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Blue Tiles, Bones and Time Out in Nature

My recent visit to Portugal has left me with many impressions. We stayed at Pego Ferreiro in two cabins, the Boar Hide at first followed by The River Lodge. The Boar Hide Pego Ferreiro The Boar Hide is shrouded in trees and overlooks a glade where wild boar come to forage. We spent some evenings watching the scene silvered by the light of a waxing moon.

But no boar came. By chance, we spotted a family of boar across a vale making their way through boulders and broom scrub while we were out wandering one morning.

Most of my days were spent dawdling by or in the river, watching butterflies and enjoying the peace and beauty of nature. In the River at Pego Ferreiro But we also went for walks, tended the fire – The smells of woodsmoke and yellow bloom linger in my memory – cut wood, filtered water, showered in sun-warmed water and read; heard nightingales, cicadas, frogs in the depositos and the river that never slept.

The River Lodge Pego FerreiroView from The River Lodge The River Lodge is a tented “cabin” perched on a platform on rocks overlooking the River Sever below. The river suffused my days and dreams. The moon embedded overhead, shone like a pearl and spilt into the waters below; vapour trails of planes became waves across the shores of the night sky. Mayflies, butterflies, frogs and snakes came by day and at dusk, crepuscular toads crept too inquisitively close to the fire.

Boar Bone? One day, we found the bones of an animal and wondered whether they belonged to a boar. I sent photos to the experts to find out. They’re bones of a horse apparently… I think of some poor, stray animal lost in the hills and vales without a rider…

From Pego Ferreiro we went to Coimbra and Porto. I found myself atuned to urban nature in the cities, the wildflowers growing in gutters, the screeching swifts scything the air and the scimitor wings of a kite over the rooftops.

We paused in cool, shadowy cloisters festooned with moss and algae and the odd green man.

Green Man in Cathedral Cloisters in Coimbra

I loved the fading, crumbling shabbiness mixed with the grandeur of the past. Blue tiles and murals were everywhere – like this one of Jesus on a kite on the facade of Carmo Church in Porto.  Why blue? The cobalt blue of porcelain… I am drawn to blue. The Portugese call them Azulejos, from the abrabic word Zellige but so similar to azul, the word for blue.

Jesus on a Kite Mural in Porto

Fado leaked into my conciousness; it strained from the speakers of a souvenir shop selling fake tiles and a couple played and sang outside a restaurant down some narrow street where children played and fruit boxes spilled over the pink, ceramic cobbles and I caught my passing reflection in boutique windows. There was a Fado Centre with plush seats where Fadistas performed each evening; a strange, bronze statue of a woman with the body of a guitar stood beside one of Coimbra’s old, city walls and closeby our favourite square where a lame siamese cat slipped the affections of passersby. I feel drawn to Fado, the sentiment, the nostagia, the longing or as the Portugese describe it, “saudade” – a word with no real translation. I can see how some of my drawings hint at the same pathos – like Embracing the Waves from my Turtle Dreaming story – the longing, the sea, the loss…

Embracing the waves

If a gull would come
Bring me Lisboa sky
In the drawing it would make

In that sky where the look
is a wing that can’t fly
Weakens and falls to the sea

What a perfect heart
In my chest would beat
My love in your hand
In those hands
Where my heart fitted perfectly
…….

Words taken from a Fado song with no title.

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Midway Film

I have just seen a trailer for the film, “Midway” which has deeply moved me. It strikes a cord with me because it features albatrosses that remind me of the gulls on Havergate, but mainly because I feel terribly irresponsible at having contributed to the Mid-Atlantic gyre – my message in a bottle! I want to do what I can to promote this film and the issues it raises.

I read much about ecological and environmental problems and it all gets very depressing. Often I want to just switch off, it all seems so painful. The trailer to this film is about an environmental tragedy but it is both beautiful and poetic.

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Landscape Scenes

Here are a couple of new landscape scenes inspired by woodcuts and by reading much ‘nature writing’. I’ve recently discovered the new magazine Earthlines just at the right time; I seem to be tuning into something. I continue to read many interesting books concerned with nature, place and our relationship to the more-than-human world. My list includes: The Peregrine, The Old Ways, The Wild Places, Becoming Animal, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Otter Country……and many more. All make the “wild” an inviting and interesting place to be, but as it is, I don’t see much of it. Now winter is fast approaching, I’m happy indoors turning my attention to creative projects and letting my imagination thrive and trying to get my head around the latest version of this wordpress blog. Not easy!

