A soft rain beneath grey skies
Doing nothing to subdue this radiance
This resonance of photosynthesis singing in the low-lying vegetation
Moisture percolating and gathering in the soil
Refilling the reservoirs
Cleaning the capillaries
The essential arteries
The root tunnels, the worm halls, the mole ways
Making ready for the frost-thaw-plough
Breaking the sodden firmament apart again
Rejuvenating and replenishing the mineral microbial composition
Offering sustenance in elemental complexity
Willfully perpetuating an existential flow
I welcome this water of the skies
I thank the ice and sun
I cherish the earth at my feet
As in this life itself
© P Ward 2013
* This piece of writing was inspired by a fascinating day of presentations and workshops examining the beauty, importance and nature of soil in support of human survival at the Soil Association National Soil Symposium in Bristol in November where I was representing the Soil Culture project for the Centre for Contemporary Arts & The Natural World (CCANW), 2013-17 (http://www.ccanw.co.uk/assets/files/Uploads/Soil_4pg.pdf)
One magpie flies roadside to a tentative roost upon a barn roof
But on coming closer
The sorrowful bird
Has transformed itself in my sight
To peace and sustenance
A plump woodpigeon sitting calm in its place
(Photographs taken near my home in North Devon during December 2013 using my phone camera.)
© P Ward 2013
not strictly environmental art but…
the wonder and beauty of nature, its diversity and resonance, is evident in all things.
take these mass produced (made in china), solar-powered dancing plastic monkeys I found in my local toy shop (price £2.50 each or 5 for £10). I saw one and simply fell in love with the charm of its cheeky little face and seductively hypnotic movement – it’s hard to walk past one without a smile and an attempt to emulate that hip action!?! despite the hideous process and materials of its production, packaging and transportation, the fantastic little fellows meet many of the criteria for environmental and ecological art, animated as they are by the sun and drawing us to interact and participate bodily with them, offering health, wellbeing and joy through their simplicity, as well as an opportunity to share. and despite the seemingly identical mechanical process of their manufacture and materiality each monkey also displays a subtle individuality of form, detail and movement, reminding us of those qualities within the ‘natural’ world*.
while it is easy to judge and criticize this evidently crazy ecocidal world in which we sadly and unavoidably participate on a daily basis, it is most heartening to observe the presence of Nature – of birth, life and decay, of joy, sadness and monotony – in even the most inanimate and overly manufactured products of contemporary life. our lives, the technologies that we rely upon and the products we so wastefully create, and even the political systems and civilizations that we uphold and tear down, are all intrinsically and thankfully founded in Nature and subject to its laws.
so, please take a moment to dance with me a little, secure in the truth and beauty of Nature…
serving suggestion: accompany with music of your own choice (i particularly liked sinnerman by nina simone) or just watch it as it is. enjoy!
© P Ward 2013
* or is it merely our perceptions that are shifting from moment to moment, our relationships that are altering as our experience evolves? maybe that’s a question for another day. whatever, let us not forget a sense of humour in our work, however great or small, however humble or potentially far reaching. as the well known saying goes “just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”!…
Despite my familiarity and frequency of visit to this tranquil rural area of West Somerset over the last 18 years I had never done this walk before, so close to my brother’s cottage. From the back garden gate, across a country lane and a simple stile into a field of rich terracotta earth, we follow the crystal clear meandering stream, flanked by mature oak, maple, beech and holly, amongst others, holding stories from long before the motor car. As we immerse ourselves in the birdsong of buzzards, green woodpeckers, long-tailed tits and blackbirds, time’s influence loses its grasp. Returning along high-hedged lanes to a simple lunch and an afternoon spent pottering in the garden – raking leaves, weeding and chopping wood for the evening fire – until it was too dark to see what we were doing properly. A whole day busy outside, without driving, was enough to leave me somewhat lightheaded but deeply refreshed through nature…
My own tendency, for whatever reason, is to seek comfort and depth in relationship to my environment through familiarity, through retracing my steps again and again to seek more and more subtle variation and diversity over time. But every so often it is necessary to change those sensible and safe patterns, to experience the world anew, to refresh our senses to other perspectives and possibilities. Blessed be boredom. Blessed be routine and blessed be temptation, inquisitiveness and bravery…
And many thanks again to Francesca for leading me astray!?!
