An untitled poem about autumn

Her Midas touch
turns all to gold:
                the light
                the leaves
                the conker’s sheen.
All honeyed under rich veneer.

Palette of pumpkin spice
               and kicking leaves
               in smoky air.
A mask.

Cracks in the façade reveal
threads of decay,
and Autumn’s truth.

She’s Winter’s catalyst.
The cog that turns
warmth cold,
bright dark,
hope harsh.

Sets the stage for
Winter’s empty monologue.

Nettles

A grey-purple stem stands solid in the cool breeze, connected leaves fluttering.  Overhead, the sun darts behind a cloud, then peeks out, half hiding like a shy child behind his mother’s legs.

The leaves of the Nettle are elongated hearts, cut with pinking shears.  Even it’s hearts wear teeth.

I can just about see the stingers, fine hairs that look soft, but experience tells me they are deceptive.  They are the sharp pins from the same sewing kit that held the shears.

As I sit with the Nettle, the air brustles around us and it seems to wave to me.  Or is it pushing me away?  It feels like it’s leaves are frantically ushering me to go.  

I heed it’s advice and scurry inside, out the wind, but shortly after I wonder, should I have stayed?  Was it pushing me away as a self-protective measure?  An extension of the boundaries the stings set?   I wonder if I should have stayed, earnt it’s trust, pushed through the harsh outer layers? 

And I wonder, what would I have found under it’s tough armour?

A nursery for caterpillars?  A buffet for insectivores?  An all-inclusive resort for bugs?

Or all of the above.

Butterflies and moths lay their eggs on the Nettle’s leaves; Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies, Peacock Butterflies and Burnished Brass Moths.

Once hatched, the caterpillars feed on the leaves as they grow, protected from predators whilst they make their magical transformation.

DSC_0097web

Carrot Flies, Black Flies and Aphids eat the Nettle, then in turn, they become food for Ladybirds, Blue Tits and other birds.

It’s thought that more than 40 kinds of insect shelter on and around the Nettle, enjoying protection from grazing animals.  These insects in turn draw insectivores such as Hedgehogs, Shrews, Frogs and Toads, turning a nettle patch into a food court.

It’s flowers offer pollen and nectar for butterflies and the seeds offer autumn food for Chaffinches, Bullfinches and House Sparrows.

The nettle is also home to Jumping Plant Lice, Tarnished Plant Bugs and more.  These creatures are not put off by the Nettle’s sting, they welcome it, they embrace it.  They see beyond the defensive bristling, the measures the Nettle employs in order to avoid being vulnerable.  Where so many others see malice, they see potential.

***

A day later and I pull a few of the more unwieldly plants from my patch of ground.  I would rather I tamed them gently and sparingly than the council tried, with brutal force and unrefined machinery. 

Despite two pairs of gloves and knowledge of how to approach a nettle, I still get stung.  A grey pin prick amongst the whorls and swirls of my fingertip. 

When the tiny hypodermic needle brushed against me, the tip broke off and the remaining hair pierced my skin, injecting an elegant cocktail of irritants.  This included histamine which I am especially sensitive to, and is likely why my one single nettle sting was still throbbing and swollen hours later.

I can’t think of another plant whose identity is so wrapped up in it’s sting, in it’s self-defence.  Other plant protections are utilised, taken for human use – whether it’s the nicotine that protects the Tobacco plant or salicylic acid produced when herbivores bite Willow or the Cinchona trees which use the bitter taste of quinine to repel predators.

***

There is an old belief that a nettle in your pocket will keep you safe from lightning and give you courage.  Perhaps this is a self fulfilling prophecy, not everyone would pick the nettle in the first place…

Or, perhaps it is the gift that comes from knowing the Nettle.  Of knowing there is more to a book that it’s cover, more to a nettle than it’s sting.  Of knowing the Nettle is more about protection than defence.

The dawn chorus, and pain

It’s 4.15am and I am in so much pain that I am nearly in tears – something that takes a lot for a pro like me.  As I’m slowly breathing in and out, I hear a bird.  Closing my eyes against the pain, I focus on the melody.  Phrases repeat and change and reappear making a tune that feels slightly off familiar.

