Tuesday, 21 September 2010

22/09/2010 - Autumn Equinox Itinerary

Sunrise: 6:46 am

Sunset: 6:59 pm

Sunrise. Beat the bounds of Parson's Wood. We might see the sun this time, as the forecast is for fair weather. Once the bounds have been well and truly beaten we'll return to Johnny's for a breakfast of mainly mushrooms.

Mid-morning. We'll begin the Book of the Woods, a volume which we plan to leave somewhere rain-proof once it's half-filled, so that other people can contribute to it.

Lunchtime. A stroll to the clootie tree to replenish ribbons and tags, followed by a picnic at Johnny's house and readings from Vita Sackville-West's The Land and Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities.

Sunset. Create a sukkah in the woods, and watch the moonrise, which unusually tomorrow will do so as the sun sets. Then we'll return to Johnny's to a supper of stuffed marrows and apple and blackberry crumble. Finally, we'll read Keats's 'To Autumn' and have another group reading of T.S. Eliot's 'Four Quartets'.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

21/06/2010 - Summer Solstice Itinerary

Sunrise: 4:43 am

Sunset: 9:21pm

Sunrise: Beat the boundaries of Parson's Wood and (maybe) actually see the sun! Forecast is for sunny intervals. Once we have visited the wood we will return to Johnny's for breakfast and Solomon's Seal tea (said to provide poets and painters with inspiration, as well as being the key to underground treasure chambers).

Mid morning: Start a new, collaborative project journal and make paper boats for later on in the day. Then take some new ribbons down to the Wish Tree and leave spirit cakes at the well.

Lunchtime: Picnic in the woods, followed by paddling and the creation of a Dancing Tree, reading aloud (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Moominsummer Madness and Milton's masque Comus), and a nap (because large swathes of iambic pentameter are known to be highly soporific).

Sunset: Illuminate the woodland path with tealights and burn paper boats on the hammer pond. Close the evening with a reading of Keat's Ode to a Nightingale.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Spring & the Clootie Tree

The tree is now in full leaf and looking plumply green.

It has proved popular with passers by, who have added their wishes to its boughs.

I love the silhouetted shadow of a leaf on this one:

There are wishes written on these spiralling ribbons:

Someone has also added this heart:

There's a beautiful wooden bird too, but it's hanging rather high and I'm not tall enough to get a decent photograph of it.

After a while, rain loosens the labels:

Each time I visit the tree, there's something new:

Heart-felt Four Quarterish thanks to everyone who's helped adorn the tree.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Journal Notes: Spring Equinox, Sunset

6:14 pm - Sunset. Back out into a fading world. Over the course of 12 hours - from dark to light to dark again - observing an extraordinary range of light. Even - especially? - on an overcast day. Subtly of shades, tones, monochrome, gleams of bright, light, colour.

At sunrise in the lightening but sunless realm of field and woodland, the perceptible brightening of the day drains colour and flattens perspective. There is a glare by mid-morning that somehow exhausts the gaze. The light comes from the sky, spreading, submerging; colours are washed-out and the landscape appears veiled. At dusk, though, the rapidly fading light seems to highlight colour and adds depth, tone and complexity to what I see. There is a richness, a rare luminescence to the woods and hedgerows.

As we walk from the old swimming pool - which is crowded with mating frogs and toads - it beings to rain. Serious rain. Now the light appears to come not from the sky, which darkens with every minute that passes, but from whatever has colour in the landscape. From the rust-red ranks of dead sorrel; the bonewhite of the blasted oak; the bronze and mauve of the budding trees; silvered branches of catkins; the emerald of hemlock and bluebells shoots and emerging celandine. It is these things which glow.

I feel so sick now, my body is begging to be taken home to bed. But I plod on doggedly, entirely fixed within this day's routine of walking certain paths. It is almost unthinkable that the work will be left undone. For there is a prosaic sense of jobbishness about our walking, heads down against the rain, hands in pockets. Paths have to be covered. The mud sucks at our boots but we are surprisingly sure-footed. Businesslike. Something flurries underfoot. I stop, peer down in the gloaming. "A toad!" I cry out, in warning. Suddenly our walk is something else - a dance to avoid the migrating amphibians that fill the wood. The warmth and rain have wakened them, and now they are making their way to the ponds and pools and brimming ditches to mate. Utterly single-minded. We tiptoe. We walked hunched over, watching the ground for any sign of movement.

