Links

Some more interesting reading to tickle your mind:

Sorry for the random capitalisation of words, I’ve copied and pasted titles and can’t be bothered changing them…

Nature and writing, the prep

On the full moon in August I did a tarot reading to shine some light on my nature and writing project. The eight of pentacles came up which, astrologically, corresponds to the sun in Virgo. Which just happens to be about the time I was planning on diving in. It feels like a nice reassurance that I am following my path.

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I also selected a crystal I was drawn to to help me hold my intention around this project. I’ve talked before about this (although I can’t find the post) but essentially by doing this, the crystal (in this case rose quartz) acts as a reminder, a touchstone, an inspiration and something to turn to if I need help.

I also recently got a message from the lovely Crystal Cornwall UK saying they were having a summer sale and was instantly drawn to labradorite and ended up buying three stones as well as some other lovely crystals.  They have amazing names, are fascinating to look at and are a beautiful part of geology. Different parts of the world are home to different gemstones. For example, Whitby is well known for its jet.

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Other preparations I’m making include writing up a month by month vague curriculum as well as creating a poetry jar as words call to me.  It’s a great way to warm up if you’re going to write but also little gems come straight from the jar without too much polishing.

Winter magic
twists sun beams
to night

In terms of my plans (which are entirely flexible and reactive to both my health and what I find along the journey), I am currently thinking of the following:

  • September
    • Starting the Future Learn: William Wordsworth – Poetry, People and Place course.
    • Starting the Future Learn: Learn about weather course
    • Hopefully a day trip
    • Focus on: What is nature writing?  Why do we read and write it? How has it changed? And what makes good nature writing?  Looking at all genres.
  • October
    • Future Learn: Environmental challenges – rights and values in ecosystem services course
    • Local one day course – From Ovid to Oz: A Brief Cultural History of Werewolves
    • Marking Samhain, or Halloween, 31st October
    • Focus on animals in (human) society – their roles in our lives, our roles in their lives, how we interact, how we complement each other and how we see animals?  And then honing in on animals (living, extinct or supernatural) as scapegoats.
  • November
    • Future Learn: Environmental challenges – human impact in the natural environment
    • Local one day course on the human history of York
    • Focus more on plants and/or geology this month.  It may be winter and cold and dark and it may feel like everything is closing up and going into hibernation but what are plants up to and which plants are in the spotlight?
  • December
    • Local seasonal traditions
    • Mark the winter solstice
    • Focus on weather
  • January
    • Poetry focus – reading, analysing, looking for themes, writing it…
  • February
    • Focus on rewilding.  It keeps crossing my path so I’m gathering reading and links and videos as they find me.

As always, I’d love to get to links and references and suggestions and opinions and ideas!

Writing and nature, part 2

For an introduction to my project, check out the intro post.

Having decided I want to do a longish project around nature and writing, my first step was to narrow that down.  There are so many ways it could branch out and take shape and I have lots of exciting ideas but I know that I need to have some sort of focus.  Looking specifically at Yorkshire is one way I am doing this.  I am also collecting articles and videos which sound interesting and naturally themes are starting to emerge.

However, all of this is getting ahead of myself.  First, perhaps I need to ask what is nature writing.  And then why do we write about nature or read about nature.  Quickly followed by this I hope to look at how has nature writing changed over time.  This will probably look at style, content, intent, audience, who is doing the writing… Has there been a recent resurgence and if so, why?

At this stage, I’ll probably just be skimming the surface of these topics so that I can go broad and shallow to start with and get a sense of what works for me and what is of most interest.

To inform my planning I have been looking at courses about nature writing and their outlines for inspiration and directions which I might not have come to organically.  For me, part of learning is other people’s thoughts and views and areas of interest and that is something that I know I will find hard to replicate.  One of these outlines set aside time to look at what makes good nature writing and that is certainly something I want to consider.

I’m thinking I will alternate reflective essay or blog post style writing with creative writing and theory with practical.  So perhaps one month a piece of factual writing about rewilding followed by a month about poetry, a month getting outside and submerging myself in the environment and a month that is more computer or reading based.

I’m trying hard not to dive straight in now and try and do everything at once.  It’s tempting but August is busy and I know that that approach will lead to me being flat out exhausted and burnt out.  This is the key reason I want a bit of a curriculum, probably a rough outline focusing me each month.  That way instead of feeling I need to read something as soon as I find it, I can jot down the details for the relevant time.

