26 January 2013

thoughts of lead and cowrie shells yet to be found....

there is a cloud so big and dark that looms over my family like a leaden sky- heavy and solid yet alone it will not fall.....
there it is above me everyday. sometimes when i awake it is pressing against my head, crushing my head into the pillow- i cannot lift it, i cannot fight it, for it is too big.
other days it hangs above me but i know it's always there.
on rare occasions, it blows higher and on those days i can't feel its weight and i can dance on the beach..... but i never forget it's there.
i know locked inside is everything unspoken, everything true.
thoughts and feelings belonging to generations are hidden from this world in this coffin of fear.

lead. i've been working with lead a lot recently. lead is in my thoughts. lead is on my mind..... and probably through bad work practice there are traces of lead in my body. though regarding this latter point, i plan to take more care from now on!

it's heavy, really heavy and although this may sound obvious i'm always surprised when i go to the scrap yard and want to see a piece at the bottom of the pile. but to me it's strange that a metal so heavy can also be so malleable. a large flat sheet of lead behaves like a piece of fabric- it drapes and curves and sculpts itself into a form of its own choosing yet, it can be beaten and hammered without much effort into virtually any shape.

when i was on my 'alchemy of paint' course we looked at all the metals, their properties and their alignment to different planets and phases of life. we were taught that part of alchemy is recognising the reality of the inner world and the union of the outer and inner world. another part is to reveal the hidden content of the world and the transformation of the invisible world into the world of time and space. we were shown a chart with seven stages of transformation- seven planets, their seven metals and their corresponding colours. it shows the pigments chemical composition and reveals the depth and origin of theses ancient substances to be more than just their physical colour. much of this important information has been lost today or isn't relevant with modern synthetic colours. historically, this knowledge was as important in the decision to choose a particular colour rather than just its outward appearance.

in this chart of transformation and path to finding our true selves lead is at the bottom and gold is at the top. lead represents our darkness, our ignorance. it is the most dense and least reflective metal. gold, on the other hand, symbolises perfection in mind and spirit, the sun, the source of light and life and represents enlightenment of the self in this particular elemental journey.

jung believed that an individual's psychological state can be assessed alchemically. he took the four basic substances found in alchemy (lead, salt, sulphur and mercury) as metaphors for the ways the personality operates in life. lead represents the dense depressive aspect.

so i find it interesting that i have chosen to work with lead- this ruler of the dark, lustreless prime matter and wonder if it is the beginning of a more personal journey.

today we were on the beach collecting cowrie shells and i was telling a friend how in the window of a little cottage on the isles of scilly i'd seen a jam jar full to the brim of cowries. i remember walking past it every day and being amazed at seeing so many. i thought how much i wanted to collect a whole jar of cowries too and so on the isles of scilly i began. it's probably not so difficult there as without really looking i found quite a few. but here they are much more scarce and you have to search. 

last week when i found 44 it was because they were washed up on the last high tide line. they were in a neat row along the whole length of the beach just waiting to be discovered. i was actually looking for driftwood but half way down the beach i realised there was a slightly darker wet line, no seaweed (which is rare) and glistening wet shells of all varieties laid out in a gentle wave pattern. my only disappointment was that it was dusk and the light was quickly fading. but i found myself on an intense cowrie hunt and became so immersed in the search that i was taken to another world. and it was one of the deepest contentment and peace. my hands were frozen and when the light was gone i carried on in the dark with a head torch but, i never wanted it to end. so if lead is a land of darkness and depression, finding cowrie shells is one of serenity and joy, up there with gold, in my opinion.

cowrie shells have an interesting history- though i don't think the ones abroad are anything like as beautiful as our local variety. according to an extract i found on the british museum website:

"the cowrie shell has been used as money in many parts of the world, including china, africa and arabia. in china, inscriptions which talk of 'gifts of cowries', 'cowries in the treasury', 'seizure of cowries', 'use of cowries' and 'rewards of cowries' are found on bones and on bronze vessels of the shang (sixteenth-eleventh centuries BC) and zhou (eleventh century - 221 BC) dynasties".

and, as i've just discovered, the term "porcelain" derives from the old italian term for the cowrie shell (porcellana) due to their similar translucent appearance.

i like these contrasts- a dark lustreless lead and the light translucence of the cowrie. i love the white powdery matt surface of old lead and that same white chalky bloom in the fingerprint markings on a cowrie shell. and that most delicate subtle cowrie pink is one i've also found on lead. it's quite simple, i love lead and i love cowries!

today i only found four (and a friend gave me one one of hers) and at this rate it's going to take a life time to fill a whole jar. but i don't mind and it's a natural progression rather than an active obsession.  today i couldn't help but wonder what we'd be like when we're 90 and holding a full jar- an entire life time represented in that jar. i've never thought of my life in terms of cowries before. but if i live to 90 i hope that seeing all those beautiful shades of pink will take me back to those moments of serenity and peace.

click here for a link to a lovely article about cowrie collecting by a writer called sophie pierce.

