Sunday, 25 January 2009

Red Kites, Buzzards and a Kestrel

Although rain was forecast for much of the day, I decided to go out for a bike ride and, fortunately, it didn't really materialise. I cycled down towards Whitwell and then stopped by the side of a road going up towards Preston. I had my eye on a sheltered place by some woodland and thought I would just stop and see what happened. It was a quiet road and, as usual I wasn't expecting anything to happen.

As I approached my stopping place I noticed two red kites circling around a magnificent ivy covered oak tree by the side of the road. The birds were very distinctive - large birds of prey with a noticeably forked tail. The peace of the place was disturbed by five rather strung out runners who seemed to take ages to pass me. I just stood with my bike an the grass verge wondering what to do and where to look before sitting down on the ground with my sketch pad. Once the runners had finally passed and my gaze returns to the kites, a car pulls up and a man gets out. He had seen the kites and, as he didn't know what they were, stopped to have a look too. One kite was so close to us, just gliding silently and gently, and only a few yards above us - you could almost count the individual feathers when its tail fanned out. Our talking probably encourages it to leave and it glides off over the fields. The man drives off.

The air is quiet. A few blue tits (?) are in a nearby hedge and I hear the sound of crows and a pheasant in the distance. The westerly wind swayes the woodland trees, I am sheltered in this place. The air is cool, not cold. The sky is heavily overcast and a fine mist fills the landscape as a light drizzle dampens my sketchpad. The kite returns and I watch it circling around the tree, graceful, quiet, delicate - then away over the fields it goes. In the sky I also see seagulls and two ducks flying over far above me.

I cycle on a few hundred yards. A kestrel dives from the top of a telegraph pole into the field only a few yards in front of me just as a car approaches. I have to move into a gateway to allow it to pass. The kestrel flies up and then down again into the tussocky grass. Then up it goes and it lands on a power line about 10 feet above me. Then off it goes and lands on wires over the middle of a field. I turn round and see a buzzard scareing some crow in a distant wood. It flies over the fields and into woodland behind the kestrel. A red kite is also in the sky and I see these three magnificent birds of prey together in the same field of view. Two buzzards appear above the woodland and circle behind the kestrel, still perched on its wire. Their rounded tails, slightly upturned wing tips and less graceful flight easily separates them from the kites.

It was amazing how a seemingly insignificant patch of road could suddenly provide so much activity and interest.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Landscape and Development

There are two things I could write about today. I could write about smells that I like, such as that of silage and farmyards (which you don't get alot of around here), or I could write about new roads, capitalism and society. Let's go for the latter.

With our local paper yesterday came a glossy brochure outlining a possible new northern bypass around Luton. I noted that in one of the tables that this would potentially have a strongly adverse inpact on the landscape value of the area. This does add to the list of other developments in the area, such as the housing which is proposed on our doorstep, and it will probably lead to infilling and other developments over time.

My initial reaction was that of sadness that another patch of countryside with a high aesthetic value would be forever changed. That is what man does. He has changed his countryside for thousands of years. I said "his countryside' and wonder if we really should see it as belonging to us? The landscape is seen as our domain, our playground, our development land and there for the production of our foodstuffs.

Yet we are in a recession. On the radio last night, and I have heard other voices commenting on the same thing, there was the realisation that perhaps we have to change we do things. Perhaps the banking and economic systems we have must change. Can we continue to grow, develop and expect the same standards of living
that we have enjoyed? Are there other models that could work? Yet we still seem have the necessity to plan for large scale construction projects that I am sure could be designed differently. It is hard to know what to do. I've been stuck in Luton in traffic and know that streets created decades ago were not designed to cope with the high volume of cars and traffic movements we get now. How do you resolve the conflict between car usage expectations and existing town infrastructures? The easy and most cost effective option for planners and residents to agree on is probably to tarmac over an open field. You can have all the space you like out in the countryside. Who cares whether that hedge, that tree or that bit of field is lost from agriculture?

So, should I support the road scheme or not. I mean wildlife diversity could increase along the roadsides and around road junctions where trees are planted. What is lost, that I think is more of what we humans think about, is the peace openness of countryside that does not have elements of human development. Farming and agribusiness can just get away with it even if the fields are bland (at least you get a good view) but stick a noisy dual carriage way in and you instantly get noise and air pollution and a loss of the sense of "getting away from it all".

From what I perceive, most people here don't go out of Luton that much (huge generalisation I am sure!) and would probably rather see an improvement to their town scape and a loss to the countryside. It would be a great help to drivers, I admit that, and residents who can't pull out of their drive safely into a roads full of traffic.

