits and pieces; fragments of letters to the Earth, the lyrics of The River of Despair, the torn pieces of life and the swimmers and dancers amongst them, branches of The Tree of Life like arteries from the heart.

The whole is a reflection of how I was feeling at the time. Following despair, She is an icon of return.

Peeling world within the frame,
in the sky a butterfly…
as a torn and urgent wing
tries to fly…

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Spring in the woods

“In the woods, the spirit can stretch and change, can move like a willow, elastic in spring…In the woods, you may be lost in your thoughts, willingly lost, creatively lost, which allows you to enter the mind’s forests, where the wind within can blow you somewhere sought and as yet unfound….In the forest is a child. But inside the child, will always be the forest. Breathe the forest deeply enough in childhood, and the birds will still be singing seventy years on.”
From Forests of the Mind by Jay Griffiths

The Mens West SussexHere in the UK, it’s Spring and I’ve been out in the woods enjoying it. Woodland flowers are blooming and birds are singing their hearts out. A week ago, while wandering a wood near Brighton, I watched as a stoat was chased by some very protective rabbits; it was a real wildlife treat!
The Mens West SussexThe other day, Kevin and I ventured further to two of my favourite woods in West Sussex, The Mens and Ebernoe Common both owned by The Sussex Wildlife Trust.

The Mens is an open beech and oak wood, with other trees such as holly and midland hawthorn. I chose to take photos looking into the light which streamed through the open canopy and Spring growth. Great tits dominated on the bird front, but we also saw or heard woodpeckers, treecreepers and nuthatches. The paths were soft with last year’s leaflitter and some slopes were dotted with wood spurge and lesser celandine. We had the wood to ourselves and one of its beauties is that it’s big enough to get lost in! But I’ve never been truly lost…in a wood…yet.

Stream at Ebernoe CommonEbernoe Common is perhaps my favourite wood. It’s here that I come to see woodland butterflies such as silver-washed fritillaries and a plethora of grasshoppers and crickets in Summer, or to do bat surveys and enjoy the sun sinking mauve over Furnace Pond. On our recent visit, we spent some time around the lake watching orange tip butterflies mating or laying eggs on cuckoo flowers on the wet margins.

Furnace Pond at Ebernoe

But besides the wildlife, and escaping the town, I agree with Jeanette Winterson that woods

“..are places to dream….There is a wooded place in our heads….the forest holds the memory of other lives and other ways of life…is one vast memory system that binds with our own.”

The bluebells are coming out now. If you’re interested in finding a wood near you check out the Visitwoods website.

 

Embracing the Tree of life

Lost by David Wagoner.

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you,
If you leave it you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you
.

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Message in a bottle – flotsam and jetsam

Swans and wavesMermaid for bottleWhile in Nepal, I buried a little packet a friend gave me on top of Poon Hill under the gaze of the Dhauligiri Massif. Now my friend will be taking a voyage back across the Atlantic from Brazil, a true dream trip. When she goes, I’ll be giving her a gift to the ocean, a bottle with a picture inside that I hope will be washed up and found one day. She said she’ll drop it in the mid Atlantic so it might get caught by the Gulf Stream or find itself aswirl in the North Atlantic Gyre ending up in the Sargasso Sea. Perhaps it’ll stay in the North Atlantic Garbage patch instead! :(

There’s a sad story about a message in a bottle that was found a few years ago. Here‘s a link to the story.

My picture has drawings both sides. The swan image just came to me. I wanted to depict a bird that flies at night. I’ve linked it to the moon, so perhaps it symbolises a messenger like Mercury. The swan is a symbol of light in many cultures and is associated with the sun and the God Apollo in ancient Greece. The god Zeus took the shape of a swan to get close to Leda, with whom he had fallen in love. Sensitivity, intuition and grace are just some characteristics associated with swans. A swan may represent the Soul and travel to the “Otherworld”… and it was once believed that swans sing a beautiful song when they’re dying. They are wonderful birds!

I want the wild swan to be freed from the bottle like a genie, free the wild soul!

“When the swan of the soul takes flight at last, it needs neither signposts nor maps.” Vijay Bhattacharya.

Blackboard drawing by Tacita DeanI have been musing on loss and ‘lost’ recently, (especially after reading Rebecca Solnit’s Field Guide to Getting Lost.) I’ve also been adrift on an unknown sea of ships, wrecks, dreams and memories. While drawing the little picture for the bottle, I thought of my mother and how I would draw little pictures for her. I guess my mother is connected to the sea and loss, dreams and all those fragmented memories that keep coming back to me. Perhaps that’s why I’m looking into the artwork of Tacita Dean; she too, has a fascination with the sea and of lost and found things. My life at the moment, it seems, is all flotsam and jetsam, a jumble of fragmented things and I’m caught within the liminal trappings of a dream. Wake up, I keep telling myself! But I so want to escape… steal away on a boat somewhere…

Message in a bottleIceland sparDuring an online search I learnt about the crystal Iceland Spar. In ancient Norse legend, the Vikings, who travelled across the Atlantic, are said to have navigated by using sunstones to find the sun on cloudy days. In the summer there would be constant daylight so navigation by the stars was restricted. A new study has looked at the Iceland spars as possible navigation aids after the discovery of one on a 16th century British shipwreck, the Alderney. If held up to the sun and rotated, the crystal is said to capture polarised sunlight. There’s only one point in the crystal where two sunbeams are equally strong, an angle that depends on the beam’s location. On sunny days the navigator would mark the sun’s position on the crystal and compare the position with the strongest point on cloudy days to locate the sun’s position. I really like the possibility of this and gave my friend a piece of Iceland Spar to take with her.

There’s been quite a lot about ships and shipwrecks in the news recently. I have a fascination with wrecks, ships and figureheads, but more on that another time.

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A gift to the mountains

View of Dhauligiri from Poon HillBurying a gift to the mountainsPoon Hill at dawn. A torchlit procession up there. I buried a friend’s gift to the mountains in sight of the impressive Dhauligiri. There were many flowers – a beautiful night meadow (or Night Garden) :)

The Poet Dreams of the Mountain

Sometimes I grow weary of the days with all their fits and starts.
I want to climb some old grey mountain, slowly, taking
the rest of my life to do it, resting often, sleeping
under the pines or, above them, on the unclothed rocks.
I want to see how many stars are still in the sky
that we have smothered for years now, forgiving it all,
and peaceful, knowing the last thing there is to know.
All that urgency! Not what the earth is about!
How silent the trees, their poetry being of themselves only.
I want to take slow steps, and think appropriate thoughts.
In ten thousand years, maybe, a piece of the mountain will fall.

~ Mary Oliver ~

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