Category Archives: looking

Early morning

8.15 am

Cold: -3 degrees

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The early morning news tells me that last night was the coldest night of the winter so far and that other parts of the country have been disrupted by snow. As yet we haven’t seen snow but looking out all is grey and white . A thick frost blankets the fields over towards Holkham and a light haar is hanging in the air.

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Down on the quay a grey mist hangs just above the marsh and the water is completely still. There isn’t a breath of wind but it is bitingly cold. Behind the granary there is a slight golden glow as the sun begins to appear above the town.

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I walk down the beach bank towards the sea. Coming in from the North East are skeins and skeins of geese and I can’t miss their woodwind chatter as they call to each other high up in the sky. The low sunlight catches the underside of their wings as they fly right overhead – a fluttering sparkle in the clear blue sky.

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In the water a cormorant dives and I follow its underwater path by the stream of small, meandering bubbles that rise to the surface. It stays down for so long that I almost look away and walk off, but suddenly it reappears, a black shadow reflected back by the water.

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Yet more geese fly over and their calls fill the air. The sun has now risen fully above the town and other bird sounds join in: gulls, oystercatchers and a curlew. It almost seems as if they have waited for the sun to begin their day.

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I walk back along the quay and the sun has begun to burn off the light mist and the contours of the marsh are highlighted by a golden yellow glow.

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It promises to be a beautiful day.

 

 

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Sea sponges

The beach – Cley-next-the-Sea – this morning.

Nearly high tide – strong waves.

Cloudy sky with the suspicion of sun.

Wind coming from the west and is on my back.

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Ironically I was thinking about what I might write about next here on the blog. I am working on something at the moment but I’m not quite ready to reveal all yet! (but I do put work in progress photos on Instagram if you are interested). As I walk on this shingle beach I always keep a weather eye out for an interesting pebble, so my eyes were, naturally, looking just in front of my feet. Almost immediately I spotted a softly yellowed ball of sponge, and then another and another. Looking up I saw more and more of the yellow sponges scattered right along the high water line.

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They are the empty egg cases of the Common Whelk (Buccinum Undatum) and are routinely found all round the British coast. Their common name is Seawash Balls and in the past sailors would have used them as sponges for washing.

Whelks gather together to spawn and they lay their eggs in small lens-shaped pouches which are glued together in a spherical mass. Although each pouch contains about 1000 eggs only one or two eggs hatch as the unhatched eggs are used to feed the first hatchlings. Once the eggs have hatched (or been eaten) the empty mass floats away and is washed up on the beach.

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I pick a ball up. It is heavy. Normally when I find these sponges they are white and papery dry and so light that they dance up and down the beach, blown by the wind. This Seawash Ball is waterlogged – not dripping but dense with water. It looks fresher and less desiccated than ones I have seen before and I wonder if the power of the recent big tides could have dislodged a whole mass of eggs from their laying grounds and deposited them here on the beach?

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Walking on along the high water line I find more objects washed ashore by the unusually  big tides. Wood …..

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(I would have brought this bit home but it was too big and too heavy) and several rusty things ….

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This bit did come back with me.

I wasn’t expecting to find something to write about this morning but you just never know what you may encounter. There is always something new to be noticed and experienced – that’s what I love about this place.

Dusk

A grey day of dull flat light.

Late afternoon.

A walk along the footpath by the pines at the back of the beach.

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The rustle of dry branches and the steady, hushed tramp of boots on a slightly sticky surface is accompanied by the gentle chattering of pink-footed geese as they fly overhead to their night-time roost.

It is peaceful in the almost quiet stillness.

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Behind me, on the horizon, is a thin clearing of clouds. The dropping sun appears below, a scant semi-circle of glowing light that is diffused softly through the surrounding sky.

I walk on. And look round. Brighter now. In the clear sky is a line of brilliant orange, a streak of golden colour in a grey world.

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I walk on. Tall reeds and spiky blackthorn to my right. I glance round and look through the lacework vegetation turned black by the brilliant light beyond.

