21 December 2013

Darkness gives way

In a gap between winter storms, the waning moon topped the trees in a sky that was clear for a precious hour or so this morning. It's winter solstice and at last the year will turn!

A waning moon suspended over the trees in the park on solstice morning
Not a moment too soon.

Winter-dark moon, earlier in the month
I've never found the winter-dark easy, and now each year my late brother's anniversary on the 19th adds to the sadness. He's always in our thoughts but never more so than on that day. And these last two weeks B has been through the wars ... but he is resting and recovering now... Iz lies beside him on the couch and provides dog therapy, and with the stove burning brightly, the christmas tree lights on, being plied with food, and with such amazing friends and family visiting and dog-sitting and shopping and cooking, not to mention B's own wonderful spirit and steadiness... well, healing and recovery are well underway.

21 December

So, the twenty-one theme. Here's how the field, park and garden looked this morning (you can see them in November here). I suppose the trouble with starting this in November is that there won't be a whole lot of changes from month to month for the first few months. But who knows!?
Anyway, here are the 21 December images.

The field

Not a fox in sight, but some mornings recently I've seen one drift silently across this field and into the copse of trees on the right

The park

The sun was just about to rise on the shortest day of the year

The light of the rising sun worked its luminary magic on the tops of the oaks and ash

We've had a really mild winter so far, but a couple of incredibly windy, stormy days have released the last of the leaves from the sycamores

The garden

The still of the year in the garden

Winter pool and the therapy-dog
Solstice is the real turn of the year for me. I've celebrated it 'officially' now for 10 years or more. A few stalwart friends have been there all along the way (you know who you are!) and a few 'traditions' have grown over the years. Spiced beef is one, simmered with vegetables, cloves, allspice, water and ale for a few hours and then compressed (with a few handy--and heavy!--reference books; something the internet just couldn't do) to squeeze excess moisture out. Yummm.

There's spiced beef in this picture...
A more recent and personal one is to check if the witch hazel in the back garden is coming into bloom. And this year, YES, the small brown buds are opening to reveal tiny tendrils of lemon yellow to quiver in the winter winds.
Witch Hazel blooms just in time for solstice celebrations
Walks have been a bit curtailed, but Izzy and I have found time once or twice for the winter woods.

Winter beech
Elf caps pinpoint a palimpsest of a fallen tree on the forest floor

Winter is time for texture

Iz surveys the swirling river

Over the last couple of weeks, I've found the beautiful clarity of Ingrid Kertesi singing Bach to be a solace and sometimes I've worked on random colour charts at the same time. I can't find Kertesi online, but you can find here on Naxos 8.554508 with the Hungarian Radio Choir and the Failoni Chamber Orchestra. Here's a taster, Flosst mein Heiland, sung by another soprano:

Ochres and russets, Caran D'Ache and Faber Castell Polychromos

Happy Solstice all.

02 December 2013


So... here we all are, rumours and old toffee abound (there's a phrase that has been in my head since I saw it on the sleeve of a John Martyn album in 1977...).

First of all, thanks to those who wrote/emailed/spoke to me about the blog over the last few weeks, you've been very kind and very helpful...I've been mulling things over and I've a germ of an idea.


On 21 November, I went out with my camera on the morning walk in the usual suburban haunts: the field, the park, the garden. I took photos at particular vantage points. And I hope to do the same over the coming twelve months on the 21st of each month. Those of you who know me well will realise that the choice of date isn't entirely random -- it'll rather nicely pull in the solstices and the equinoxes, as well as provide a record of the changes over the year.

As well as garden news and views, goings-on in the immediate environment and the drawings, I'll also pull in other serendipitous bits and bobs: music, writing, whatever ... I hope you'll stay with me for this small homage to changing seasons, what's to wonder at and what's to wonder about.

21 November

And to start, here are the November images. It's a dark start; I have an imagination deficit at this time of the year when I just can't visualise how these places look in a different season ... Maybe this blog will help in the coming twelve months.

