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Gavrinis, Standing Stones and a Tiny House

Just off the coast of Brittany, in the Gulf of Morbihan, there’s a special little island called Gavrinis, ‘goat island’. It’s special because it has a large burial mound or cairn known for the detailed engravings that adorn the wall, floor and ceiling slabs of the cairn’s interior passage that are 6000 years old. In Neolithic times Gavrinis was a granite hill on the mainland coast overlooking the River Vannes, but the seas rose and the hill became an island. Today you can visit it by boat. We have just returned from a trip to Brittany where we visited Gavrinis on a day trip.

Gavrinis from the sea
Gavrinis island from the sea
Gavrinis cairn
Gavrinis cairn.

You are not allowed to take photos inside the burial chamber. In the photo below, taken from the Brittany Tourism website, the interior passageway looks longer than it seems in real life. It is an intimate space about three and a half feet wide. The granite slabs are engraved with swirls, chevrons, wavy lines and axe shapes and look very like fingerprints. What they symbolise is a mystery. It has been suggested that the lines represent waves or water or perhaps furrows of ploughed land. The Neolithic creators of the megalith were the first farmers and the land was revered and sacred. Gavrinis appeals to my liking for islands, for caves and for deep, quiet, ancient sacred spaces. The carvings remind me of labyrinths. How tempting it is to trace the lines with one’s finger. Perhaps they depict a kind of map to the next world? Perhaps an underground, underworld way of water.

Cairn de Gavrinis
In the passageway of the Cairn of Gavrinis.

No evidence of any bodies have been found at the cairn. It is thought that the acidic nature of the granire stones may have eroded any bones away.

You can see another island from Gavrinis, Er Lannic.

Er Lannic seen from Gavrinis
Er Lannic seen from Gavrinis.

On the boat journey back we crossed a strong current at high tide to see the half submerged stone circle on Er Lannic. It illustrates how sea level has risen.

Er Lannic submerged stone circle
Er Lannic showing the half submerged stone circle.

The same day we drove to see the long lines of standing stones at Carnac – rows, dolmens and tumuli. There are over 3,000 prehistoric granite stones erected over 5,000 years ago. There is a myth that says the stones were Pagan soldiers turned into stone by Pope Cornelius.

Carnac
Prehistoric stones in the Kermario alignment at Carnac. Kermario means ‘House of the Dead’.
Keriaval Dolmen
Keriaval Dolmen

After our megalithic sightseeing we travelled north to the Parc Naturel A’Armorique where we stayed in a little cabin on a permaculture farm.

Tiny house
Tiny house in Brittany.
Little tin with finds from Brittany.
Little tin given to me by a friend with finds from Brittany – yellow gorse and heather from Ménez Hom; quartz from the sea cliffs; sea purslane from the River Aulne.

Each day we went down to the River Aulne to watch birds, mullet feeding in the shallows and the tide coming in or going out.

Sunset over the River Aulne
Sunset over the River Aulne. The River Aulne was sacred to the Romans, who named it after Alaunus, Gaulish God of healing and prophecy.

From my diary:

River, still as a lake. carrying the sky’s visage, the splintered reflections of egrets, the crescent moon. Fish prick the surface waters of the incoming tide. Golden is the eastern sky. The shore crackles as inch by inch, silt upon silt, salt into fresh the water creeps, almost silently, unobtrusively. A cormorant now wings along the farther shore towards the sun over the white dots of roosting gulls. A curlew calls. The forest that was mirrored in the glass of the river is now bronze, now dense with darkness. The river says nothing. Spleechless it shifts, slowly it sucks up the land. The tide says nothing; this is its prerogative. All is held in a quiet dislocation, a shifting constant of sea and river. Silence bears witness to silence as the shore shrinks and we wait on the bank for some action, for a mammal, for a fox perhaps, or even an otter. Nothing comes and the hour gapes, waiting, waiting, waiting. This is forever. This is what forever sounds like, the silence then the crackling shore. In it comes, slowly, while above the crescent draws and pulls, pulls and draws. The sun behind the hill. A faint breeze. The gloaming now.

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From the Sea to the River – Sea Trout and Nautical Charts

When you are lost, you look for landmarks to get your barings, a map perhaps and tools to navigate. This year I have felt lost and adrift, but paradoxically anchored like a buoy and going nowhere. I suffer from a sort of sea vertigo, clutching at nothings. Time has passed and I have little to show for it. When in a state of quasi-suspension, like a trout caught mid-stream, I need a project.

