Wednesday, 30 March 2011

In the eyes of trees and mountains...

   On this foggy afternoon, I have been looking through old photos of a winter journey to Turkey a few years ago.  I have been meaning to get back to work on illustrations for a long poem written by a friend of mine.  And so I have been milling around, looking for photos of towers, and Cappadocia is the land of towers.  Great towers built half by nature's hands, half by human ones.  Where a city rises out of the ground looking to me a little like the ruins of Bruegel's Tower of Babel. A place where stones shaped like toadstools stand in patches, and sometimes they have little chimneys sticking out oddly, pushing out puffs of smoke, the only betrayal that they are homes.  There are whole underground cities.  If you climb up into the old abandoned ruins of towns built into mountains, you will surely come across a few churches, some carved out of the rocks more than a thousand years ago. 

   And so I thought I would share a small few photos of the many we took on those January days.  I know that I am still marvelling over the things I saw in Turkey and even still wanting to one day move into the enormous labyrinth of Istanbul for a longer stay.  I loved looking across the enormous Bosporus to the other side of the city on another continent, listening to the call to prayer, watching huge boats on the sea of Marmara, standing on acres of time and place.  Everything there felt to me so monumental.  More than ever I felt so lucky, it felt so important to be one tiny particle in that beautiful city of many millions, stretching backwards and forwards in time forever.  And in Cappadocia I was again staggering under the weight of so much history.  I thought perhaps you too would be dazzled by the many windows in the mountains, the many amulets for protecting against the evil eye hanging on bare branches, that it might set your imagination rushing towards a little of the feeling of that place.

Friday, 18 March 2011

The Village Under Frost

        Outside, the night is falling and the full moon has pulled herself up just above the houses.  But tonight I will not write you a meandering little passage about the moon.  Instead I will present you with a painting finished recently.  Maybe it is the sister of a painting I finished about a year ago, which I have written about before.  It is true that the two paintings were started at around the same time.  This time last year, I thought I would surely have them both done before summer.  How to explain this long period between brushstrokes, I do not know.  


But in a way, this was the perfect time to finish this painting.  Last weekend's surprise blizzards and my absorption in this painting's wintry landscape have allowed me to indulge in that last bit of winter I was secretly craving. 


   I often like to set myself a tight colour scheme to follow for each painting.  Winter scenes are lovely for all their reddish browns, ochres and greys.  Bare branches and barren fields are very underrated from an aesthetic point of view, I think.  And I love how cloudy skies make colours seem richer, earthier.  


   The particularities of this landscape were heavily influenced by a winter visit to Romania a few years back.  I remain fascinated by that country.  The old wooden churches and hoar frosts, the misty strangeness of the countryside while everyone sits indoors huddled around their giant tiled wood stoves for warmth.  

But the setting could have been different too.


   And then, these hands you see holding onto these branches could instead be raking them across the sky, or pulling them across the earth.  I suppose both this painting and its "sister" painting are of moments a little like that.  


    I find myself wondering if I've gotten giantesses out of my system now, or if they will be making their return some foggy day in the future.  But this evening, I think it best to leave that aside, and instead go out for a walk in the lovely moonlight. 

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Mountains and Marvels

   Saturday morning some visitors arrived with the snow.  The wind wailed in sideways, the night fell clattering upon us, and we cackled and brewed up some dinner.  The evening produced a kitchen of vapours and rain lashing the windows, a table crowded with dishes.

   The next morning we took ourselves up into the hills, to a stone church with bright blue doors.  No one saw us come and no one saw us go, but we found a stone circle tucked away in that churchyard.  A recumbent stone lay beside the grave stones, unable to overlook the hillside for the trees.  I stood still for a second to imagine a winter's night, the moon rolling slowly across the sleeping stone's back, from one side to the other.  I tried imagining quickly the long, slow hours of watching its creeping stillness, like sleeping.

    But then we were off, throwing ourselves into the snow covered day and the narrow, winding roads.  We stopped and crept through an old souterrain at one point.  It was almost invisible at first, and then we saw a little arrow and almost right next to us there was a hole, a little square door that went straight into the earth.  We bent ourselves and crouched until we passed through into a room where we could almost stand in the pitch black, wondering what might sit invisibly just beside us, almost touching us as we stared without seeing.

But it was not long before our eyes met with a marvel...

   ...A castle that seemed like it had just come to a stop on a hill of fresh snow.  I just couldn't quite believe that it had been standing there for long.  It seemed like, unwatched, it could slide across vast spaces like a chess piece, or something from Kin-Dza-Dza, or maybe it could grow up the side of an icon and be carried around in someone's bag.

Here it is on a visit to a more humble castle.