The field

One of the nice things about winter mornings is the moon

The park

Lamplight and a glimpse of the not-yet-risen-sun-light in the distance
We have oaks, horse chestnuts and ash in the park; on 21 November a lot of leaves were still on the trees providing
lovely colour but in the dawn light all were looking a bit grey

It's dark under the trees in the early winter mornings. This is a spot-the-schnauzer pic too.

The garden

Coming home from the walk, we come into the garden,
which looks distressingly grey and drab here in the poor light. Ah winter!

In winter, the pool does its task of reflecting the sky light very well,
even when it has gathered lots of falling leaves

In other news

I finished the Alphabet Yew! I handed it in on 30 November. Handing in was a lovely time - there was a wonderful array of paintings, all sorts of styles and approaches, all bound by their letter, the paper and the dimensions (30cmx30cm). Adjudication begins at some point in the new year: there'll be a painter, a curator and a botanist doing the assessing and I think they'll be spoilt for choice.

Doing the yew was quite the process for me: it was something I enjoyed immensely though there were many moments when I wondered what on earth did I think I was doing!? Learning as I went meant that any idea that came into my head had to be tried out as I didn't know what I could do with the medium (coloured pencil). Which meant that the final work had been through a few iterations on other pieces of, by now, smudged, creased and much-loved paper. I'd say BvG and LB in particular are delighted it's done - thanks so much both of you for your helpful words along the way! Thanks too to fellow-alphabetisers SD and JS. Here are some pics of the work in progress. All the final works will be on display in the Bots in May 2014: a treat in store!

It's some tree... I worked from sketches and photos

Nearly finished with the berries

Yew twig on the go

Everyone who has seen the drawing loved the moss on the twig so I thought I'd include it here;
mind you most people said "Ooh I love the lichen..." so I may need to draw it better the next time

It feels a bit strange now to have finished the yew. I'll have to find something else to try to draw. Look what I discovered in the local park - what a beauty, such a contrast in textures! There are still some grand old trees in the park, left over from its days as part of a demesne or estate of some sort, it most likely belonged to a house called Runnymede (at one point used by the Yeats sisters to run Dun Emer, later Cuala, Press in the early 20th Century). This tree alas, fell prey to the health and safety 'police', but there's still a Giant Sequoia in the park starting to tower above the Scots Pines. Izzy chases squirrels in vain some mornings and they have been known to dash to the Sequoia and, as usual, confound her completely.

This must have such as astonishing tree in its day...

...but it still provides wonder...

... and then some!

There was a squirrel here a second ago ... Giant Sequoia and Miniature Schnauzer
And speaking of things spotted in or near the park. Turns out we've a better class of graffiti than the usual run-of-the-mill 'tagging' (which I think is akin to dogs and lamp-posts to be honest); here's some that made me pause. I had to check what a divergent series was with my resident mathematician.

Divergent Series: refreshing Dublin graffiti

And to finish where I started, with John Martyn. Here's 'May You Never'; this one especially for my two lovely sons and their dad, who lost their grandpapa and father this week.

It's for all of us too:  "please won't you bear it in mind, love is a lesson to learn in our time..."

Go well.

06 November 2013

Three quinces, two years

The fruits of the Japanese Quince smell divine: a sweet and delicious fragrance that's impossible to describe. Left in a room, they pervade it rather than fill it with their scent. I remember reading somewhere once that smells always have to be described in terms of other smells we know - we can't find another way to 'tell' them to each other.  The best I can do with Japanese Quince is tell you to think of apple crossed with lemon with a tincture of jasmine; that's the nearest I can get. You'll just have to make do with this picture or maybe go and find some in your own garden or a friend's and inhale that beautiful perfume yourself.

Japanese quince (Chaenomeles japonica.)
Since my own Chaenomeles didn't produce much fruit this year, I picked these up from my sister's garden (thanks SB) because I love their shape and I hope to draw them at some stage. I drew some from my own garden earlier this year (in February) when I was just getting back into this drawing thing, and I really enjoyed their shape.  I hope these three will last until the yew is complete (it has to be done by the end of this month!) and I'll have a go then. A break from 'colouring in' the yew this week took the form of fun with textures, as I quickly sketched a sweet chestnut shell I'd found in some woods a few weeks ago. Not a great sketch but it was a bit of light relief: lots of learning to do on textures still.