Recently I received the e-newsletter from Dark Mountain and read Charlotte Du Cann’s piece, Sea change, which resonated very much with me. I was especially moved by the little video included in the post, Manta Ray, from the film Racing Extinction. Why watching zooplankton is moving I cannot say, but I felt very humbled and loving towards all of life after watching the video. Here it is:

I mused about the sea and being lost. Soon a project started to develop. I wanted to work with paper, ink, maps, currents, islands. I had few clues as I was feeling ‘at sea’, amniotic and floating. So I returned to an old motif, the fish, and thought about sea trout and their amazing life cycle. Like salmon, they hatch in rivers, go out to the sea and return years later to breed. They undergo a transformation, a metamorphosis – they shapeshift between fresh and saltwater, their lives mysterious and subtle. I like that change and adaptability.

Sea trout spawn in some of the rivers here in Sussex. You can read a well written description of their life cycle on the Ouse and Adur Rivers Trust website. I have been doing river surveys for OART for the past few years, looking for ‘redds’, the piles of gravel the fish make for breeding.

Sea trout redd?
Sea trout redd?

Occasionally I see a trout and once I watched several jump up a weir. Sea trout are not lost, they recognise the ‘taste’ of the water where they hatched and return to the same river to breed themselves. Each river has its own olfactory signature. They may pick up other clues to find their way to their native waters, such as the magnetic field. Who knows. I think it is amazing. Follow your nose… find your way.

The river pulls me too.

In the River Rother
In the River Rother

I doodled in my sketchbook, sea trout…

Sea Trout Sketchbook
Sea trout sketchbook

and drew a foldout image of a sea trout.

Folded Sea Trout
Folded Sea Trout

The Dark Mountain piece was illustrated with photos of artwork by the artist Leya Tess. She draws marine designs on sea charts. I decided to take my inspiration from her as I have some old nautical charts, acquired from an auction some time ago and waiting for a project. I used a chart that shows the area of coast where the Sussex rivers – the Ouse, Adur and Cuckmere – enter the sea. Here is my finished artwork:

Sea Trout Art Chart
Sea Trout Art Chart – click on image for a larger version.

I also visited one of the gravelly streams where sea trout come to make their redds and spawn. I filmed under the shallow water:

Filming under the water
Filming under water in a sea trout stream.

I am going somewhere in a way. I have made a start and hopefully it will lead me futher. I’m now working on a brief film poem.

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AEVA Magazine

It was lovely receiving my copy of the new AEVA, Woman Earth Soul magazine in the post today. Formerly it was She Who Knows. AEVA means life, sound and voice. AEVA is different from your typical women’s magazine. It honours the beauty and wisdom in every woman and aims to empower, replenish and inspire it’s readers. It is full of wonderful words and beautiful art by women for women.

In this issue one of the themes is rivers. I have a few words on my relationship to rivers and a photo of me in the River Lot, France.

Rivers have been and still are important to me. My need for a river is sometimes a thirst and I do not visit rivers enough. I am a river person more than a sea person. The sea is too big, too overwhelming, too impersonal sometimes, but I need it as well. However, it is to freshwater I go and where I always feel welcome.

Below is a photo of the cover of AEVA showing women in a river :) How good is that!

AEVA Magazine
AEVA Magazine

Here is a spread of the article, ‘Entering the River’s Flow’:

Entering the River's Flow
Entering the River’s Flow article.

You can get 10% off a year’s subscription with the code sharethelove8. See the AEVA website.

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Spirit Boat Project

I’ve been thinking about boats and the idea of a Shamanic boat. When I googled ‘shamanic boat’ I found a website about Finnish Shamanism, Spiritboatblogspot (which is very fascinating and worth checking out if you’re into shamanic practices.) I also found a link to the Living Shaman Museum and a workshop that took place by a ‘spirit boatist’/artist, Jennifer Ewing. Her work intrigues me. She started making boats when her father died to help her deal with her grief.

My Uncle Ken made boats – it’s one thing I remember about him. Sometimes boats make an impression on me and one such boat was the Vasa ship in the Vasa Museum in Stockholm. It has some lovely carvings of sea spirits, tritons and mermen decorating the sides:

Vasa Ship Mermen
Vasa Ship Mermen
Sea Spirit on the Vasa Ship
Sea Spirit on the Vasa Ship

Another boat that comes to mind is Grayson Perry‘s ship in The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman.