This time of morning is one I know well.  It is my secret segment of the day.  A rare alone time.  Often, I read to distract from the pain, or listen to an audiobook but now, as dawn edges into the night, I find myself smiling.  This in-between becomes my own special moment, a time when the birds are serenading me alone.  Sharing their wisdom for the day ahead.  In those notes, I hear hope, even knowing that they may well be territorial shouts from male to male.


Another morning, another 4am, another bird call; a song thrush this time.  A song, then a space.  A space filled with hope.  Another call, another wait, no reply. But it’s early in the season, there’s still time for a female to hear and accept the invitation.

I wonder who else hears the songs, perhaps a fox, or a hedgehog?  I know there are bats nearby.  I have seen them at dusk swooping under a bridge and diving for insects over the lake in the park.  They are most likely Pipistrelles; flitting across grey-black night.  Perhaps other creatures stir in the night with me, eyes half open, ears filling with the music of the dawn.


There have been so many early mornings when the birds have been my comfort, my companions.  Unable to sleep, I’ve had the pleasure of hearing tweets and calls and song, and they have, and continue, to offer me solace in my pain.

Bird song and coronavirus

Some evenings the bird chatter – the kaa ka kas, the pep pip pips, the alarm calls- grate on me.  During the day I love hearing them and it grates on me that it grates on me and thus a vicious cycle spins on.

This is a new thing.  Normally I love hearing the birds as I settle into bed so I wanted to interrogate this, to try and understand what is going on.

My initial thoughts were about time of day; come evening, I am much more tired, and right now I am more likely to be fed up and despondent by the time I get into bed.  This is also the first time I am really alone in the day and I sink into my subconscious whirlings.  I don’t feel naturally aligned with appreciation, appreciation of anything, at this time of day.

I spend the day noticing and loving but by night I need distraction – tv, film, reading – something I can escape into.  And whilst the birds are incredible, they are inevitably out there in the world, right now.  And my mind will not let me forget that I am not, and will not let me forget that I am hearing them so much clearer because of the global pandemic. 

The birds do not give me the escape I need in this phase of my daily cycle.  Their caws and cacks instead pull me away from the fantasy world I plunge into and remind me that my escape is just an illusion.  That however hard I try, I am still living in a world with a virus that could kill me and the people I love.  A virus that has already killed. 

I am still living in a world where the reckless acts of strangers ignoring the rules could turn out to kill.  They could be carrying it, walking bombs waiting to be detonated.  I am still living in a world where disabled people are being devalued repeatedly in clumsy attempts to get through this crisis, where we are told we may not get the care we need to stay alive (1). And that now that able bodied people are stuck home too, suddenly technology can be used to meet up, to do courses. to offer talks online.  And suddenly working from home is perfectly possible.

The calls of the blackbird on the roof pulls me back into a world where people with a week or two of being stuck home under their belt, are suddenly experts on loving nature from home.  Despite their daily walks, possibly through countryside and woodland, and their good sized garden, they speak with the authority of a housebound disabled person who has lived this for years.  Our voices, those with lived experiences and expertise, are still not heard.  We are shouting and going unnoticed because we are disposable, literally right now.  Worthless.  Valueless. (2) 

I have shed many shackles since becoming disabled; the idea that my value is about my economic contribution and my productivity; that my self worth is tied to doing… Is the evening bird song grating against another shackle?  One where I cannot be a nature lover, or a nature writer, if I cannot always appreciate it and embrace it?(3)

The nightly scrabble and scramble of starlings on the feeder doesn’t seem as endearing as it did hours before.  And all that has changed is me.  I have moved through my day, and now I want to tune out the world, and all the noise that tries to tell me I am unimportant.  When the messages scream so loudly, so constantly, they cannot help but echo and reverberate around my soul.

By the time I get into bed, I need to escape.  I need to live in a different world or a different time.  And those birds that I love so deeply and dearly, peck through the bubble I am trying to build.

Come the dawn chorus, I am back to noticing, caring, loving and appreciating.

