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Turtle Dreamings – Churning the Ocean of Milk

Turtle rock artI’ve been trying to continue with my children’s story. I know that I want it to about turtles and a girl named Christine, who lives on a cliff overlooking the sea. I’ve been thinking a lot about turtles in the last few days and remembered a dream I had last year that involved my sister nurturing a wounded turtle. I looked up turtle symbolism in dreams and here are some examples of meanings I found:

Longevity, patience and persistence, self-protection, hiding, withdrawing and fear of social interaction or showing one’s true self.

Turtles convey steadfastness and caution, moving and changing slowly and they have strong protective shells, which may also be symbolic of a defense mechanism or real life protection with which one has surrounded oneself.

Oh well, perhaps my dream meant that I just needed to nurture wounded parts of myself.

Turtles are often depicted in popular culture as easygoing, patient, and wise creatures and are an emblem of longevity and stability in many cultures. In some creation myths the turtle or tortoise carries the world on its back or supports the heavens. In Aboriginal rock art in the ancient turtle totem, the dome-like curved shell symbolizes the sky in relation to the square flat underside, symbolic of the earth. More turtle symbolism can be found here.

Churning the Ocean of MilkWhilst looking up turtle myth, the story that I found most interesting and evocative was ‘The Churning of the Ocean of Milk’, a famous episode in a Hindu text, the Puranas. It involved a mountain entwined by a serpent whose head was held by demons and whose tail was pulled by the gods to rotate the mountain and so churn the ocean. All this was done to retrieve the “Nectar of Immortality” from the ocean. However, once the mountain was placed on the ocean, it began to sink, so Vishnu in the form of a turtle Kurma, came to the rescue and supported the mountain on his back. This bas relief is at Angkor Watt in Cambodia. I failed to see it when I was there (to my annoyance now), but I think its beautiful and I especially like the ghostly white turtle form at the bottom.

A few years ago I volunteered with the Sea Turtle Protection Society, Archelon on Crete, patrolling beaches to protect breeding turtles and their eggs. I longed to get just a glimpse of a turtle or turtle track, but unfortunately they arrived the day after I left.

Anyway, with my interest in turtles returned, I wanted to see one somehow.Green TurtleAt the turtle tank
Figurehead

So yesterday I visited the Sealife centre here in Brighton to do some “research” and commune with these creatures even if it was from just behind glass! Here are some photos that will help me with my story:

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Guatemalan Monkey Drama

Here’s a wildlife experience I had earlier this year when in Guatemala. I wrote it for submission to BBC Wildlife magazine and although they liked it, the ending is unresolved and so unsuitable, I couldn’t tie it up neatly. Still…here we are:

We had to set up the hammocks quickly if we were to get to the ruins before sunset. Huglio, a Spanish guy we’d met on the bus, was the only other person at the campsite. Together we hiked into the park.

ceiba-tree.jpgKevin my partner, and I were on holiday in Guatemala. We had travelled north to visit the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal. As well as being the largest and most famous Mayan site, Tikal is known for its extensive rainforest and abundant wildlife.

Inside the park, we passed a giant Ceiba – the sacred tree of the Maya – with its straight, grey trunk, towering above the canopy.Beneath impressive trees, the undergrowth was a tangle of lianas, ferns and epiphytes. An agouti picked its way across the path, paused to sniff the air and disappeared silently into the trees while overhead, a scattered group of spider monkeys wove their way. We arrived at the Grand Plaza and sat on the steps of a temple watching Montezuma’s Oropendula birds swoop to and from their basket nests making liquid, melodic calls. Then the call of howler monkeys started. First a few grunts followed by a long, low, gasping roar like the sound of rusty bellows.

howler-monkeys-for-blog.jpgI felt really keen to try and locate the howler group, as they sounded quite close by. But dusk was falling fast and the park was due to shut soon for the night, so we had to hurry.

We left the trail and followed the calls into the trees. Soon we were right beneath a troop of seven Black Howler monkeys bellowing into the evening. The three of us craned our necks to watch their silhouettes against the sky.

alexi-photo-for-article.gifSuddenly a dispute broke out in the group. With shaking branches, grunting and squealing, a chaos of monkey drama unfolded above us. Startled, we backed away from the debris that rained down all around us. After a frantic chase, one monkey was left hanging from another, dangling precipitously.

Wow! Hold on, I thought, don’t let it fall! Monkeys do fall from trees – but not that often!

But then it did fall! And landed with a thud in front of us from a height of 15 metres. It lay there, a motionless bundle of black fur.

Was it Dead? Injured? Despite the commotion, Kevin, Huglio and I agreed that we should go to look for help rather than approach the monkey ourselves. We found a park guard dozing in his truck not far away. Then Huglio explained, in his native Spanish, what had happened.

