I took a few books into a gallery the other day and the owner said he’d give one to his daughter who’ll be going off travelling to remind her of home. That’s a nice thought!
I’m waiting for a few technological issues to be sorted before the printing of my new little book, The Memory Tree. I’ve been playing with the image I’ve used for the inside cover:
I wanted to make a Memory Tree lantern. I printed the image on A4 paper, trimmed off the white edge and glued the two ends together:
Then I put a nightlight into a small jar and placed the paper lantern over it:
Now I’m getting all sorts of ideas about making a Memory Tree animation with flickering candles!
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.
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.
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.
wander in dream her banks
with joy and grief in your heart,
give your soul the earth
a soft singing
she hears, she hears
Avocet Gallery in Rye is currently holding The Magical Land exhibition and I am very pleased to have some of my work on show as part of it.
Here are a few of my illustrations in the exhibition:
Along with the illustrations are cards and two of my long painted boards. One is very much a river goddess board as it is covered with flowing lines of lyrics, poems and words about rivers.
my eyes have been closed so long, cried the river
I see this world but I cannot see
whispering near the surface of the water comes a voice
let all emotions flow from our dreaming together
I am afraid to heal my soul, said the river
then your spirit connected to mine will die
whispered the wind
do not hide from me river, find your ocean
if you listen deeply
wind and river coming together as one
in the great ocean we’re born of the mother.
This is the way she hears your voice now, all of your feeling
easy or difficult,
do not be afraid
all the rivers are dying
I will open my eyes to see inside
so my soul whispers with the wind.
Take a deep breath…
Words taken from a YouTube video by Condor Shaman that is no longer available.
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.
For the Year of the Sheep – The Ghost Faced Sheep.
I climb up the western edge, the disused quarry falling away into a swathe of shadow to my left. The sun spills over the crest ahead of me, its brightness blinding my eyes. The ground falls away steeply into a chaotic muddle of hillocks, hollows, dips and clumps steeped in shadow within a cool pocket scooped out of the hillside. I pause to take in this uneven landscape quiet beneath its worn duffle coat of short turf, the work of an army of rabbits. A solitary magpie strutts and frets on a sunlit mound, a performer uttering a soliliquy in a giant amphitheatre. He hops on to the path that snakes between the mounds then takes off with a clatter to alight in a nearby tree, a hawthorn, winter- stripped and dusted green with lichen.
I turn back to the sun and stomp uphill trampling last year’s crumpled hawthorn leaves in the squish of chalky mud underfoot. At the top bright sunshine and the full force of the wind. I find the gate and notice the gorse is still speckled yellow with flowers. The view opens out on to the golf course which descends to a mousy scrubland mix of hawthorn and elder furring the valley like a mould. I circle the broad hollow towards the shadow.
I hear blackbirds scuffling deep within the skeleton of a hedge and glimpse the silhouette of a robin. I look about for birds of prey; I’ve seen kestrels here before, a pair, circling and hovering before collapsing into a bank of trees, scattering pigeons in all directions. They look disproportionally large when hunched on a tree top; distance can be so deceptive.
Just then, I happen to look through a gap in the hedge and am taken aback by the ashen face of a lone sheep standing there like a shocked ghost. The field of mauve shadow with its mist of white grasses contrasts starkly with the sunlit trees beside me. To get a better view I wade through ivy, feathery tufts of yarrow, and ash saplings with their hooflike buds pointing skyward. The sheep stares vacantly in my direction with an air of unease before returning back to graze; a ghost in the lee of a hill that the sun never sees.
Oh sheep sheep
Do not look so wide-eyed and lost!
Last Sunday Kevin and I joined a group of artists at Herstmonceux Castle for an introduction to a project called Underwateredge organised by artists Clare Whistler and Charlotte Still. The project has involved exploring the site of where the coastline used to be in the area now known as Pevensey Levels, searching with archaeologists and historians to unearth interesting finds in the layers of the landscape. Now they are inviting artists to respond to the landscape with writings, artworks, dances, stories, audio experiences or music for exhibiting or performing during Waterweek.
Last year Waterweek took place in the town of Hailsham in East Sussex. It celebrated water and was the culmination of Clare and Charlotte’s exploration of the tributaries of the River Cuckmere. It involved archaeologists, water boards, conservationists, dancers, farmers etc and this year will include other artists too. Last year I took my little River Goddess booklet as a gift as I felt so drawn to it all and I guess that is why I was invited this year to one of the artists’ walks.
The landscape was sodden, marshy and the sky, a stretched, taught sheet keeping the sun at bay. Crack willow lined some of the dykes; a broken, unkempt landscape awash with water. Water spilled everywhere and in some places it was scummed by pennywort, an “alien invader” weed. I noticed the shells of freshwater mussels on a bank where dredging had taken place. It was interesting to wade through the land and think that where we ventured was once sea or at least salt marsh. Scrubby willow woodland marked the ancient water edge on higher ground. A hare bolted from behind a log pile of willow, riveting across the puddles only to vanish as suddenly as it had appeared. Robins sang in the tangled, lichened woodland and in the distance, gulls or egrets looked like white flags snagged in the trees and dykes.
When we returned to the castle for lunch, Sally Willow, a storyteller, read out her version of an old Sussex folktale called Elynge Ellet about an ugly hag who lived in the swamp and lured people to their doom. According to Michael O’Leary, in the Sussex dialect, ellet was an elder bush and elynge described an eerie, uncanny, solitary place. In the story, “Elynge Ellet was a green-toothed, green-haired, frog-eyed creature with long fingers like suckers and woe betide the children who played beside a marsh pond as Elynge Ellet might get them.” She would be an interesting character for me to illustrate :) Most of the story can be read here.
This 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.)