Notes

(1) A recent RIDC survey found 50% of people with care support needs are no longer receiving health or personal care visits to their home. Disabled people left off coronavirus vulnerable people list go without food. Ministers warned coronavirus bill threatens services for disabled people.

(2) ‘I feel like I don’t count,’ says man with MND. Disabled people ‘forgotten’ by government strategy.

(3) This already feels a harder label to claim with the ableism within the environmental movements and the wilderness ideal excluding disabled people

The thick taste of petrichor

This is a fragment of my writing from the Emergence nature writing course I am currently doing.

The thick taste of petrichor

Microorganisms in the soil – actinobacteria – decompose dead and decaying matter, turning the no longer living into nutrients and life – the fantastic, eternal, circle of life. 

And as they do this, they create a kind of alcohol called geosmin, to which our noses are very sensitive.  This is one of the compounds that creates the smell of rain, earthy and nostalgic.

When it is dry, they are less active, when the air is humid and the ground is moist they speed up, releasing more geosmin.  So what we are breathing in is the recycling of life, the cycle of life and death and rebirth, the cycle of ransformation.  We are smelling the process by which a tree becomes food for a daffodil and the bones of a rabbit become a nutrients for a carrot.

It is also a signal, a sign of a symbiotic partnership that has played out over and over for almost 500 million years.

The bacteria release the odour to attract a specific arthropod, a Springtail, which responds by eating it.  This is less suicidal than it appears.  Bacteria spores stick to the Springtail and get relocated, as do those excreted in faeces.  This helps the bacteria to spread and create new colonies.

Next time you smell the lush, slightly salty, tang of rain, spare a moment for the minute lives whose drama is plays out beneath our feet.

Nature writing

At the moment, I am finding it hard to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. I have many fragments of writing, notes scribbled on scraps of paper but I find myself unable to connect them cohesively. I know this will pass but in the meantime I thought an easy to write post would be a list of nature writing books and articles.

What are you reading and enjoying at the moment?

Edited to add… if that’s not enough reading for you, check out Katherine Hauswirths list

My outside space

I am currently doing an online course with Emergence Magazine about nature writing and last week we were thinking about place, specifically relationship to place. Normally on sunny, warm days I would be found in the local park which I treat like my garden. If I need to stay home for a delivery or whatever, I might sit out the front of my flat on the pavement. Neither park nor pavement are options right now. What follows is what I wrote about my only option, the back yard.

The back yard is not a space I am intimate with.  It isn’t a space I have made familiar.  I have avoided it as much as possible.  It comes with fear, anxiety and an unwarranted sense of trespass. 

When I first saw my flat had a yard, I filled my imagination with dreams and plans, I designed the space in my head.  And then I met the neighbours I share it with, and their two untrained dogs which bark and leap and scratch all over my allergic legs.  And I saw the dog poo that wasn’t picked up and the dryer fluff that comes out of their window and sticks to the floor.  And I got yelled at and threatened for things I hadn’t done. 

And those dreams and plans were lost.

Four years later.  We can’t spend this sunny afternoon in the park, or sit out the front by the street.  Regular habits have been put on pause by coronavirus so, instead, we snatched at a chance when my neighbours went out.  We sit in the yard.  It is lovely feeling sun on my skin and air outdoors feels twice as fresh.  But a bitter buzz deep in me can’t shake the anxiety and fear that my neighbours, or their dogs, will appear. 

The self I see out here is one who gives copious amounts of space to others, who makes herself incredibly small so they can stamp all over her more easily.

The front of my flat goes straight onto pavement, but there is a small square where the council planted a bush.  I claimed this as my garden.  A bird feeder clings to my window above it, visible from the riser recliner I reside in most of the time. 

I have built a relationship with this space.  Watching sparrows and starlings on the feeder, blackbirds on the bush and pigeons on the floor hoping for scraps of seed.  I track the light of the sky slice I can see.  Weather permitting I keep my windows open, if only a crack, so I can hear the life outside. 