Seven Sisters
The Seven Sisters.

 

This picture – more like a doodle – I’ve called The Seven Sisters after the cliffs with that name along the coast of Sussex around the mouth of the River Cuckmere.

Cliffs at Birling Gap
Chalf cliffs at Birling Gap east of the Seven Sisters.
Devil's Dyke
Devil’s Dyke

 

This picture is based on a view across the Devil’s Dyke valley as seen from a viewpoint along the Saddlescombe Road.

Devil's dyke

Winter scene with deer
A winter scene with bare trees, a deer and moon.

 

This scene isn’t based on any particular place. I think the trees look a bit stark.

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Havergate Island

Hare on Havergate IslandA 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.

Gulls' NestI 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.

Lesser Black Backed Gull Eggshell and Jaw bone

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.”

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Pathway Through the Wood

Walking Blind the Night of the CometPathway Through the WoodThis morning I thought about a pen and ink drawing I did years ago titled “Walking Blind the Night of the Comet”. It’s dated 14th April 1997 so the comet must have been Hale Bopp, the Great Comet of 1997. I’d been invited by a friend to go to Devil’s Dyke in the South downs to take photos at night. Fortunately the night was clear and we had good views. I have a photo of the comet somewhere as a faint smudge of light, but here is the drawing I did a few days later.

I’ve looked a lot at the work of Samuel Palmer one of my favourite artists. I love his sepia, moonlit scenes; like him I have put the moon in many pictures. I feel drawn to black and white drawings and photos, and enjoyed looking at the small sketchbooks of Julien Bell in a current exhibition at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery called Dreams of Here. The exhibition also features works by Tom Hammick and Andrzej Jackowski. I was interested in seeing Tom’s work as the flier read that he “uses landscape as his starting point, but a landscape shaped by memories and dreams”. I’m becoming increasingly drawn to landscapes both inner and outer and how they feature in art and literature. Tom Hammick’s work did not disappoint and I appreciated his dark scenes of trees, figures and obscure imagery as well as his vivid colours.

Feeling inspired by my old drawing, Samuel Palmer and the exhibition, I decided to visit some local woods in Brighton and look at trees and paths. I like paths. Paths are worn with stories. I took photos but my creative result is a pen and ink sketch from my imagination featuring a crescent moon once again! I’ve named it “Pathway Through the Wood“. The spindly trunks and coils of bramble stand out at the moment, late winter, hence the swirls in the foreground.

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In the woods and some Autumn art

Dancing shadow on leavesRecently, in a wood I wrote:

I’m sitting in a wood that’s alive with movement. More than an observer – I am part of this stirring, intricate tapestry. I lift my arms and breathe in the restless canopy. Swimming, breathing greens, browns, russets … My lungs, a flutter of birds. Two buzzards circle overhead; I feel the soft flap of their wings. I’m amidst a stir of leaves and nodding woodland plants, then a sparkle of sunshine ignites the branches and trembles on a spider’s web. Acorns are everywhere, some with tiny holes, some still in their cups, some shrivelled, others new. The woodland floor is a dry, rustling bed like a pebbly shore awash with the tide… I breathe in the dancing wood.

Autumn Sky with treesTime spent outdoors in the beautiful sunshine and beautiful warm wind has inspired me to do this Autumn Sky Trees picture. I love the tree tops dancing, everything feels light, lifted up, moving and settling in preparation for rest. I’m thinking of doing a new series of card designs perhaps based on trees or the seasons.

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Dancing in the woods

I’ve been riding a sinuous wave, up and down and then thrown about in some crazy whirlpool. Then quiet, life shifting below the cool surface of things. Blue butterflies again. And blue dragonflies; not so many this year it seems. Drawing a sort of butterfly mandala — a night sky of wings and stars.

Mary Oliver’s words seem so apt:
Butterfly Blue

“..to have wings
blue ones — ribbons of flame.
How I would like to open
them, and rise
from the black rainwater.”

Sultan Valad’s words too:

“…Sufferings are wings for the
bird of the soul
A bird without wings cannot take flight
So weep and groan and lament my friend
So you can free yourself
from this prison
And fly to that placeless
place …”

I’ve had such a need to feel free.

I thought,

What am I not doing? I paint, draw, spend plenty of time in the sunshine and out in nature. One thing I’m not doing is moving.

