Wednesday, November 29, 2006


I was in a wood of fairly young trees - sixty years old maybe, judging from the thickness of the boles. Most of the trees had dropped their leaves, it was empty and blowy. This was almost over. I was looking ahead, thinking that soon comes the jewel time of mosses.

Then right in the midst of it I noticed a grove of trees whose leaves hadn't yet fallen: yellow-gold. In seven years I had never noticed them before, or rather, I suppose I'd mistaken them for more beeches because they had smooth, grey bark; the leaves began thirty feet above my head. It was only now, when the beeches were leafless, that they briefly stood out: and in fact they were hornbeams, the leaves double-toothed like a bucksaw*. The gradation in autumn is green, yellow, and finally what my book appropriately calls "old gold"; on closer examination, what happens is the main area of the leaf stays yellow but the veins turn chestnut brown.

Now I noticed the subtle brown stripes on the bark, and how the boles snaked their way up. It was raining again and I moved on. Through the wood's veils I still made out that hornbeam orchard. (They were communing in undertones, like when a party starts to break up and you gravitate back to the people you remember arriving with.)



"double-toothed like a bucksaw"

This kind of thing passes muster among the arty set, but a doubly-serrate leaf-margin is altogether different from the sort of arrangement that you have on a bow-saw blade designed for rough logging.

The raker teeth are designed to clear out debris from the channel ripped by the more familiar cutter teeth; therefore are at, or sometimes slightly below, the same level as the cutters. There are no serrated serratures as there are on elms and hornbeams.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

my favourite links

These are all in my Links down the side, as well.

I've just discovered Mairéad Byrne's "Heaven" which is instantly in my top ten. I've also added Jenny Allan's Intermittent Voices which is good for meditating.

News on some of the others:

Daniel Silliman's Blog can now be supplemented by reading his journalism - crime stories and a weekly column - it's all online and you can get to it from the blog.

rb's original "such stuff" site is now cut adrift and in slow orbit. Instead, set your Favorite to for the daily zing.

Johannes Göransson scrapped his first blog but hasn't scrapped this one yet.

Yves Rochereau's blog has just got this great joy of thinking and seeing things.

It's difficult to explain why I like my favourite sites, and that's why.

Portal to another world: Alan Marshfield's Nature of Things is one of those sites I don't want anyone to know I like but there's so much to look at and I keep getting drawn back.

[ The only thing I've written recently for Intercapillary Space is this review of Jessica Smith's Organic Furniture Cellar. More soon I hope, but in the mean time check out Emily Critchley's essay and the new eBook series and all the other stuff. ]


Since writing this I've also managed to finish this review of Cathal Ó Searcaigh in translation, with some notes on the Irish language. If the Irish letters come up looking all wrong at first, then pressing F5 seems to sort it out.

Anny Ballardini has put her Poetry Blogs paper online. It includes questionnaire-responses from various people, including me and Mairéad Byrne but, very sadly, not kari edwards.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Stored theings

Outside the very roadways rinsed, leafbaby rosettes
stand scout-guard by the dingy skeleton banners of not so long
and it's Dunkirk & bugle, water rushing down. A basin of winter suds plunges the air
into skating, all black the trees and brick places
from which serene children emerge whistling and loitering: how warm and peaceful it must be in those fine blocky homes.

I need this, what you preserve

You keep rows of jam to eat, pickled eggs, old wines to drink; because I know their end, because I perceive them not as finished but as yet-to-be-consumed, the glass still sparkles, it's pleasant to look at them.

But it's different to open my own stores:

photographs, stationery, letters, sea-shells, ribbons, old felt-tips
that I only ever uncap to check if they still make a mark, games I've never played, brass rubbings I've never rubbed, projects I never started, essays never chucked, clothes never worn, and a fur of dust on the lids.

Stored theings, hardly ever to be unstored or brought back into use.

Stored theings whose main theing that they now do, the only theing they do that is is thoroughly tangible, is to be stores. [They show their age in rather a different way than I anticipated: what person under thirty today would have letters? Who has felt-tip pens, diaries, floppy disks, negatives, tapes?] So far as needing new shelves is concerned, or lumbering them in PC boxes to a new roost, this I don't mind. It's when I try and get the precious theing to do what it was for, that's when I know that I don't really even want to try.