Overtime I’ve ‘trained’ my carers to tell me about birds on the feeder out back that I can’t see from my chair.  They send me photos of nature they encounter on their days off; trees abundant with blossom, daffodils singing about the sun and shells seen on a beach.  These love notes, for that’s how I think of these pictures, always make me smile.  Snapshots of nature in the wider world, sent back to me in this flat, in this chair.

From this chair, I have learnt the names of species but I’ve also got to know the individuals; my friends.  The baby sparrow who could feed itself but convinced mum to feed him (and even though you couldn’t yet tell, it had to have been a boy, a mummy’s boy).  I watched a lone starling grow up and gain his or her starspots.  I have seen a blackbird courting a female and heard his songs from my bed. I have seen bees and butterflies, wagtails and magpies, pigeons and gulls.

This small slice of nature, fills my world and feels so much bigger the more intimately I know it.  A fraction of the size of the yard, yet this is mine.  This is where I grow and glow and beam so brightly that I seem bigger, not smaller.

California Condor

“That which I am may not be pretty to you, but I know I serve a deep divine purpose and I am more than happy to fulfil it.  We each play our part in the divine plan and I know without a shadow of a doubt I am playing mine.”
– Animal Totem Tarot

I’ve written before about vultures and the condor is a New World vulture, a term I’m not really a fan of but is widely used to differentiate between Africa, Asia and Europe vs the Americas.  It was coined back in 1503 by a guy who had travelled from the ‘old’ world to the new and comes with heavy colonialist baggage.

Anyway, back to the California Condor.  They are the largest wild birds in North America, with long, broad wings and a wingspan of 277cm!  Adults have a naked head, black plumage and intensely white strikes under their wings.  The lack of feathers around the face does give them a bit of a scrappy, sketchy kind of look but this is an important part of their teachings.  They implore us to look beyond appearances and to see the inherent value of everyone and everything.

Condors are incredible masters of the sky, able to soar on air currents as high up as 15,000 feet and can do so for over an hour without flapping their wings.  Their heavy, solid body means they can soar steadily, not being buffeted by the wind, they use the wind but do not let it push them around.  These birds mean business and can travel over 100 miles a day looking for food!

In terms of reflecting on the condor, think about where in your life you want to soar, where do you want to feel like you’re pushing forward and in control?  How can you reach this?  We also need to think about how the condor has conquered the element of air, which in terms of tarot is all about the mental realm; thinking, ideas, communication, learning and with all of those thoughts comes worry and anxiety. 

We create little video tapes in our heads of what we think will happen when we do x or y and we do this as a dress rehearsal so we can reflect and make changes.  This can be very helpful in terms of reaching your goals – you can practice what you’re going to say in your job interview etc – but in can become a problem when it becomes about scaring yourself instead of preparing yourself.  Take some time to check in with your mind and how it’s helping, or hindering, you.

Food is a crucial part of any living thing’s life but people get squeamish when thinking about what the condor eats – they are carrion birds, eating dead and rotting flesh, such as that of cattle and deer.  This means they do a great service to our world, without them and other animals which eat the dead, we’d all be knee deep in carcasses… 

“The most valuable role of carrion feeders is the safe disposal of dead, decomposing and diseased animals, protecting human and animal co-habitants from ill effect… a healthy population of such carrion eaters can have an important impact on removing diseased and rotting carcasses from the area.”
Animal Diversity Web

We all have our own roles to play in the world, and so much of being a human seems to be working out what that role is.  What makes you come alive?  What makes you feel the most you?  Find out what those things are, do them, forge your own path and that, that is where you will find your purpose.

As they eat decaying meat, there is a real risk of the condors becoming infected but they are adapted to this lifestyle.  They have things in place which help them stay healthy, such as careful preening, bathing at watering holes and grooming their bald head area.  Sometimes in life you have to get your hands dirty but when you do, you can take your own measures to ensure that one tough action doesn’t seep into the rest of your life, or your soul, and infect it.  You may feel like a jerk when you have to fire someone, but that doesn’t make you a jerk.  You might have done some less good things in your past, but you don’t have to become a less good person because of that.  You have choices.

