The Glen sun that rises at one end and sets at the other. Our wee group are coming together as Treepuka to present a Samhain Celebration of dance, poetry and art in our lovely Glen. It will take place on Sunday 31 October…Hallowe’en itself… the threshold of the coming year and a very special time in the Glen.
Grab yourself a wand of whiskery Rosebay willow herb let it guide you on following its nose you may play with painting a picture of all about you…
Conscious that there is a small window of light before the dusk falls I hop over the barrier into the Glen. There is a new gate, grey as shiny steel and crowned with trident spikes, who owns this gate but the council, opening up another pedestrian entry point to the Glen for them, its lock telling us so… I read this as a good sign, that sometime the machines they ride will be left behind and the humans will come on foot with flesh hands and legs to carry them, I guess the first they will do is paint the gate to integrate and smooth the transition – a rite of passage is required. As I walk on down I’m drawn back up to the place of the fish, but the verge mowings already tell me she is no longer there with her roe, and I’m spared the disappointment as I am pulled back further and see, for the first time, a ribbon of tarmac woven the other way across the path, is this an infilling of an older route…? One that would lead into the place I live before it was my home. Its edges bearded with grass as if to say there is another meadow squashed beneath, an underland. I look for co-ordinates and find a perfect tree, an oak with a bend, and an intermingling of leaves with another, a twin oak making the portal through which I see the dark triangles of the evergreens on the other side. This is the ground where I once found in a shallow dug out by a dog the body of a fledgling blackbird, and I feel I stand on a hill of small sacrifices. Walking on down I find the ragwort buachaláin unearthed and presented to the bench cementing my mood for the walk, the final encore. And as I pass onto the pitch I see that one of the limes is wearing a twisted bangle on its thin branch improvised from a massive human ear hoop.
I am heading toward the three stemmed birch and a catch up on The Millar mushroom (possibly, and if so, aptly) I found last week. My spore print yielded white, and only nearly pink, spores if you squeezed the imagination. The light is beginning to dwindle as I step onto the path where the council machines come from, I see from a distance it is not as it was, last week mistaken for a plastic bag, but there are younger ones, not so wavy, their smaller parasols splitting already as they emerge form the undergrowth. Each holding fallen sycamore helicopters, one copter has a tri-paddle form, puncturing the creamy surface with its stalk, I lift it from its piercing and place it gently down, looking up I see the white lightening of the twisting beech in the darkening lane, making co-ordinates. Looking back for the big old Millar I see she has spread her wings and her brown flesh forms fecund valleys for insect life, walking too in the Glen in the October dusk
Here is a beautiful poem I found today by Sam Garvan:
I love this poem because it summons so much of living in a moment that is made still <3
I take with me some Japanese Calligraphy paper, the charcoal I made from Willow and Alder and some waxy old stumps from a bag of crayon debris… all blackened on the skin but inside the oily grime is the colour of yellow gold and more… and so I rub the Gréine and Thoir and then Sun and East – a material test and it seems to work, gathering sticky yellow blobs with grimy edges on the fine white paper…I tuck away the rubbings and head into the Glen, walking the slope towards the yellow bench I stop to take a shot, repeating last night’s photo when, finding the gate locked, I had to double back through the park now flooded by street lighting… and here today I am surprised by a fish on the grass… another trout, so far from the river, something unusual – a spillage of gut coloured pearls – roe, here where I lingered last night… intimacy with this place means co-ordinates have a way of aggregating in charged clusters of happenings, callings, there for me to hear all at once and one by one.
There are trout in the Glen, fish that have thrown up on the bank and speculation about how. We can hardly believe we have trout, it’s a good sign the water is clean. But our trout are dead. So good – so bad. The water odor has been acrid, a parched mean smell sharp in the cavity of the skull, less cloying than that other one that tickles the palette, of laundry detergent that flows normally through the Glen’s course, and of course there is also the sewage, so often reported from Banduff where it rises beyond the gorse. Our tiny river rises only a mile away, where once we got stuck in the bog and laughed ourselves silly, and now, just downstream, has a whole new school of children (and not fish) learning…
A fish in the grass, a river course
Silver springs is the name of an area on the north east of the city…Stream Hill falls down into the Glen and Spring Lane falls away from the Glen down into Blackpool.