At the scene, the guard walked up to the fallen monkey. I sighed with relief when it picked itself up and appeared unhurt. As it slunk off into the undergrowth, a baby monkey was left behind in the leaf litter; it couldn’t have been more than a few days old. The guard picked it up and began talking into his radio. With Huglio’s help we learnt that he was calling for a vet. Immediately I felt concerned for the mother and wondered whether it may have been best to leave them to their fate together.

guard-with-monkey.jpgTranslating as best he could, Huglio explained that the vet would look for the mother. The guard thought that she would probably die and suggested that the pair were the unfortunate victims of a dispute or had been rejected by the group. What was the dispute about? Violence in Black Howler monkeys is uncommon, perhaps a newly dominant male was trying to commit infanticide.

We never learnt what happened to the baby and so this is where my “story” falls flat; there’s no happy ending. I contacted the park later on my return to the UK and also contacted ARCAS, an organisation that takes in abandoned, sick or injured wildlife. Neither knew the outcome of the event, what happened to the baby or the mother. At best it is still a sad story. We can only hope that both survived and were reunited with each other, but I think the chances of that having happened are slim.

Lying in our hammocks in the twilight, beneath a starry sky we mused about it all. There’s no doubt it was a good wildlife encounter but I wondered whether it is ever a good thing to intervene in natural crises or to leave nature to run its course. Well into the night, the howlers still shook the forest.

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The presence of something…

This year I’ve ventured into the Pyrenees to where the clouds trawl the ground. I worked my body, hiking, freed my mind and created space for myself out of all that mountainous space. I’ve craved simplicity. Driving back up through the Dordogne, we visited prehistoric caves — Gargas, ‘the cave of hands’ and Cap Blanc, a frieze of reindeer, horses and bison carved into a cliff of limestone. It’s a while since I’ve thought about caves and cave art, but making the visits rekindled my interest. Cap Blanc was so well set up I felt as though I was witnessing a performance from the past. At Gargas, I tried to take photos, but was caught; I pretended I hadn’t understood.

capblc20.jpg

The caves were moving, so long ago….

I’ve been interested in cave and rock painting for as long as I can remember, it’s one of the things that has influenced my painting. I like mysteries. I started sketching outlines, figures with no faces. My ‘buddess’ paintings evolved. They’re not ‘good’ art, but somehow they represent something very primal and important to me. I like to think of them as ‘embryos’, art in an unfinished form like the messages of cave paintings locked in stone forever.

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One reason I like cave art is that it’s part of nature. Ana Mendieta must have felt a compulsion to create in nature (see her ‘Silueta series’ and the photo below.) Her work inspires me, body prints and outlines of figures in mud, sand etc. Footprints, traces, clues, the essence of something or someone left behind, a fleeting glimpse that cannot be grasped fully. And so the mystery lingers.

(I have a similar feeling when tracking animals — paw prints, broken branches, hairs caught on barbed wire, rucked up fresh soil, a scuffling of feathers. What does it say? Someone, something was here.)

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Thinking about Morphos

Hello World!

MorphoI woke up this morning thinking about Morphos, those big iridescent butterflies I’ve seen in Costa Rica and Ecuador. Knowing little about them, I did a search and learnt a few facts eg the males patrol stream and forest edges for females and they eat rotting fruit and animal remains, sucking up the juices with their coiled mouthparts. I found the facts quite refreshing and got stuck into reading about British butterflies as well – such as Purple Emperors that drink aphid honeydew up in the tree tops laying their eggs on Goat willow.

As far as nature is concerned, I’ve been out trying to enjoy it and take photographs for a dance project rather than study it. I’ve been inspired by several books that I’ve stumbled on, one of which is David Abram’s ‘The Spell of the Sensuous’.

I discovered what I think is a beautiful excerpt from David’s book while doing a web search. It’s a description of a vision he had while in Bali and it made me want to read the whole book.

David Abram is a notable writer on ecophilosophy and basically the book is about how phonetic language and the written word in the West have helped to sever our relationship with the natural world. He writes beautifully and magically delving into subjects such as ‘Phenomenology’ which I hadn’t come across before. He draws on early Greek script and his and others’ experiences with indigenous, animistic cultures using their stories and language to illustrate how they are still interconnected with the natural world and how severed we in the west are. He suggests that we can rediscover a connection with nature by changing the way we write and use language. Abrams writes in such a way as to reach us on a level below our conscious, rational intellect where we can begin to perceive the natural, non-human world more directly. This is a book well worth reading and rereading.

Here is a photo taken inside a butterfly farm:

morpho-on-boot2.jpg

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