When they aren’t eating or flying, they are roosting.  They start the morning by sunning themselves, which sounds rather luxurious and on a lighter note, this makes me think a leisurely breakfast is a good idea.  Whether you want breakfast in bed, or want to head off to a little café, think about how you can treat yourself and get your day off to a wonderful start.  Maybe you live somewhere warm and can incorporate some sun basking yourself!

For California Condors, courtship involves those magnificent wings being displayed as well as head bobbing and once the female has accepted the male, they mate for life.  Often people like to think of cute, little, song birds as monogamous and yet they aren’t and this huge, flesh eating creature, mates for life.  It’s a reminder to consider your prejudices and assumptions.  They start breeding starting around 6 to 8 years old and lay one egg every other year meaning they are slow when it comes to maintaining the population.  Something that became a significant concern during the 1970s when they nearly went extinct. 

Overtime, threats to California Condors have changed with shooting being one of the threats present in the 1890s.  They were also endangered as a side effect of traps and poison put out to kill large predators.  By 1965, there were an estimated 60 birds left, falling to less than 25 by 1982, possibly because of illegal egg collecting and loss of habitat.  As a result, in the mid 80s, all remaining wild birds were caught for captive breeding.  Whilst the slow rate of reproduction makes replacing population numbers difficult, if you remove the one egg a female has laid, she will lay another one that season.  Through immense effort, attempts to reintroduce them to the wild started in 1992 and today there are now more than 300 birds living in the wild.

Like the phoenix coming out of the fire, the California Condors have survived the unsurvivable and, hopefully, have come out strong.  As it stands their populations are increasing so it’s promising.  In terms of your own life, you can go through things that nearly break you, and come out the other side with greater knowledge. I know it’s a clichéd idea but a lot of clichés are so because they are true.  I feel that there’s another idea here, and that’s that you can ask for help – without human intervention the condors would almost certainly be extinct today (I do realise that without us, they might not have been at risk at all… but still…).

“Who amongst us has not dreamed of soaring effortlessly over the landscape seeing everything in the daily lives of lowly earthbound pedestrians?  With scarcely a wing flap, condors soar over the deserts to the seacoast, cresting the highest peaks and spanning the most foreboding terrain. Such is the perspective of the California condor and perhaps the key to its special place in many native cultures across the Californias.”
California Department of Parks and Recreation

Perhaps unsurprisingly, condors were considered sacred to some Native Americans and as such, their feathers were used in ceremonies and rituals.  They are also said to have been occasionally sacrificed for funeral rites although not in large numbers so would not have affected the population size. They also feature in mythology.  For example, the Wiyot tribe say that the condor recreated humans after they had been wiped out in a flood.  They believed that the California Condor had physical and spiritual strength and shamans would try to embody this by dreaming of the bird and their feathers were used in healing.  A nice condor story from the Yokut tribe tells how the condor would sometimes eat the moon, creating the lunar cycle, and his wings were the cause of the eclipses. 

As we’ve seen, condors, like vultures, are associated with death and are thought to have knowledge about death and the dead. In fact, the death card in the Animal Totem Tarot depicts the California Condor.  Symbolically, the death card suggests a transformation.  You may need to work though some stuff but it will be worth it when you come out on the other side.  When we bring in the condor, this suggests the things you need to work with might be around preconceptions and prejudgements, or it might be around your attitude towards death itself.

Condors make us face death, something we tend to push aside.  This is the time to examine your attitudes towards death, to explore why we suppress it and to think about our own death, and the ritual we would like around it.  Like the condor, these topics aren’t pretty but again, like the condor, they are vital to consider.

With any ending, whether it’s death or something less drastic, we have a beginning.  We may not know what is beginning but things will become clear over time. 

Links

Animal Diversity Web
National Geographic
Audubon
Condor Tales

What’s in a name?

“the heron has had more than 30 local names in Britain, including hegrie (Shetland), moll hern (Midlands), frank (from the bird’s call – Suffolk), longie crane (Pembroke). Dandelion has at least 50, including clocks and watches, conquer more, devil’s milk plant (from its white latex), four o’clock, golden suns, lion’s teeth, piss-a-bed (the leaves are a renowned diuretic), priest’s crown, wet-weed, wishes.”
Richard Mabey

There is a wonderful, poetic beauty in many folk names that our scientific or proper names miss.  Folk names also give us a glimpse into history, into how the people who named them saw the world.