Ouch! a bit of work to do yet with textures (Sweet chestnut shells/cases)
Autumn has passed into winter this week as we've moved into November. The first frost came, gently, and whitened the morning grass in the field. The bright orange of Chinese Lanterns and Iris foetidissima berries brought recompense for the cool temperatures, grey skies and long nights; the winter rains have left rainbows in their wake, pointing to the deep reds of the maples and Sedums in the garden. Only seven weeks to the solstice...

The first gentle frost of winter

Chinese lanterns light up the house

Iris foetidissima needs a place in the garden *just* for the berries at this time of the year

Not a crock of gold, but the Japanese maple will do nicely thank you...

Japanese maples, so good we have them twice
This is blog-post no. 104 - marking two years of weekly blogs. Who'd've thunk? Not me certainly when I typed two short paras back in November 2011. Thank you dear readers (you know who you are) for sticking with it. I'm going to keep with the blog though I'm not sure how, but I do know it's time for a bit of a change; this may be as simple as less frequent posting, if, as I suspect, I can't think of anything else, but I'm open to ideas... (Suggestions on a (virtual) postcard please to erica).

Hope to see you back here in a couple of weeks. Go well all.

28 October 2013

On Donal's Pond

This summer, my late brother's two marvellous sons had a busy time of it, helping their uncle day after day to remove tons of soil from one of his fields--in just the right place, where the water table is at just the right level--to create a beautiful pond. It will  be a wildlife pond on their uncle's farm (it even has a little island in the middle where, hopefully, ducks and maybe moorhens can nest safely), but not just that: it will be a place for family and friends to sit and think, or remember, or just be. It's called Donal's Pond and it will be--no, is already--a lovely way to remember him. We saw it for the first time this weekend: thanks to DW and my two great nephews for making such a peaceful place. We all agreed that Donal would approve...
Donal's Pond
The sun sets on Donal's Pond
Back in Dublin after a couple of days in the countryside, there was the right weather and enough time to enjoy Autumn's unfolding: low sunlight on the Scots Pine in the park in the mornings, and seed heads coming into their own in the garden. Desultory tidying up in the greenhouse and garden meant I could be out in the cool sunshine and it also gave me a chance to note autumn and summer meeting in the pool: autumn releases the leaves from the now plum- and raspberry-coloured Japanese Maple and scatters them around the garden; and meanwhile the late summer temperatures we've had for much of October have kept the waterlilies blooming.

My drawing of the yew tree for the Irish Alphapet has ground to a shuddering halt - abject terror of the 'Real' paper and a not insignificant problem with composition... and so I've distracted myself with a little bit of sketching. Where would we be without displacement work?

Morning sun and Scots Pine

 Allium seed heads

Hosta seed head

Dodgy phone picture of a sketchy Agapanthus seed head

Summer lingers, Autumn comes: water lily and fallen maple leaf in the pool
Have a good week all.

23 October 2013

Rain and moonshadows

The rain came. And the wind. The leaves came down on the footpaths, turning me back into a seven-year-old shooshing her way through the shape-shifting drifts. The witch hazel in the front garden had each leaf turn to a painter's palette of fading greens, bright yellows and tangerines. The full moon showed in the sky in the morning, snagged in the upper branches of the Scots Pine in the park, casting moonshadows of me as I walked with Izzy. Cycling home along the canal, I had to stop as the setting sun shone down the waterway, lighting up just some of the graceful seed heads of the reeds.

Autumn is here, no question of it now.

And this weekend the clocks go back...

Evening sun lights the reeds on the canal bank

Sheltering from the rain under a young beech tree in the park

Witch Hazel leaves in the front garden
And again - who could resist?

Autumn means conkers - I finished the drawing
Have a good week all.

