Summer in the lane…

And so, finally the sun decided to amble over in our direction and grant us a few weeks of what we could probably agree to call proper summer – by which I mean being able to wear sandals and occasionally bring out the embarrassing sun hat.

Things are a bit different here for us this year. Unlike recent summers when we’ve disappeared up to the Highlands with a couple of tents and an optimistic attitude to rainfall, this year we’re staying put – or more accurately – not straying very far.

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Not getting to walk along the beach at Balnakeil near Durness, is something I’ll miss, but instead I’ll have the opportunity to watch as the summer progresses in the lane. Already I can sense a change in the pace of growth. The pumping energy of spring has given way now to a mild sense of exhaustion, the fresh bright greens of May are now darker, dustier. The delicate cow parsley has turned brown and shrunk back, replaced by the stronger stalks of hogweed and banks of purple thistles. The nettles standing sentry are gradually being pulled down by the wreaths of wilting cleavers.

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In the field, the grasses which in June swayed like waves have been cut and bailed, and already a new growth of nettles, thistles and grass is greening the pale stubble. We haven’t yet reached the point when the countryside turns golden, although I don’t think it’s far away – soon the colours will change and the tired greens will be replaced by the rich reds and ambers of late summer.

High summer has never really brought out the best in me, which is perhaps why I normally prefer to travel north for a cooler sort of summer, but I admit there’s something that feels right about observing at close hand the slow changes as the seasons roll round. I’m enjoying it in a strange sort of way, but at some stage I’m going to have to head for the coast and dip my toes in the sea…

I do hope you’re having a good summer – it’s great fun watching Instagram friends post pictures from their travels around the world – vicarious holiday pleasures!

 

 

 

 

A Day In The Life…

There was a short series of programmes on the BBC a while back, called ‘What Do Artists Do All Day?’ Be honest, you wonder about it too don’t you...

The Discover group of artists will be staging an exhibition of our work in November and in preparation, we thought it would be a fun thing, to each describe a typical* day in our arty life.

So, here’s the answer to what this particular artist does all day…

Beginnings

Oh how delightful it would be to rise before dawn for an early mediation as the sun rises, to soak up the peace and quiet of a new day, write 3x A4 Morning Pages** to clear the mind and after 20 minutes of yoga, to eat a breakfast of mixed berries…

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My Grannie’s flat-iron, my mum’s enamel jug and my steam iron…

However, in the real world, I do get up pre-dawn, but then it’s straight into the ‘getting the girls off to school’ routine, which you’ll be familiar with I’m sure, (that or something similar). It generally involves the domestic pleasures of making packed-lunches, coffee, ironing, vacuuming, taxiing and if by some chance I’m very organised, deciding what we’re going to eat for dinner…

After that, my day begins again

I don’t write Morning Pages, but for me, the daily walk with the Delinquent Dog is a form of meditation and the time when I clear my mind. We take the same route every day, which is a wonderful way to tune-in to the changing seasons, watching subtle changes and feeling the immediate connection with the weather. It’s simultaneously grounding and relaxing.

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Followers on Instagram may remember that I photographed the same oak every day last year, an exercise that taught me much more than just how an oak changes through the seasons.

I pause most mornings at my Thinking Gate – sometimes I am actually thinking when I lean on the gate, sometimes I’m just listening, just being.

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The ‘Thinking Gate’…

I’m not consciously looking for inspiration on those walks, but I’m sure something seeps into my unconscious which probably finds expression in my work.

Middles

Back home, and I try to do the things that need brain power…

My trusty accomplices are the Mac, my Filofaxes, my pencil and my smart phone (with which I take all my photos – I don’t own a camera).

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And then, it’s time to stitch…

Stitching is wonderfully meditative. It isn’t long before I’ve drifted off somewhere in my mind. Most of my work is only lightly planned, with the details coming as I go along. If you’re familiar with the Druidic concept of Awen, that’s very much how I feel about inspiration and connection, which for me expresses itself in my stitching.

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I’m fuelled by coffee, strong and black, which I take a break for, every couple of hours or so.

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Once the family are home again, I slip back into the domestic routine.

