Thursday, 18 March 2010

Dusting off

I've not been writing for a few reasons. One is that I've been discouraged and disheartened and haven't had much to say. The other, more recent, one is that every time I sit down to blog, not only have I nothing to say, but I think of how I should be preparing for my essay instead. So, in the spirit of spring, re-emerging after a winter hibernation, I'm attempting to pick this back up on a more regular basis. The challenge will be to come up with something interesting to say or an interesting way to say something. Maybe I shouldn't worry about that and just write.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

I am what I eat.

I am celery from Spain, beef from Ireland, orphaned carrots from a plastic lined bin. I am a single green bell pepper chaperoned by two beautiful Israeli red bell peppers; I come from Holland. There's an age difference and we don't speak the same language, but it doesn't matter. I'm a Dutch cucumber portion sweating in a bag. I am authentic Italian penne pasta made in Italy for a British supermarket chain; I am not suitable for microwave. I am imported Parmesan cheese. I am the happy egg company medium, British free range eggs from brown ear-lobed hens. I am of world class quality and grown in environmental and responsible ways. I am the occasional square of Rainforest Alliance Certified chocolate. I am a carefully-selected-from-a-dizzying-amount-of-options, multi-national concoction representing maximum choice on a sliding scale of price and down to earth value. I am red kidney beans in a tin. I am a purloined onion from a bag under the counter (sorry, flatmate). I am half a toasted loaf of Warburton's seeded batch, baked sandwiched between other loafs for extra softness and sprinkled with linseed, millet, poppy, sunflower, and sesame seed. I'm a dash of olive oil spread. I am chunky peanut butter because it's 15 pence cheaper than smooth. I am not a banana due to delays in just-in-time shipments caused by a broken down lorry. I am a big bowl of Halal and Kosher certified Kellogg's Bran Flakes (an extra special treat no longer available in the United States), food of my childhood, drenched in store branch organic unsweetened soy milk at 7:30 every morning and sometimes for dessert. To top it off, I am the better part of 340 grams of Essex-made Tip Tree "Tiny Tip" Raspberry conserve that may or may not have come from berries grown in Essex.

Saturday, 6 March 2010


On our field trip the other day my tutor remarked that I had a special kind of perspective not being from around here. At the time, I said it was just a different perspective. It's been challenging at times to figure out what's going on, to not know the trees or the places or any thing around the places I've been reading about. It has, in so many ways, been starting from scratch. I don't think it's any kind of advantage and upon further reflection, I think it actually puts me at a disadvantage. These places I've been reading about and visiting have no meaning for me. I know nothing about them, I have no connection with them, no prior anything. So I have to construct things. That takes a lot of work, a lifetime, you might say. I remember the first week hearing about our trip to Orford Ness. That meant nothing to me. It was a fine place to visit, fascinating to hear Rob speak about it, fun to wander about, but at the end of the field trip I left the island. I could take it or leave it. I can make something of it, or it can be a place I visited once. After this course, I will leave England and while my knowledge of the country and in particular East Anglia will be greater than it was before I came, I don't know what that will mean for me. I won't have the opportunity to see these places, to pass by them, to hear about them, to visit them. In some ways, that makes me a tourist here--just passing through. I don't think I have the advantage. At least, not in the way this course has been taught. If anything, it's a constant game of playing catch up and then still missing out on things.

Every day something new

I think spring, more than the other seasons, is a time of great change. From one day to the next things are new and different. A daffodil plant sticking up through the dirt one day, a bud the next. Snow drops just sprouting today, crocuses tomorrow. I enjoy seeing these changes take place. They give me hope, along with the lengthening of the days that warmer weather is coming. I can't wait for daffodils, tulips, and buttercups. I hope to see bluebells and nightingales and all of the other good things that come with spring and summer.

Arger Fen

Finally a field trip to see some trees! The coast is fine and all and I enjoy hearing different perspectives about it, but there's nothing like the calming nature of a group of trees. There's something about them that lets me breathe a little more deeply. I felt at home. Standing amongst their trunks, looking up into their branches, I finally found with my people. The bird sounds, the wind in the tree tops, the way light filters through -- heaven!

This week's field trip was lead by Richard Mabey -- fellow tree lover. After reading the first few chapters of Beechcomings and the way he talks about trees, I wanted to hug him. He gets trees. He writes beautifully about them and his experience with them. He tells some great stories, too. Like the one about the horizontal forest down in Kent(?). A developer wanted to do what developers do to a wooded lot and some people were trying to stop him, so before they could, he went at night with a bulldozer and bulldozed the trees down. A court case was brought that decided as long as the trees were still alive, it didn't matter what direction they took and so it was still a forest and the developer could not develop the land.

One of the first trees he pointed out was a cherry tree. It's bark has markings like a tiger. Some of the older ones were falling apart. He mentioned they live to be about 100 years old.

He talked about Arger Fen as an important place because it's in the process of becoming a wildwood. It is a formerly managed woodland that is being (mostly) left to do its thing. He talked about new practices in forest management in the UK. The hurricane of 1987 changed a lot of thinking on forest management. It blew a lot of trees down and the forest managers responded by planting new ones, but they discovered that where the trees replanted themselves, they actually did much better than the places where saplings had been planted. There's a part of Arger Fen that's managed in this way. You go through the established forests with it's big tall trees, foreign conifers included, and pass into this "meadow" area. It's open, there's something growing that at first glance looks like tall grass (6-7ft tall), but then you see that they're little trees, growing thick, tight in with each other. They'll sort themselves out as the stronger ones grow fast, take more of the water and sunlight. It's amazing to see so many trees. I wanted to frolic in them. Or go stand in the middle of the field and feel them move around me, move with them.