It’s Monday and I realise I forgot about the last Sunday of the month of September and a promise to the Bride. Feeling neglectful and regretting the creeping business of life out of the pandemic pause that kept me free in the valley, the fish is speaking in tongues and I am hearing white noise.
it’s a bright morning after unsettled weather, I enter the Glen meaning to make contact with the birches as I have begun drawing a book on the first tree of the Celtic Calendar and of the Ogham alphabet, the magical white barked silver Birch is the tree for the first consonant, Beith. I have forced myself into this in the need to have ‘something to show’ from my time on the project, and as part of a correspondence with Bec down under. As well as marking my entry point into the Glen, the Birch tree signifies my winter beginning running from solstice to solstice. I approach my portal tree and pull back the bark a little, exposing its pink and tender inside and, peeling off its morse dash scroll, I find it still harbours life as an earwig drops out. Last January, when I did the same, it was a shield beetle who fell. Impatient, I stroll on to the bigger birch with her triskel of silver trunks. I’m looking for material to draw and as i stand here with that intention I can’t help feeling I’m forcing something. I stand here loving her long horizontal arms reaching out, spindly from the dividing trunks, I am here simply as witness to the way she stretches out and holds the light an invitation to simply do as she does, be here standing in the light reaching out, I feel a dance a song a whisper an urge to join in.
While here I catch a glimpse of something under the beeches, that could be litter, however, moving closer I see its a massive mushroom, with a wavy edge and I am delighted by its trumpet form. It smells pleasantly mushroomy and leaves a strong buttery scent on my fingers where I have touched it. I put out feelers and I am informed it could be the edible delicacy known as The Millar (Clitopilus prunulus) I am delighted with the name – so apt for one found here in the Glen of the seven mills. I look up The Millar online and hear about its distinct smell: doughy I am told on one website, or mealy or raw pastry…ah so… I find The Miller is also known as the Sweetbread Mushroom…. another website tells of a cucumber scent. My informant tells me to test it by checking for a pink spore print. I come back with a collecting box and gather up a broken portion of it. In my studio I make a spore print on green paper… just in case it really surprises me with a dark spore show. Then I forget about it until a day later and I find the spores have formed a thick slick ground which is not very obviously pink, and so I am wary of it. I have been informed that the Millar is often mistaken for the deadly Fool’s Funnel, (Clitocybe rivulosa) which yields a white print.
This is not the Glen, but a response to river sounds and echoes in the flow, surface and depth, the here and now reaching out to a connection with passing through, feelings about rivers…water under the bridge
FotG met for our last Sunday of the month clean up in the Glen, after a break in July. There wasn’t much cleaning up to be done, any persistent rubbish is layered below the growth right now, and the surface stuff is under control. So we decide to shift our movements next month West to The Bride.
The Glen river runs into The Bride. They meet in Blackpool, conjoined they flow together as the tiny River Kiln before spilling into The Lee and heading Eastwards to the sea at Cork Harbour. The part where Glen meets Bride happens under the city ground and there are still some places we can see them move, gaps in the concrete.
The Bride has 350 metres of open air at Blackpool, where she is banked by mature trees, a magnificent Willow with her summer curtain of billowing leaves, tall Limes and Sycamores all grand and green majesty, they have at least as much Temple Quality as Seamus Murphy(the celebrated sculptor)’s Mexican influenced Church of the Annunciation in the village. The river is also banked by railings erected to prevent human access to the river in one direction and by a concrete barrier to prevent river access to the human development in the other. These demarcations overlap, and in the intersection bulging nappies and other bits of organic and non organic household waste fill the gap and overflow onto both sides.
