May, A Good Year for Dandelions.
This week I have been basking in the sunshine of dandelions. Like my son’s noses, the bare earth has suddenly come out in freckles. Unbelievable that those weightless seeds blown last summer have done more than survive this winter, they seem to have thrived. Content to take root wherever the wind blows them they are beaming from every untended piece of ground. Adding their shaggy...
May, Hiding in Full View.
I once asked Edward if I could draw a clump of teasels I’d seen on the side of one of his farm tracks. He said of course I could and he even stopped for a chat while I was there the next day. A week later he flattened them. I’ve often wondered if it was my fault, that if I hadn’t pointed them out he might not have noticed them, or at least, not felt the urge to destroy them....
April, In Praise of Ditches.
The gods of the weather and the months of the year have conspired to make this week perfect for sitting in ditches. It’s been warm and dry, there’s not too much vegetation and importantly there are no mosquitos yet. It’s easy to find yourself a comfortable spot and steal a glance at these private places before nettles grow to terrifying proportions and bar you for the next six...
Light dazzling through the first chlorophyl of the year. Young nettles on a bank next to a sluice. Water falling from lake to stream. A hazel ablaze. Finally, swallows. Balm to my tired soul.
April, Violets are drowning in cold air this year.
Violets are drowning in cold air this year. Their sweet stand for spring is no match against the ceaseless north east wind. The primrose on a south facing bank is vibrating, a glazed look in it’s eye. Pussy willow split it’s winter coat a month ago but has still not cast it off. Blackthorn buds are fossilised. Snowdrops long to die and even the brashest daffodils dare not open....
I’m frozen to the middle of my bones. I’m speechless with cold. My thoughts are entombed in ice.
March, The Tree of Life.
The ash tree and the pollarded willow between the lake and the stream are preparing for a season of high rise maternity care. Wrapped in ivy and out of otter’s reach, they offer scenic views, privacy and good local amenities to prospective egg layers. Already two mallard have moved in. Craning their necks and poking their heads out of the ivy they quack crossly at each other and at...
In amongst the complicated folds and ridges of the Cumbrian Fells sits Melbreak. Separate and dark. An armoured insect, legs pulled up under it. It’s flimsy carapace of peat drips into a lake on it’s eastern side while to the west it trails orchids in the summer. To Chris, it’s grazing. His livelihood. He was born with it in his blood. To the never ending tourists who cut deep...
March, Longing for Spring.
I was young at the beginning of winter. Easily sustained by a lichen on a trunk or an icy turquoise sky. But now, it’s March and I’m ninety nine years older, each miracle is less nutritious. I’m impatient with the slow drip drip of spring. Cold, creeping light, is too cold, too reluctant. Only snowdrops, for weeks. Then aconites, in mud. Bird song, on deaf old...
March, A Cold Morning With Pigeons
A shower of fine hail has muffled the early morning. The field is cross hatched in white. The small oaks stand out in relief along the edge of the wood and pigeons have decoratively arranged themselves in all the tall trees. The only movement is the gentle fall of snow. I watch for a minute or two, noticing how the pigeons have spaced themselves out. There seems to be some ideal distance they...
Is it the ceaseless nagging of the wind, the rip and tear of an icy squall? Is it the weight of snow? Is it ice exploding through living call walls? The regular coating of rime or the deep luxury of darkness and the long cold stare of winter stars? Whatever the reason, bracken is at it’s loveliest now. Bleached and broken, poignantly reduced to pink, it still gives the warmest colour...
February, A plea for Scrub.
Farmers, single issue conservationists, neat and tidy minded people all agree that scrub is the enemy. It’s a loss of control, an invasion of space, a living metaphor for moral decline. Farmers are paid to “reclaim” scrubland or warn of low lamb prices and the disastrous consequences that will surely follow - less sheep, more scrub. Conservationists blame scrub for the loss...
February, A Week Spent Quietly Among Friends.
It felt like I was last here in another life. These old friends I hadn’t given a thought to for a couple of months, I saw afresh in their mid-winter nakedness. Wide, wind blown, mossy and knobbled, these woody giants of the Cumbrian fells astound me every time I see them. And yet there is nothing particularly remarkable about them. They are just big trees. They are trees which have...
