After my exhausting battle with language in the last post I thought, maybe, that I, along with any readers who follow this blog sequentially, needed a bit of a lie-down. Unfortunately most readers clearly don’t read it sequentially and so a very long and slowly unfolding idea will only be found by searching on the tag “green spirituality”.
I just need to add one further dimension to a rather one-sided discussion by suggesting that the aesthetic is, in a peculiar way, another sense to add to the five more commonly accepted ones – sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell. At its most basic, the aesthetic embraces all of the five, and often makes sense where the logical mind fails. I never could understand Madame’s passion for art until (I was nineteen and she was fifteen) I suddenly got it in front of a semi abstract painting of the back of a Georgian terrace in the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. My conversion felt like a several gigabyte data dump constituting the key, and taught me in an instant the difference between seeing and beholding. That’s all I wanted to add to the previous post. If our unconscious minds really are structured like a language then the language is more likely to be musical, poetic or artistic than logical and scientific. To drag an ancient canard out of the confit, truth is beauty and beauty is truth – ask any mathematician.
Anyway one of the most visible plants around down here at the moment checks in at best part of six feet tall; it’s Charlock and in terms of beauty it’s way down the scale. The Book of Stace describes it as an archaeophyte and denizen. I had to look denizen up and it’s a plant that can compete with native plants and generally act as if it is a native. For goodness sake don’t let the Daily Mail get hold of this information or they’ll be organizing vigilante Charlock squads.
So Charlock is no beauty and yet if you should want to distinguish it from its multitude of close cousins who have been stowing away on grain ships since Roman times in order to pollute our pristine land with foreign genes; one thing you can do is stroke the stem and the leaves and if it’s five or six feet tall, let the sense of touch flush it out. It’s very bristly and rough. You have to look at the sepals – the tiny little leaves poking out directly beneath the flowers (which should be yellow) and if they stick out at right angles you can toss your head in disdain at this wretched jumped up weed. Or alternatively you could say “Good luck mate, I wish I had half your energy” .
I much prefer talking to plants and birds because there’s always the possibility of a silent conversation beginning, and who knows where that will lead? These moments of intense contemplation can be almost erotic in their intensity. I’ve spent days trying to capture the texture and form of a single Hyacinth blossom in watercolour. In the early days of my artistic adventures I remember seeing a drawing of Clevedon Pier by Peter Lanyon; a completely relaxed charcoal line that perfectly expressed the pier in a way that a prissy architect’s drawing could never have achieved.
So never neglect the aesthetic power of plants and flowers. They don’t have to be rare. I suppose there is a bit of the trainspotter in all of us, but the pleasure of finding (top left clockwise) Kidney Vetch and Sea Carrot growing in full spring colours was only marginally less than finding the Spring Squill and the Cut Leaf Cranesbill; or the little pathside explosion of Primrose, Buttercup, Soft Shield Fern and Ivy; the Cuckoo Flowers which I climbed over a fence to photograph and found a couple of hours later had all been mown off. A little bereavement. And then, finally the Pale Flax whose flower is so intense that you could spend an afternoon gazing into its depths and pondering how long it is since it was part of a valuable cloth industry.
So it’s been a wonderful couple of weeks. Yesterday we were sitting outside the campervan drinking a cup of tea and we recorded no less than seven birds strutting their stuff nearby. We heard a Robin, a Blackbird, House Sparrows, a Dunnock, a Wren, a remarkably faint Curlew, and the usual garrulous cries of Crows, Magpies and Jackdaws. During our walk we watched House Martins scooping mud up from a drying puddle to build their nests and saw sparrows having a noisy dust bath on the tinder dry coast path. All this on a day that I completely failed to find a single Sea Spleenwort after thrashing sweatily along every cliff and sea facing Cornish wall I could find – in spite of all my attempts to research it beforehand. That’s the other thing about nature: it’s always surprising.