This small but significant section of the open river is threatened by development, the plan is to transmogrify the interface between living city and living natural world into concrete. Concrete is the OPW’s default response to the problem of flooding in urban areas. There were once barriers in the river here, grills put in place to stem the flow of mattresses, sofas, bicycles, and other human waste cast into the flow of waters from The Glen. These off-casts gathered at the grills which, once erected, were neglected by the city council and soon the debris built up, creating blockages, and a backlog of water led the Bride burst her banks at the barrier at the Church of the Annunciation at the heart of the village. The flooding caused too much damage for the insurance companies, who recoiled, and local businesses were left in the lurch. Flooding happened again and again and so the barriers were removed. Since then the flooding has stopped, but there is still fear. The OPW have offered their default solution – concrete – cover over the river, culvert the lot, apparently it seems out of sight out is out of mind. All mature trees will have to go and there will be no more open river in Blackpool, no river bank, no visible river life, no otters, dippers, herons and other wildlife and no consideration for an ecosystem above and below the concrete.
This part of The Bride has been an important breeding ground and nursery for otters in the river Lee catchment, the females retreating here with their young to raise them until they are strong enough to fend for themselves among the male otter population. There are strong objections from resident naturalists to the OPW’s plan, they propose a Sustainable Drainage Sytem (SuDS) upstream to regain some flood plain and slow the water, and costing far less in financial terms than the 20 million euro concrete plan. The concrete plan already has the go ahead and the push from some powerful local representatives. Meantime the litter and household waste builds up in an area of natural beauty that is bounded and kept at bay by regulations on all sides.
I was brought here by Glen walker L and her doggie S, we saluted the heron under the bridge and eyed the tabby cat who had hunkered down on the grass for the afternoon. Boy kids of a variety of ages, some of them recent immigrants to Cork, were happily playing ball in the street near what was once the playground, now an empty and unpopulated section of urban play space, surfaced as far as the river bank with its interlocking barriers in concrete. The Blackberries that spill out from all edges remain on the bushes unpicked.
I have been picking from the hedgerows in passing and enjoying a tasty mouthful, not meaning to gather, just participating in a share of the abundance. I notice that the Blackberries are shrinking into little purple nuts on the vine and I so decide to gather some while they are juicy in the sun. Too often blackberries are lost to mush in the rain and this year the unusual expanse of sunny August days has led to a plumping and ripening in huge abundance. As I pick my fingers purple, their tips pricked with tiny spines, there’s an absence of wasps but as I reach out I trace the movement of shield beetles as they amble shyly away . In one bush there’s a flutter of wings as I disturb a blackbird and spiders have been slinging their nets every where, for whatever might come their way. Bramble vines spill from every edge, their castings prickled with tall nettles and thorns snagging on my bare skinned legs, sun drying the blood before it trickles far, hair switched by the thorny combs, I fill one tub then another, then another, coming from the West facing fence on the path through Sunview East, to the South facing edges of the football field where I also gather some of the plumpest hips from the Rosa rugosa, they are so ripe, skin so transparent they have the appearance of vials of wine, I go to the South facing hills over the ponds and on to the West and South facing edges of the High Meadow, where I pull in a couple of scant heads of Elder’s berries. The Elders are not so much in evidence and I fear they have been over picked in flowering season. I look up high and see some berries dangling from their parasols safely beyond my reach.
Back home with my booty I was thinking to do jam, curious about the pectin element in the rosehips I wanted to try out JG(the botanist)’s tip for setting bramble, and other jams – google informs me there is 0 pectin in a hip but JG insists otherwise. I gather some windfall apples from beneath my tree I chop the hips, looking out for the itchy fibres but don’t encounter any in the halving, one recipe for jam would have me scooping out the seeds, but I decide to leave them in, as perhaps these were the pectin part. I pour the the hoard into pans, including that tender spray of elderberry from the meadow, I add some water and bring the pots to simmer. After a while of minutes I scoop up all the matter and drain the juices through some netty cloth and leave it hanging overnight. This morning I decide there are not so many jam eaters in my circle, and so I switch to making hedgerow cordial. The pectin experiment will have to wait for another opportunity. I have made 3 bottles of Glen Hedgerow Cordial and I’m smiling. Bounty from the Glen.
We have had an extended period of late summer sun, really glorious. I am preparing materials for a workshop I am planning for the Glen in September. Since hearing about the Alder grown for making charcoal at the Gunpowder Mills I have wanted to make some Alder charcoal for drawing.
I’ve gathered both Alder and Willow trimmings from the park. I had an old biscuit tin left to me by an emigrating friend and I measured and cut lengths that would fit snugly into it.