In years gone by people stayed within their communities and did not have the freedom to travel as we do today. In many ways I wish I cold do that, but I am not sure I have the freedom and luxury to be able to pick and mix how and where I work and live.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Connections: Air, Deer and Drums

Had an interesting day today that was inspiring on many levels. Sometimes you can just get caught out by the unexpected when you begin to make connections with the environment in which you live.

Meditation on the air around me
After a wet and windy night I find myself out for a walk on a cold and windy, but sunny day. I find a place to sit against a fence post at the edge of a field. The ground is very wet so I find some drier dead nettle stalks and sit upon those. I am sheltered by some tall holly bushes and face the sun. It is actually quite pleasant and warm though I am wrapped up well.

Today the air seems excited. A wild wind blew in the night and the roads are littered with twigs, small branches and leaves. Large puddles have formed and not yet had time to drain away. After the cold weeks of Christmas, the air senses a hint of warmth where the wind is calmed and the sun is allowed to warm. The wind is blowing from the north west; brisk, bringing a gentle swaying to the nearby trees. It feels welcoming, alive with hope and a sign that Spring will bring warmth though that may still be a long way off.

A blackbird flies across the field in front of me from hedge to hedge, a constant two to three feet above the ground, on wings made to give effortless flight. It's feathers: formed to create strength out of the lightest of materials - quills full of air yet strong, almost weightless; for flight and insulation. Their design and construction has evolved with air in mind. The blackbird's flight is a movement through the unseen, it enables so much and is vital for survival, feeding, reproduction and escape from predators.

In a hedge a little way away, a large holly bush stands. Its glossy leaves reflecting light from the sun in the sky behind it: glistening spots of white when caught in the breeze - a mass of twinkling, almost like fairy lights on a Christmas tree.

The sky is clear with some hazy cirrus (?) clouds way up high and some smaller faint whisps of white passing hurridly just above me.

I am in a sheltered place with only the gentleness of a light breeze to move the fallen winter leaves and blades of grass a little. Without their leaves, the hedges are transparent to the wind. The dense evergreen of the nearby hollies provide a welcome wind-break.

The air is wonderfully refreshing to breath in. It carries the scent of the damp earth and the winter vegetation. Because of the form of the landscape in my corner of this field with the trees, hedges and gentle undulating fields, the wind circulates around me - one moment on my left cheek, then on my right. Then all is still but another moment brings another change in direction to my face.

The sun and the wind will probably dry the landscape a little today if it stays like this.

Sounds are carried through the air to me. Distant cars, aeroplanes coming into the airport and those way up high, unseen birds behind me, the wind in the trees and the passing of five noisy motorbikes on the nearby bridleway. I am brought the smell of their exhaust too.

The air has no real tangible visible form, yet it affects all the objects in the landscape. It is like an omnipresence that can only be shown to exist by the reactions it has with other things.

Newly formed molehills are scattered around the field nearby. How do they relate to the air? The are made by a mole that breathes air. The tunnels so formed are full of air. The soil itself contains organic matter, either living or dead - leaves, grasses and perhaps even the woodland that may have once stood here centuries ago. Soil organisms break down the organic matter, some by aerobic methods. The texture of the soil depends on the air spaces between the soil particles. The soil upturned is aerated by the mole and now it is exposed to the wind to dry out.

A group of birds, assorted tits probably, is nearby. They make their presence known though calling and by movement.

Where the trees and hedges cast shadows in the sunlight there will be patches of cooler air. Different microclimates, not just around different parts of the field but also deep in the hedgerow. The air is affected by the temperature and humidity around it.

I give thanks to the place and I move on. I've got too cold sitting and writing.

Deer and a Hare
I am now in a patch of conifer plantation and surrounded by tall Scots Pines. I sit back against one of the tall bare trunks that just give life to the top canopy layer far above me. What can I learn from this place that is so different to where I was previously? At first I sense nothing new (apart from remembering that woods can be dangerous places in the wind). Inspire me please...

Out of the dark depths of the wood, three stags and two does walk towards me. I just catch sight of them as they appear out of the darkness into the dappled sunlight - their bodies and huge antlers bathed in a creamy light. Their shapes blending with those of the trees and branches of the woodland. They are about 20 yards away and, with the sun in their eyes, they probably don't seem me until I am startled by their appearance and turn my head to look at them. They pass behind me and run off into the distant trees.

Air. Deer. Silent. Unseen. Freedom. Running. Wind. Wild. Like a gust of wind appearing out of nowhere: present, then gone.