Working from home can make it difficult to separate work from home life, and I used to suffer a lot from feeling resentful at having to keep stopping to change roles, but gradually, I’ve found the balance that works for me, and now I try to give myself entirely to family matters until after dinner, when usually I’ll have time to relax with my stitching buddy and embroider for a couple more hours.

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My stitching buddy – the Delinquent Dog – he likes to help me by putting his head on my lap while I’m sewing…

Ends

Finally, I’m an avid bedtime reader. I’ve recently acquired a bookshelf to go right next to my bed, which is better than having huge piles of books teetering on the bedside table. I have a postcard picture of Bess of Hardwick which I use as a bookmark. I love Bess, she’s my historic heroine, a strong woman living in a man’s world, a loving mother and a brilliant needlewoman – I often wish her goodnight when I turn off the light…

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* Obviously there’s really no such thing as a typical day – just typical elements, but you know what we mean.

** Morning Pages, as many of you know, is part of Julia Cameron’s Artist Way. Although I don’t do them now, I did do something very similar a couple of years ago and found it extremely helpful.

Tree Time: December…

It’s hard for me to believe that it’s nearly a full year since I started the daily tree project, but there we are, time flies and all that.

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This was the oak on Christmas Morning. It was a simply gorgeous time to be out and about. There had been a slight frost, but almost all was gone when I took the Delinquent Dog for his constitutional, instead there was an almost warm sunshine and fabulous blue sky.

But this is what Boxing Day looked like…

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Taken at the same time of day as the previous picture – just goes to show how huge an impact the weather has on the way you see things around you.

And after almost twelve months of watching that oak pass through the seasons, it’s really the weather and the changes in light each day that have held me most in thrall.

I know we’re incredibly lucky to live in a country where the weather varies so much, even if we’re famous for using it as our stock conversation line – it’s not difficult to see how it must affect us, when you realise just how many shades daylight comes in.

Over the year, I’ve learned just how ignorant I am about natural history. I’ve watched countless species of green plants emerge from the hedgerow, grow and die down, and managed to identify only a few of them. I’ve seen lots of wildlife. Squirrels top the list of animals, although rabbits have their season, and we’ve seen quite a few deer over the year too. Fox encounters have been rare, but actually my favourite, they seem almost as intrigued by us as we are by them, they stand and take us in for a few seconds, assessing us, before judging it best to run and hide. I’ve practically never managed to get the camera out in time.

Birds are even more difficult to photograph. We are in a red kite area, and from time to time, I’ve stood and watched them wheel around above the field, but my pictures are no use at all. We see lots of jays, which always give me a little thrill, it’s just that flash of colour you can’t miss. And at the moment, we seem to be seeing robins everywhere – but maybe that’s just a function of the season!

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But birds and squirrels, lovely though they are, haven’t taught me as much as the trees, hedges and plants about the passing of time. Even at the beginning of December, (2nd December above), there were still a few leaves left on the hornbeam hedge, now though, after the wind, rain and frosts, there’s not a leaf remaining.

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The 19th December and all the leaves have finally gone.

Sometimes, as we get older, we talk about how time flies, and of course there are ways in which this feels right, but having spent a year walking the same route, almost every day, stopping to look and notice what’s happening along the way, it seems to me that a year is a long time, a full and rich time, in which a whole cycle of life and death has passed, and already I’m looking out for the signs of life beginning all over again. I find that immensely reassuring and exciting too.

I haven’t quite decided what to do next year. It won’t be possible to walk past the tree and not take its picture, but I’m not sure if I’ll post them on Instagram (where, by the way, you can see almost every day’s photo from this year) and I think perhaps there should be something new here on the blog for 2015. But having amassed pictures from 2014, I’m quite keen to do it again and compare year-on-year. This, I strongly suspect, will be of far more interest to me than anyone else, and although I would one day like to be the sort of old dear who’ll tell you how late spring is this year, how the bluebells are early and how things were different in her day, I’m not quite ready to be that woman just yet.

Next month, I’ll do the January 2014 vs January 2015 post – just so we can see the full circle. I hope you’ve enjoyed the Tree Time posts, if anyone feels like doing something similar, I’d say don’t hesitate, ‘do it!’ You probably won’t learn what you thought you might, but I guarantee you’ll discover a lot of new things.