15 January 2013

arthur's beach

this poem was hidden in a little alcove at arthur's for years until it disappeared in 2012

a gloriously sunny january day.... i wander along the road past a young cormorant drying his out-stretched wings in the morning sun and head onto the coast path. it's wet and incredibly muddy, slippy and slidey, and although i hadn't planned to go swimming the sun feels strong and the sea is calling. i decide to head down to falmouth bay through the tangled network of little paths above arthur's beach. being winter and less overgrown it's actually possible to follow the tracks, although there are many  branches tempting me in other directions. i follow my instinct and arrive at a sudden slope downwards. there are three ropes tied to the base of trees that you hold onto as if abseiling. when one runs out you pick up the next and then when that runs out there is another. seeing that they're well secured gives me the confidence to lean far back and swing down. it's incredibly fun and conjures up feelings and memories of my rock climbing adventures from way back. when i'm at the bottom i immediately want to do it again and again just for the experience.

this route brings me out onto arthur's beach and from there i clamber across the rocks to falmouth bay. it's bathed in a golden light, completely deserted and i take off my clothes. i'm just about to run into the sea when a man appears in the distance. i hesitate, then run, thinking i can be swimming before he gets any closer.... and his nearing presence is the motivation i need for a quick entry. it's cold but not unbearable and i swim as fast as i can out to a solitary rock only visible in this very low tide. i think the man might pass but he doesn't. he places his bag down quite a distance away and gets undressed. he wanders in up to his knees, seems to have a change of heart and then returns to the warmth of his woolly jumper. by now i'm a tad chilly and he's busy dressing so i seize the moment and run lightening fast to my scarf, which, today doubles as a towel. i wander around in my vest top and pants for quite a while as i dry off in the sun. i'm fully dressed and balance on one leg to dust the clinging sand off the sole of my other foot with the outside of my sock. the man approaches. he must be in his late seventies or eighties and he looks at me shaking his head, "that's a messy way of doin' it" he says in a strong cornish accent. with his stick he points out a flat rock with a little pool conveniently in front of it and explains that you can sit down, swish the sand off your feet in the water and do it that way. i'm not one who likes to be told how to do something so i continue as i am, swaying precariously on one leg whilst trying to keep up the conversation. he seems puzzled that i'm not acting on his advice so i tell him that i'll do this foot my way and the other foot his. immediately he gathers up my bag, my coat and the buoys i found earlier and walks them one by one and places them on his flat rock.  i have to say- it's brilliant! it's comfy and you can have all your things next to you and the sand falls away effortlessly into the water and before you can blink the sun had dried your foot (well, not quite!) ....and you can leisurely pull your sock on and have a conversation at the same time, no problem. he looks like a man who's lived and learnt a bit. 

he asks me if i'm an art student, "cos a lot come down 'ere," he says "but none as brave as you". i'm flattered and we get chatting. he's lived here all his life and between himself and two friends they regularly cut back the network of paths. i'd always wondered who tended to them and replaced the  ropes when they became worn and frayed. he's a bit grumpy but he likes talking about his paths and takes me on a little tour of the ones that he proudly introduces as his own. we climb up above falmouth bay, his physical frailty and lack of breath become apparent but he mutters and swipes his stick at brambles with gusto. i gaze down on the rock i swam to and he waves his stick at things as if it were an extension of his pointing finger. he shows me where toads breed in the spring, we find a lone violet and he tells of his discovery of a rare orchid near where we are. he shows me a vast area of bracken and gorse and paints a picture of how it used to be when it was a luscious green field. there was once a big ramp for launching fishing boats which were towed down the paths by horses.

he mentions arthur and i ask if he means arthur as in arthur's beach. there is a big rock on the beach with 'arthur's beach' scrawled in yellow paint. it's been there for a long time gradually wearing away with every tide. "oh, yes", he says, "that's arthur for you. 'e daubed thaddon there". arthur is now in his seventies and isn't able to make it down to his beach as often as he used to. apparently he is known for saying to people, "had a good afternoon on ARTHUR'S beach have you?" and wandering off leaving  them a bit perplexed. i imagine he's a bit of a character. i ask this man why arthur named the beach and he says loudly, "egotism" and then mutters, "all 'e's got goin' for 'im". so he's obviously not a big fan of the man! he looks at his watch and tells me it's 2pm and he'd like to go further but he has to get back home for his cup of tea. and without much of a goodbye he wanders off in the opposite direction, stick in the air, bashing brambles on either side as he goes.

gull over swanpool

padlock round tree at the foot of the ropes to arthur's beach

getting ready for a swim

contemplating the sea

the moment before

going for it!

buoys found on arthur's

looking down at the solitary rock i swam to

being shown things with a stick

walking on past maenporth

detail of face of landslide at prisk- beautiful texture almost like a wasps nest

exposed roots from landslide- red as rust

old glass bottles uncovered in landslides

roots of an uprooted tree grow through the neck of a bottle

a mysterious rusty container on prisk

i found 44 cowrie shells at dusk- some with a head torch after dark!

07 January 2013

looking at landslides

my new year began with a swim at gylly with old friends in the sun - a perfect beginning to 2013. the next day we visited boscastle. we stood well below the roof-beam-height of the flood water marks from 2004 and explained to my friend's children how houses and cars were washed away. boscastle always reminds me of the power of a deluge and although not on the same scale, falmouth's coastline is now scarred by landslides. a couple of my favourite beaches are partially hidden under mounds of exposed earth and trees have tumbled down into the sea. walking along prisk fence posts hang in the air like giant pegs on a washing line....... and i wonder how many cowrie shells have been buried forever.

01 January 2013

song of the sea

song of the sea

and she whispered:
let's go down to the sea, the sparkling sea
where my heart beats in time to the rhythmic waves
and my soul soars high with the glaucous gull.
in this magical world where the sky paints the water
i hear my silent thoughts ever louder
as the waves crash on the golden sand.
i see my self faint and fleeting
in the shimmer of a well-worn stone.
beauty and truth slowly unfurl
with the incoming tide
and are shown to me,
for they are mine.
i reach out and touch them before
they are carried away by a mermaid
down into the deep.
this song of me
the song of the sea.