And then I see a hare. Again, only a short distance way. I almost thought it was a small muntjac deer at first. Grey, tall black-tipped ears, moving in and out of the shadows between the trees. Gently and quietly. Then it's gone.

I have to go. Have to be somewhere.

I'm in a tipi with my drum, with others, gathered around the open fire. The air is filled with herb and wood smoke, and the respect we show to each other and to the drums we hold. I remember the deer I saw earlier today. My drum skin belonged to a Red Deer, once running wild through the air. Freedom. We drum. Creating a sound, vibrations and resonances that fill the air. The deer is alive again in the air around us.


We just have to be aware of them.

Thank you for this day.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Return to Painting

I've just painted a picture - at last! For many months I have been wanting to try out a particular style of illustration and get back into my own personal painting. A week or so ago I outlined this picture whilst waiting for some friends in a pub and I at last sat down today to paint it. I was inspired by my drum making day in December. We actually had some warm sunshine in a sheltered part of the garden this morning and I did some of the final pencil outlining onto watercolour paper whilst sitting outside. The painting was then completed indoors with inks where the light was more consistent.

Friday, 16 January 2009


This year seems to have got off to a good start and I feel I have shed my autumnal blues. Work is very busy, more stimulating and challenging and I feel in a good frame of mind all round.

After about half a year of thinking about it but, for one reason or another not progressing with the action, I visited a local Pagan Moot one evening this week. I am uncertain as to whether to write much about it although it was very thought provoking. Why did I go? Because when I've been in a place that, to my perspective, has been very anti(?) the ideas they may have I was naturally a little wary. One thing has stuck with me is that people may be more readily able to accept each other for who they are than for what they believe - I know this is a huge generalisation and not always true (and I haven't got time here to expand fully on what I mean). I had some interesting conversations that covered ground that I resonated with, but I need to be a bit more careful that my liveliness, personal humour and phrases of language do not get misinterpreted when I am an unknown person.

I was given the task by one of the members, whether I should accept it or not, of studying the four elements (earth, fire, air and water) for a month each over the next four months and to find out all I can about them. I will do this as best as I can and report back at various stages.

I'll go again because I am sure I can learn from the people there. I am not ready to engage fully with them, but I need people to share with and learn from. I have to embrace new opportunities and new ways of doing "people" stuff.

Have also joined Facebook this week and that is proving quite exciting!

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Leaves in the wind

Old Warden church, Bedfordshire

Leaves, dry and brown shades
invisible against the pebbles:
colours and shapes blending.
Perhaps a gentle quivering
in the cold winter breeze.
Then, like an unseen hunter
emerging from their camouflage,
bounding, tumbling,
with somersaults and energy
when caught in a gust
they are away.
Away they go
here, one or two;
there, almost a whole flock
like starlings returning to roost
twisting, turning
following and then
they disappear
blending again to the ground.
Awaiting another breath
to awaken them.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Places of Faith

I watched the second part of Peter Owen Jones' "Around the World on 80 Faiths" last night on BBC2 and one thought has remained with me through today. Somehow those faiths that build places for prayer and worship out of bricks and concrete (such as the South Korean Full Gospel Church and the prayer centre with individual prayer cells he visited) just didn't seem to draw my interest as strongly as those where people who out on the tops of the snow-covered mountains in China or building temples out of natural materials for their own little belief system. It's like a dichotomy between the people/modernistic approach to faith and that of the natural in-tune with the environment and personal spiritual experience. Manufactured verses organic.

I have huge admiration for this Anglican priest who has stepped outside his own comfort box of belief and is willing to share and explore other faiths with such open receptivity.

"Beauty lies in the places where there is seemingly nothing"

The above title is a quote from an article entitled "The Space Between" by Suzy Murphy in Resurgence, No. 251, November/December 2008. Contained within the article were a few other pieces of writing that I wanted to remember:

'... the Ancients [various writers and artists] ... their belief in the spirituality of the landscape, where Nature takes on a God-like presence.'

'When God created the
It was not the
That were important,
But the spaces

'The Ancients believed that the landscape was the Bible resurrected. For me the landscape is a vista poignant with spiritual meaning.'

'...when you understand what is meant by the 'spaces between the flowers' you understand that there is beauty in the ordinary...'

[Art/creativity (?) should be] 'A Diary of everyday life lived and felt, and the spirituality it contains.'