© P Ward 2013
i heard a starling mimic a curlew
(from a rooftop in my not-too-special cul-de-sac by the sea)
the exceptional in the mundane
the profound in the everyday[i]
a smallish, brownish, commonish bird[ii]
identifies a recognizable signature phrase –
an aspect of its local environment[iii] –
and repeats it effortlessly for its own entertainment
we do not need to shout from the rooftops to be heard
we do not need to shock with our wit and originality
we do not need to make a big song and dance about it
there is magic and beauty and wonder
© P Ward 2013
[i] Such principles have been expounded upon within spiritual systems such as Buddhism and Taoism, and more recently celebrated by feminism and notably the work of American contemporary artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles.
[ii] Of course, anyone who knows anything about the starling (Sturnus vulgaris) will be familiar with the spectacular mass in-flight displays, or murmurations, of this species as it (apparently) confounds and confuses predators – anything but mundane! Despite its often seemingly large numbers, in my own lifetime, its numbers have actually decreased massively, so it is anything but ‘common’ either… “Although the starling has the capacity for explosive population growth, its population in Britain has declined by two-thirds over the last 40 years. Here we summarize a major study (Crick et al., 2002) which investigates the reasons for this. The starling is commonest in urban and farmland habitats, though density in the latter is much lower; the total breeding population is estimated at 9 million birds. In general, breeding productivity has increased, while survival, particularly of juveniles, has shown periods of decrease. The decline on farmland has been greater in pastoral areas, and is probably linked to reduced foraging opportunities associated with more intensive agricultural management. There is some evidence for a decline in urban populations, but data are scant and possible reasons for decline there are unclear.” (From http://www.actazool.org/temp/%7B8A2101C8-6A7A-4057-8D57-052DC3E080C4%7D.pdf). But it is brown, apart from, that is, it’s glossy speckled iridescent adult plumage. OK, so it’s small, relatively speaking of course!?!
[iii] A refreshing change from the mobile phone ringtones often chosen by the species!?!
get more closer here
to feeling pulses pulsing
touched each other gentle
tasty ground about
breathe more deeper deeply
swim beneath the tall trees
eating rainbow clouds up
in you ‘n’ this ‘n’ that
a slippery wetness
a dirty earth-ness
a cleansing thirst-ness
of air and spirit fullness
we are fools and idiots
and lunatics and mad people
you and I
that we may do well to deny
as i jump at the chance
although there is none
to chatter insanely with thee
face to face to face to face
your heart to start
when dancing and prancing
below the sandy meadows
where loam-filled worms
cast the soil and sand
for the greenwood
to the fair
for our home
the sea and all these ‘ologies
so mole me over more
and time and time and time
will willfully aspire
to inspire to this end
we have no gas or oil
we have but sticks and stones
we have light and fire
we have the power now
to let us fly like birds while we can
and spin fine filament in memory (lest we forget)
for futures not yet set in stone
upon which to build our dreams
© P Ward 2013
When weather is grey and heavy
And evenings close in
Stealing light and distance
It is easy to become
Disenchanted with this life that I have
With the body and mind that I have
With what I think I have
It is easy to want it all to end
To be released from
These seemingly relentless cycles of self-perpetuating perception
Of who and what and where I feel I am
To stand outside of this trapped-ness
It is difficult to know which way to turn
What actual movements to make
Without hurting one or other or both
Within this shifting world of conscience-ness
What defines my heart
From where this head seeks wisdom?
What determines and empowers
such obviously complex but utterly specific notions?
Is it science
Or all that reveals?
Or should I just become according to my joy
In relation to this ongoing climatic change
That reaches out beyond any sense of right and wrong
To catalyze a step-by-step survival guide?
So does the deer reflect,
Does the bear neglect,
Does the earth select
I think maybe not.
© P Ward 2013
yarner wood, east dartmoor 121113
how exciting to feel the hair on my neck stand on end
to shiver at an invisible presence stalking me
to engage with a realm beyond my everyday world
neither necessarily malicious or benevolent, human or otherwise
is it time playing marvelous tricks
invigorating me to feel so alive
in relation to all that has been and will be
right here now?