They used to be fun. How often when time
was infinite I spent a rich evening
among her letters, or my clever writings

I listened, but now I'm depressed by a different sound:
that futility they seem to all have, the out-of-date voices,
the unrealized picture, the desperately mortal fragments that are only being held up
out of the drain of winter for a reason that I now need time to understand
and that, instead, I respect.

Did I put them aside, marking them as ever-precious to me, in order for them to be respected?

How can I get there now, into the muffled, incompetent snap that betrays so much more than it expresses? Through whose poor composition and murk and economy format the most remarkable thing is the dazzling smooth skins of those sauntering people who didn't know how to dress and who unwitnessed stepped through the crowds though if you only knew oh crowds how spectral that appearance was would you have valued them any more than yourselves who were also ... : -- I of course never did...

Winter's work at night. The water gurgling in the sluice reminds me all of a sudden of my young mother standing at the sink, the water rushing over the willow neck of a stainless steel fork, and steam spreading up the window. (I was three and I had become a rebel; frightened by all the languages, jealous no doubt of all this new competition, I would now only respond to English. Unfortunately I got my own way.)

Will you ever call? I say my mood's going downhill but that's a cover-up. If I stay in the archives I'm frightened the ghosts will begin to speak. It's not only dreams that it's healthy to forget.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

autumn colours

I hope you're not yet sick of sycamores!

Previous posts have spoken about the wind-shrivelled look of sycamore leaves. It's a sort of no-colour fawn. It tends to be pale because the leaf curls inward, exposing the underside of the leaf.

But in wet conditions something different happens to the sycamore leaves; they fall without shrivelling, and may then develop into amazingly varied maps of colour while lying on the forest floor.

Like this:

A leaf like this is so eyecatching that you naturally assume it has a meaning, that it intends to be seen. Every autumn I wonder about this. We are told that the autumn colours of trees are an accidental residue, that they come into existence as the useful portions of green chlorophyll are reabsorbed into the tree's metabolism prior to the leaf's abscission. What's left is toxins and other things the tree doesn't wish to hang on to. They turn out to be - spectacular.

That seems odd to me. When we notice other brightly coloured things in nature, we can often grasp that this high visual impact has a function that involves it being noticed: flowers attracting bees, ripe berries attracting birds, male birds attracting mates, flash coloration (shocking a predator), warning coloration (deterring a predator), the gaping mouths of baby chicks (reminding a parent to feed them).

In Walter de la Mare's Desert Islands (1930) he refers to the wonder-arousing discoveries of science and (as an example) to an oak tree whose sensitivity to colour exceeds our own. Unfortunately, though he annotates almost everything else he forgets to do it here, so I don't know where he got this idea. But it may be true. Long after his book was written, plant photoreceptors have become a booming area of research. Light being such a critical substance for plants - it more or less equates to food - it perhaps shouldn't be surprising that they observe it very closely indeed. What they are doing is registering different light wavelengths, they are not seeing things with the help of light - what they have is not eyes with focussing lenses (if your tree has eyes, it's an Ent) but photoreceptors. Lots of different kinds. To get a flavour of recent research try this: Blue Light Signaling through the Cryptochromes and Phototropins. So That's What the Blues is All About by Liscum Hodgson and Campbell,Plant Physiology Dec 2003.

A tree could not see the details of this leaf-map, but it could in a general way detect the dramatically changed colour of the woodland floor. Or, since in this case the colours seem to emerge mainly after leaf-fall, could they have a function for the ground-fungi themselves?

But still, we have to admit that if vivid colour is often a signal, still there are many more visually striking things in nature that have no communicative intention at all. For example, a sunset. Though it seems to me the visual that just happens has a perceptibly different character from the one that some organism puts forth with communicative purpose.

Autumn is a time of year when the tumultuous, complex, power-struggling and rank order of plant growth is replaced by a different kind of order, impersonal and inorganic. This sculpture is often very striking, yet no living creature intends it. Look at these fallen larch-needles on tarmac:

If this is a message, it can only come from God. What I find particularly striking about this lovely script is that it would not be visible without the display-screen that we humans have inadvertently created; in this case, the surface of a car-park. This is analogous to frost-patterns on a window-pane and to the variety of weather-graphics that car-windows register on a rainy day. Even unintentionally, human artefacts prove to be resonators.