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Christmas Holiday, Teeth and Creative Grumbles

Well, a week as gone by, and we have travelled down to Devon, up to Herefordshire and tomorrow will be returning home - another day in the car. Tonight is New Year's Eve and I am in a Travel Lodge with my wife and our little one who is now fast asleep on the floor. I have had three long walks, one on Dartmoor and two in Herefordshire which I have really appreciated. It has been too cold to do much drawing, writing or sitting around thinking or meditating on nature. I am disappointed at my lack of ability to get much done, but trying to force creativity into a day or location on demand is not easy nor perhaps a good idea. My time outside in places like this is so limited and precious and I almost need to have a good walk to burn off my energy rather than sit and draw or think. When I can spend more time in a place and relax into it, then perhaps I tune into subtleties and creativity more. Balancing the needs of family, holiday, work and creativity is not something I feel works well at the moment and perhaps I need to create a model that does work...

One problem I had, which annoyed me hugely, was that a filling in one of my front teeth didn't like being out in the cold and after my day on a cold and windy Dartmoor I had a very painful tooth for 24 hours or so. In Herefordshire things were better as I had borrowed a scarf but, although it kept my mouth warm, I didn't really feel I could sense the air and smells of the landscapes as well as I would normally do, particularly as I had a slight cold and stuffy nose too! I think it has now settled down and become de-sensitised a bit as it hasn't bothered me for the past day or so now.

I don't know, what does one have to do to be a brilliant creative...? Why do I struggle with this problem so much? I never feel content with where I am at - is it my lack of formal training? Perhaps I need to be in a more creative environment that actually stimulates me in the way that I find meaningful in a deeper and more personal way. Oh, I'm not going to go on about it as I get too depressed...!

Hoar Frost

Today: walked from Titley (Herefordshire) to Titley Station, along the railway line and up to Rushock, up onto Rushock Hill, along the Mortimer Trail to Burnt House and then down to Titley (8 miles or so).

I hadn't really allowed myself time to do this walk and take into account any stoppages so it was a bit of a push. It was quite a cold and foggy day and up on the top of Rushock Hill visibility was fairly poor, but fortunately I knew my way over the open land.

Up on the high ground of Rushock Hill and along the hill top to Burnt House it was wonderful to see the beauty that the freezing fog created on all the trees and plants that it touched. The hedgerows, woods, cobwebs, fences, and indeed anything above ground level were amazing - ice transformed them all into things of wonder. The patterns that the freezing fog made on anything it touched were stunning with shapes, forms and patterns appearing everywhere. Even my eyebrows got covered in lumps of ice!

Quiet Valley

Yesterday: walked from Titley up to Burnt House, down to Nash, up onto Nash and Knill Woods, down to Knill church then up onto the edge of Rushock Hill, back to Burnt House and then to Titley (9 miles or so).

There is a small valley just west of Titley in Herefordshire where a path provides a decent climb up to Burnt House and the Green Lane. It has a patch of mixed woodland on one side, but mostly it is open fields and pasture. At a glance it may look uninspiring, but whenever I visit it I always find myself deeply attracted to it and I am never sure why.

Yesterday evening as the light was fading on a dry though overcast day, when the temperature had hardly got above freezing, I found myself standing in the valley. A faint mist hung over the landscape and the corn sown earth beneath me was frozen hard. There was absolute stillness in the air. It isn't often I find myself standing out in the open air and finding it almost incomprehensible that I could hear nothing. Apart from the occasional blackbird, pheasant or crow and, I will have to admit the passing of a distant car, I could hear nothing. I think my heatbeat and the sound of my body in my ears was louder than anything around me. I did notice that I had to stand in a particular location where the wood provided a barrier to sound from outside the valley and weather conditions may have helped. Having just scrunched though the frost-dried leaves of woodland, grass and undergrowth for several miles, to suddenly be thrown into a place of deep silence felt quite strange.

