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Letoon, Leto and frogs

Letoon with frogmenLetoon

I’ve been illustrating more myths, inspired this time by ruins I visited when on holiday back in September.
The ruins of Letoon are near Patara in the Lycian region of Turkey. I’ve been meaning to write about the ruins for sometime as I really like the mythology associated with them. This is the story:

Letoon was the holy sanctuary of the goddess Leto and her two children, Apollo and Artemis. In Greek mythology, Leto was the lover of Zeus, who abandoned her and left her to wander, pregnant, in search of a secure home. She was thirsty and came to a Spring at nearby Xanthus but as she tried to take a drink some shepherds chased her away. In revenge, the goddess turned them into frogs.

The ruins chime with the story. They are partially submerged with pools that teem with frogs, dragonflies, terrapins and pond weed. When I wandered close to the edge the water became alive with movement. There is something romantic about the place with its temples, inscriptions, water and wildlife. And the frogs are a reminder of Leto’s myth.

I’m still intrigued by the ‘underwater world’. My illustration is somewhat dark and I hesitated over whether to post it, but thought I’d just go ahead anyway. It features Leto, frogs and ‘frogmen’. My ‘shepherds-turned-into-frogs’ are somewhat comic, I couldn’t help thinking of them in terms of cartoon alien creatures in jumper suits! But, apart from that, the imagery I have done reminds me of the ballet, ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’ that I saw years ago performed by Rambert Dance Company.

I looked into the mythology and symbolism of frogs. In many religions around the world they are important symbols of transformation and fertility. In Egypt they were associated with the goddess of fertility and childbirth. This may have been because of the appearance of many frogs with the flooding of the Nile, considered omens of fruitfulness. In some cultures they symbolise cleansing and healing because of their association with rain and water.

It is interesting to read about frogs as Totem animals by the artist Ravenari. Check out her lovely artwork too.

To me, frogs are symbols of the link between the conscious and unconsious because of their life both in and out of water and their need for water. I shall explore more amphibious creature myths another time. But here is a link to a poem, “Ode to Drowning” by Tishani Doshi that I think is very beautiful.

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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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Water

Sometimes I hate words, they fill up my head like beans in a jar, all crammed in, words upon words. But then, words can be like water, spilling, flowing, spreading across the page in a shifting stream.

I fell in love with water images a while ago. Photos of sea and sky, beach, pebble, seaweed, waterfalls; the glistening light on water mesmerised me. Perhaps I should try harder at photography with its lenses, glass, transparency. And voids. Words can fill voids.

And then I discovered cave pools in Laos. I stripped off and went into sparkling, pristine water with a baking, morning sun overhead and shadows that cut the shallows with cool. I’ve done this before, I thought, – sacred cenotes in the Yucatan, rainforest rivers in Costa Rica, serpents threading the water beside me, almost alone.

alexi-in-laos-pool-cave-2.jpg

There’s something so precious about swimming in natural, wild places. Water joins up memories like one, giant underground river.

I stumbled on photos of a dancer in water while searching the web. This is of Salma Nathoo, an ecological dance artist taken by Ben Ellis for a ‘Waterdance’ project.

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Water, nature and movement, my interests all coming together. Soon, I went out and bought myself an under water camera case. I haven’t used it yet, but watch this space. I have Roger Deakin’s ‘Waterlog’ from the library ready to read and the other day I stumbled on wildswimming.co.uk. It’s a challengue for a feeble swimmer like me.

To get back to words, there’s Alice Oswald’s poetry that I’m just discovering as well. Here’s a quote from ‘Sea Poem’;

What is water in the eyes of water
Loose inquistive fragile anxious
A wave, a winged formsplitting up into sharp glances

What is the sound of water
After the rain stops you can hear the sea
Washing rid of the world’s increasing complexity,
Making it perfect again out of perfect sand….

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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.

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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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