The Simplicity of Nature

Watching the fascinating Countryfile Autumn Special  on the BBC iPlayer yesterday, one particular image has stayed with me: that of a single leaf falling down into the river.

The narrator explained how the multitude of leaves falling from the trees along the riverbank would rot and get broken down to provide the basic food for the river’s living ecosystem. The leaves dropping and rotting was the starting point for the entire food chain. Amazing!

Not the river in the programme, which was the Wye in Herefordshire, but the Torridge, near where I live in Devon.

Not the river in the programme, which was the Wye in Herefordshire, but the Torridge, near where I live in Devon.

Earlier, a team from the Woodland Trust spoke about their scientific research, and also told us how the vibrant gold, red and brown leaf colours of autumn come about… how the green chlorophyll in the leaves breaks down and fades as the days grow colder, revealing the yellow carotene  pigment already there. The red colour, apparently, happens in some trees when there are bright sunny days and cold evenings.

A lovely programme, reminding me of the miraculous processes of nature behind the beauty we see.

There’s still two or three weeks left for us to view the programme before it gets deleted. Buffering can be a bit of a bore… but it is possible to download the iPlayer to our computers now, which should help!

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Passing Time in Northam

The little tree I fancied was at the corner of a sedate and slightly superior housing estate (what I call Bungalow Land), where it meets the A386 road to Appledore.  I saw it yesterday, and lusted after its red leaves falling on to the intensely green grass below. It looked gorgeous with the sunlight filtering through the red. I remembered it from last year. I wanted to draw attention to the tree and to the endless cycles and movement of nature.

So I set off for the tree, and along the way I came to this yellow ‘weed’, flowering at the edge of the pavement, pushing its way inexorably up through the ground, and up through the human surface veneer. It shone in the bright sun, and I had to admire it, and take a few photos.

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The tree looked good. Leaves hung almost lifeless from its branches, some still green, some red.  From time to time, a little breeze blew flurries of red leaves down into the grass. Occasionally there was a stronger gust, which sent older, dried up ones bowling and rattling along the tarmac road.

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I felt a little bit embarrassed as I stooped to gather up fallen leaves in full view of the houses all around (but not enough to stop me doing what I wanted)!  As the embarrassment wore off, I dropped into my familiar pattern of mindless repetition… bending and gathering, bending and gathering. When I say mindless, I don’t exactly mean mindless – I mean ‘not thinking’. I was, in fact, highly alert.

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People passed and smiled, and I was delighted to be able to show a small child the bag of red leaves I had collected.

I didn’t know what to do with them when I had finished. I thought of making a massive circle of red on the grass all around the tree – but I have done this sort of thing many times before, and there was no good photo angle.  So I kicked the remaining leaves around a bit, cleared the man-made square bed around the tree – and photographed this. All the photos I have taken this morning are, I think, what a 2-D person would call ‘rough sketches’. (That is: not the finished work).

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As for the two bags of leaves I collected – I have taken them home until I have decided what to do, and I will work with them again the day after tomorrow. Alex (husband) was thrilled with them, and especially with the earwig-like beetle that crawled out and ran very fast all around the sitting room carpet. I have put some of the leaves in the fridge to see what happens. Hoping they won’t end up in the salad…

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I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, actually – but unfortunately, since then, circumstances have temporarily prevented me from any further messing about with leaves – or the internet…  Thought it was still worth posting this little interlude though!

Posted in nature, North Devon, seasons and cycles | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Re-remembering

Re-remembering (extracted from my field notes)

A day in the woods, making work with  dead bluebell stalks that I had found in their hundreds lying all over the area

Brought photo kit, but no string, and no brush (to mark and define edges). Gathered sticks into a little ‘brush’ with a view to binding them together with rootlets. Forgot to do it.

Worked for a number of hours with the stalks, making a trail of rings and tracks through the trees. Weather good, though less warm than a few weeks ago.