February, Snow Squashed.
Snow squashed, February flat, this field is being peeled back to sticks and mud. My hat offers no resistance to the cold wind that has found it’s way into my ears and is now aching deep inside my head. Is this the place that hummed with insects pollinating a million perfect flowers just six months ago? Is this bleak spot where I once sat all day, in clover up to my chin, and tried to...
Everyone knows that the information on packets of food is there to mislead, confuse and befuddle. The bowls of confectionary, strangely labeled cereal, that my children love to eat for breakfast come in packets heavy with unintelligible nutritional information. I’ve often wondered how to recognise a kilojoule and what to do with the knowledge that there are 1637KJ per 100g serving. ...
January, The Waiting Room
On the wall above my head is a large photograph of a smiling man holding a huge carp. There is a thank you note under the picture. The girl next to me is busy writing lists. She’s getting married in a couple of months and she’s got lots to organise. The young man over there is excitedly telling a woman next to him that he’s been accepted on a course at college. The man I’ve...
December, Boxing Day
Feeling sick as we drove home from the hospital, the children and I saw hundreds of roe deer by the edge of the road. In fact that’s all we remember of the long journey home at 3am on Boxing Day, the peaceful faces of deer. Later as I lay in the debris of our Christmas bed, I thought about the forester, shaved, sedated, cold and heartless, waiting for the most wonderful gift he will ever...
The guy with the shaved head won’t get out of his car because it’s dark. He’s turned to jelly in his army boots. He can’t see where he’s going and he’s angry. He doesn’t thank me when I come to his rescue with a torch, he just blows smoke in my face. This graceless, baby of a man makes me want to disappear into the darkness. I love walking in the...
December, The Morning After A Sharp Frost.
Let your eye follow the rime petaled hedge parsley down the hill towards the dark December sun. A tiny scrap of concentrated amber, it begins to put rainbows into frost crystals from behind trees. It turns shadows purple then turquoise and paints the tops of birch trees rose. Feel the prick of glitter on your retinas. Listen to rime splinter and crash to the ground. Marvel at the heat in that...
December, Oak Trees
Incredulous that the blackbird proclaiming dawn doesn’t know that the universe has changed, I spend the awful first days after the death of someone I love, wondering how the world can continue to turn. Why don’t trees fall down and weep, blossom refuse to open or water stop flowing. But this year I’ve came to see that the sun rising every morning, the impassiveness of oak...
December, Selling Paintings.
A man wanted to buy one of my paintings this week. He was asking me all about it. I was doing my best to sound coherent despite the fact that to me the point of painting is it’s wordlessness. It’s a deep silence. An ancient connection between eyes and hand that bypasses language. To talk about my work is like making a really bad translation. And to talk about a painting to a...
We’ve finally got it together to do a blog….. Have a look http://group-eight.tumblr.com/
November, When It's Dusk At Midday.
When it’s dusk at midday. When it drizzles and rains, and rains harder. When the ash are dying and the willows have lost their leaves. When the cows have turned the field to mud. When you’ve got a headache and your new computer’s hidden important files. When your dogs are hunting moorhens… Go outside. Seek out the hazel, so generously lighting the gloom. Count how...
The thick fog, which terrified me last night as my son drove himself back to school, is nothing but pale pink vapour this morning. The orange sun of an autumn dawn piercing cool mist holds no fear, only delight. I dawdle with the dogs in the field, we loose each other in cold white drifts and are reunited in shimmering golden pools. We look down the stream, each alder along the edge is bathed...
Repellent, not only to fleas but to cows as well, fleabane stands alone at the edge of the bog. Overlooked in the floral orgy of summer, only it marks the boundary between wet and damp now. Smoky blue has given way to dark chocolate and dirty chalk. Yellow on yellow has become ochre on black. The low sun turns thousands of fuzzy seed heads into angelic halos. The only witnesses to the muddy...
November, Chalara Fraxinea
There’s a foresters war cabinet in my kitchen. The dress code is green and the mood is sombre, disinfectant (on your boots) is obligatory. There’s a large map of East Anglia open on the table and red circles are being drawn round an alarming number of woods. They’ve come from far and wide to see for themselves the first confirmed case of chalara fraxinea in the indigenous ash...
