Category Archives: noticing

Fragment 6

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West beach.

Pristine.

I am the first person to walk here today.

 

Across the sand

the ebbing tide has left ghostly traces of breaking waves.

 

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Fragment 5

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Balranald.

 

On a grassy path above the sea.

Periwinkles tossed high into the air by wind and waves.

 

What extraordinary event has catapulted them

far beyond their natural resting place

on the sand below?

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Fragment 4

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West beach.

Drizzling rain has given way to dry, but dull cloud.

 

An ebbing tide has left lines of kelp along the top of the beach.

 

In the receding water more of the rubbery fronds

are pitched and flung by the waves.

Some escape to form another curving contour on the sand.

 

Folded and curled on themselves they scribe

their own story of time and process.

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Fragment 3

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Fragment 3

The start.

White sand like wet putty.

Clear, green-blue water.

 

Whistling calls.

Turnstones, ringed plover, sanderling

run along the edge of the water.

 

Fading light.

Sand and water dull and merge to a grey/blue.

 

In tidal lines, shell fragments.

If I look hard I can find tiny cowries, limpets and periwinkles.

 

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Fragments 1 and 2

I have been on holiday to Scotland and have just spent one week on the island of Berneray in the Outer Hebrides. Berneray is tucked away on the very edge of Britain and is about as far away as you can get and still be in the UK. It is a small island that is attached to a very slightly bigger island, North Uist, by a causeway and it is the ideal place to satisfy my need for remoteness and stillness. It is a place to walk and to experience the natural environment in a slow and contemplative manner. Berneray and North Uist are small islands, surrounded by sea and white shell beaches and about half of North Uist covered with water.

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I took some art materials with me and a few little bags to put collected objects into. I had hoped to draw outside everyday as a record of what I had seen, heard and experienced, but it was windy ….. very windy. Paper, paint, pens and pencils became unwieldy in the high winds which were the tail end of a hurricane and so I had to give up that idea. Instead I collected objects from the walk each day and then when I got back to our cottage I spent a bit of time reflecting on the walk. What stuck in my mind? Was it a happening, or an experience, a process, or even just a colour?

Each day I recorded my memory visually on a small piece of folded watercolour paper and then wrote, as simply as I could, some words to describe the experience. I put the collected objects in the bag alongside the folded book and filled seven little bag altogether. One bag was from my experiences on Lindisfarne  (visited on the way up to Scotland) and the other six bags were for one day spent on Berneray. Each bag holds one remarkable memory taken from a whole days worth of memories – one fragment of a day’s experiences.

I will post one ‘bag’ a day for the next week and today’s two fragments come from Lindisfarne.

Fragment 1

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And now the causeway,

emerging from fast receding waters.

Puddled.

Flashed with light.

I stop and scan with awe

this place that minutes before was inaccessible.

Slick mud.

Still caressed by an ebbing tide.

 

A curlew rises. Calling.

Upwards and away from this mutable place.

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Fragment 2

Along the beach,

eyes down on slippery, tide-bared stones.

 

I pick up a lace of seaweed

and a piece of sea worn slate.

 

An eerie windcall rises from across the flats.

Looking up to qualify

I see dark movement in the distance.

Seals hauled out on dry sand.

 

A plaintive, drawn-out chorus

that describes this liminal space.

 

Walking – Holkham

Slightly overcast but with a rapidly clearing sky

Wind from the South-west

Warm (short sleeves warm)

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As always (I’m a creature of habit) my Holkham walk starts by turning left at the carpark and walking on the path behind the pines. This is mainly because with the prevailing south-westerlies, the wind blows from behind when exposed on the walk back along the beach.  Reed wind-rustle and bird-song dominate. I stop to inspect the leaves of a holm oak (Quercus ilex) at the side of the path. There are a lot of these short, round trees growing here on the coast and recently I have noticed that instead of looking fresh and green their leaves are brown and slightly curled. This one is no exception and each leaf is spotted with small brown spots. The RHS website tells me that this blight is caused by the leaf-mining moth. Luckily the trees tolerate the caterpillars that munch their leaves and continue to grow. Later in the year when the old leaves have dropped the trees should begin to look fresher.