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I walk on. And look round again. The heavy sun sits poised between cloud and horizon. A burning sphere waiting to drop.

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I walk on. Moments later the light dissolves. I turn yet again. The sun has gone down below the horizon leaving a final blush of colour.

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I walk on. The light flatter, and greyer than before.

Night walking

Dark. Clear. Crisp.

A trip out to the bin late in the evening and the sea roar is so loud that it lures me out, into the dark, and down to the quay to hear more clearly and to look at the stars.

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It’s very dark with no moon. Catch at the back of your nose cold and very, very clear. Looking north, away from the sodium glare of the town, more and more stars are revealed as my eyes become accustomed to the dark. I start walking out along the unlit bank towards the sea. Only a few hundred yards away from the town the sky is even darker – this part of the coast is designated a black sky area – and the  number of stars I begin to see is astonishing.

To the west, an indistinct smudge of light above is the Milky Way and down towards the horizon in the south-west a large, bright, reddish star – Mars I think. And then in front of me a star falls, and another, and again, out of the corner of my eye in my peripheral vision, another falling star and another. Four shooting stars in a row are a rare treat.

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All the well known constellations are clearly visible, more stars in their make-up than usual are showing. Orion’s spear is clear and bright beneath his three-starred belt and W-shaped Cassiopeia. To the north the Plough.

But there are so many stars and I don’t know their names. Night walking and looking at the night sky is something that I have had relatively little experience of over my lifetime. I have lived in the centre of brightly lit towns for the majority of my life and encounters with stars have, for the most part, been through the orange glow of street lights. Brief forays to the dark skies of the coast and country were few as a child and going out in the winter darkness just wasn’t done. Even now there is the temptation, as we approach the shortest day and the longest night, to huddle inside in front of light emitting boxes. But this darkness, with tiny pinpricks of light is magnificent and so beautiful …. so, so beautiful.

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Out on the beach bank, enclosed as I am, and wrapped in darkness with sprinkled light above, my hearing sense is heightened. A loud  Cr-aaaaaa-ck makes me look down and out into the darkness where a large but indistinct form has landed on the edge of the water. A heron. More bird sounds emanate from the marsh. A curlew calls and then calls mournfully again, and then a redshank. Geese, Brent geese I suspect, keep up a woodwind mumble. Do you think they chatter all night? And in the distance, but seemingly close, the continuous sea roar – a never-ending ssssssh, as waves break over the sand bar.

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My eyes look up again. Across the sky a winking light moves from east to west. It is a plane, full of people. Are they looking down?  This part of the earth must look like a reflection of the night sky, the reverse of my view, as pockets of habitation light up the darkened land.

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With natural light levels low at this time of year, it is surprising how lifted I am by this encounter with the darkness. This morning as I write, I have that bubbling feeling in my chest – a son of excitedness. A creative bubble waiting to rise. The conditions last night may not occur again soon. I’m just thankful I noticed them and was able to experience.

The black drawings were done a while ago.

 

Out of the window

I seem to have had a lot of waiting around recently – waiting for paint to dry, waiting for plaster to dry and waiting for clay to harden. With time to spare I’ve taken a cup of coffee, my sketchbook and paintbox and have been recording what I see out of the studio window. The ‘bones’ of the view rarely changes: look left, right or straight ahead, but the light, the weather and what my eyes alight on at any one time is different each time.

Here are the last six sketchbook drawings.

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Skylark

The sun is out, and I am walking behind the dunes at Holkham with no coat on. After all the recent rain spring seems to have finally arrived and there is no better reminder than hearing the skylarks sing high in the sky above the marsh.

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The skylark, Alauda arvensis, is a small, non-descript brown bird, but its song is a complete joy. Rising from the ground it flaps its wings faster and faster to gain height, and as it flies upwards it sings. Its song goes on and on and on without a pause. If you stop and listen, it is more likely that you will give up listening before it stops singing. What is more astounding is that it doesn’t seem to stop for a breath.