The Willow flesh was moistly smooth and, after slicing a zipper like gash, the bark slipped off easily, leaving a perfectly formed and silken limb. The Alder wasn’t quite so accommodating, being a little woodier, it felt more like a paring than a peeling. I made two forays into the Glen to have enough pieces to fill my tin snugly as my googling advised.
I punctured a hole in the top of the tin for letting off steam from the raw wood inside. I lit the fire in the late afternoon light, using wood from an old bed frame, one of A’s bunks, timber that she grew out of, that later trans-morphed into makeshift shelving in R’s study…. so many transformations come to ground in fire.
I am thinking again of the Rosebay Willow Herb – Fireweed in the USA, Bombweed in London. Before the age of easy access to encyclopedic knowledge Londoners were suspicious of the plant, and a superstition grew up around the Rosebay Willow herb during the Blitz, as it grew so rampantly on all the sites left devastated by the German bombs, and so one of its many given names was London’s Ruin, due to this first major appearance on the London stage since its debut for the Great Fire in 1666. Others called it London’s Pride.
Rosebay Willow herb loves burned ground, and I’m thinking of the Glen burnings, that ritual for generations of Northside boys, to set light to the gorse – I believe in celebration of the sun, as the first glimmer of warmth awakens the radiant yellow flowers, letting off their heady scent and their promise of summer. Much as i appreciate this innate feeling for fire I was saddened by the casual burnings of last year, seeing the blackened and destroyed stumps on great cloaks of charred earth, on the edges the still intact but ashen bushes prickly still, but dead. Last year the gorse kept its flowers for the whole of the winter, by the time spring came round this year they seemed to have exhausted themselves and we got no real show of the fiery gold of the Gorse in 2021.
Now I see clearly the interactions of human and plant behavior, all that burning prepares the ground for a bounty of Willow herb; this year I worry about the scant burnings, and the profusion of bracken that engulfs the Glen Valley’s slopes. What will next year bring? I wonder.
I find that Ivan Chai or Koporye had been very much appreciated across the UK before the East India Tea company discredited it and pushed it out of popular consumption and living memory.
A wonderful post by a fellow willow herb lover – Rosebay Willow herb jelly anybody?
On the June bank holiday, after a couple of days in delirium I was admitted to the Mercy hospital with cellulitis from nettle stings and pond water, my lower leg was twice it’s normal girth, I could barely see my toes. Working with nettle fibres was a way of getting the connection back after the hiatus.
NETTLES and TIME
I have begun again with the task of extracting the fibres from the nettle.
Rumplestiltskin comes to mind
First one softens the stalk, pounding gently with stone or other blunt object
Then one splits open the stalk
The nettle kindly likes to separate into a few long strips, often about four sections
Pull a strip away
Next one extracts the pith the woody hull from inside that is not fibrous
You bend back the bark and crack the pith then you can remove it in inch long segments, here it is tempting to think this is useful fibre but it is not.
Then you have long strips of green bark, the bark is fibrous but tough
On the inside of the bark are the fine nettle fibres, they are white or palest of green
Best to dry the fibres now to allow for shrinkage, a couple of hours will do
Then soak, for a while, short or long, if longer than a day change the water every once in a while
i am not sure what comes out in the water, it could be good stuff I have read that the venomous formic acid in nettles is good some how in textiles (will get back on this one) so best not to oversoak
Soaking swells up the inner fibres, it makes them easier to see and easier to pull away from the bark, still it’s a long process
I am outdoors in the late summer sun and so I lay the fibres out on the bare skin of my thigh, they stick to my skin, holding them in place in the breeze till they dry and want to fly away
A rhythm builds this way.
Some fibres still have bark attached, the good ones are fine as grandmother’s hair
I twist the fibres
I twist them again
This stops time
The rate of production is too slow to be significant on any grand scale
I will not be adding much to the things of the world in this way
Time expands internally, takes on another dimension
Stills the world outside
I am in touch
The ancestors are around
How else would the girl in the story have conjured the name of that taskmaster goblin
*Formic acid produced by nettles improves the fastness of colours in dying processes with natural materials. It also improves the wicking quality (absorbancy) of vegetable textiles. Info found in report below: