20 April 2014

mermaid's purses

back and front of a nursehound egg case covered in beautiful colours

mermaid's purse 
by freethinkersanon

i was also born out of the sea, out of rocky oyster shells and polyphemous waves,
under gulls riding changes in the wind. tied
to coral, to warped twigs in green light, cartilage congealed
into a diamond-winged body, brown above and ghostwhite below, and a trailing tail.
swimmers all of us. what I couldn't see from my point on land i connected
to things i recognized. it rained. water met water, a million drops disturbed

the surface.
but the fish only feel it when the waves grow heavy enough to drag
them into the air. they feel it always. even fused to their element
they breathe the threat

above. where
i walked gulls ran at the waves, caught quick bites, and picked at tidal remains. no
breaks. not since my birth has the sun come
through to here, and the cold water runs wild and foul abandoned
to itself. i never noticed the currents above and below that shook me in
the tasteless pouch of comfort and unliving,
my dark home. the light broke, called me to follow, and my world split and was carried
upward to the gull cries and foamy strings playing on the surface. i catch
it as it comes in

with the waves: a black leathery rectangle with wiry
arms at its corners. it's a mermaid's purse, still thick with the smell of the sea.

on the sand
nearby, half-sunk in foam and nearly invisible where it lies exposed,
is a skate
thrown onto the beach by an earlier wave, tail still
touching the tide as it goes out.

i skim the bottom while threatening shadows of gulls pass over
my body blended with the background. only touches of white where
my wings curl over reveal
me, and the waves protect me for now. i prowl for the dead, scavenging for leftovers

of storms, starvation,
and the hard black tides that strand and take back.
an offshore squall washed up blowfish, foam, and bubbled tresses of seaweed.

a strangled heron
lies spread in flight on a pile of driftwood, cracked beak pointed toward
sky-blue crabs clustered in a collective grave. a rust-skinned hook threatens nothing,
though it lies close to a fish still and silver in the gray light. all around
are fragments of sponge and coral. a string of bleached and broken shells has settled
into a ridge to hold
the water as it comes in, puts its arms out to the things in its reach, and pulls

them close. when
i broke from the blackness it was freedom, it was the beginning
of the new tide.
the wind dies
suddenly and the sun pushes through. from over the water, for a moment,

it becomes
the same sun under the water, rays reflected into sea urchin spines.
the farthest
waves turn blue then, as they approach, they change to aquamarine,
shedding skin
and mingling with white. they roll in. smoky quartz
carries the beat of sand against sand. they reach forward,
and water curls
over land, over itself. its edges end, then begin, in the moment when the foam reaches
the highest point and remains trembling in the wind.

nursehound egg cases. you can report any finds to the 'great egg case hunt' online at the shark trust

09 April 2014

the red scarf

i flick and swish the scarf as i do every time before i put it on. there is still a thin puff of dust that wafts gently into the air even after the vigorous shaking and swotting of the night before. i sweep back my hair and tie it tightly. 

a little while ago i was doing some painting and decorating work. when i started on the ceilings i got fed up with paint falling into my hair so i rushed into a charity shop one morning and grabbed a red scarf. it has white dots on it and is a bit piratey. 

last night as i lay in bed exhausted after pulling the last and most awkward section of the ceiling down,  it occurred to me that maybe i won't have to wear it anymore. i've got so used to it that i haven't really given it much thought. and then i had a little flashback to when i found it in the charity shop. i was in a hurry and  i had a split second thought that i couldn't buy it because it was exactly the same as the one my mum used to wear. there were few other choices. i decided it was the best. and i've been wearing it for building work ever since.

i used to come out of primary school and scan the rows of waiting mothers for the red scarf. i think my mum used to wear the scarf because the rain would make her curly hair frizzy. also we lived on a farm, there was a lot of dirt and she was outside much of the time. often she arrived at the school in wellies, a big muddy anorak with straw and baler twine-filled pockets. and sometimes in the old farm land rover with an open back. as children we loved this as you could lean out into the full force of the wind. one day, i kicked back a pile of fertiliser sacks and found a dead sheep. the downside to the land rover was that we could always get to school in the snow. thankfully most of the teachers couldn't.

but as i grew older i became self-conscious. i remember feeling so embarrassed by my mum's red scarf and i just wanted her to look like the other mums in the village. all these years later i've been wearing the same red scarf with as much carefree abandon, unconcerned by how it looks - just that it's a good practical solution to staying clean.

so after tying the red scarf i reach for the dust mask. my breathing sounds loud, laboured and heavy. i have mental associations of intensive care and diving. with the safety googles that instantly steam up, i feel that i'm about to go snorkelling. rather than waddling into the sea i climb up the ladder and squeeze through a gap into a tunnel of dust sheets. i'm above the alleyway and it's suddenly very silent. a thin film of dust obscures the outside of the googles and i feel that i'm swimming in deeper water. the sun shines through the orange sheet casting a strange burning glow. my head is pressed against a beam, an entire round tree trunk that looks incredibly old. it feels unnerving and unsafe to have so many of my senses obscured. i have partial vision through the right hand side of the goggles and as my hammer strikes the ceiling the dust thickens. i can't actually see the tools so i grope around feeling for them. the bits of dust covered lath look like the crowbar and when i think i've found it, i haven't. i wonder if this is what everyday life is like for a blind or partially sighted person. as the dust thickens i feel i am at the bottom of the ocean. i can only hear my breathing but i can't see a thing. 

later, when i come to shovel the dust into bags i make out a strange object amongst the debris. it's a bone. i've found lots of bits of bone in the fireplace but they've all been small. this one is much larger. i'm wondering what it has come from and why it was in the ceiling.

05 April 2014

cowrie of mourning

i found a black cowrie! unbelievable. i didn't even know it was possible until i read jane darke's book 'held by the sea'. jane is an amazing artist and film maker. her book is an incredibly moving account of her struggle to come to terms with the death of her beloved husband. nick darke was the fabulous cornish poet, playwright, lobster fisherman, wrecker and beachcomber. 

"we were then the only ones who went to the beach below, except for foxes. we never met anyone else there through the winter.

there's another way down, equally difficult, a slippery, narrow path runs diagonally down a long stretch of cliff at pentire steps, the east end of bedruthan. the sand shifts in and out. sometimes the drop at the bottom is a few feet, sometimes twenty five. the sea can move thousands of tons of sand in, or out, in a night. it's a good place for wood to collect. i have a 'necklace' shell from here, the only one i've ever found and a black cowrie, also very rare."

i haven't been able to find anything about black cowries anywhere. i went to a brilliant talk and slideshow (SO much better than a powerpoint presentation!) at the poly - 'oceanic visitors: from whales to sea beans' by marine biologist dr paul gainey. i loved it. he showed us pictures of the most amazing  things washed up on our beaches - and knew the latin names for everything!

there were BIG fishy things that come from far away places and are measured in feet! some of which have squinty, grumpy, crunched up faces, rows of sharp, crooked teeth covered in bacteria and come with their own parasite fish suckered on.... thankfully they don't show up very often (the chinese crab that measured 3ft from front claw to front claw for example!) and there were tiny tiny beautiful things too that somehow manage to make it to our shores from halfway round the world and be found.

recently i've been snorkelling with the hope of seeing a seahorse! i've asked lots of people about them, where to look for them, been warned they are so endangered that it's illegal to tell anyone if you do see one, been told i will never see one...... i was so excited to hear paul's stories about seahorses. one day he found a long-nosed seahorse from a boat near st mawes (maybe i've broken the law?!!!) he didn't have the right camera and wanted to photograph it so he scooped it up and took it home. it lived in an aquarium in his living room for a week where he fed it brine shrimps. pointing to the artificial strands of weed in the picture he said with a smile 'i even gave it some plastic eel grass - see, i'm not a mean man you know!'

paul was also a good friend of nick darke and showed slides of nick's fishing buoy collection. he is fascinated by the fishing gear, lobster tags and sea beans that reach north cornwall via the north atlantic drift. nick and jane made a fantastic documentary called 'the wrecking season' where they trace a lot of these finds back to their owners in places like novia scotia and maine. 

so at the end of the talk i went to ask paul about my black cowrie. he said he hadn't seen one before and that it was probably some kind of melanoma that had turned it black. so the mystery continues......

04 April 2014

above the ceiling..... below the floor.....

a mummified rat fell down with the ceiling!


i found these little 2 inch tall pots when i was planting the crocuses