To hold myself back for now, I have been engaging in some gentle, sort of related reading and watching:

  • Walking through History: Bronte Country
  • Tree of the year – 4OD
  • Charlotte’s web (the film which is on Amazon Prime at the moment)
  • Extinct
  • Bridge To Terabithia – technically not a nature film but it is great for stimulating the imagination and is on Netflix
  • Again, not exactly nature writing but this series about fairytales from Jen Campbell is interesting and I want to look at how nature is portrayed in fairytales and what that reveals about the natural world and our relationship to it.  As an example, think about the role that forests often play in fairy tales.
  • A Yorkshire Miscellany – useful for titbits and language and ideas for exploration at a later date
  • Yorkshire Rock: A Journey Through Time – this promises to be a really interesting book which is aimed at children and thus is very accessible and talks about the geology of Yorkshire and how it varies and how it was all formed

As per my previous post I would love suggestions of reading, viewing, resources and people or ideas to look into.

Writing and nature

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I was looking online at an amazing sounding poetry and nature course.  It was really energising and inspiring and I was nearly at the point of signing up when I remembered that I don’t keep up well with that sort of thing… I can do the reading mostly but it’s the thinking and having enough energy to be creative and poetic that I know I would struggle with.  And that then gets into a vicious circle which ends in me being sad.

So, I have decided, from September, I shall be following my own, self guided version.  I have various books I want to read, talks I want to listen to, exercises I want to try and things I want to ponder.

To narrow down the focus a bit, I am thinking local for my “assignments” and global for my reading.

I am hoping to challenge my own ideas and find new ways of thinking and I know that this is going to be the hard part.  As such, if you have any articles, comments, questions, books etc that you feel may be relevant, please pass them my way.  The internet is wonderful but it does have a tendency to be an echo chamber.

Alongside my own planned stuff (which is still very vague), there are a few one day courses locally which I want to do and some free online courses which complement my current direction.  In particular, I’m thinking Learn About Weather and William Wordsworth: Poetry, People and Place.

I am also pulling together a list of day trips ranging from nature reserves to local natural history museums.  I want to get to know not just the area as it is today but how it has been shaped and transformed and changed by time, by climate and by humanity.  I hope to be able to identify more birds, more animals and more plants by the end of this project.  Right now I don’t know how long I’m thinking this’ll be.  But it ties into some bits of work I’ve already been doing since I retired.  2016 was the year I focused on trees in my art, this year is butterflies.  I have written my animal and plant posts and reflected on what fog has to teach me.  And I have pondered ways of bringing nature into my life despite the wheelchair/sometimes housebound thing.

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I’m hoping to use my blog to help me unravel ideas and thoughts and opinions and to share resources and articles and my writing.

Whilst I’m trying to not throw myself in too fast and too this month (August is busy by my standards), there are a few bits and pieces I want to share.  I haven’t read the articles critically but I have bookmarked them to return to.

In terms of books, I’m trying to start with those I already have (but I do love an excuse to buy books…) which includes:

  • World Enough and Time by Christian McEwen
  • Landmarks by Robert MacFarlane
  • If Women Rose Rooted by Sharon Blackie
  • The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd
  • Speaking With Nature by
  • Whispers From the Earth by Taz Thornton
  • The English Year by Steve Roud (about local traditions)
  • The Seasons: A Celebration of the English Year by Nick Groom

And there are some youtube videos that give a glimpse into some of what I want to dig deeper into (all except the first are less than ten mins).

I would love to hear any ideas anyone has for exercises or things to read or watch or do.  I am hoping to return soon with a post which narrows down my focus a bit more, or at least provides a jumping off point.

Bluebell

Bluebells go by different names and is a name used to refer to different but similar plants, thus making research into this plant a bit vague.  For example, in Scotland, bluebell refers to the harebell, and the invasive Spanish bluebell is incredibly similar to our native species.

Some of the names this flower goes by are: Calverkeys, Culverkeys, Auld Man’s Bell, Ring-o’-Bells, Jacinth, Wood Bells, Wild Hyacinth, Fairy Flower, Granfer Griggles, Cra’tae and Bell Bottle.

For me, the bluebell reminds me strongly of my aunty and so is a flower of remembrance.

These beautiful bulbs carpet ancient woodlands throughout Britain and are protected under UK law with a fine of up to £5,000 for each bulb removed.  They are rich in pollen and nectar, providing important food for bumblebees who in turn are the chief pollinators.  That said, cheeky bees can take the nectar without pollinating the flower by biting a hole in the bottom of the bell.  This seems a bit shortsighted because the bluebell provides an important early source of food and the more plants you pollinate, the more plants you’ll have to eat from next year.  A lesson it’s always good to come back to from time to time.   Ask first, take what you need and leave behind enough for the future.  In foraging this means don’t take all the plant because no one else will have any and also because if you do, the plant could die and next year you’ll regret it.

