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Nature's Palette: join me for a walk in the woods

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

Come along and see what I find...

There are some mornings when your sleep cycle falls out of sync with the alarm and it’s an effort to drag yourself out of bed, even on a sunny morning. I thought the best thing to do was to go for a walk to wake myself up; at this point it's still cool for May. Just a few minutes out of the house and I meet four roe deer close by the path - two mothers and judging by their size, two of last year’s young. I slow down and quietly walk on so they don’t feel the need to move away. Further down is the buck with his fine twirled horns, but he’s more skittish and retreats into the birch to watch me watch him. Turn left into the woods and I pass the headstone for Boris - no not that one, not unless he only reached 14 (although that might explain quite a lot). A dog guessing from the inscription; it appeared over the winter with a bunch of flowers. The stone is very incongruous here though it’s hard to dispute the sentiment. I’m not sure if it’s been visited recently; the flowers left died down to their stems and now it’s just a shiny black polished marble slab with gold lettering on the edge of nature.


The cuckoos who have been calling for the last three weeks as they gad about the tree tops free of parental commitments.

I’ve my camping stool with me today. I bought it a few years back when low level water photography began to take its toll on my knees and back. Last year it came into its own when plantar fasciitis made every step painful; after a gap of a couple of months when I learned that rest made little difference I took to sitting on the stool in the woods, and I feel like doing that again today. Through the fir and I’m out into a clearing with a three large birch trees; I can feel the warmth of the sun and looking through their trailing branches I can see across the moss to the hills.


Pricks of yellow dot the broom, a subdued affair this year compared with the gorse on higher ground. Down the ditch and over the stream; I stop as I always do to look into the water. Up the other side and through the pines and I’m into green. Perhaps that should be GREEN. Everything now is so vivid, it almost shouts. I find it a difficult colour to work with but maybe it’s just unfinished business.


I’ve taken to collecting colours since I moved here. My favourite colours and combinations are laid out for me by nature; all I need to do is sample. I see so many potential palettes popping out from the birch, the pine, the moss.

I can still remember my first walks through these woods, the opening up of a world new to me. It was before Storm Arwen rearranged so much in the North East. Successively each storm since seems to lay more low. The path here is little more than a well-worn deer track with trees to duck under and climb over and skirt around. I turn off and follow the smaller trails the deer make across the moss. It’s interesting to think back to the first times that I did this; I knew the beginning and end of my routes on the map, but had no real sense of the middle, and as soon as I stepped into that ‘unknown’ scale shifted. It’s an interesting and almost childlike feeling. How far in are you? How far you do have to go? Have I allowed enough time? It’s good sometimes to be turned off from our rituals, our clocks, our punctuation of distance and day.


Over the last few weeks, everything has been sprouting. There seem fewer flowers on the wood sorrel and wood anemone than last year. I met a new plant then which I had to look up; I can see its whorled leaves appearing now and the white about to burst out from a delicate stem. I thought it might be related to wood anemone but no, it's Chickweed Wintergreen which is apparently common in this type of woodland.


I try to tread lightly. I’m coming to the point where the pine trees thin out and the moss opens up. Of course there’s lots of moss here but it plays hide and seek with the heather. Beware of following the deer across - their sprints often spurt water in their wake. There's a little bit of cotton grass flowering. The natural regeneration of pine and birch hides a history; there are lines and reduced levels that look too regular to be natural and I guess that at some point peat was cut for fuel. Nature is doing her best to soften the marks that we make. There's plenty of work even here.


I can hear the cuckoo again across the trees. I can also hear the distant plink of machinery. The foresters are in the breeze as it comes and goes, caressing the tops of the trees.


I’m trying to sharpen my senses, inspired by words that I read. I enjoy putting lines together especially when they flow but writing too often gets put aside. It’s easier if you’re in the right moment or if you have a reason to do it, but what if you don’t? I’m thinking that like all habits I need to build it through repetition. Instead of waiting and typing or forgetting I’m here with my phone inputting words. Perhaps another time you’ll hear my voice, much as I hate that. Does anyone really enjoy listening to themselves or seeing themselves? I'm behind the camera for a reason and I’m still comfortable staying mostly hidden.