In the distance, stood the tall silver birches with their purple tops. Buzzards flew by the pylons. I saw a small bird hover and dive in hunt. The forest floor was looking rather green. The first shoots of bluebells were sprouting up all over. Saw some more mature trees, some deer, willows, crossed a little stream, went past a forest of conifers and then down the road, past a river that ran over the road, past some snow drops (lovely!), and to a picnic table for lunch. It was cold. My feet were frozen from the arch forward. I didn't sit down for fear of freezing. I didn't want to take my hands out of my gloves to eat. Only the day before it was sunny and starting to feel like spring. This day was gray, the sun never broke through, and it was icy. But there were frees and I was happy about that.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Talk by Ken Warpole

Wednesday evening, Ken Worpole ( spoke to the Memory Maps class about his writing. He spoke about the experience of writing 350 Miles: An Essex Journey (which he kindly brought a copy of for each of us) and working with photographers (Jason Orton and his wife). What stood out most for me was his talk about the importance of bringing together the academic knowledge with the nostalgic/emotional/personal knowledge/experience in a way that everyone can access. It's also interesting to me that he's so into Essex. It's appeal, in part, is that it is a place that's long been ignored and so is now up for grabs to be redefined. East Anglia has been overlooked for quite some time, but Essex holds a special place because it's left out of so much, frequently overlooked, looked down upon. It's often left out of the East Anglia region and it's not one of the home counties. That leaves it as a sort of stand alone county, one of the larger ones, one of the longer coastlines, and one of extremes and in-betweens.

He says he spends plenty of time on Mersea and sets out walking with others at least once a month. He's working on a new book with Jason Orton on the islands of Essex. There are apparently 30 islands around the coast of Essex, but his text will be focusing on seven. When asked how they decided which seven, he said they haven't made final decisions yet, but he's decided he doesn't want to write about Canvey; he spent a few years in his young life on that island and apparently is turned off by it. I think it's not so bad outside the walls. He spoke about the different ideas of islands, as retreats or utopias. About connections and disconnections.

Another topic he spoke passionately about which I found interesting was the destruction of buildings. He equated demolishing buildings to erasing memory, and act which he seems to think is sinful. He spoke of other parts of the world in which buildings fallen in to disuse have been restored or revamped to be used in a new way. This lead to his opinions on appropriate use of buildings. An example he gave of inappropriate use was an old prison turned into a high class hotel.

He spoke very well and interesting on the topic of writing about landscape. He feels that ecological awareness can be used as a structure for writing and that people seek information, so writing shouldn't be afraid to provide it. I enjoyed hearing him speak about the coastal bits because it's been a topic of consideration lately in conversations and in texts; his voice is a great addition. I think his essay for the V&A site on Memory Maps provides a fantastic introduction to the Wild East course.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Fuck the Inside

I think even on days like today where conditions are less than ideal and the second half of the adventure is spent not being able to feel forward of the arches in my feet the sentiment still applies. The out of doors is a wonderful place to be. Even when my lips are purple, even when I can't walk fast enough to feel warm, even when four layers aren't enough, even when the blood has raced from my extremities seemingly never to return and the smear of sunshine behind the clouds fails to bring warmth, the out of doors is a wonderful place to be.

Commenting on the superiority of the out of doors, a friend said, "Fuck the inside." Some days I absolutely agree. Yesterday was like that. Blue skies and so beautiful outside that the thought of sitting in some fluorescently light room for hours on end exchanging carbon monoxide and experiencing collective neuron death is repulsive. Some days it seems a sin to be inside. Even on the days that aren't quite as lovely as one might wish them to be this is true. And then some nights, after being exposed to the elements all day, after being drained of blood and heat, being wind blown and never quite warm, it's really lovely to have an inside and a cup of tea to come home to.

Monday, 1 March 2010


One of my favorite functions of water is its ability to reflect. Today was a good day for that. The puddles on the flooded earth held blue sky and fluffy white clouds and I gazed admiringly into them.

It felt like spring today. On my way home after lecture I was struck at the reflections the flooded grazing meadow offered. Lately because of all of the rain, the meadow has been holding water and at high tide, it really floods. Water flows up into the meadow and fills the channels to their tops. I came home, had a quick lunch, grabbed my camera and set out to take pictures. I spent a good hour wandering slowly, looking for reflections, watching a kestrel hunt, seagulls fly, swans swim, trying to locate a little grebe that dove under when it resurfaced, scaring off pheasants and bunny rabbits, listening to great tits call to one another in the trees, and delighting in the clouds gliding overhead.


A couple weeks ago, we had a seminar with Jules Pretty. We were discussing chapters from his forthcoming book, This Luminous Coast. It was one of the best seminars so far in the Wild East, and one of the most relevant for the creative writing they're wanting us to do because it dealt with the ever important issue of editing. We've been considering the layering of information in various texts and Jules let us in on a secret: the layer comes as a result of editing. So how many edits are we talking about? Two or three? No, think more like eight or fifteen. He also talked about taking criticism, the importance of putting a bit of distance between yourself and your writing before coming back to it, and not being too precious with your words. Good lessons in there for me.