I don’t need to be the Queen of England. I don’t need sycophantic courtiers throwing their cloaks at my feet. I can walk under trees. Trees shedding leaves afresh each day. Creating intricate patterns in audacious colours that surprise me every year. Surely blessing anyone who cares to look where they’re putting their feet.
October, The World Wide Web!
A low autumn sun on a cold morning reveals a usually hidden world both beautiful and macabre. Briefly, the sinister spinnings of millions of spiders are made visible through the happy marriage of early morning sun light and cold water clinging to silk. A spot light is thrown on the breath taking ingenuity and industry of spiders. A Taj Mahal glistens between dock seed head spikes. A ghostly...
October, The Autumn Hawthorn
If you can, this October, turn your astonished gaze away from the ravaged thorn hedge. Don’t look at her poor chewed bones. Leave her quietly to her shame and her humiliation, all life striped from her. Try not to notice the shreds of her bright, early autumn clothes lying in tatters around her ankles. Instead look for her sister. Safe, curled round an electric pillion, beyond the...
I’m lying on the warm grass looking at the sky. Clouds are moving fast . Appearing over the top of the wood, they hurry over the line of willows. A relentless movement, west to east, shape shifting as they go. You think of clouds belonging to where you see them but that can’t be right, they are only ever temporary, always moving. They have the power to change a place utterly, but...
The new puppy, Slinky and I have made quite a substantial path round the field since the end of July. We walk it twice, sometimes three times a day. We always walk it in the same direction but we vary the time taken. We sometimes stop and lie on it. I stick to it, the dogs use it as a rough guide only. My footsteps have squashed the grass into a pale trail, a lightly snaking contour. It has...
September, An Invisible Herd of Red Deer.
Dickie, George and Dean have all told me that they’ve seen a herd of forty red deer recently. I’ve never seen the whole herd but I’m very aware that I’m not the biggest creature living here. I’d have to be blind not to notice huge hoof prints and piles of dung. Not to see the paths only really large animals could make, not to wonder at the fence neatly squashed, not...
September, The Agitation of Vegetation.
I love the gentle anarchy a breezy day creates. Chaotic rhythms are played out across grass and sedge. Oak trees become tentacled sea creatures. Rows of poplars bend and ripple in unison like a chorus line, you think you can see a pattern emerge and then, quite suddenly, as if the music’s changed, they begin to thrash about in different directions. The silver underside of leaves are saucily...
September, Through a 1970's Filter.
Looking at the old photographs my mother was showing my children, I realised the rosie glow I was feeling wasn’t only because they were innocent images of my childhood. Naked and holding hands with my brothers, looking cold at the top of a Scottish mountain in my favourite (very flimsy) dress, long forgotten pets and endless sunny picnics, my childhood memories are bound to make me misty...
September, A Silver Green Rudd.
I’m sitting on a wooden bridge over a little weir. The August lake is still just full enough to be falling over the edge. Cool and wet and dusty with pale pink blobs of scum lounging aimlessly by the reeds, there’s no hurry here. Shapes are formed and stirred and reformed by dust and air and fish. Duckweed shivers and reconfigures. A bank of willow herb gashes the watery green with a...
August, A Rowan Tree.
The rowan is a tree of the mountains. It’s the brave clinger on of steep gullies. Sown wherever a bird can perch, it’s a speck of colour against black rock. It can even grow in the cleft of another tree. They’re magical trees too. In Scotland rowan boughs were placed over the door to keep witches out. Hung over the barn door, it stopped those witches stealing milk from your cow....
August, A Paradise in Flowers.
The big field has reached it’s flowery peak. I defy anyone not to be moved by the joyous profusion of blooms drifting along tracks, weaving under trees, spilling through fences and blinking over the tops of gorse bushes. No human could compose such happy combinations, such billowing waves of colour, such a heavenly bounty of blooms spread out as far as the eye can see. From the tiniest...
August, Appalled by my Ignorance.