“Common names are a kind of time capsule, a record of the powers of observation and literary inventiveness of ordinary people. They log resemblances, uses, sounds, mythic associations, smells, seasonal appearances, kids’ games, superstitions, habitats. They’re witty, concise, evocative, sometimes even satirical.”
– Mabey

There are in fact so many wonderful names that Michel Desfayes, in his A Thesaurus of Bird Names, lists more than 100,000 European folk names.  And that is for birds alone.  And taking my lead from Desfayes, today I will just be looking at birds.

The world we enter when we look back at names is one with a more intimate connection to the world, to other living beings and through those names, we can see respect, reverence and frustration.  Through names, we see species through the eyes of our ancestors.

Birds are often named for their song, their habitat or their appearance, both the colloquial name and the more official names.  The latter category also often includes birds which are named after a specific person, such as Montagu’s harrier.

To explore folk names, let’s start with the Stonechat.  They have a myriad of names, many include reference to where the bird is found, some to it’s voice, some to appearance, others to it’s behaviour.  The Stonechat is associated with gorse and we find this reflected in folk names such as gorse-bird, gorse-linnet, gorse-chat and gorse-jack.

If we look to the Willow Warbler, we find 31 names containing nest references eg grass wren, ground-oven, ground featherpoke.  In terms of names which refer to their song, we have sweet-billy with sweet suggesting their ‘soo-weet’ call.  Other names include diminutive terms such as the Irish name sally-wren with wren often used in species which are not wrens, but rather to indicate a small bird, in the same way that the suffix -ling is often used. 

“sally-wren is special in combining both a female name, a reference to the habitat or context of willow (as in the various references to Sally or Salley Gardens in Northern Ireland and Ireland, respectively, and of course Salix – the willow), and to sallying (a word from a French root), the behaviour of flaying out after and insect and returning to the same perch or a nearby one.”
– Andrew Gosler, British Wildlife, August 2019

We have seen the use of human names in sally-wren, and I’m sure you are familiar with jenny-wren, but other names for the Wren include kitty-wren, katie-wren, jenny-squit, joey-cutty and kitty-tope.  For the Dunnock, we have hedge-betty and billy hedge-sparrow.  For the Great Tit, we have tommy-tit and so on.  Gosler states that this is a ‘significant indicator of the nature of human relationships with these birds in the past’.  Pre 1950ish, calling someone by their first name was a sign of familiarity and would be used for close friends and family members, as well as children.  Using human names for birds makes them easier to remember as they are already familiar words and makes the birds seem like an extension of the family and thus part of the circle of those we care for.

As well as references to general habitat, some birds have folk names that refer to where they build their nests, information which would have been very helpful for egg collectors – something we have a lot less need to know these days.  Another wonderful example that illustrates the interconnection between human lives and birds comes from the Corn Bunting whose eggs have markings like a child’s scrawl and who has names such as scribble bunting, scribbling school master and writing master. 

Names matter, not only because they provide information, but also because they are not necessarily neutral.  For example, Dunnocks were once Hedge-sparrows but sparrows have been a bit of a pest over human history.  In 1951, Max Nicholson called for name changes for a few birds, including the Dunnock:

“Dunnocks do no harm to us, but haqve in return been exposed to the undeserved insult and injury of being miscalled hedge-sparrows by people too stupid to see the absurdity of such a name.”

We can also turn to names to think about changing human culture and technology.  For example, many folk names refer to the sound of a bird through onomatopoeia because you can often hear but not see a bird.  Additionally, specific features were harder to identify before telescopes and binoculars were readily available. 

Whilst some bird songs lend themselves well to onomatopoeic names, others have melodies that are more complicated and are harder to condense into a human word or two.  This is why we have the cuckoo and chiffchaff, but don’t for example refer to the nightingale onomatopoeically.