Then it is so dark we cannot see our own feet. We walk in single file to minimise the damage we do. Ready for home. Wading through the bog that leads to the last stile. I haul myself over it, coughing, wretched. Inside we turn on the kitchen light and immediately the windows are blacked-out. Night has fallen. The cottage is filled with the scent of a lamb stew we left in the oven. We fill bowls, beakers of red wine. Settle down to read the last two of Elliot's Four Quartets: The Dry Salvages and Little Gidding. His words fill us also.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Journal Notes: Spring Equinox, Sunrise

5:30 am - I leave my bed with the greatest reluctance. I'm sick with an upper respiratory infection that will ultimately only be banquished thanks to a hefty dose of antibiotics, and the day of our second Quarter is when the dread lurgy really takes hold. I am snotty, wheezy, and whiney, but nonetheless I head out into a world that is warm, moist, misty and pulsating with life. Astonishingly, the cold, hard winter really does seem to have broken on the first day of spring. The birds are jubilant; they too can feel the warmth working through the winter-cold earth. As we head towards the village, Sian and I can sense the resurgence - at last - that herald's spring.

Next week, on March 29, will be the Sugar Moon - a North American name for the moon that coincides with the time of year when the maple trees are tapped. The sap is rising. Sick and phlegm-filled as I am, I feel it too. My body yields a little, opens. I lift my face into the damp morning air.

5: 50 am - The Cottage is dark when we arrive; the bedroom window open. We call out, and Johnny's torso emerges. "Good morning, good morning! Be right down..." We are strung about with bags, waterproofs, Wellington boots, notebooks and cameras. A day in the field. No pack animals. Just pockets full of tissues, lip balm, notebooks, pencils, tobacco, sanitary towels, an apple, throat lozenges, a thermos of tea... Not too many layers today, but thick socks and tall boots. The ground is sodden.

6:04am - Sunrise. We beat the boundaries of the wood. Along the stream to the furnace pond and the old road. No sign of the sun, again, today. Just warmth and the clamour of the stream, full and rushing with almost unseemly haste, drowning out the dawn chorus. Below the hammer pond, Johnny and I paddle. The sandstone rocks are slippery and streaked with red iron ore. There is a shallow crescent of gravel, then the bank rises. Clay and sandstone, steep-sided, cut by the stream's insistent surging - an overhang trailing a filigree of roots, bright green with mould, bearded with moss and lichen. The smell of the earth-bank is fetid, fervent, rich, replenishing. We dig out nuggets of charcoal and slag, crumbling the fine earth with our fingertips, childlike as we look for treasure. Grubby hands now. Earth and charcoal beneath our fingernails.

We walk the high-road back to the Cottage and there eat hot cross buns, hard boiled eggs, anchovies and strong tea - my family's bastardised version of a Slavic Pascal feast - somehow seems appropriate for the vernal equinox.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

The Clootie Tree (& T. S. Eliot)

Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time

Words move, music moves
Only in time; but that which is only living
Can only die. Words, after speech, reach
into the silence

Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness

Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still

The detail of the pattern is movement,
As in the figure of the ten stairs.
Desire itself is movement
Not in itself desirable;
Love is itself unmoving,
Only the cause and end of movement,
Timeless and undesiring
Except in the aspect of time
Caught in the form of limitation
Between un-being and being

***from, Four Quartets, 'Burnt Norton'

Memory Maps

We started making them after the 1st Quarter, and a week or so ago I found that Marina Warner has already beautifully articulated what it is we are doing:
Mapping memories involves listening in to other people's ghosts as well as your own. Dérive - the French for drift - characterizes this approach, rather than more purposeful terms like quest or research, though memory maps demand processes of investigation and endless curiosity and an impulse towards wonder. Memory mapping grows out of daydreaming, reverie, and the unbidden images that come up in the mind. This is writing as fugue, as enigma variations, as ... the phantasmic flow of consciousness. A dériveur arrives at 'astonishment upon the terrain of familiarity,' writes Robert Macfarlane, and becomes 'more sensitive to the hidden histories and encrypted events of the city' - or the country.
I strongly encourage you to read and relish the rest of this wonderful essay and explore the Victoria & Albert's Memory Maps site.