Grayson Perry's Ship
Grayson Perry’s Ship in The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman, British Museum 2011.

I like boat ruins too and featured one in a previous post that’s supposed to be haunted.

There is something lovely about the idea of a container carrying you over the waters.

“At night I sleep and dream reed-lined, silt-laden dreams, drifting channels in my skiff, hugging the shallows, calm and sheltered from a ravaging sea beyond.”

I decided to embark on my own Spirit Boat project, making boats and putting night lights inside them before placing them into a river at dusk as another river project.

So I started by making a simple origami boat and covering it with pieces of a letter written to the river with my hopes and dreams, words and poems. (I tried to write in the language of the river!) I stuck a rabbit vertebrae in the bottom of the boat to hold a gull feather. This became my Boat of Words.

Origami Boat
Origami Boat made out of an old drawing of a fox I no longer wanted.
Boat of Words
Boat of Words

The second boat I covered with used coffee filter papers that were stained a nice, natural coffee brown. I sewed on to the sides rabbit bones with scrim twine and used a rabbit skull as a figurehead. This became my Boat of Bones. At last I have a use for the natural materials I’m always collecting!

All the materials have a story. I collected my rabbit skulls and bones during a visit to Morfa Dyffryn, an extensive stretch of sand dunes on the coast of Wales. We visited on a cold April day when the winds off the sea chilled us to the bone. It must be a harsh place to be a rabbit.

Boat of Bones
Boat of Bones

My third boat I covered in coffee filter papers and scrim and trimmed it with dried grasses that I’d collected from a basket making day last year. I put some sheep’s wool that I’d collected from the Downs on the first really sunny day in April. This is my Harvest Boat.

Agricultural Spirit Boat
Harvest Boat
Nest Boat
Nest Boat

Finally I covered a boat with dried, used teabag papers to give it a rustic, natural look. I then placed moss inside to finish off my Moss Boat.

Moss Boat
Moss Boat
Spirit Boats in Process
Spirit Boats in Process

In my boats I placed a night light.

Five Spirit Boats
Five Spirit Boats

One evening in July as the moon was waning, my partner Kevin and I set off for the River Ouse at Barcombe Mills where the river is gentle and accessible. It is a popular place by day; people have picnics and swim in the river. I have swum there once myself….

Swimming in the River Ouse
Swimming in the River Ouse – I can’t resist a bit of wild swimming when I get the opportunity!

We waited for dusk and then lit the night lights. I can’t help thinking the boats look like shoes! ( I think ‘shoes’ and then ‘footprints’ and have ideas for another project! Watch this space :) )

I slowly put the boats into the water and filmed them while Kevin took photos. When I looked at the footage I found it quite meditative, so I made the video below and set it to some deep, Tibetan chanting. You may be able to hear the odd chaffinch singing from the hedgerows.

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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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A Walk Between Heaven and Earth

A Walk Between Heaven and EarthI have just finished reading “A Walk Between Heaven and Earth” by Burghild Nina Holzer. It is a lovely book about how to write a creative journal, written in the way of a journal. Burghild’s writing shines in its simplicity and beauty. There are many passages I like, such as the quote on the back of the book:

Talking to paper is talking to the divine. Paper is infinitely patient. Each time you scratch on it, you trace part of yourself, and thus part of the world, and thus part of the grammar of the universe.

There are many passages I relate to. One in particular, about when the author spends time beside a river, reminds me of my time beside the River Bure. Here is an extract from page 107:

On the last day of my journey I sat by a river with long green hair. It was like the hair of some wild river woman, swirling at my feet, as if she wanted to caress me. And the river woman whispered to me, she said, “Put your feet in the water, put your hands in.” And as soon as I did I saw the fish….And the green hair caressed my feet, and I forgot about time. And when I finally turned to go, I saw that my backpack had fallen into the water, as if the wild woman wanted to claim it, as if she wanted to claim my journal and make the task of translation impossible…”

River Bure with Long Green Hair
River Bure with long green hair.
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River Women

The river is our mother…the land is our mother

I have just attended a workshop, River Women, down on Dartmoor. It was run by dance and movement artist and musician, Denise Rowe and was about connecting to our ancestors and the land. I have been interested in my ancestors and recently researched my family tree mainly on my father’s side. When I think of ancestors – especially on the female line – I can now name real people; Iris, Eileen, Alice, Frances… but about their lives, I know little.