Around me are Scots pine trees, mostly young – ‘sticks’ as the retired gamekeeper calls them. In our conversation he counters my ‘trees’ with ‘sticks’; at first it seems a harsh judgement but if I think about the way that Arwen snapped even the larger trees in the shelterbelt perhaps it is an appropriate term.


The best trees here are the first ones, nature’s plantings, who grew character into space. There’s lots of vertical punctuation arranged around them: thin exclamation marks.

The air is clear here and there is plenty of lichen. I can see the pale dry remains of last year‘s heather flowers. There are times when you look across the moss and you almost think it’s coming into bloom again. Here are plants that I am slowly learning names for. Sedge that curl their leaves artistically, new dark green mixed with last year’s rust. Sometimes the nicest colours can be found at your feet amongst the fragments of bark and broken branch and deer poop. There are sprouts of new heather and amongst it reindeer lichen; such a perfect little pattern, intricate fractals of branching. The smallest sprouts of ambitious new trees are just a centimetre or two high. Pine needles. The sun is coming out again. I can feel the warmth on my back and see the shadows. There’s another story about the shadow that we cast, but here for a while, things seem more or less in place and it’s an opportunity to still a busy mind and take in the air.


I look again: there’s a small rhododendron beside the deer path. Patterns of sun and shade criss-cross the ditches that run through the moss; here they are shallow and give home to bog asphodel and more cotton grass - soft flowers, silver pen tops, on slender stems of green. I bend to stroke them. A mix of cloud and blue sky is punctuated by reversing bleeper; some sounds just carry.


I begin laughing - I don’t know if it’s the way I speak or the software garbling my words and thoughts; there is certainly going to be some serious editing to do.


Through the pine again: winding, jinking, between stems, past the places where the deer sleep, over the peat torn by their hooves towards the centre of a group of larger pine. You can see the connection between trees and cathedrals, the inspiration of this green architecture.


I’ve passed from a wide landscape into a vertical one. Oh to be a bird.

Birch dominate the next section. I remember coming upon this place for the first time last year. It felt a little like rolling back the stone at the entrance to a treasure house it was so lush, so vivid, so green. A small mound with space around a central tree, an auditorium with more birch gathered around, a few pine in the gallery. I wonder what party happens here. What stories they might tell. The season is behind the year, and this time the green is mostly on the ground.


You’ll think me mean. Where are the photographs? Why can’t I see it? But the records I take now are mostly bookmarks, reminders of place and context for the colours that I collect, the shifting lines, the softness, so when I put something together with these words, it won’t give you a clear picture. It’s more about trying to feed the imagination, to let you dream your own answers.

I’ve been sitting here for five minutes, sampling sounds, and I thought that perhaps I’d add these to my palette and let you paint your own picture, maybe step away for a few minutes from a busy or stressful day. As I listen to the birds the wind seems to rise and fall like water; waves building and ebbing away. I’m trying not to resent the unusual intrusion of machine noise. I haven’t even got as far as the water so it’s time for me to move on, but it’s been good to dawdle and find a few things to share.



At approximately monthly intervals, I send out FLOW to subscribers which is evolving into a medley of image and word, reflecting current and new directions in my practice.

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Guest
May 31, 2023

Michela, perhaps you'll get it when, watching your video, I thought of Monet and when he was in his Lily Pond phase; his intention was to convey the impression of shades and hues, creating an incredible feeling of how HE was seeing the colours in the water, not quite, but almost, abstract shapes and play of light bouncing off the water. And his lily pond paintings were really all about reflection and the impression made from his perspective. There's no sky, only hints of it amongst the patterns reflected on the surface of the water. I may be wrong about the 'no sky', but I recently watched a t.v. programame about those paintings and I don't recall any sky, only…


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michelagriffith
michelagriffith
Jun 21, 2023
Replying to

Hello David,

Apologies for my late reply - I may have missed a notification but bizarrely spotted your comment when looking in from the outside, if you get my drift, as I update my website.

Thank you for your kind comments; yes photography can often be about what something feels like as much as what it looks like, and with time I think we come to trust our own instincts more in that respect.

Hopefully you've been able to enjoy the warm weather with your camera - though it does seem to have gone from one extreme (cold) to the other this year. Happy wandering, and say hello to the Dove for me.

Best wishes

Michela

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