the trees and beasts and birds
the place where many more have trod
stretching resonant filaments through earth and air and fire and water
holding memories to share
as matter decays and reforms
leaving a remnant
a trace of what has been
and a gesture towards what may be
it is not a matter of belief, of evidence or proof
but an acknowledgement of possibility
an opening to potential
a sense of place
(The rich orange pigment shown above and below was collected from a drainage adit running from an historic copper mine at Yarner Wood Nature Reserve, near Bovey Tracey in South Devon[i]. I had originally been shown the source during an art event in November 2012 (Assemblage – Narrative for a Managed Landscape, organised by Karen Pearson and Natural England) and had returned specifically to gather more. The colour is created as iron salts and rust from the underlying geology and is both in the soil and as an unctuous ‘slime’. Despite wearing waterproof clothing and plastic gloves I still managed to get the colour half way up my arms and in my hair – the staining power of the pigment is magnificent![ii])
© P Ward 2013
birdhill, west somerset, 81113
at this time of day,
at this time of year,
as sun sinks – loosing strength and warmth;
nighttime fills shadow with shifting mutable presence
the rich autumnal rainbow of wet slippery leaves glow upwards,
permeating the visual with resonant fungal scents,
silver light pervading, filling all with luminescence;
even the dead and decaying give their own light,
dark forms shifting as we walk
catching eye and ear and all between,
bark from black to mossy green to grey
it is often said that we may commune more readily with other realms at this time,
with spirits of the dead and intelligences seldom seen;
it is easy to see why.
But how to capture, beyond personal memory, such total experience within which we do immerse?
My camera, despite its advanced technology, struggles.
Yet, whatever impression it does record, accidental or not,
whether ‘correct’ or ‘accurate’ or ‘technically proficient’,
may still find a way to communicate and convey a sense of elemental moment.
Not just through abstract digital process, as clever as this may be,
but through consensual associative creative and imaginal interaction with life itself –
we fill in the gaps with whatever meaning we need…
© P Ward 2013
Happiness is an empty fridge. Heaven is no fridge at all!
It is easy to sit here tapping at the backlit keyboard and reminisce nostalgically (but not without difficulty) about a time not so long ago before such devices existed, before the dizzying acceleration of technology allowed communication across the world at our fingertips, before twenty thousand songs could fit miraculously into a matchbox – remember them?! We lit fires with them. We watched flames dance for a whole evening and spoke and sang and danced and were silent as befitted each moment. We dreamt of friends a thousand miles away and prayed for their wellbeing and happiness. We conjured magic in circles and acted with our feet and hands. There is a smell to such memories, a richness, a fullness, a dampness, not sterilized by the plethora of products that eradicate such earthly, dirt-filled unpleasantry today.
graffitied tomb, wells cathedral[i] (p ward 2013)
What has changed, for better or worse? Are fires and stars and dreams so very far out of reach now or have we just forgotten the threads of the invisible, the wires of wily nature connecting us all? Whatever advances in technology, they are all mere echoes of nature and ourselves; powers made manifest in a more marketable, more user friendly but less skillful form.
I am no more Luddite[ii] than you – sitting with my face buried in cyberspace, ensconced in this creative moment, enjoying the possibilities of global communion with my kind – under no more pretense that technology has not provided so many wonderful opportunities for resolutions to our mortal sufferings, but I do miss the time and space, the pace of life, without the refrigerator hum, without the incessant barely audible but most discernable white noise of electrical wiring or the constant offer of obsessive digital distraction at my fingertips. I walked and cycled to visit friends, I lit candles when it was dark and woke when it was light, read paper books, waited with patience for children’s programmes to finish, made models with matchsticks and glue, I used what I could find and what I had; I gathered wood, built fires and shelters, I moved more, I felt weather, I breathed air. Things were simpler it seemed and more wholesome. To spend half a day walking to the shop and back, relishing every moment, knowing that my work, my time spent without the use of a car was time well spent, necessitating the need for nothing but good strong legs – a different kind of logic not based on money and fuel.
“As technological devices increase the availability of a commodity or service, they also push these devices into the background where people do not pay attention to their destructive tendencies. To use a metaphor, there is a two-edged sword operating here. Technology increases the availability of goods but the devices that we rely upon to provide us these commodities lie hidden in the background and have a profound adverse effect on people’s lives.[iii]”
For every technological advance there is a corresponding fall it seems. I will step outside when I can. Attempt to unravel myself from modernity’s spurious influence and contact a place within myself when I had all the time in the world – time to live and dream right here on this earth.
When I arrived here this evening, at my other half-home, I took the battery from the ticking clock, made a big wood fire in the stone hearth and listened to music from my youth. I greeted the new moon, thankfully nestling in a cloud haze above the tree line and inhaled wood smoke drifting from the line of stone cottages. I heard Nature again.
© P Ward 2013
[i] Wells Cathedral in Somerset, UK, took over 300 years to build, starting in the 12th century. It is hard to imagine working all of your life on one project, one wall, one stone carving and the implications this may have to broader society.
[ii] The Luddites were 19th-century English textile artisans who protested against newly developed labour-saving machinery from 1811 to 1817. The stocking frames, spinning frames and power looms introduced during the Industrial Revolution threatened to replace the artisans with less-skilled, low-wage labourers, leaving them without work. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luddite