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Ulmus Memoriam

There is a new, temporary, sculpture in the park near me, a gateway or screen, a memorial to the Elm tree. It stands beside the two of the oldest elms on Earth, the Preston Twins of Preston Park, Brighton.

Ulmus Memorium

The sculpture is carved from elms felled in the River Cuckmere valley last year due to Dutch Elm Disease. Elm trees around the country were wiped out in their millions from the 1970s by the disease. In Brighton effective control measures were introduced, so it is the last stronghold in Britain for mature English elms. There is still a wonderful variety of elm trees here, originally planted by the Victorians and Edwardians.

Ulmus Memorium

The sculpture is the creation of wood sculptor Keith Pettit and part of a project called Ulmus Maritime organized by The Conservation Foundation along the South coast. He created the screen as a memorial to this fated tree.

On the front are flying birds – rooks – a copse of Winter elms and a sun. Along the bottom are the words:

“Ad gigantes augustos olim per terram nostrum pervagatos, nunc defectos” which means “A memorial to the lost, majestic giants once spreading through our land.

On the other side are swirlly clouds like waves and the hopeful words:

“The last bastion, shielded so future generations may still know of them.”

One of the Preston Twins

The Elm tree had its own nymph in Greek mythology. She was one of eight tree spirits or Hamadryads and her name was Ptelea. Elm trees feature in ancient literature including the Iliad and the Aeneid, where in the Underworld there is found the Stygian Elm of the River Styx or Elm of Dreams:

Spreads in the midst her boughs and agéd arms
an elm, huge, shadowy, where vain dreams, ’tis said,
are wont to roost them, under every leaf close-clinging.

And finally here is a link to a lovely poem, ‘The English Elms’ by Carol Ann Duffy.

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Working on a New Booklet

Drawing desk
My makeshift desk where I work. I like to sit on the floor rather than at a table.

I seem to be continuing the woods and trees theme this year with my new booklet. This time it’s a story, a kind of folktale and I like to describe it as a “tale from the forest” and it’s called The Memory Tree. It is taking time though, already I have worked on several drafts and done many pictures – some for a colour version which I’ve decided to shelve for the moment.

However, I thought I’d show one or two pictures from the tale, a colour spread of a forest scene and it’s equivalent in black and white (the one I’ll use for the book) and a picture of the main character, a girl named Echo.

Night Scene in Colour

Night Scene Black and White

Girl in Leaves











While she slumbered, a dream came to Echo, a dream of tree spirits and creatures she had never seen, watching, waiting, spying and humming in the darkness around her. It was a dream too, of forgetfulness, her tree, her garden, her parents and her past seeped away into the darkness as she slept.

Trees, woods and forests are so important to me. I need to take frequent trips out to the woods and it has been particularly lovely walking out in the Autumn woods recently, just before the storms hit and the blustery weather made its debut. Here is a favourite tree at Markstakes Common where we walked recently. It’s a large, spreading oak that’s been climbed in and well loved over time. All the woodland and forest visits I’ve made around the world – from woods like this to rainforests in Costa Rica – are distilled into my little story making the forest in it a lush, fictious kingdom from anywhere and nowhere, a forest of my imagination.

Oak at Markstakes Common

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This is becoming another year of trees for me – and for others too. I came across a brief video about women and trees made by Megan Hollingsworth. Megan is the creator of Extinction Witness. She is a poet, writer, dancer, mother and compassion activist. She feels passionately about stopping the destruction of large forest trees and has set out to create a seven minute film that explores this destruction and how it relates to her healing journey following childhood incest.

“VIRGIN is a 7-minute film that tells the stories of grandfather tree, a giant sequoia cut for show in 1853, and a woman healing from early childhood incest in 2013. The film uses poetry in the form of spoken word, dance, imagery, and song to weave these stories through to the roots of violence toward all that shines with grace.”

To help fund the production of the film VIRGIN and find out more go here.

I have been working on my own mini video that involves trees, woods and movement. Coming soon!

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Dusk Portraits

Night River GoddessStar Goddess MemoryBack in November when seeking a good river site to release my Moana River Goddess, I visited the River Adur. Dusk was falling quickly and a mist was seeping up from the adjacent fields like some ghost of the land. In the fading light, I walked into the mist’s embrace and tried to capture photos of a sunset, dying pink behind the trees. It was very beautiful.

