River of wings

It starts with a drip, a drop, a splash

as a handful of starlings zoom past my window,

causing me to glance up from the computer screen.

I get back to work, but then

the trickle becomes a stream

and holds me, mesmerized.

Pulses, waves of flickering, fluttering birds,

hundreds, then thousands.

I cannot help but marvel,

following them with my eyes as they streak past,

just one tributary of a giant river of wings,

following them with my mind

to the nearby reedbeds

where they will join, and dance.

Thousands upon thousands coordinated

in breathtaking choreography

until on some secret signal

they descend to the reeds to roost.

Outside my window the river slows to a trickle

For a while, small flocks of stragglers whizz by

just drips and drops as darkness falls.

Sleep tight, little birds.

A click of the shutter

I don’t have a waterproof camera

and my phone was wrapped in plastic, safe in a drybag,

for emergencies only.

And so I had no photos to share

to say I was there,

to try to convey the meaning of a moment.

But how often does a photograph really do that?

After all, there are other senses than sight.

So.

Bank holiday monday,

Coniston Water

the end of a scorching weekend.

Paddling south (first time in my canoe this year)

away from the crowds,

my arms remember how good it feels,

burn of working muscle

taking me further from the voices and barbecue smoke.

Past open water swimmers towing orange floats

who stop for a chat in the middle of the lake

unfazed by the deeps,

complaining of the cold water.

Past moored boats, and pine tree promentaries,

shingle beaches overhung with oaks,

until, at the south end of the lake

as yellow reeds narrow to reveal the start of a river,

I turn around to head back north and see

spread before me the calm lake

bordered by woods in the first flush of spring green,

low bracken-covered hills glowing

in the early evening sunshine,

the Coniston fells beyond, blue and slightly misty.

That is the moment I would have pressed the shutter.

But could that photograph record

the pleasant ache of shoulders and arms,

the gentle forward motion of the canoe,

the sound of water lapping,

a mind quietened to contentment?

One moment, containing

a sense of returning, of welcome,

a glimpse of childhood,

a farewell to winter,

and the seed of all the summers to come.

Inner Worlds

Imagine yourself

as an unusual kind of Russian doll.

A little plain on the outside

features worn away

wood chipped

colours faded.

Not really fitting in

with the colours and fashions

tastes and preoccupations of the world.

But inside

Oh! it’s like walking into a temple

There is a painted dome, midnight blue

studded with stars

And if you look really closely

you will see the stars are real

twinkling

stretching out into

infinite space.

The inside of this doll is bigger

than the outside,

like a tardis.

Time and space mean little here.

Rich fabrics and jewels shimmer on the walls

but also trees, landscapes

an ocean.

Birds flit from tree to tree

and an imaginary cast of thousands

act out plays, ideas, novels

while music flows like wine.

At the centre, not a nest of smaller and smaller dolls

but a heart, beating in time with the universe.

Images and ideas flowing in from outside

are turned, shape shifted, into something beautiful

or something terrible,

and this place goes on for ever.

Imagine this is you.

Now, take that shimmering  inside

Create

Project it into this world

say what needs to be said

Light up our lives.

 

Waiting for inspiration

I have been wondering where my next painting will come from,

When I’ll feel like picking up my brushes again.

I don’t force it,

Inspiration can come in waves, or drops,

It trickled through this weekend,

First, a glimpse of a dusty canvas,

A feeling that I’d like to play with paint on it,

But not knowing what the subject would be.

Then, brightening up breakfast, goldfinches on the bird feeder.

Later, out birding,  I glimpsed a tawny owl, roosting in a tree.

I watched a kingfisher, blue and orange among ochre reeds,

It caught three silvery fish while I watched.

And then, through my binoculars, a close up of branches and yellow lichen,

Mossy greens, rich browns and an idea takes shape,

The perfect background on which to paint

Goldfinches.

Landscapes of the soul

I went for a walk at the weekend in one of my favourite places in the world.  Through woods and along the shore of Lake Windermere.  

Walking for an hour or so, admiring the trees silhouetted against the silvery surface of the lake, late afternoon winter sunlight lighting up the trunks in shades of orange.  Ancient sweet chestnuts, deeply fissured bark spiraling upwards, the same trees where as a child I used to gather chestnuts with my grandparents.  Past the cathedral column trunks of huge Douglas fir, forest floor dotted with ferns.   And always the gentle background lapping of water on the shore, and the breeze in the trees

Walking through layers of memories, yet alive to the present moment; that leaf, that pattern of branches against the sky, the low angled sun on the root plate of a fallen tree.  

The sun set early, only a few weeks from the winter solstice.  Leaving behind a silvery sky to match the lake.  And the moon, rising above an old farmhouse, the smell of woodsmoke in the air.

Just an hour or so in a place I love.  Sustenance for the whole week.  

The power of place. 

A landscape of the soul.