I like working close to the ground – slowly shedding layers of cultural programming and feeling very much a part of the surroundings. The birds don’t seem to mind me being there either – they obviously accept me as part of their surroundings too.

When eventually it came to taking photos – they did not look good.

The sun came out  in its full glory, and I could not read my finished work for all the dazzling shifting blinding patches of sunlight. The images, viewed through the back of my camera showed huge patches of white everywhere, all in the wrong places. I was not happy.

Also, as I realise now, the work I was making was not appropriate for the ‘ethereal look’ that I knew would happen to the stalks if I exposed for the trees and undergrowth.

And I could not get far enough away to make an interesting composition.

And, and, and…

I was not happy.

Determined not to go home feeling negative,  I gathered up all the stalks I had used, and piled them in a circle around a handsome nearby tree, having a luxuriant growth of bright green moss at its base.

I was not sure about this either, but as I walked away,  I could see that this simple circle made an excellent focal point for the whole area… drawing attention to the characteristics of tree, moss, land and plants, and inviting enquiry.

Finally, before I left, I wondered what it would be like to move like an animal, so I crawled along the ground, with video camera in hand. That was a bit of a disaster, so soon gave that up!

But I liked the closer proximity to the land, and the delicate but insistent scents that filled my nostrils.

The sort of  simple solitary activity I have described is important to me (and I believe, of value to others) as I remember again who and what I really am – an intrinsic part of a living planet.

 

Posted in Environmental Art, Linda Gordon, nature, North Devon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Short Clifftop Walk

Strolling along the Southwest Coast Path from Westward Ho!, I wasn’t sure whether it was going to rain or not.

from Westward Ho!

Neither were the cows, for some were standing up and others lying down.

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I didn’t take many photos, as I had already recorded quite a lot here before – and then I came across this stuff…

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Apparently it is called Dodder, a parasitic plant that lives entirely off its host.

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There was a sudden short heavy rainstorm, and I turned back the way I had come, with wet jeans clinging to my legs, and nursing the blisters on the palm of my hand that I got from the prickly gorse.

 

 

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A Relaxing Summer’s Morning at the Burrows

When I arrived, this morning, which was not that early, it was already hot. Not many people, just a few families with their gaily coloured beach umbrellas and screens… everyone happily engaged relaxing, strolling, doing their own thing, a few children, a couple of well-behaved dogs.

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The tide was out seemingly miles away, beyond a vast expanse of clean flat sand.

As time went on, more people gradually appeared on the scene, although it still had the sense of emptiness, spaciousness, expansiveness.
Northam Burrows beach - Holiday time!

 

It was not long before a couple of noisy women, accompanied by a boy of about seven or eight years, and a dog, came strolling by.  As I was sitting quietly alone, just where the pebbles meet the sand, naturally the dog made a beeline for me, shoved its wet mouth and soggy ball against my arm and remained motionless. I am used to this sort of thing round here, so I pointedly ignored it. There was a time when I would have expected the women to call the dog away, but I knew they wouldn’t.

I have learned through my meditation practice that it is wisest to allow people (and dogs) to be the way they are, so decided to test this out and keep my peace – until I realised the boy was right up against my back, and was using me to steady himself as he slightly stumbled…

I said “Oh, for God’s sake..!” The boy said “What do you mean?” and the little group continued on their merry way along the beach. But not before the dog had pee’ed on the stone where I was resting my feet!

I felt quite proud of my self-control, and somewhat ‘holy’… so I determined to write about them all when I got home.

 

The moral of this story is: that if you keep calm under provocation, you might at least end up with a decent blog post….

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Les Phonies Bergères – intro to the full Page (see menu above).

See the top menu (just above here) for the full Page write-up on my recent land art residency for Les Phonies Bergères  – it was a fairly short but intense experience of living close to the land in a small close-knit community in the French Pyrenees.