The swathes of organic matter that plants relinquish become matter for sculpture. Autumn is a winnower, a swirler of patterns, a clarifier, a cleaner, a grader. A healthy recycling facility should always make such patterns, too.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

story with no ending

It meant a great deal to both of them to keep the dirt out of the house. To her, especially. When she used a dustpan and brush on birch-effect flooring, then fleeing nature, sparse at the worst, rapidly thinned away to half and tenth and hundredth. Her breathing lightly elevated, she pushed the swing-lid aside and gently knocked the pan contents into perfect chrome waste storage. Then she grabbed the vacuum cleaner and whizzed the last pencil-line of dust into its inner liner where as she imagined it festered harmlessly with a cool pink pulsing glow.

This line of dust might be embellished with one red larch-needle though whenever possible they did not park under trees. The worst was shed skin whitening the chest of drawers and knots of hair in the carpets, for Martyn did not wish her to cut it short. Then there were cobwebs that invisibly grew in the ceiling corners, crumbs of toast and the fluff of mohair. All this she dusted or wiped with squirts of abrasive shine from the sink and surfaces.

They walked on hard-top from porch to car-port and car-park to work-place. Though the foot-and-mouth controls had been lifted they felt no desire to step off the tarmac. Shopping he moved like a dancer in immaculate trainers and lifted her slim body laughing over a crash-barrier so they could take a short cut through the trolley-park. Though their eyes feasted on the sight of new skimpy things shivered into slim gold-lettered shop bags they did not fear their purchases being sullied on exposure to their well-ventilated kitchen area or to the calfskin recliners in the living-room.

Butter pats chill
Swimmer you asked me a question gropes in his lane
my nicole my enid my hillyer my barrowboy frank monte carlo
Coarse sunlight blazer

It was while shopping that they relished seeing the pavements and their sealed geometry extending widthways, but later in the evening when they returned for drinks and friends they were yet more deeply aware of the brilliant solidity of kerbs and the slowly ascending travellator gleaming with a hint of night chill. She was driver since Martyn was having a beer and they admired the sapphire curved lines and the promise of efficient halogen in the dimmed reflectors of their parked vehicle lathered in the car-wash.

And thinking of foreign airports and their wide plazas of marble that were perfectly smooth for baggage trolleys and the motorized vehicles of those unfortunate enough to be uh-huh yet nevertheless able to trip abroad. They were exceedingly fond of swimming and working out and were conscious of their healthy-bodied looks as of their cars which were ordered in a show-room for their dedication did not end in the gym but extended to the workplace where both knew how to look good in a suit and eagerly picked the brains of their colleagues in order to learn how to excel.

It was not that there was no nature indoors for she nursed the satin leaves of African violets in a glazed planter whose compost silvered with specks of water-retaining jelly was a full two inches below the rim. The grains of plant food left emerald trails in the water which she accurately applied to the saucer beneath with a long-stemmed watering-can. When it came to Saturday morning she did the crawl on the zebra throw while Martyn slid himself quietly right up to the thump and back. At length they sagged appreciatively, but she knelt aloft nevertheless from the bed-fabrics until he felt ready to disengage and head into the wet-room to rotate the clock-heavy controls of their powerful shower. They deluged beneath it hearts still racing and stepped into all-enveloping bathsheets.

Sometimes it was true while flicking channels a fountain of rally-driver’s mud would fire across the large TV screen though without any risk of marking their oatmeal rug, a golfer’s divot would loop into blue, or rugby forwards would emerge streaked from rucks on a badly cut-up pitch but these were not their preferred viewing. They liked terminators and bad cops doing a tough saint’s work, the squealing choreography of cars in flight, the horrendous threats of aliens and evil men, the eye-candy babe who does not stay right there til I get back or if she does gets taken hostage, and the firework warehouses and spaceships whose incessant chain of detonations signalled the finale of the DVD. At such a time relaxed in the week-day evenings small disasters would spill from wine-glasses and wedges of pizza whose sturdy cartons lined with greaseproof paper could not protect against every basilled glob of mozarella or gleam of diced onion.


Friday, November 03, 2006



(modelled by Monty.)


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