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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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Seeds….

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

Wind dances
crazy seeds
A flitting,
chattering,
chase
on to steps and porches,
patios,
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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Seahenge reflections

Norfolk tree

I have been suffering from nature-deficit-disorder. Surrounded each day by concrete, I have badly needed to get away. My chance came last weekend when Kevin and I took off for Norfolk to stay in a tiny little cottage for two called “The Retreat”.

Rainy and grey it didn’t matter as the low lying landscape had great atmosphere. Solitary trees — including a few stag-headed oaks – naked of their leaves, stood silhouetted against vast skies. And crows, rooks and seagulls milled over ploughed land and created a clamouring parliament in the trees. The fields were wet, soggy under foot and shifting rivers and lines of broken Crack willow gave the landscape a shabby, neglected feel. But it was so good to get away and reconnect a bit with nature.

Seahenge before it was moved

One thing I’ve been wanting to do for ages is visit Seahenge which was discovered at Holme-next-to-the-Sea on the North Norfolk coast. I didn’t know much about it other than it was a circle of 55 wooden posts with a central tree stump exposed in the mud at a lowtide back in 1998. It was a romantic find, but it was removed from its site back then and part of it ended up in a museum at King’s Lynn. It was there that we went to find out more about it.

Seahenge has been dated to the early Bronze Age, 2049 BC, a similar age to Stonehenge. The tree stumps – including the central stump – are of oak . It’s interesting that the central stump was deliberately placed upside down. (Apparently it was lowered into the ground with rope made of honeysuckle. Honeysuckle rope…. there’s something lovely about that.) One theory states that this could have been an altar for placing the dead thereby exposing the body to the elements and wild animals, which would liberate the dead person’s spirit, a practice called excarnation. On the other hand, it may have been a shrine to trees instead, perhaps.

Seahenge tree with reflection

According to Dr Francis Pryor, inverting the oak is like taking a symbol of life and returning the life forces to the earth, the source of life. The release of possibly ‘dangerous’ energies required containment, hence the circle of stumps. Intriguing, turning life upside down! Certain mythologies like those of the Lapps, have a three part cosmos — a world above, around and below us. An inverted tree would have roots in our world but it would be growing into the underworld. The tree would be seen as drawing different worlds together, a way of communicating between our world and the world below the ground — a paralell world. A world inhabited by the ancestors?

Pondering on the oak stumps in the museum, the deep past, something so old, from so long ago, I caught my reflection in the glass.

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Shunning the light

Woman Shunning the Light

Altered book with woman's face

Buddha Head in tree roots

Woman with Candle

Days ago I imagined I was in a garden. Usually I like wild places but I definitely yearned for a garden of stillness and contemplation. I let the day dream unfold and take me to a cave, a cave garden, in which to meditate. Walking back with the shopping, my thoughts were adrift in powder blue, and I was surrounded by cave drawings of sea creatures, birds and flowers. Peaceful, it reminded me of a painting of Radha and Krishna in the Grove as can be seen here.

I need to find a garden.

The opalite light breaks into brightness. It has been glorious for days, but somehow too bright, too blazing. Its starkness has made me want to turn away and hide. I’ve felt inspired to draw and made this sketch that I’ve called “Woman Shunning the Light”.

I have now added the picture to my ‘altered book’.

She has the face that so often crops up in my pictures. It isn’t my face but the face of an unknown, mystrey woman that looks similar to the Buddha’s head in this photo taken in Ayutthaya in Thailand. She has appeared in my “Woman with Candle” painting, taking light from a dying sun to carry with her into the night. (I have altered the colours of the painting in photoshop to make it bluer – you can see the original on my website paintings page here.) It has an Edvard Munch/Van Gogh inspired sky.

I stumbled upon a passage by Bill Plotkin from his book ‘Soulcraft’ which makes me think about the light and the dark:

People who live excessively upperworld lives take a transcendental view of everything. They tend to see light, love, unity and peace everywhere. They are attracted to the Course in Miracles or aspire to, “enlightenment,” via an ungrounded approach to Buddhism….

…People who live excessively underworld lives see the world darkly. They tend to see hidden meaning, mystery, and the undoing of things everywhere. They gravitate toward the occult and the paradoxical. They want to penetrate to the center of everything and understand it all by standing under….

A holistic approach to spirituality interweaves the ascent and the descent, rendering balance to the experience of both the upperworld and the underworld.

You can read more of the passage here.

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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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Violets and primroses

It’s been a while since I last posted anything. I’ve paused with my story at the moment but will pick it up again soon. I’ll be attending a two day workshop on creating picture books for children in June which I hope will give me a little guidance with forming the story and weaving in illustrations to compliment it. Any creative ideas I’ve had have made way for holiday or travel ideas. I haven’t come up with any definite plans yet, but I have itchy feet after such a long winter.

VioletPrimroseMeanwhile I’ve taken spare moments to get out in the sunshine and really enjoy the Spring. On one of my recent rambles I took my camera and just had to take shots of a bountiful bank of primroses and violets. Some trees are still bare from winter or in bud. I liked the confusion of branches in this giant oak.
Old tree

This year I want to get more into photography, so I’m hoping to have good enough photos to share with you soon!

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