Les Phonies Bergères was a wonderful festival of arts, words and music, involving almost everybody living in the locality – as well as local groups and institutions and invited artists and performers. The Festival was set this year in the small village of Accous deep in the Vallée d’Aspe in the Pyrenées Atlantiques.  The theme: ‘habiter’: to live, to dwell, to be at home….

Accous - Main Street

Accous – Main Street

The artists’ trail, as part of the Festival, was to be along part of the ancient pilgrim route, le Chemin de St. Jacques de la Compostelle (Camino de Santiago).

My account is drawn from notes scribbled as I worked in my mountainside field in all weathers… It is impossible to tell everything about the whole event – only my own immediate day to day experiences and impressions – but at the end, you’ll find some links to further info, including all the artists’ websites.

There were five of us artists-in-residence: myself, Elena Saracino (It), Eva Clouard (Fr), Fred Boiron (Fr), Phillippe Vaz Coateland (Fr). The work  I made turned out to be a land installation for slow walking, pausing from time to time to admire the  landscape, from the details of trees up close to the cold and distant mountain peaks. Little houses, representing local dwellings were made by schoolchildren, to hang from the trees along the way.

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Photo © Pierre Emmanuel Michel, www.pierremm.com 

The link to the full Page Write-up is along the Top Menu.

Posted in Art, community, Environmental Art, Linda Gordon, nature | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Northam May Fair

This has to be the most enjoyable fete that I have ever attended –  crowds of happy relaxed people of all ages, and masses of fun things to do and see. Real community spirit.

And of course, it was the day  my camera display read: MEMORY CARD FULL, just as I was lining up to get a shot of a huge medieval warrior making his way through the crowd whilst carrying a large tray of around 20 cups of tea.  I gave up trying to take photos at this point – but here are a few snippets to give you a flavour of the day.

 

I wrote about the May Fair here a couple of years ago, when I believe the event had just been revived.  Brilliant!

Posted in community, local, North Devon, place | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Time and Tide

Cley next the Sea is a village which hundreds of years ago was a bustling port by the North Sea along Britain’s North Norfolk coast. Over history, there has been a process of silting up, causing this medieval port to be moved steadily northwards – until today the village of Cley is divided from the coast by a flat expanse of salt marsh, and the port has now completely disappeared.

UK environmental artists Liz Mc Gowan and Jane Frost are embarking on an extended conversation about the shifting tidelines of this part of the world. It’s part of their exhibition for a bigger annual exhibition due to take place in a couple of months’ time: Cley 14.

photo: Liz McGowan. Old lighthouse on North Norfolk coast

As an artist with similar environmental interests, living and working on the North Devon coast, a completely different part of the country, I was delighted to be invited to contribute to Jane and Liz’s conversation. I could not resist comparing the different characteristics of our landscapes, the weather, the impact of the sea, and the responses of human beings. A prolonged spell of stormy weather a couple of months ago has caused havoc and a lot of flooding in many parts of the UK, not just in Norfolk and Devon, and it has brought the reality of changing weather patterns well and truly home to many of us. I was quite ready to look around at the shifting interface between land and sea, and its implications.

Somehow, in addition to actually listening and talking with others about one’s individual experiences – one’s feeling for the land, one’s connection – somehow this is not at all the same as merely hearing about environmental concerns on the news or elsewhere. The same goes for carrying out creative actions as artists in the landscape. It becomes real: a sort of physical and psychological intimacy, part of oneself.

So I have edited down as short as possible a recent Skype conversation I had with Liz, where we talked about Cley, and Liz and Jane’s project, whilst gradually familiarising ourselves with each other’s places (which we knew nothing about beforehand).

First, here is a brief description of each place:

Liz and Jane’s Place: Cley and surrounding area
Flat, shifting moving terrain, characterised by sand, shingle beach, reedbeds and extensive areas of saltmarsh, lying within the North Norfolk AONB. Norfolk Wildlife Trust manage an exemplary nature reserve on Cley Marshes, an important stopping point for migrating birds.