In a village hall, we lay on the floor and moved gently, stretching our spines, loosening our joints, feeling our backs into the floor. I heard somewhere that we hold our pasts in the small of our backs. Denise brought out a mbira – a spiritual African instrument – and sang gently while she played it. The mbira dzavadzimu is the voice of the ancestors to the Shona people of Zimbabwe. It is important for cultural identity and is brought out at religious ceremonies. The music calls to the ancestors who are believed to be closest to the gods. Their spirits are invited into a spirit medium who is then able to assist with community problems.

River Dart
Banks of moss, grass and fern. Green, green, green.

The notes fell like water in a mesmerising stream of music. We drew pictures and wrote whatever came to us. Then we took ourselves to Newbridge on the River Dart and shared lunch in a grassy meadow. The sun emerged and warmed us. Denise told us about a project she is working on to remember the persecution of witches back in the Middle Ages, Dolls. She wants to gather five million little cloth dolls and suspend them from trees over Dartmoor so they can dance freely. We spent a few minutes making little dolls to add to the collection.

Trees over the River Dart
Looking up through the green layers of leaves.

The afternoon session began with various exercises such as walking barefoot in silence keeping our focus forwards, relating to trees and other natural objects aware of their being and retaining a respectful space. Eventually we arrived at a stretch of the river where the banks were green with trees, ferns and moss. We each chose a site on the bank to settle in, to move in and to move from within ourselves not from our minds. In silence for an hour, taking in the river, I felt held by the land beneath the aspens, the oaks and the sycamores. It was lovely to see women curled up in the mossy embrace of the earth.

River Dart
Sometimes shoes on, sometimes shoes off…the water was cold but not so very cold.
River Dart Root
Some of the tree roots were like hands gently playing the water.

wander in dream her banks
with joy and grief in your heart,
give your soul the earth
a soft singing

she hears, she hears

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The River Wife

Tree from Underwater“Beneath every river there is another river and all of them flow into the Lake of Time”.

the river wife book coverThis is a quote from the book The River Wife by Heather Rose that I have just finished reading. I feel close to this book, it’s taken me back to a more aqueous time, a time when I would find myself beside rivers gazing into their depths, day dreaming up my river goddess projects. (Perhaps my river goddess was not a goddess at all, but more like a “river wife”, as in the book, a tender of the river, collecting, sorting, weaving the stories told and unheard.) It is a beautiful book and reads like the gentle, mesmerising flow of a river. The river wife is a woman by day, but returns to the river, to moonpools and the vastness of lakes, as a fish by night. She falls in love with a man who comes to stay in a house by the river and gradually the timeless patterns of nature start to unravel. It is a story of magical realism, an enchanting, adult fairytale, tender and melancholy. Within it there is a timelessness, like any fairytale, and a depth; it hints at eternity, of a place before and after Time, a numinous, archaic place beyond the known. But most of all, it’s about the mysteries of water and love.

“Water is message. It is truth that asks nothing, a story older than people and older than mountains, a holder and deliverer of memories beyond time.”

“…some would say any story of water is always a story of magic, and others would say any story of love was the same…”

I cannot remember how I bought my copy, I know that it came from Australia as it’s not possible to buy it here in the UK. I’m so glad that I made the effort to get it. I hestitated before reading it as I thought it might influence a story that I’ve begun to write that I’m calling “The Fisherman’s Dream”, a magical story that is inspired by the life cycle of the brown/sea trout. Hopefully I’ll get around to working on it, and to investigating the mysterious spawning grounds of the trout, which include some remote chalk streams here in Sussex. (That will be another project to add to my jumble of other half-finshed projects.)

River Wife

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Exploring the River Adur, Boats and Wrecks

River Adur in MistRecently I added a couple of papier mache bowls to my Folksy shop featuring A Letter At Twilight and Dancing at Sunset designs which I had originally made into cards. I thought about the series of photographs that I used to overlay my illustrations, they’re of the River Adur and were taken one evening in November 2011 when the sea mists were rolling in. We lingered for a while, chasing deeper into the mists as the sun went down. It was very atmospheric.

I thought it would be interesting to explore the River Adur a little, to know a bit more about one of the four main rivers of Sussex. So recently, Kevin and I started our investigation at Shoreham where the River Adur finds the sea.