Flowering between mid April and late May, they transform the vista.  Because they spread rapidly, their vibrant blue hues cover the ground in a stunning display.  But be careful, it is said that if you hear a bluebell ring, your death will be soon.  Also, beware of fairies for a bluebell carpet is woven with fairy magic.

Despite their early flowering, their leaves stay around until late autumn, providing ground cover and verdent green lushness until winter when they retreat back under ground to prepare for the next spring bloom.

Possibly due to being poisonous if used incorrectly, the bluebell does not appear in much medicinal lore.  When prepared appropriately, the poisonous bulbs can be used as a remedy for leucorrhoea (thick, white or yellow vaginal discharge), and as a diuretic or styptic (which promotes wound healing).

Outside the healing arena, they have been used for many years.  Their sap is sticky and was used to bind pages into spines of books as well as by Bronze Age people to attach feathers to arrows.  The bulbs, crushed, provided starch for the fancy ruffs of Elizabethan fashion.

Returning to where we started, the name of this pretty flower, we find that Linnaeus (an important guy in plant classification) first called it Hyacinthus.  Hyacinth was said to be a flower of grief and mourning, and whilst it is a delight to look at, if you pay attention to an individual, you can see their heads hanging heavy and sorrowful.  In mythology, Hyancinthus was loved by Apollo and Zephyrus but prefer the Sun-God.  One day, when playing a game with Apollo, Zephyrus blew a quoit off course and it killed Hyacinthus.  Apollo was distraught at the loss of his friend and from his blood created a purple flower.  On this flower the letters Ai, Ai were seen as a reminder of his cry of grief and woe.  As the flowers today do not bear such letters, we have the latin name Hyacinthus nonscriptus, or ‘not written on’.

For me the bluebell is about remembrance, about grief and about magic.  It is about beauty, even when things seem tough.  And it is a lesson in growing and replenishing yourself and learning from hard times.

None of the above should be considered medical advice, do not eat anything unless you’ve done your research. Plants go by different names in different places and have different properties at different times of year. Some of the possible uses of this plant have come from folklore and should not be taken as fact.

Bramble

THE BRAMBLE IN OCTOBER.

THE flora of the year is past
Adown the lanes I ramble,

The faded leaves are falling fast,
Yet jetty hangs the Bramble.

Its blossoms still are silken white,
And black, and red, and green,

Its berries dangle with delight
Fit jewels for a queen.

The Hazel all its nuts hath shed

In many a cozy nook,
And all the flowers have gone to bed

And closed is Flora’s book.

But still the Bramble’s raven eye
Doth glance beneath the bracken,

And many a bank doth beautify
By every flower forsaken.

– James Rigg

The ubiquitous bramble.  The plant which bears the fruit that most of us know as blackberries.  These juicy berries are also known as blackbides, blackbutters, blackites and scald berries depending on where you are.  Another important bit of regional info you might want to check out is the date after which you should no longer pick them.  This varies across the UK and it is said the reason you should not pick them is because the devil will have claimed them as his own by spitting on them.

Blackberries have been eaten for thousands of years and are eaten as they are, used in baking and turned into wine.  They are the quintessential foraging food.  Even if you have done no foraging in your life, there’s still a pretty high chance you’ll have picked blackberries.  Eating them straight off the bush, getting purple fingers and juice dripping down your clothes, perhaps staining them to much your parent’s annoyance… This is a tough plant to erase.  Once it’s found a home, it’s there to stay.  Whether that is a patch of overgrown land or your nice white tshirt.  According to some traditions, a blackberry’s deep purple colour represents Christ’s blood.

The way the bramble grows creates an almost impenetrable thicket.  They have long, thorny, arching shoots and they set up home easily.  Once established, they’re incredibly difficult to eradicate.  This is a plant of tenacity and determination.  Willpower is another word which springs to mind as does perseverance.

The prickly bushes line the sides of roads, paths and inhabit overgrown areas, reclaiming the land.  They are plants of the hedgerow, accompanying the traveller on their journey.  The bramble is the wayfarers constant companion.  But because they are so common, they quickly become overlooked.  Like the woodpigeon, we stop seeing their wonder and beauty and the fruits they bear because they become background noise.

These well recognised plants are used in healing as well as for food.  Their leaves are said to aide headaches, their fruits to help sore throats and folk medicine practitioners are said to have used bramble arches in their healing.

It is, perhaps understandable, bad luck to give a woman a sprig of brambles… That said, we give roses…  In terms of the language of flowers, giving brambles signifies envy and jealousy.  I’m thinking if you’re determined to gift bramble to someone, you’d be best sticking with the fruit…

Which brings us onto the thorns.  Whilst it is generous of the bramble to provide us with blackberries, we must earn them and not take frivolously or beyond what we need.   The thorns keep us in check, managing our greed and our lust.  Blackberries ripen at harvest time, a time of abundance and gathering, calling on us to manage our own balance of preparedness and greed.