Perhaps my favourite part of Warner's piece is the penultimate paragraph:
As the Memory Maps grow, they will go on connecting different people and places across time and in the present. Such an exchange between images and writings, past and present, memory and imagination, releases energy: the energy of stories.
The energy of stories is certainly what has drawn me back to the Weald, and particularly to the one small patch of it we now spending a year documenting and exploring. I feel inspired to try and find others in the village who have memories of Parson's Wood and weave their stories into my own.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

20/03/10 - Spring Equinox Itinerary

Vintage postcard courtesy of
Sunrise: 6:04am
Sunset: 6:13pm

Sunrise. We will beat the boundaries of Parson's Wood and watch the sunrise (or not - forecast is soggy) from the Old Road. Followed by an early Easter-breakfast at Johnny's: hot cross buns, anchovies, hard boiled eggs.

Late morning. Back across the iron bridge and along the valley to the spring-fed well. There we plan on decorating a Clootie tree.

Lunch and an afternoon making our secular spring-time Stations of the Wood.

Back out at dusk to hang the Stations and walk the wood. Dinner and poetry reading. We were thinking perhaps T. S. Elliot's Four Quartets - but now we have been reminded how long it is, doubts are setting in. Would reading just 1 Quartet be cheating? A pot-luck stew (we're all bringing something for the pot) and chocolate Easter eggs are also on the menu. Hoping this will give us the stamina we need...

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

From Another Notebook

On the Taking of Notes:

An image becomes treasure, passed from mind to mind. We four are collectors of images.

One of us find bark, one finds leaves encased in ice. I write, 'encased in eyes'. Someone finds ice in water. Someone else notices the fog coming fast through the valley.

Item: dock stem rising from snow. Black-red shadow puppet, explosively notched and zing-rippling. Leaves hanging small, spriteish, black leaf soulish, vaguely hellish, hot and vibrant.

Item: meadow grass. Disconsolate, lonely and drooping.

Item: thistle.

Item: spine.

Snow like white linen.

We take nothing sappy, only what the year has already discarded. As we look at our images, turn them over, warm them, they are revivified, born to us. We exchange our time for their lives, our lives for theirs.

The snow turns from blue to white to blue again, as the sun rises and sets. We give our day to the snow and in return it gives itself to us.

Monday, 1 February 2010

From The First Quarter Notebook

photograph by Sian Thomas, © 2009

Notes on Woodland:

- Wood as a boundary, a between place on the edge of the village.

- Woodland as a narrative landscape. The stories it holds, hides and reveals.

- Landscape that feels wild, secret, hidden - but in fact is post-industrial. Marked and shaped and scarred by human activity, industrial and agrarian.

- Paths made by people, animals and water. Paths as a line of text or musical notation. What do they reveal to us? Footprints and tracks = words, phrases.

- What is the language of this landscape? How can we act as its interpreters?

- How am I 'confirmed' by this place and my habit of walking in it? How do I mark and transform it, and how does it change me?

- Hansel & Gretel, Babes in the Wood. Go to the woods/forest to lose ourselves and in the process find ourselves.

- Intimacy. Patrimony. Knowing a place like my own hand; creases, valleys, gullies, in landscape mimicking the folds and creases of my palm. Intricacy and intimacy.

Notes on Winter:

- Winter landscape, sculpted, laid bare, readable or legible. Superficially fixed (still) yet constantly changing, moving.

- Wheel; cycle of seasons; lowest point in the wheel's turning.

- Fire; sunlight; the impossible return.