A wreck that I’d seen featured on a paranormal website, intrigued me and I wanted to find it. According to local legend, the wreck was once a fishing vessel that became caught on the rocks during a massive storm in 1893. It is said to be haunted by a group of shadowy figures who seem to be trying in vain to dislodge the boat. They are said to be the boat owner’s family, destitute after the stranding. The nearby footbridge, built in 1781 as a Tollbridge and now a Grade 2 listed building, is also supposedly haunted by a certain “Blue Lady”.  This stirred my interest a bit as I paint blue “ladies”, but I haven’t been able to find out any more of the story.

Wrecked Boat Shoreham

Wreck at Shoreham

The Blue Lady of The Old Shoreham Footbridge

River Adur Mudbank

Carving in St Nicolas' Church

Green Man?

 

We wandered over the bridge looking upriver where a tongue of mud shaped like a cuttlefish harbours gulls, ringed plover and cormorants open winged like phoenixes towards the sun. Apparently there are over 30 words for “mud” in the old Sussex dialect, from thick mud, “slub”, to “smeery”, wet and sticky mud. The muddy silt of estuaries with mudbanks is supposed to be rich and fertile – full of lugworms and the other life like soup – it shifts and rearranges the land, laying it down and sculpting it in a kind of peripheral dance. A swan signet of beige smudges passed beneath us and I thought about the beautiful work of India Flint and her times spent beside rivers, collecting, dyeing, writing and musing. Over the bridge, we watched a murmuration of starlings over Shoreham airport swirl and pulsate like ink dropped into water. We passed a World War II pillbox beside the path crammed with vegetation and junk; this was becoming an interesting, “Edgelands” experience. (Check out a review of the book, Edgelands, and an interesting radio programme by the poet authors.)

Our wanderings took us to nearby St Nicolas’ Church first built around 900 AD. At first I thought, just another church, but inside a few things caught my eye. First, one of the turret windows smudged green by the foliage outside pressing in against the glass as though seeking a light within, and then, amongst decorative stonework of limpet shapes, a few, charming carvings of heads – could one be a green man? – a cat mask and elf carvings too. There were hints of a maritime nature in the church and graveyard that I liked.

River Adur Gull Mud

Over another bridge, the Shoreham Houseboats came into view; well into Edgelands territory now. It is a smorgeborg of wonderful junk put to elaborate and creative use. I had little idea the place was so interesting and artistically inspiring; we saw a group of sketchers with eyes cast out over the mudflats and boats. The flotsam and jetsum of defunct war shells, sheds-on-stilts, a boat made using half a bus, ropes and tyres, log-piles galore, walkways of flower pots, children’s toys, bicycles,…I half expected to see a figurehead or two.Peace One Day Shell

A Shoreham Houseboat

A Shoreham Houseboat

Today I visited an exhibition at Fabrica here in Brighton called Reef by the artist Simon Faithfull and collaborators. It is a poetic exploration of the idea of collapse and renewal. Back in August, an old fishing vessel, the Brioney Victoria, that had reached the end of its human use, was ritually set fire to and sunk off the south coast at Weymouth in Dorset. It was rigged with five cameras that transmited underwater footage of the wreck for 6 days showing the first signs of colonisation by other, non human life. The artist wanted to witness something that was once part of our human world of appointments and schedules, enter a new ecosystem, a world of which it will be a part for hundreds of years, part of geological time. With Reef, he wanted to create a portal into this “other paralell universe” in the murky green depths of the sea. Reef by Simon FaithfullReef Exhibition

A film of the boat being set alight was displayed on a large screen in the darkened church that is Fabrica. The clock – that no longer works – is set at the time the boat sank. Below there are smaller screens where films play of underwater scenes described as of a “deep mournful green colour”. Alien or pea green soup came to my mind or a haunting pea green soup. Bubbling, glugging, muffled underwater sounds emanate from the screens. I like the whole idea of the project and that the boat will become an artificial reef, but I was slightly disappointed in the display; I don’t much like tv screens as display units.

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River Goddess Booklets

I’m returning to my River Goddess long term project. I would like to explore it in all sorts of media -more paining, photography, video, words, movement. Yesterday I was playing with some of my images in photoshop and had the idea of making booklets to either print or make as rough artworks in themselves. Instead of buying A5 sketchbooks or making them from scratch, I’ve decided to use some A5 brochures I found and remake them into artbooks.

Here are some sample pages:

River Goddess Colour Booklet 1

River Goddess Colour Booklet 2

River Goddess Colour Booklet 3

River Goddess Colour Booklet 4

I’ve come up with some interesting images I thought I could make into cards as well:

River Goddess Coventina

River Goddess Hatmehit

River Goddess Book Anahita

River Goddess Book Flora

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