As I mentioned earlier, in medieval times Cley was a thriving port, but with the process of silting up, the sea is about a mile away, and can now only be reached by crossing the marshes to the shingle beach.

Cley was protected by a shingle ridge, to a large extent swept away in a devastating storm in 1953 in which people lost their lives. There have been further surges in more recent times, and homes and land continue to be lost through the relentless incursions of the sea.

My Place: Northam Burrows and surrounding area
On the Torridge estuary facing the Atlantic. Built up into its peninsula shape by sediment carried down river and deposited. Small area of saltmarsh and mudflats… Sand dunes and grassland, flanked along one side by the long Pebble Ridge consisting of large seaworn pebbles carried by longshore drift from further along the coast. A wide range of habitat for coastal plants, migrating birds and wildlife, make the Burrows environmentally valuable. It is a designated SSSI, as well as a part of the North Devon AONB and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

In contrast to the flat land of North Norfolk, the surrounding terrain of the Burrows is sandstone and mudstone rock, with steep wooded cliffs, and a backdrop of gentle green Devon hills. The natural ecology of the area is being put under continual pressure by human activity, and relentless housing and other developments. Flooding and damage to property and infrastructure were experienced recently, caused by a prolonged spell of unusually severe rainstorms.

Here’s the link to our talk – it is a little long (16 mins) but interesting in terms of learning about our changing coastlines… and also how artists can arrive at a bond of understanding, through feeling their way tentatively forward into the unknown.

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Me on the saltmarsh of Northam Burrows, gazing across the estuary to Appledore.

If you type Northam Burrows in my search box it should bring up a number of earlier posts I wrote about this particular area, all complete with pictures.

Liz and Jane’s project, is as yet in its early stages, but to find out more, and to see some of the artists’ coastline pictures (particularly of the devastation caused by the sea in North Norfolk) please visit the Facebook Album:

Happisburgh and other Shifting Coastlines 

Also, see the conversation on the blog site
http://betweenthetidelines.wordpress.com/

 


Posted in Arts & Ecology, environment, North Devon, sea, time | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Little White Houses

It must be around two months now since we were at Baggy Point, and we have been experiencing seemingly endless rainstorms and widespread flooding ever since.

Northam Burrows is extensively flooded and looks pretty exciting from my top floor window. I had the idea of juxtaposing a bunch of little paper houses with water. I’d tried them out in the woods earlier last month with some success – except that I lost all my photos during some computer shenanigans, so that was a waste of time – and I haven’t been back to the woods since because of  the occasional falling tree or branch.

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Flooding at Northam Burrows. The birds like it.

Now the rain has stopped and the 80 mph gales have gone away. The sun is out and there is only a gentle sea breeze wafting across the blue sky.

It feels like a massive dark cloud being lifted from one’s mind and shoulders. Many people are out today on the Burrows – me included. I went out to set up and photograph a test piece, part of my Little White Houses project. This is actually a section of a larger ongoing project that I am working on, relating to land and culture.

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Should people be required to pass a test, like car drivers, before they are allowed to own a dog? I think so. There are certain phrases that an artist does not want to hear from a member of the public when working outdoors. One of them is “He is only trying to play…”

Crouching calf-deep in muddy water, with camera and tripod closely focused for a low-angle shot of my work –  I was all but bowled over by an Alsatian and another large dog, who suddenly appeared, splashing around me in the water, and just missed flattening my work by a whisker (though they did make it and me very wet with their splashes).  Quite a loud and heated conversation with the dogs’ owners ensued after this. So much for my spiritual aspirations…

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Why did I choose paper? Why make life so difficult for myself? Why make my work and myself quite so vulnerable outside in public?  Well, apart from being unable to resist a challenge and tending to become stubbornly fixated once I have got an idea in my head – my hope is that the simplicity and beauty of this work will carry interesting, thought-provoking resonances and references, which I  am eager to reveal. This is one of the reasons I aim for simplicity in all my work.