- Winter solstice = day of reversal if not transformation. Yule. Saturnalia. Janus (gates, doorways, beginnings and endings. January). First day of winter is also last day of the year's descent into darkness. Birth = death. Darkest day.


This is true of all ancient places - cities as well as this woodland - that they exist in layers. One era, century, epoch is laid over another, sometimes as crudely as the false ceilings that in old Sussex farmhouses once concealed smoke-blackened beams. Usually, though, the layers are opaque, subtle, translucent and delicate as tissue paper.

In public places, in the countryside, this interlayering, is perhaps more evident. In a private house more care is taken to ensure the discomforting chinks don't show. No one relaxing in their sitting room wants past or future epochs bleeding through. And no one really wants to brush against a ghost on their way up the stairs to bed. Though it is precisely on the staircase and in hallways and corridors that domestic spirits cluster.

As John Berger reminds us, these interstices exist. Our world is not the only world. Rather we live in a shifting palimpsest of lives lived, and so of experiences, change and mutability. At boundaries and border places we are able, if keen enough, to sense this gentle colliding of orders. On thresholds; doorways; leaning out of windows; crossing an ancient square; entering a narrow passageway or walking an ancient path or road. We stumble. We fall through time into something, somewhere else.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Friday, 15 January 2010

The Gathering of Artists

My first Image from our day recording the Winter Solstice.
A group of Artists, heads buried deep into their books.
The silence was stunning.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Documenting the Wood

Item 1: Hazel Leaf

Item 2: Sweet Chestnut Leaf

From my notebook:
Thoughts - had not held - walking today without a notebook.
1) Parson's Wood as a museum; the curator of the wood; observing, documenting, preserving, interpreting.

2) Wood/winter song. I am the bell's clapper. A proclaimer. Or the wood. Vast, silent, unfathomable. Clay. My footsteps merely tickling the paths, hardly registering. In winter the wood is turned in upon itself.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Benjamin at the Rose & Crown

Benjamin's Paris address book

A merry meeting last night in the Rose & Crown - one of our local pubs. This was first time all four of the quarters have reconvened since the Solstice, so it was an opportunity to share words, pictures and photographs, and to make plans. There was an impromptu reading session from our various journals, which sparked discussion about the power and energy of the collective mind. Several intriguingly overlapping ideas, themes and even words emerged.

At one point late in the evening I tried to paraphrase a quote from Walter Benjamin's The Arcades Project - kindly sent to me recently by a fascinating new friend, Terri Mullholland. It was a feeble attempt at verbal recall and so I've decided maybe the safest place to keep the quote is here. Though I should probably also write it into my journal. Benjamin's words raise the hairs on the back of my neck which means, for reasons I have not yet entirely discovered, they are important:
‘The interior is not just the universe but also the étui of the private individual. To dwell means to leave traces. In the interior, these are accentuated. Coverlets and antimacassars, cases and containers are devised in abundance; in these, the traces of the most ordinary objects of use are imprinted. In just the same way, the traces of the inhabitant are imprinted in the interior...’

[Walter Benjamin, Exposé of 1935, in Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, trans. by Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), p. 9.]

Friday, 1 January 2010

One Half

So two of the four quarters have made a foray into explaining what it is all about...

Firstly, Sian does us proud here:
Sian Thomas: Four Quarters

Then I make a dash into the same bit of the wild wood here:
Zina Dreams: Four Quarters

For me at least this was a useful exercise in an initial attempt at explaining what we are doing and why. Because when you live and create in a small village it seems like you're always trying to explain yourself. Our High Street is one that is still lined with shops - a butcher, baker, florist, garage, bookshop, corner shops x 2, pubs x 3, and all the rest - and as well as selling a variety of merchandise for hard cash there is also a brisk and rambunctious trade in gossip. The old curiosity shop is doing well here in the Weald; it's impossible not to contribute at various times. And (no point denying it) there's also a certain quirky pleasure in taking up my pen and giving the murky village waters a quick stir - before sitting back and watching the ripples slowly spread, disperse and then attenuate.