When it comes to appearance, over 130 official British bird names refer to colour, with red and black being the most prominent; redstart, red grouse, redwing, blackbird, blackcap…  This might sound a sensible way of naming but it doesn’t allow for sex differences… the female blackbird being brown is an obvious example of this but there are others.

Whilst this is all very interesting, you may be wondering whether it matters?  Well, apparently research suggests that children can learn about nature when it is culturally contextualised.  Gosler refers to teaching students about the folk name yaffle for the Green Woodpecker, named for its call, and the success that this has as it ‘can catch in the mind more readily’ that the official name.

None of this is to say that folk names are superior to official names, or vice versa, but to highlight that both that their own function and their own virtues.  Scientific names allow for precise communication, including that across language barriers and over different geographic areas, without confusion. 

“They are a universal currency across cultures and languages, providing consistent names for both familiar organisms and those organisms that neither have a common name nor ever will.  Without Latin names, chaos would rule the science of biology”
– John Wright

As a bit of an aside, if you happen to know Latin or Greek, you can take a stab at working out what species is being referred to by a scientific name.  For example, take Somateria mollissima aka the eider duck.  We have soma meaning body, erion for wool, mollis is soft and issima as a word ending means very.  So, it is the ‘thing with very soft body wool’!  Whilst translating scientific names can be a fun puzzle resulting in, sometimes, poetic descriptions, they aren’t easy to remember, recall or even spell…

Whilst referring to plants, this extract from an article highlights an important point about the closeness of folk names in comparison to scientific names:

“Scientific terms in Greek and Latin, often disconnected from a local environment, aren’t always informative to the average person. Poison oak, for example, is a name that asks you beware of a plant with oak-like leaves. These folk names may often contain valuable descriptive knowledge that, given the vast variety of plants not yet fully classified, may not be available anywhere else but from the local people who live in that environment.
How Language and Climate Change Connect

Of course, nothing in language is static, and we can create our own traditions, especially if doing so helps us connect with the world around us more intimately.  Knowing the ‘correct’ name is not always important.  For inspiration, you can turn to A. F. Harold’s poem ‘Among The Ornithologists’:

“This one I’ll call the Fifth Day of Christmas Bird for its eye’s gold ring,
Here’s the Nervous Bugger who’s always a step ahead, twittering…
… A Single Drop of Blood in the Darkest Night Bird paddles out of a dream…”

(I couldn’t find a link to the full poem, so you’ve just got an extract.  It’s found in Mrs Moreau’s Warbler, by Stephen Moss)

Links

Poetry about paintings

On Saturday I attended a course about writing poetry based on paintings. It’s not something I’ve ever tried before but my poetry group was going and it looked interesting.

Most of my writing wasn’t great but then I was writing about very different subjects to normal. Throughout the day we wrote about being part of a painting, about moving into or out of a painting, about meeting the artist and being the person who was posing. It produced some fun experiments and got me outside of my normal thinking which is always beneficial.

For a couple of my exercises, I chose to think about a cave painting of a bison.

If I could paint like the cave woman…

…you would see animals dancing across the rock
…you would feel the beat of your heart
crash with each thrash of hoof

I would show you the creativity of nature
so you want to reach into the stone
and pull out your own magic
– personal, powerful, empowering

and then you, you
could create your own universe
with your own mystical imaginings

I want to be like the cave woman

I want to be like the cave woman
feeling the rock and knowing
that’s where the spirit of horse
or bear or bison lay
& knowing how to release them
from their prison of stone.

I want to be like the cave woman
who knows earth, and air,
and stone as kin
& the plants that crowd the forest floor
as well as she knows her child.

But I reach out in the dark
of my bedroom, not cave,
to the untamed sculpture
that is my bed
with its heap of books
and phone chargers
searching for the lamp switch.

I could never be without my sacred
night space, it’s coccoon of safety
edged with fleece and teddy bears
and the convienece of electricity
that the cave woman could never have dreamt of

I want to be like the cave woman.
I want to know my home and land
with the intimacy that comes from survival,
but with the comforts that turn survival
into certainty and in doing so,
render the relationship
between the land and me
nul and void.