a soft rain falling 161213 (Soil Culture*)


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

Giving life

As in this life itself


hazel leaves, huntshaw woods (p ward 2013)hazel leaves, huntshaw woods (p ward 2013)

mud ball, huntshaw woods (p ward 2013)mud ball, huntshaw woods (p ward 2013)

drainage ditch with iron salts, northam (p ward 2013)drainage ditch with iron salts, northam (p ward 2013)

a soft rain (earth pigments, cordyline fibres and handmade paper; p ward and f owen 2013)a soft rain (earth pigments, cordyline fibres and handmade paper; p ward and f owen 2013)

© 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)

Woodpigeon 151213


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


seaside reside, westward ho! (p ward 2013)seaside residue, westward ho! (p ward 2013) 

driftwood, northam burrows (p ward 2013)driftwood, northam burrows (p ward 2013) 

grey morning, westward ho! (p ward 2013)grey morning, westward ho! (p ward 2013) 

protective bundle, northam (p ward 2013)protective bundle, northam (p ward 2013) 

sunset storm, northam (p ward 2013)sunset storm, northam (p ward 2013)

(Photographs taken near my home in North Devon during December 2013 using my phone camera.)

© P Ward 2013

5 monkeys dancing

not strictly environmental art but…

the wonder and beauty of nature, its diversity and resonance, is evident in all things.

dancing monkeys, the beach shop, westward ho! (p ward 2013)dancing monkeys, the beach shop, westward ho! (p ward 2013)

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*.

dancing monkey packaging (photo - p ward 2013) dancing monkey packaging (photo: p ward 2013)

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.

5 monkeys a bundle of sticks (p ward 2013) 5 monkeys a bundle of sticks (p ward 2013)

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”!…

an autumn walk through monksilver 281113


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…

woodford fields, west somerset (p ward 2013) woodford fields, west somerset (p ward 2013)

woodland walk, monksilver, west somerset (p ward 2013) woodland walk, monksilver, west somerset (p ward 2013)

tree trunks, monksilver, west somerset (p ward:f owen 2013) tree trunks, monksilver, west somerset (p ward/f owen 2013)

autumn walk, monksilver, west somerset (p ward 2013) autumn walk, monksilver, west somerset (p ward 2013)

nettlecombe fields, west somerset (p ward 2013) nettlecombe fields, west somerset (p ward 2013)

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

murmuration 241113


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

quite simply


murmuration 241113surprising starlings (p ward 2013)

© 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!?!

so lately


get more closer here

to feeling pulses pulsing

touched each other gentle

tasty ground about


lively-landscape-earth-pigments-pva-on-laos-handmade-paper-80x60cm-p-ward-2009_0lively landscape (earth pigments; 80x60cm; p ward 2009)


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


clifftop-drama-pencil-on-driftwood-52x36cm-p-ward-2009cliff top drama (pencil on driftwood; 52x36cm; p ward 2009)


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


cat-and-mouse-earth-pigments-pva-on-laos-handmade-paper-80x60cm-p-ward--2009cat and mouse (pencil; 80x60cm; p ward 2009)


your ear

your mouth

your eye

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


new-drawing-earth-pigments-pva-on-laos-handmade-paper-80x60cm-p-ward-2009new drawing (earth pigments; 80x60cm; p ward 2009)


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


running-inland-oil-on-board58x66cm-p-ward-2008running inland (oil on board; 58x66cm; 2008) 

© P Ward 2013

I think maybe not



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

This senseless-ness

This selflessness

For good


Despite love

Despite plenty

Despite loss

Despite beauty


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 intuition

Or art

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

Or judge?


I think maybe not.


oystercatchers; fishing net monster; charcoal drawing – northam (p ward 2013)oystercatchers; fishing net monster; charcoal drawing – northam (p ward 2013)

rain blown:wind blown – northam (p ward 2013)rain blown/wind blown – northam (p ward 2013)

burnt umber 1 – fremington quay (p ward 2013)burnt umber 1 – fremington quay (p ward 2013)

burnt umber 2 – fremington quay (p ward 2013)burnt umber 2 – fremington quay (p ward 2013)

hail – northam (p ward 2013)hail – northam (p ward 2013)

storm coming in – northam (p ward 2013)storm passing – northam (p ward 2013)

© P Ward 2013

another sense of other

yarner wood, east dartmoor 121113

yarner wood, east dartmoor 1 (p ward 2013) yarner wood, east dartmoor 1 (p ward 2013)


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?


not another andy goldsworthy; an attack of the tinsel -,yarner wood, east dartmoor (p ward 2013) not another andy goldsworthy; an attack of the tinsel – yarner wood, east dartmoor (p ward 2013)


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


yarner wood (with disused mine), east dartmoor 2 (p ward 2013) yarner wood (with disused mine), east dartmoor 2 (p ward 2013)

an old bundle of sticks; interpretative display - yarner wood, east dartmoor (p ward 2013) remains of a bundle of sticks; interpretative display – yarner wood, east dartmoor (p ward 2013)

iron salts and soils from yarner wood, east dartmoor (p ward 2013) iron salts and soils from yarner wood, east dartmoor (p ward 2013)

concertina sketchbook drawing, pigments form yarner wood, east dartmoor (p ward 2013) concertina sketchbook drawing, pigments form yarner wood, east dartmoor (p ward 2013)

 (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])

sketch with nuts, lure, pigments and sticks (p ward 2013) sketch with nuts, lure, pigments and sticks (p ward 2013)

sketch with pigments from yarner wood 1 (p ward 2013) sketch with pigments from yarner wood 1 (p ward 2013)

sketch with pigments from yarner wood and fremington quay (p ward 2013)sketch with pigments from yarner wood and fremington quay (p ward 2013) 

© P Ward 2013

[i] http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/conservation/designations/nnr/1007127.aspx

[ii] http://dancingwithdyes.wordpress.com/2013/08/01/earth-rust-dyes/


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.


twilight, birdhill 1 (p ward 2013)twilight, birdhill 1 (p ward 2013)

twilight, birdhill 2 (p ward 2013)twilight, birdhill 2 (p ward 2013)

twilight, birdhill 3 (p ward 2013)twilight, birdhill 3 (p ward 2013)

twilight, birdhill 4 (p ward 2013)twilight, birdhill 4 (p ward 2013)

twilight, birdhill 5 (p ward 2013)twilight, birdhill 5 (p ward 2013)

twilight, birdhill 6 (p ward 2013)twilight, birdhill 6 (p ward 2013)

twilight, birdhill 7 (p ward 2013)twilight, birdhill 7 (p ward 2013)


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

No Luddite Not

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 (p ward 2013) 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. 

14th century door, wells cathedral (p ward 2013)14th century door, wells cathedral (p ward 2013)

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.

vicar’s close, one of the oldest constantly residential streets in the world, wells (p ward 2013) vicar’s close, one of the oldest constantly residential streets in the world, wells (p ward 2013)

“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.

playing with fire, sparklers in the garden, wells (p ward 2013) playing with fire, sparklers in the garden, wells (p ward 2013)

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

[iii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Device_paradigm with reference to Albert Borgmann, TECHNOLOGY AND THE CHARACTER OF CONTEMPORARY LIFE (Chicago; THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS; 1984)