Now I’ve decided to overlay some of the photos with recent paintings and pictures. Here are the results, my Dusk Portraits. I like the underwater feel to the pictures and wanted them to look like old portrait paintings seeped in a twilight blue of age or paintings that have been x-rayed to reveal hidden images beneath.

NocturneA Letter at Twilight

“When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”

― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

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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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A chance butterfly encounter

White Letter Hairstreak on handButterflies continue to be a theme in my life. I couldn’t resist writing about a butterfly that I nearly trod on on my way to the allotment. Here it is, a White Letter Hairstreak that was sitting cryptically on the pavement, the first one of this species I’ve seen.

I knew they were flying around the elm trees around now – and we have plenty of elms in Brighton. The larvae live on their leaves.

I picked the butterfly up and put it on an elm leaf. It then flew off. I was meant to find it as on my return journey, there it was again! Or another one. So I picked it up and carried it home to take these photos. You can see the white ‘W’ on its hindwing quite clearly. I put it again on an elm tree leaf for shelter. No doubt it’ll fly off and find some privet blossom or bramble flowers and return to the elms to mate and/or lay eggs.

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Holding elm seedsThousands of elm seeds have fallen in great drifts in my street.

Wind dances
crazy seeds
A flitting,
on to steps and porches,
through windows,
like children, they play,
covering carpets
with the wild gift of
Spring confetti.

A girl scoots through an elm seed drift
as though through snow;

This is the time of Elm,
through its dance, it speaks.

Inside an elm tree

Brighton has many elms, they are famous survivors. We have possibly the oldest surviving English Elms in the world in Preston Park just down the road. They’re called The Preston Twins. Hollow giants, they’re home to bats and, if one is lucky, one may see a White Letter Hairstreak butterfly flitting among the canopy leaves in early summer. There are few mature English Elms beyond Brighton because Dutch elm disease has wiped out all but the odd one.

Seeds of Inspiration

“Dreams are the seeds of change.
Nothing ever grows without a seed, and nothing ever changes without a dream.” (Debby Boone)

I have seeds of inspiration…

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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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Springtime dance in an orchard

Pink candle

I have a yearning for beauty, a yearning for Spring and finally it’s arrived. Sunshine, birdsong, cherry blossom in the park – it’s beautiful and I want to soak it up! And I want to move, dance somewhere beautiful in nature too.

I love the beautiful dance prayer for Japan by Lee Atwell. Inspired by Butoh, Lee dances to celebrate our connection with the Earth and has recorded her beautiful and inspirational dances since 2009, The 50th anniversary of Butoh, on her blog.

Inspired by Lee’s dances, I went to the Stanmer Park estate to find a quiet space in which to move in nature. I discovered an apple orchard that I didn’t know about tucked away near the church. I like orchards, there is something magical about them. There are ghost memories in the moss, the lichen, the contorted branches and earthy dampness; …lovers meeting in secret, children steeling in to play beneath the blossom or to scrump, …a quiet pause in time, a moment captured forever. There’s a hint of something forbidden too – perhaps I was trespassing! Apple trees are steeped in folklore and symbolism.

Orchard dance I felt awkward at first but soon allowed myself to simply move naturally feeling a mixture of joy and sadness. With Spring here I feel like celebrating but there has been some sad news for my partner Kevin. I danced both this joy and grief in the orchard amongst the knarled and lichened Bramleys and Cox’s Pippins all awaiting to flourish their first leaves and blossoms.

Feeling grass beneath my feet – a tingling sting of young nettle, a dampness of moss. I moved to a light mosaic of birdsong and the silent conversation of trees.

Spring dancing woman

I am including this painting, Spring Dancing Woman, that was painted around New Year. Its definitely about Spring. It has a dotty technique, unlike some of my other dancing women paintings. I like the colours but I’m not sure about the technique!

Enjoy the sunshine while it lasts!

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.”. Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Roots to the Sky – Upside down tree

Roots to the skyI have been inspired by my visit to Seahenge to draw two pictures of the tree that links two worlds. Neither drawing quite captures what I wanted to convey, but I like the bright blues and the birds – free to fly wherever – in the colour version. I included a few figures of “souls” in the pen and ink drawing, small amongst the other-world branches, like dancers.

Roots to the Sky

The figures remind me of a project I discovered a while ago called “TreeSpiritProject”, by photographer Jack Gescheidt.

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