I mentioned in a previous post about how I’ve kept a diary for much of my life. Sometimes I decorate the covers. Having seen the David Nash exhibition recently, I thought I’d get out some of my old diaries and decorate them with some of the natural materials I’ve collected.
Last year I visited the Canary Island, La Palma, and brought back some pieces of dead prickly pear I found lying about. It was awkward fitting it in my rucksack. (I can’t resist collecting natural materials with interesting textures that I save for future projects :)
I covered a 2018 diary with a print out of a tree silhouette and overlaid this with some dry prickly pear. Then I added black and white paint. The result holds memories of the lunar, volcanic landscapes of La Palma:
I have a bundle of dried cocksfoot grasses and decided to arrange and glue a few stalks to the front of another diary. With the next diary, I played with scrim, made some hemp string plaits and attached the jaw bone of a rabbit and a small bivalve shell to the strings before glueing them to cover. It’s a work in process:
Some diaries get illustrated covers, front and back:
I’ve had a bit of a thing about rock and rock seams, especially this year. Stacks of diaries are like layers of sedimentary rock, accretions of thoughts and ponderings laid down over years. Here is my rock seam diary complete with a shell and seeds:
I thought I’d gather a few of the diaries I have decorated over the years and photograph them altogether – like a patchwork quilt:
I am always drawn to artists who use natural materials. David Nash works mainly in wood, so when his 200 Seasons exhibition came on at the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne, I made sure I went to see it.
I knew little about David Nash before the exhibition. I had heard of Ash Dome (here’s a nice little fim about it) and had vaguely heard about Wooden Boulder, but that was all. The exhibition shows a broad range of his work spanning all the years he’s been working as an artist – sculptures, drawings and film. There are piles of arranged cork bark, chainsaw-cut blocks of oak, cedar and other wood, small wooden ladders, oak balls, charred tree trunks. Among my favourites is a blue-black ring made of out bluebell seeds. I wanted to know what I felt when seeing his work, my immediate impression, without knowing too much about the background story.
My first thoughts were – this is about the passage of time – years, decades and longer. It’s about weathering and the elements – earth, fire, water, perhaps air (his ladders reach up and are suspended). It’s about the interaction between humans and the natural environment. The massive nature of some of the sculptures – whole tree trunks or giant chunks of cedar – says something. What, I don’t really know. They are imposing and stately, with gravitas, and some of his charred pieces are almost shocking in their black denseness, their immediacy. Perhaps anything burnt is unsettling. David Nash says he treats his works with a light touch. His wooden boulder project is like a metaphor for a life’s journey – it suggests going with the flow and becoming weathered with moments of stillness and times of motion – acquiescing to the natural way of things. I also saw in it solitude, abandonment and the “is-ness of things”. His works impact me in a place beyond words, they are mystifying and I like them a lot.
The exhibition is on at the Towner until 2nd February 2020.
It’s autumn and my work desk has been busy – well, I have, sort of.
Among the feathers, nests and skulls I’ve found this year, I’ve been working on a new altered book, another Harry Potter commission. Knowing little about Harry Potter – OK I’ve seen a couple of HP films on long haul flights – it has been a challenge for me. However, I know there’s magic in the books and I like that.
Here is my finished Harry Potter book, featuring some of the characters along with Hogwarts School in the background:
Recently I sat with a friend telling her I was working on a Harry Potter altered book. She sighed and said how she would have liked to have read Harry Potter to her children as the books are full of magic and fantasy. When we were young there were the C.S.Lewis books and books like Lord of the Rings. I also remember Anne of Green Gables, The Little Prince, Tom’s Midnight Garden. There was a little bit of magic in them and we all need an element of mystery and the unreal in our lives sometimes.
There’s much said now about how we need stories and storytelling has made a resurgance in some quarters. As autumn progresses and the darkness descends layer upon layer, I find myself wanting to withdraw and bring in more of the imaginary into my life. More stories, myths, metaphors, images. That’s the thing about darkness, it brings out the imagination.
Below is a picture I did some time ago. I’ve included it to remind myself to welcome in the imagination, something I’ve missed of late.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After our megalithic sightseeing we travelled north to the Parc Naturel A’Armorique where we stayed in a little cabin on a permaculture farm.
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.
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.
I am still working on the film poem I mentioned in my last post. I think it’ll take me a while.
Still, one thing that has come out of my Sea Trout project is the creation of new concertina cards. I call them concertina cards because they’re long cards folded twice. The idea arose from my long sea trout picture (click on the images for bigger versions):
I wanted to create a card out of the design and thought it would be good to feature a picture on the reverse side. So I drew a shoal of trout:
Here is the finished Sea Trout card:
I decided to create a further two cards, both with a “trees” or “forest” theme. The first of these is In The Forest. One side of the card features a daytime forest scene with deer and a fox beneath the trees:
On the reverse is a night scene featuring badgers, deer, foxes, owls and hedgehogs:
It reminds me a bit of a tapestry :)
Here is the finished card:
My third card features a badger sett. One side you see a badger family out foraging at night:
The other side shows a cross-section of the badger sett with some slumbering badgers along with a rabbit burrow, tree roots and a burrowing mole:
Here is The Badger Sett card:
All cards are available from my Etsy shop and come with a little tag for a message and a square kraft envelope. :)
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.
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.
I doodled in my sketchbook, sea trout…
and drew a foldout image of a 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:
I also visited one of the gravelly streams where sea trout come to make their redds and spawn. I filmed under the shallow water:
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.
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!)