I went to the woods, with Kevin with a camera, to find a space to move, dance and be free!

I found a spot amongst sycamores and dog’s mercury, sharing sunshine with hoverflies holding their own in shafts of light.

It felt good to be moving. Here is my spontaneous dance in the woods. Perhaps I should have called this post “Bimbling about in the woods” :)

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River, sand and tree goddesses

Nadalian's Rock of FairiesI have recently discovered the lovely work of Iranian environmental artist, Ahmad Nadalian. He carves stones with fish, other creatures and goddess-like images associated with rivers and the sea around the world. He carries out rituals of returning his carved fish rocks to rivers to raise awareness of pollution. In his words:

I was in search of my lost paradise. I wished to spend time surrounded by nature and living with nature. Upon my return to the land of my forefather I found that my paradise no longer existed. The wellspring was polluted and river no longer had fish. The rivers are sown and the meadows are planted with villas.… I have created hundreds goddesses and fish on the stones of the river and have dedicated them to nature. I wanted to build his own paradise. I liked to believe that these fish are alive, and were swimming against the tides… they are metaphors for nature and the life of living creatures who endure pain, suffering, and are destroyed by the evils of our time.

I have taken refuge in the deep ravines where I can overcome evil. There is a temple where I am at peace to worship water. I am not tired. I am determined as ever to build my paradise.

Sand Goddess

Words to ponder on. I too want a paradise, a beautiful natural place in which to dream, to take refuge. And I need to dream. Nadalian’s Rock of Fairies done in France captures my imagination the most. See the photo above.

I need nature, earth, leaves, grass, rock, water. And I sense a return of my interest in goddess imagery. I wanted to find and connect with some rocks somewhere. I like the idea of creating with natural materials that are present wherever I happen to be – beneath my feet; to make a small gesture in nature that arises from and belongs to the place.

I visited the nearby Blackrock beach to look at the cliffs, the sea-sculpted chalk shore. I found myself doodling in some patches of sand,… moulding.. a Sand Goddess figure that the tide will return to the sea!

Tree woman carving Cae Mabon

Alexi engraving rock

I’ve just had a replenishing trip to Wales staying at Cae Mabon eco-retreat. It is a place to dream, indeed, to reconnect with oneself and nature. I love the wonderful round cob buildings, the rushing river, the peace; the moss covered hillside and lichen-loaded trees; the fires each night beneath the moon shrouded in its “winter halo”…

Someone had carved a beautiful woman in a tree beside the river; she holds a heart above her head… a River Goddess?

Kevin and I spent some special time there in nature – pottering about the river and woods. I even found a lichened rock to scribble on :)

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In praise of trees

boat with tree memoryThe other day Kevin and I went for a walk to get out of Brighton. We headed for the River Rother. I grumbled – too many people, it wasn’t wild enough, too tame, can’t get away enough! I missed seeing the pleasant surroundings and wildlife so caught up was I in my thoughts and grumblings.

We came to a wood, “Smutts Wood”. The owner had put a notice up explaining how he was planting trees where the previous owner had felled them. He had included the quote that has been attributed to Chief Seattle and that I’ve seen so many times. I am always moved by it whoever wrote it. It begins:

How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us.
If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?
Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people.

and ends:

Man does not weave this web of life. He is merely a strand of it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

When we got back the sink was blocked which didn’t help my mood. It was a balmy, black evening and I sat down disillusioned and gazed into space. Soon my attention was drawn to the photos on my ‘Trees for Life’ calendar, photos of trees in Bhutan for the month of August. I took down the calendar and read the accompanying text finding myself so engrossed that I read all the passages for the proceeding months as well. A change happened, I found myself contemplative, still, …..inspired! Trees had rescued me from my negetive mood. Check out the Trees for Life website.

I sometimes don’t see what is immediately around me, trees closeby, even here, right in the middle of town, forever present. Forever, I hope.


So today I am praising trees.

trees creak with the rhythm of the wind.
boats carry this memory in their wood and creak to the rhythm of the slow-swinging sea…a breathing, creaking bough that could send a baby to sleep.

the boat remembers the tree,
has memories of the tree
has memories of the forest
it knew the forest like it now knows the shore
it remembers the baby it carried, lulled to sleep by creaking bough

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Fleeting wildlife encounters

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.

Birds in overcast skies

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!

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