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.

06 October 2013

Golden lights and green shadows

I sat down (at the new table!) to write this tonight, but instead ended up on Skellig Michael (Sceilig MhichĂ­l) off the coast of Co. Kerry. A bare rock pointing to heaven in the midst of wild Atlantic foam, a place where monks settled in the sixth century in what for them was the very edge of the known world. A place that's home now to seabirds of all sorts: puffins, guillemots, gannets, gulls of course, and manx shearwater who every year make the long journey from the east coast of South America to this tiny rock in the Atlantic. As I sat here this evening, I accompanied Luke Clancy and Chris Watson on their journey to the Skelligs to record the sounds and calls and cries of the seabirds, above the roar of the Atlantic swell. You can hear all this--as well as stories of lighthouse keepers, poets and archaeologists and, of course, the monks--right here. If you can make the time to listen online or download the podcast, do - treat yourself. This is radio at its very best, radio as we'd want it to be more often, creating vivid pictures with words and sounds, pulling you in to its world. Brilliant.

We made a shorter journey earlier today when we went to Cloon Oak Glen in Co. Wicklow. The glen was once home to a royal oak forest (from, I think, the 13th century onwards) but had been hugely diminished by the end of the 19th century, although in the early 20th century, J.M. Synge was still able to write:

Iz turns her back on poetry: To the Oaks of Glencree, J.M. Synge
The glen is home now to a very young oak forest, not even 25 years old, that was planted by Crann and Coillte in a joint venture, with sponsorship from private citizens. It's a quiet place, full of Synge's golden lights and green shadows, though not quite as he would have seen them, but there's hope that someone some day will sit in that same light again under old and venerable oaks. Even now it's a lovely place to be, especially on a warm autumn day.
Young oak and autumn light

This year's growth and ripening berries on wild holly in the glen
Gnarly bark of an old ash tree
At home, the work in the garden this week has been very pleasant indeed - harvesting tomatoes as we need them, and re-potting some beautiful bamboos. One of the varieties of tomatoes I planted this year is a plum tomato; it's nothing fancy, I got it in the local garden centre as a seedling, but I'll certainly give it a go again next year, it makes lovely sauce.

Plum tomatoes, still ripening in the lovely late Autumn weather
The bamboos we got from a job that B did for a very well-known grower, and what a great barter: beautiful photographs of all sorts of bamboos, grasses and the nursery itself, in exchange for some rather nice bamboos - Fargesia jiuzhaigou and Phyllostachys nigra (Black Bamboo) to name just two. I'm not sure they'll get enough sunlight where they are at the moment, but if we move them around perhaps it'll be okay. Their job at the moment is act as an external curtain outside the large window and back door. Since I lose the will to live every time I enter a home furnishing or textile shop, I have come around to admitting (after five years of looking out at the darkness all winter) that I'm never going to get a blind or curtains for that window, and since I love plants, well why not use them as a screen instead. Much nicer and a damn sight cheaper, especially when they're an exchange. Let's hope they settle in well.

Bamboo heaven - the Fargesia jiuzhaigou on the left are the outdoor 'curtain'
One other small job I did this week was prepare the early winter flowers for Da's grave. He'd have loved the tiny violas. Now that they've settled in, I'll move them to his grave in the coming week.

Winter colour for Da's grave
In a few weeks, this blog will have been on the go for two years. Each week for those two years I've posted some sort of log ... some long, some short, some with nice pics, some not. What I set out to do with this blog was a combination of things I suppose: I wanted to keep some sort of record of what was going on in the garden and beyond its narrow walls; I wanted to convey some of the wonder I think we can all find in the quotidian, if only we choose or remember to look and to see; I wanted to convey to my two lovely sons some of the things that are important to me, that are not really relevant to them now, but may be in years to come; I wanted to see if I could stick to the discipline of making a weblog entry every week; I wanted to flex the writing muscle a bit.

In the two years I think I've accomplished some of what I set out to do, some of the time. But I worry now that the words are running out. Could this be that since I'm spending more of my (precious) 'spare' time drawing and thinking in a visual way that I'm finding the words harder to find? Could it be also that any seasonal blog is going to start repeating itself, all the more so when it's coming from a small space, and maybe that's just not satisfying? And then there's the fact that this is a bit of a duck-billed platypus of a blog: it's not about one thing, it's about bits and pieces--my garden, the natural world, poems, music, science, drawing--and so it hasn't found its niche really. So-o-o, I'm wondering whether I shall continue. Over the next few weeks as I finish out the two years, I'll have a bit of a think about it.

Have a good week all.