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I always stop at this gate and have a look over – there are nearly always cormorants flying overhead on their way to or from their tree-nesting colony on the flat lands behind the beach. If I’m really lucky I might see a spoonbill as for the past couple of years they have been nesting there as well. Today I see neither but there is always the thrill of expectation.

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Through the pines, over the dunes and marram grass, and onto the beach.

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At this time of year I have to extend my walk a little further to avoid the line and posts that Holkham Estates put up to protect nesting birds: mostly terns and oystercatchers. The barrier runs right along the back of the beach and means that walkers can’t cross from beach to pines – it’s only a few hundred yards longer to walk and no hardship.

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This heavy old piece of wood is where I often sit to take in the view, and today two old palettes have appeared next to it. I sit on the palettes,

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and photograph a scrap of old rope that lies in the sand next to them – their colours are almost identical.

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On the beach the wind feels stronger and it blows dry sand diagonally across the beach. It stings my ankles as I walk barefoot. Razor shells stick up out of the sand and I have to look where I’m going in case I cut my feet. A few years ago I trod on one and my foot had a gentle reminder for the rest of the summer from the resulting cut – they are well named.

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A beach river sparkles in the sunlight as the water trickles towards the sea.

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I paddle along the edge of the water where clouds are reflected in the shallows. The bottoms of my trousers get wet. A bit further along several sandpipers join me in the breaking waves and their little legs dash backwards and forwards as they scurry in and out of the water looking for food.

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I spend several minutes trying to photograph the way the wind catches the tops of the waves just before they break, flinging droplets up and back in contrary motion…. it’s really difficult.

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Then back along the beach and back to the car. I can’t count the number of times I’ve done this exact walk but each time there is something new to see. The tides and the weather change the shape and texture of the beach and bring a different set of noticings and experiences to add to my understanding and memory.

Meaning in material

I have been away on holiday to a place that I have never visited before – Spain. We stayed at a Cortijo in the hills in Andalucia about 80 kms inland from the coast. It was hot – (hotter than I had expected) although a cooling breeze generally appeared in the late afternoon. The sky was a uniform blue the whole time we were there and it was very, very dry.

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We spent our time visiting towns to see the sights: Granada and Cordoba, and spending time in the hills near to where we were staying. I took my sketchbook, but for the first few days I couldn’t write or draw in it – I needed time to absorb and think about this new landscape.

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However, an encounter with a new environment is not a blind happenstance and the experience is affected by expectations and presumptions. Of course I had seen photos of the landscape on the internet and I had a good idea about what to expect.  As E.H. Gombrich writes in Art and Illusion, ‘The innocent eye is a myth…… All perceiving relates to expectations and therefore to comparisons’. In this instance, the comparisons I made were to two long, hot summers spent in the countryside in Provence when I was in my late teens. The heat and the dryness were remembered from that time and also the smell. The landscape smelt dry – of dust, cooking and garlic, mimosa, olive trees and heat – can heat smell?

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The landscape, although new to me, had a familiarity, but nevertheless it took a bit of time to settle in and to begin to really pay attention. I drew where my eyes were drawn. I was always looking up: to the tops of the hills where jagged rocky tops were pale grey in the sun but much darker in the shadows, and to ranks of olive groves that dotted the chalky slopes; serried ranks of rounded globes that merged into a solid greeness with the contours of the hills: chalk, terracotta and green – dry, dusty, colour bleached out by the sun.

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I took my normal, minimalist drawing kit with me: a sketchbook, a black pen, a pencil, a graphite stick, a tiny box of watercolours and a couple of those brushes with a water reservoir. But these materials were wrong. They were too fluid and the colours swirled and ran into each other. This is a dry land. I needed dry materials: pastel or chalk. I wish I had picked up some of the terracotta earth to smear across the page with my finger like the cave dwellers in the Cueva de la Pileta who had drawn on the cave walls in terracotta, ochre and charcoal thousands of years ago. 

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Watercolour is for Norfolk –  a place of water and of flux and change, not for the arid dustiness of Andalucia. The materiality of even a drawing is important as it can evoke ideas of time, place and geography beyond those of the purely visual elements of shape, form and colour. Materials have meaning and consequently I’m not really happy with these watercolour drawings. Wrong materials for the place. It is certainly something to think about the next time I go away and I will have to consider my drawing kit more carefully.