13 October 2013

Water under Bridges

The calls caught my attention first - the characteristic zzt zzt zzt (well roughly, it's so hard to write down a bird call, but with the wonder of the web, you have a listen here) - a flock of long-tailed tits chattering their way through a willow tree over the stream. It was early morning and a walk with Izzy to get the Saturday newspapers was enlivened by this treat on the way. They're great little birds and I don't see them that often; they're tiny, about the size of a goldcrest or wren, but with the eponymous tail that looks all off balance, their black and white heads, and the hint of a shell-like pink on their bodies, they're unmistakeable. Lovely.

Earlier in the week, just before sunrise, Iz and I wandered into the field to the surprise of one of the local foxes. It did that watchful thing: it stares at you, watches every move you make and then if you turn away for just a second (to check where your mini-schnauzer is, for example) it's gone, as if into thin air. A handy trick for anyone, but foxes seems to do it best.

In the garden the asters are looking wonderful. The verbena (V. bonariensis) is still looking great and now that my tall asters are out, they echo it very nicely farther up the garden. But as some plants come into centre stage it's exeunt stage left for others, and as they do, there's beauty to be found. The hosta leaves fade to ochres and greys, curl, and their quilted texture comes into even greater relief.

And autumn leaves from a morning walk filter the mid-morning sunlight to present me with a stained glass light moment on my desk and at the same time remind me of the changes outside the walls of the seasonless office.

Office leaves and chestnuts
Asters seen through a haze of Molinia caerula 'Transparent'
Beauty's where you find it: a hosta fades in the garden
After musing over the blog a bit in the last few weeks, and going public with some of those musings last week, I thought I'd get back to basics today - quotidian beauty, there for all of us, in ordinary surroundings... Many thanks to those of you who encouraged me to keep going with the blog -- here, on facebook and even (gasp!) in person. I'll certainly finish out these few weeks and after that I may make some changes... we'll see!

Out in the heart of autumn this week, it's mushroom time. In the park, in the field, on trees, in the Devil's Glen--where we went today--the fungi are doing their thing. I'd been hoping we might find chanterelles, but the Devil's Glen is a mixed woodland where we were walking today and when I've found chanterelles before it has been on the floor of conifer forests, so maybe another time. The Vartry river flows through the Devil's Glen, in fact we crossed over it as we drove to the forest, over one of those tiny old narrow stone bridges that has a V cut into one of the parapets to allow a person to stand in should a cart/carriage/car be passing over the water. We walked along the river, under a mix of trees (oak, rowan, hazel, field maple, beech, sweet chestnut) from which the leaves fell as slowly and silently as painted snow. At one point some movement caught my eye on the other bank of the river; it was a small mammal, flowing like black ink over and under rocks and fallen limbs of trees. A mink: not a welcome sight, but impressive in its own way. Along the way, sculptures blended into the woodland and quotes from Seamus Heaney's poetry were carved into benches or stone. It's quite the beautiful spot and we had it mostly to ourselves. I hadn't been there for many years and it was good to be back. We shall return sooner the next time.

Park fungi
Unknown fungus in Devil's Glen
Xylaria hypoxylon, Candlesnuff fungus
Quercus petraea, Oak,  in the Devil's Glen
Sorbus aucuparia, Rowan, only the gorgeous berries remain

'Wound' , made with Sequoia wood, by Cathy Carmen, 2002
One of the Heaney quotes: "I have to clean the steps"
This is also a spot the schnauzer (it has been a while...)
 Another Heaney quote (phew, that's a relief)
Okay, two things to end this week. The first is an unfinished drawing of some chestnuts from the local park (the chestnuts this year have been amazing, as have so many fruits). I did the drawing this afternoon, as a break from the lovely Yew tree.

Chestnuts, done with coloured pencil
(phone pic, so not great quality)
The second--given that we spent the morning by a river--is a beautiful song 'Water under Bridges' from Gregory Porter: a singer with a voice you could listen to all day and all night (thanks for that B.).

Have a good week all.