The bramble, with it’s power of entanglement, is perhaps asking us to think about how entwined we have become with material possessions.  It may be suggesting we stand our own ground, standing firm and sure. Or perhaps it’s as simple as inviting us to step out onto the paths and forage for these delicious delicacies.

None of the above should be considered medical advice, do not eat anything unless you’ve done your research.  Plants go by different names in different places and have different properties at different times of year.  Some of the possible uses of this plant have come from folklore and should not be taken as fact.

Elder Tree, Elderberries and Elderflowers

“[Elder has] been respected, revered and reviled by turns throughout different cultures and eras, but never ignored”
– Gabrielle Hatfield

A friend suggested I look into this plant and wow.  There is so much of interest here!  It is a plant of contradictions; it is benevolent and malevolent, kindly and spiteful.  An emblem of death, trouble and sorrow but also of health and healing.

Starting with healing, the elder has been called the medicine chest of country people and used as a cure all.  More specifically this has included using bark for rheumatism, the leaves for eczema and burns and berries for colds and flu.  Other ailments that elder is used to treat include bronchitis, coughs, viral infections, disorders of the mouth, the digestive tract and the skin.  It has been used in eye and skin lotions and to increase urination.  As I said, this is a bit of a go to plant when it comes to herbal remedies.

The elder inhabits the edges – hedges, roadsides, pathways – which seems fitting for a plant that is essentially on the fence about its identity, uncommitted to a path of kindness or malevolence.

One example of this ambiguity lies in the blossom.  To give elderflower blossom is a sign of humility, kindness and compassion but if you fall asleep under the elder, then the scent from the blossom is said to poison you or draw you into the fairy world.

I am sure you are all familiar with drinks made from elderflowers and berries, but it did you know that the berries are poisonous unless fully ripe?  And it was believed that standing on elder leaves could lead to a miscarriage. Despite this, the plant has been used to make jams and jellys as well as drinks.

The wood is hard and easy to polish on the outside, but has a soft, easily removed core.  This has lent to it’s use in pipe type instruments such as fairies play and is just one example of the elder embodying opposing concepts.  Further, we see that the elder is a strong plant and grows well but is shallow rooted.  Even to call it a tree is uncertain, is it a bush or a shrub?  It doesn’t really matter to me but further illustrates the ambiguity and puzzling energy of this plant.

Moving on to myth and magic, we find that the elder is a gate between the mundane and the magical realms, the human and the fairy worlds.  The elder plant is inhabited by the elder mother (Hyldemor) who’s permission was needed before you could touch the it, let alone cut it down:

lady elder
give me some of thy wood

then will i give thee some of mine
when i become a tree

If you wanted to pass by, touch or cut the elder tree, it was necessary to perform a ritual.  One book I read told of a man who tipped his hat every time he walked past one.  The consequences of not carrying out the ceremony seem unclear but perhaps we can gleam suggestions from the dangers of using elder:

  • Burning it’s wood would lead to death and disaster and/or bring the devil to sit upon your chimney
  • It was banned from use in domestic settings (eg furniture)
    • It was said that putting a baby in a cot made of elder would cause Elder Mother to come and pull the child’s legs.  Peace could not be achieved until the child was removed from the cot.
  • Whipping a child or animal with elder would stunt their growth
  • As witches wood, a storm could be brewed by stirring water with an elder wand

But as with all things elder related, there is a flip side.  It was said that an elder by the doorstep protects a home, that a flourishing elder on a grave means the dead are happy and elder berries picked on st john’s eve would protect you from magic.

I am unsure where this fits in the benevolent and malevolent scale but a Danish belief says that if you stand under an elder on midsummer’s eve, you’ll see the fairy king ride by.

Elderberries have been called devil’s eyes and yet the plant as a whole has been called the queen of herbs.  Nothing is straightforward or as simple as it seems with the elder.  As the 13th month in the Celtic Tree Calendar, it is both dying and being reborn, the end and the beginning.  Perhaps in light of this, the elder as a plant of contradictions and paradoxes makes more sense.

Elder is juxtapositions, dualities and opposing forces all packed into one delicate seeming plant.  A tree of protection and a tree of harm, perhaps this plant is closer to the fairies that it is associated with than you might first suspect…

“English summer begins with elder flowers and ends with elder berries”


None of the above should be considered medical advice, do not eat anything unless you’ve done your research. Plants go by different names in different places and have different properties at different times of year. Some of the possible uses of this plant have come from folklore and should not be taken as fact.