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Being a flautist, I’m interested in breathing and I wondered if, like didgeridoo players, oboeists, and other wind players they could do circular breathing. Circular breathing allows for continuous sound. It is a technique where you breath in and fill your cheeks with air and then with the next breath, simultaneously squeeze out air from your mouth and breath in through your nose. It’s horrendously difficult and I never mastered the procedure.

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However, skylarks and indeed all birds can do it. Their respiration system is different to ours and their circular breaths allow for their song to continue almost endlessly.

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On Holkham beach, with the dunes and the sea beyond to my left and the skylarks singing above I am reminded of one of my favourite poems by Gerald Manley Hopkins, The Sea and the Skylark. In the first two verses he compares the sound of the sea, both low and high tides, and the musical sound of the skylark. Here they are:

On ear and ear two noises too old to end
Trench—right, the tide that ramps against the shore;
With a flood or a fall, low lull-off or all roar,
Frequenting there while moon shall wear and wend.

Left hand, off land, I hear the lark ascend,
His rash-fresh re-winded new-skeinèd score
In crisps of curl off wild winch whirl, and pour
And pelt music, till none’s to spill nor spend.

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I’m sorry not to have been able to take a sound recording for you, but have a listen to the skylark’s music pelting down from the sky here.

Leading lights

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Recently two red and white triangles have appeared in the trees on the dune behind the last beach hut on Wells beach. The Wells Harbour website (I keep my eye on this for news when in Surrey) tells me that they are refurbished and reinstated channel transits. The triangles, which are visible offshore, are placed one above the other and when they appear in line, they indicate a safe course for boats in through the harbour entrance. At night they would originally have been lit by paraffin lamps, but now they appear to have up-to-date solar powered lights. These particular transits were in use from the 1700s to the mid 1900s. I have always known this type of signal as leading lights.

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As a child (and I must confess, still today) I was an avid reader of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons books and anyone who has read them will remember the Swallows finding their way into the secret harbour on Wildcat Island at night with the use of leading lights.

Titty saw them, flickering among the trees and then disappearing again as they were hidden by big rocks south of the island.

John paddled on slowly.

‘There they are again,’ said Susan.

‘Close together,’ said Titty.

John turned round from his rowing and had a good look at two small stars twinkling over the water.

‘Right,’ he said, I’m going to do nothing but row if you’ll keep your eyes on the lights.’

‘Are they still close together?’ asked John.

‘Fairly close,’ said Susan.

‘Where is the top light?’ asked captain John.

‘A bit to the left of the low one,’ said Susan.

John pulled a stroke or two, pulling a little harder with his right. ‘Sing out as soon as it is just above it.’

‘It’s above it now. Now it’s a bit to the right of it.’

John pulled his left.

‘Above it.’

Tell me the moment it is one side or the other.’

‘The lights are exactly one above the other,’ said Susan.

John had shipped the oars and was now sculling over the stern.

‘The lights are quite close to us, ‘ said Roger, and as he said it there was a gentle scrunch as Swallow’s nose touched the soft, pebbly beach of the little harbour.

Captain John had used his leading lights for the first time, and had made his harbour in pitch dark.

 How exciting!

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The idea of a boat, or indeed a body in the landscape, having to move from left to right or up and down to get the correct view of something – to line it up – reminds me of research that I did during my MA about ideas of experiencing the environment. Anthropologist, Christopher Tilley writes in his book, The Materiality of Stone, ‘The body is continually improvising its relationship with things … constantly opening itself out to the world as it moves in it. The manner in which we sense the world remains forever incomplete and ambiguous because we always experience things from a particular point of view or relationship. The body is open to the world but things are always hidden from it.’

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The idea that I could make a piece of work that moves in and out of focus or that only appears as it should from one particular viewpoint is a powerful one. Different elements could line up, as with the leading lights, to make a whole. Or one part of the work could hide another, only to be revealed  as you move or peer around it. To actively walk around in order to experience a work would relate to the way we experience objects outside in the environment, where their size and shape appear to alter as we change our relationship to them. From different directions and with a different order of seeing, things do not have the appearance of sameness.

Seeing the Wells leading lights has got me thinking, but I’m not sure where this one is going yet …..