And then, this is it on its way to meet with an even taller Sequoia, which had, itself, travelled a long way in its youth, before settling in the Cairngorm mountains of Scotland.

This fine tree was kind enough to grant my wish of two weeks ago, of mountains and giant landscapes.  I shrank to a whisper beside it.

   And the next thing I will show you is whisper-like as well.  In the snow that blew horizontally across the ground, in the deafening wind that choked and pushed us, on a string of a road that clung to the side of a mountain, we came across them.  Perhaps thirty or more.

They only stopped and watched us, they did not hurry away.

I am sure there were sounds then, but I remember only that a great hush fell on everything.

There would be no need to run, for creatures that can make time stop.

 They just stood still as the bare trees, catching my heartstrings in their antlers.

 And then, their spell cast, we turned away from our otherworldly meeting and back towards home, only stopping to peek through the gates and wild hedges of another castle or three. 

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

A staircase, a crooked tree, a dart.


   Today the clouds are running fast across the roof tops and the gulls pass the window on wobbly flights, fighting the wind.  Still, the sky looks like an opal.  And if the chimney is roaring and moaning today, perhaps tomorrow it will coo and gurgle with the song of the wood pigeon who lays on top of the warm, flat chimney pipe on calmer days, sending her music down to me.

    Wrapped in layers of clothing, it is possible to work all day with the window open now.  At least that's what I like to do.  The temperatures are between 6 and 10 degrees these days, so maybe this is something like swimming in spring as soon as the ice melts off the lakes... a lovely but lonely pleasure.

   On Sunday I went back to Delgatie castle, which I've written about before, and spent another day out with the painters.  It seems that I got even less done on this outing, only part of a sketch this time.  I mostly spent the day tramping across the soft mossy floor of the woods, or winding up and down the spiral staircase that the castle is built around, passing through the gloomy rooms, reading about ghosts, having tea and scones with cream, and listening to the piano being played by another painter in the ballroom. 

   The grounds of the castle have many wonders.  The walls there have, in places, begun to sprout horns.  There is a tiny mill pond with a tiny, stone mill house and a rusted wheel.  There are swans, old ice houses covered in moss, rickety stables, and little log cabins for the tiny, round Shetland ponies to sleep in. There is also a wishing well.

Written on the stone above it are these words:

Invoke beside the lady's well
This skillful marksman's deadly spell
Declare thy wish his little dart
Will emerge an adamantine heart

   The woods were a splendour of song bird melodies and falcon shrieks, and in some places there were so many pigeons cooing up in the trees that everything seemed to thrum along with them, like a sort of collective breath.  At the end of the day there were newly painted marvels to gaze upon (one showing tooth marks from a pony who had noticed an easel left alone and unguarded during a tea break).  Then there were bag pipes spotted in the back of a car, and a tiny concert followed.  
   On the way home, so much talking, looking out the window at Bennachie (Beinn na Ciche in Gaelic, "peak of the breast"), the tallest hill around, green today, all the snow melted.  

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Standing Still in Seven-League Boots

   The flowers push up and our legs are swinging out out over them, up hill and down hill, visiting our haunting grounds.  Along the way are curls of green in the earth and hard, red buds clinging close to bare branches, and in some places, pussy-willows make little bounds, back and forth, in the wind.  It seems like the air should ring out like bells, the same high metal note over and over.

We move through the cold places to be warm, watching nature scrabbling along in her brown twig coat, dead leaves for a collar and flowers at her feet.  There has been too much of indoor life lately, brewing plans and staring up at the blank ceiling on mornings.  Too much mental note-taking of the various versions of me that inhabit me, trying to calculate which ones are doing and which ones are resting.  And so I have started wishing for mountains, tall, bright places to throw lonely thoughts off of.

 Or to be very small perhaps, never to forget that landscape would always overwhelm me.  It is just a question of remembering, I suppose.  And trying to stop my one eye from looking always to the future while the other looks always to the past.

   But if I could manage all that bright stillness would I still feel the restless, wildness of spring?  

    Things like waiting for the first thunderstorm of spring, and running out into the nighttime city streets to be in the thick of it.  Walking an uphill street as the water rushed down past our legs, a river a foot deep.  Lightning and thunder flashing and rumbling in our bones.  Clothes that dripped for two days on hangars by the door.
    I wouldn't like to miss things like that.

   So our legs stretch longer and longer across the landscape as the evening slips off to a golden resting place, ducking out at a moment when everyone, dazzled, forgot to keep taking notice.

In the dark, we move on invisible legs through waterlogged grasses.  The wind comes in off the sea and there is only the feeling of feet and earth.  Sometimes I cease to move forward and backwards at once, and my eyes fall on the vastness of the tiniest of stars.  The wind roars silently through my lungs and the mountains would be useless, compared with the space above.