It dawned on me, as I walked along a tiny lane in Cumbria admiring the variety of plants bursting out of the thick hedges on either side, that I could only name a handful with any confidence. I knew Meadowsweet, Red Campion, Herb Robert and Honeysuckle and that was about it. So I decided to try and identify every flower that I came across. A lot of them were embarrassingly common, like Lesser...
August, New Walking Boots
The rugged looking sales man promised me my one hundred pounds would be money well spent. The walking boots were completely waterproof, as light as feathers and, he turned them over with a flourish, “look at that aggressive tread.” I tried not to visibly wince at the thought of all those slow growing, delicate mountain plants being pulverised under my feet, but I bought them anyway. I...
July, Sweet Chestnut
As I watch what feels like tropical rain falling outside, it seems appropriate that I’m writing about the sweet chestnut, most exotic of trees. To me they turn any woodland into a jungle, their large, simple, serrated leaves effortlessly fill gaps without blocking light. Their size, shape and transparency create vivid green images with dark edges and fish bone spines. They are one of the...
July, A Manifesto (for modern farming)
To the toads spawning in a muddy ditch; you’re beneath contempt. To the dragonfly larva nearing the completion of your modest three year life cycle; you’re invisible. To the oak sapling, whose parent remembers time before the industrial revolution; you’re in the way. To the six hundred year old oak trees; you’re not cherished. To the boggy meadow; you’re a...
July, The Feeling of Being Under Water.
I’m sitting on a mown path in a little wood that was planted the year my daughter was born. It’s just a small belt of trees that runs between the road and the hay field. I’m painting in here because I’m in love with the colour and texture of the ash tree’s trunks. Tall and slender and smooth grey green blue, they’re more like seaweed than trees. There’s...
By midsummers day most plants have done the majority of their growing. I’m barred from whole areas of wood and field and lake side by head high foliage. I will have to take paths for my walks now. I’ll follow the mad meanderings of a path mown once, years ago, by a young boy, drunk with joy at being in charge of his father’s mowing machine. I’ll walk along the lumpy track...
June, A Still Moment Between Rain Storms.
A hot day, heavy rain all morning. A moment of respite. A short, still truce. The air is thick with water. Evaporation is visible, you can feel it’s softness on your skin, it’s warmth in your lungs. It plays with perspective and mutes colours. Shapes blur, insects take to the air and the heavy scent of honeysuckle trickles down your throat. Then the wind whips the poplars into a...
June, Insects are for eating.
I was going to write about beetles. That every time I sit down to draw something, I’m visited by a parade of marvellous bugs. All friendly and all so splendid, they run across my paper, over my hand and down my leg. I swap one bit of paper for another and try and draw my beautiful visitors. But last weekend my view of insects changed. I no longer see them as interesting curiosities, I see...
After the blanket planting of rape this year, it’s extraordinary that the cones (or is it the rods?) in my eyes can still take pleasure in yellow. It would be sad not to be touched by the warm, round honesty of a buttercup. Most democratic of English flowers, it will shine for anyone, brightening the days of those who choose to look. This morning I watched a cock French Partridge enjoying...
Early June, A Field of Hay.
The hay field in early June is mesmerizing. Five acres of green space used by boys, for football, and by lurchers, as a race track in the winter, has become one living thing. Millions of individual plants unite in their common aim, to produce seed. Shivering and sighing at night, bejewelled and trembling in the early morning. It rolls pollen with the wind and reflects the sun’s own image...
May, Fairy Caps.
The forester has fed his family a banquet of wild mushrooms over the years. Ceps, Chanterelles, Chicken of the Woods, Giant Puffballs, Parasol Mushrooms, Morels, St George’s Mushrooms and many more have graced his kitchen table. Friends ring him up for over the phone identification and bring him samples to cast his expert eye over. But would they be so trusting if they knew the upset...
May, The Pace of Spring.
Coming and going between Norfolk and Cumbria has been like doing a seasonal tango. I move from high spring to early spring and then leap-frog back to late spring. I bid farewell to the last of the primroses in Norfolk and watch them opening in Cumbria a week later. I leave the northern oaks still hard skeletons and six hours later, back in the south, find them soft and mustardy. I pass a field...