Sunrise on Dartmoor

I had the opportunity to watch a sunrise on Dartmoor one cold, late December morning. I parked the car in my usual place and, with frost on the ground, a perfectly clear sky and a freezing wind pouring off the moor, I began to wonder if it was such a good idea. With plenty of warm layers and with a faint hue of blue in the east amidst the darkness I set off. Sharpitor was a good half hours walk away up over the moor and I decided this would be a good vantage point. Fortunately I knew the tracks in the area so walking in the darkness was quite straightforward. I hoped that once I reached the top of the tor I would be able to shelter out of the wind behind the rocks. The walk was easy going, but once I reached the rocks just below the tor the strength of the wind made be watch my step with care. The sky was lightening now and I managed to shelter just as a sheep might do behind some of the large rocks. The wind was coming form the east so couldn't l couldn't directly face the sunrise but, from where I huddled, I could see south over to Burrator reservoir and beyond, west to Tavistock and Kit Hill and north up to Brent Tor. A huge panorama spread out beneath me. As the lightness increased the orange glow of the street lights and houses in the built up areas began to fade and the subtleties of the Devon natural landscape began to emerge out of the darkness - the hills, woods, fields and hedges. In the sky a long pinkish band of haze appeared and moved westwards as the rays of sunlight hit the atmosphere above me before the sun appeared on the horizon. It was a long and chilly wait before the first golden rays of light lit up the tops of moors around me and I braved the wind to peek out from my shelter to see the golden sun just appearing over the central mass of moor in the east.

I awake, I awake to the quickening morn
I awake to the cold new day
I awake to the sound of the calling wind
I awake to the song of the earth.

I awake, I awake to the quickening morn
I awake to the rustling grass
I awake to the cold and the ancient rocks
I awake to the winter's light.

I awake, I awake to the quickening morn
I awake to the crystal sky
I awake to a land of shadows and light
I awake to the dance of life.

By now I was freezing cold and decided I had to go down into the woods to find shelter. I always like to watch the sunrise and making it a special event is always worth doing.

I spent the day wandering around Burrator Reservoir and trying to do some drawing. The wind quite strong and cold and very few places afforded shelter and the promise of some warm sunshine. I finally warmed up after lunch after I had given up drawing and I had to go for a long walk to warm up. In the strong winter sunshine the colours were superb and I just walked and enjoyed them.

My stone received a brief visit from me and although I was cold, I did stay with for a while - after all, I had been waiting a year to come back here. It gave me a few words:

May I know my strength
and where I belong,
may I know my dance
and also my song.

Green Symbolism at Lamerton Church

Boxing Day, and I travelled down to Lamerton in Devon. I had been looking forward to this time away and for once it seemed as though the day was not damp, foggy or rainy. The strong cold winter sunshine felt almost spring-like - I even saw lambs in fields around Okehampton. As I passed the western edge of Dartmoor towards Lydford, glimpsing the moorland and high tors behind the hedgerows through the car window, I felt a strong sense of having arrived at a place of learning and discovery. A place which, over my very short visit here, I would ask for inspiration from.

Lamerton Church
I was surprised to find Lamerton church open in the latter part of the afternoon. Alone, I entered its cool presence and sat to sketch one of the many Christmas floral displays that brought colour and organic presence to the cold stone place. I wrote down some words that came to mind: stillness, beauty, peace, light, pattern, cold, wind-swept, stone, wood, plants, strength, community, bringing together, regeneration, birth...

This is a place of light and shadow, with an odd flickering movement of leaf shadows from outside wind-blown trees up near the altar. This is a place where nature meets man's worship to God. The flower arrangements are elements of abundant life brought into this place of worship. The colours of the flowers in front of me are alive in the cold fading sunshine of the evening, vivid against the darkening background of the cold heart of this ancient place. Their fragrance still mingles with that usual, churchy smell.

Here, as in all most old church buildings I find that silence always brings peace. There is always a presence here - mine? The place holds the message of Christmas, but not just in the transitory decorations, but in its purpose and presence. I hold no fear of my faith here. In this place is my story, my myth, my belonging, but it is also out on the wild moors nearby.

Greenary in the Church
As an exercise I decided to look around and see what natural imagery I could find the the church. There was a huge amount that I spotted in only a quick superficial look:

wood panels, floor tiles, stone carvings; text borders on ornaments, monument decorations, leaves on picture of the last supper, altar cross and decorations, stained glass on windows, stone arches, communion rail posts, floral motifs on organ pipes, pulpit, ends of pews, wooden screen, roof bosses (even a Green man), iron floor gratings, wooden font cover, kneelers and cushions.

I even found some small ferns growing on some inner stone walls - real greenary growing inside the church!

The Buzzard
I step outside and walk up the road. The evening sunlight is just disappearing as the sun settles behind the summit of Kit Hill. I see a buzzard, circling high in the cold wind against the blue sky. Silent, a hunter and always staring at death unless it can find food to fight the winter's cold - its wings catching the orange sunlight. There is some connection here with the church, with man's desire for life, salvation, hunting/looking for survival and meaning... or something like that!

High above the buzzard an aeroplane leaves a white trail. Like the buzzard - silent, yet clearly a disconnection with nature - it embodies man conquest of the planet, domination of nature and technology, and of not working with the earth but against it.