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Simplicity is not always simple to achieve though. Here I am in my small uninhabitable stone shed with the leaking roof and the fused lighting, making little plaster cubes to weigh down the houses and stop them blowing away. I abandoned this idea.

Here’s a couple of photos of this first test out on the waterlogged Burrows. In case you are wondering – after a bit of trial and error, I did eventually find a way to stop the houses from blowing away, and the bottom edges are carefully painted with clear nail varnish, to stop the landwater from soaking upwards. There is an interesting paradox here, in that I am using a lightweight water-absorbent material, as opposed to the hard impervious materials of real housing estates with their tarmacked and concreted infrastructure.

Most obviously, perhaps, the work is clearly a comment on the fragile and transitory quality of our culture in the face of natural forces. For many of us, the continuing rainstorms and flooding over recent months has certainly brought this to the forefront of our minds, and it has certainly given fresh impetus to my own ‘housing projects’.

I am hoping to push this piece a bit further tomorrow, and looking forward to getting a good set of results eventually. but the weather forecast is bad and I suspect we have seen the last of the sun for a while….

Posted in Arts & Ecology, beach and coast, climate change, Linda Gordon, North Devon, weather | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Seachange: A Brief North Devon Roadtrip

January 31, 2014. The last day of (apparently) the wettest January in UK since records began. Waking up to yet another day of grey skies and rain, yet another day of being unable to walk and work outside – I thought it was worth marking the occasion with a look back to December, over a month ago, when this dismal period of wet weather was just beginning.

Northam Burrows is now covered with swathes of flood water. Gazing out from my top window, across the Burrows to the Torridge Estuary and the Atlantic beyond, I am taken aback when I realise we are getting off lightly compared to other parts of the Southwest. Though there are warnings of further severe weather for us announced today.

Here’s a local photo from the website of North Devon Journal, published yesterday.

020214_1029_SeachangeAN1.jpgFlooding at Pilton Park in Barnstaple on January 3, 2014.

Read more: http://www.northdevonjournal.co.uk/s-official-wettest-January-record-parts/story-20529424-detail/story.html#comments#ixzz2s4uAPGTZ

And here’s my souvenir from December, gathered from hasty notes and a few video snippets on my little stills camera, on a rainyday jaunt out to Baggy Point. (Baggy Point is an impressive and exhilarating headland a little further up the coast, much favoured by walkers and wildlife enthusiasts).

From diary notes…

Cold grey and rainy this morning, so we decided to go out to Baggy Point. We knew we wouldn’t be able to see much through this all-enveloping mist, but we went anyway. We drove through the small towns of Barnstaple, Braunton and Croyde, following the meandering road along the edge of the coastline, low green Devon hills on one side and the grey Atlantic on the other.

And as the windows of the car steamed up, and as I became more and more hot and claustrophobic, I sank down into a blurred vision of grey-green.

The sky lightened a little as we reached Saunton Sands: an enormous expanse of flat sandy beach. I could see the powerful surf rolling in from the ocean and I could just discern two tiny figures in the distance on the wide empty beach. We began to plan a nice bracing walk.

At Baggy Point we parked at the National Trust car park. I took one look at the shuddering hedge in front of me, and listened to the wind howling around our vehicle, and I decided I was not going to get out. But I did anyway. Because I suddenly had an idea that this b it of hedge might make the beginnings of a good art project. So I grabbed my camera.

Alex complained a bit, because he doesn’t like standing about in the rain and a howling gale whilst I take photos. But I assured him it was a blessing in disguise: because not wanting to ruin my camera in the salt spray blowing in our faces, I only allowed it out from under my coat for a few brief moments.

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Here’s a couple of interesting links..
Baggy Point on a better day (from the National Trust website):  http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/article-1356403470313/
BBC National News: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-25973344

Posted in beach and coast, climate change, nature, North Devon, weather | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments