Meadow : the Book

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It did take quite a long time, I’ll admit – life somehow gets in the way – but the book of poetry is now complete! And while it’s not the right time for real meadow flowering, it feels good to bring a touch of summer to the dreary days of winter.

meadow book shot.jpg

I left the meadow with notebooks full of sketches and scribbles: notes, observations, poem fragments, musings. Then last year I took a week out to go through the notebooks and compile poems. In the process I became re-immersed in the meadow, this time from afar, and I was struck by a simplicity and richness of just being among the flowers, day after day. I hope this has come through in this collection.

 

I have become a flower watcher
brought to my knees to my belly
lie flat lie still
here with the touch
of light and weather
and the truth of daisies
tracking the sun

 

The book is just over 60 pages long, and has been printed in a limited edition print run of 160. The poems are at its heart, and  there’s a section on the history of the meadow as well the collection of flower names dreamed up by people who visited while I was there. Each book is hand finished with hand colouring on the beautiful illustration (done by the brilliant artist Kate Gilman Brundrett).

If you would like a copy (£10 plus £1.50 p&p) please follow this link to the shop page on the somewhere nowhere website.

oxeye daisy in meadow

 

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Working offline

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The meadow came and went, and the land is slumbering now, seeds laid into the earth, trodden in and fertilised by horses and sheep.

I am pulling together a collection of writing from the notes and recordings I made while in the meadow – I have not gone into a slumbering state but a gentle process of converting experience into poetry, a slow spinning of thoughts and connections. I will post again when I have the collection ready.

spider web

natural weaving

Let’s not get too romantic

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I was talking to a friend about being in the cut meadow last weekend and she asked, with a tone suggesting it was a bad thing, ‘why do they have to cut it?’

I know I have a tendency to wax on about beauty and stray into the romantic (I certainly did when I wrote ‘lie me down‘ when I was in fact, er, lying down in the meadow) but there is a very practical side to meadow life – it’s not all about dreaming and buzzing bees. So, for anyone who doesn’t know the ins and outs of meadow management, I thought it worth a few words to explain that upland hay meadows here in England (and in any other parts of the world) do not exist because they have been left alone. Quite the opposite – a meadow that is diverse and successful in terms of the types and numbers of flowers and grasses is the result of partnership between land, human labour, and well-thought out grazing patterns.

‘If man had not taken hay from meadows, or grazed the land,’ writes John Feltwell in Meadows, ‘there would be no meadows, simply woodland and forest. There would always have been light woodlands studded with carpets of flowers in the spring, and clearings of wild flowers …. But the majority of meadows as we know them today have been fashioned by the hand of man and by his beasts.’

High Borrowdale upland hay meadow

before the cut

With the origin of meadows steeped in history – certainly as old as Saxon times and more probably going back to the Iron Age, with the creation of cutting tools – Britain’s meadows not only shaped the way villages were planned, but also seeped into literature. ‘There is probably no other country,’ says Feltwell, ‘which has such a meadow heritage locked up in its way of life.’

cut hay meadow

after the cut

Meadows are still part of this country’s heritage although, sadly, they are more prolific in literature than in the current landscape (as I said in an earlier blog, it is estimated that only 3% of meadows remain today, compared to the 1950s). But where they do exist, timing grazing before and after the flowering season, and leaving the full growth for long enough to allow seeds to fall and settle – is vital to their continuity and improvement. Without this management, too small a number of species dominate and the richness of variety fades, in turn offering less variety to moths, butterflies and other invertebrates.

In a couple of areas in High Borrowdale where the tractor was unable to cut – marshy and sloping ground – and where I saw a rambling celebration of betony, vetch, clover, harebells and valerian among grasses – the lack of cutting can result in less variety. Keeping a meadow abundant and diverse is hard work.

Anyone fancy popping over with a scythe?

john Feltwell’s Book: Meadows, A History and Natural History, Alan Sutton, 1992

After the cut

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meadow notebookThis weekend in the meadows, the change was extreme. Cut low, the valley’s delicate face was pale, as if shaved by a razor. Vast swathes of yellow green seemed empty, but when I looked closer, the stubble was strewn with remains: yellow rattle cases, shriveled clovers, desiccated daisies.

The edges and slopes that escaped the cut are still covered with long grasses, harebells, betony and meadowsweet, all battered by the racing August wind that shouts life into them.

betony

betony

I had hoped to be around for the cutting of the grass and when I heard that it had gone ahead in a dash to beat the rain I felt sad. I was somehow attached to watching the cut. I felt it was an important part of my time with the meadow, and would mark a closing.

I arrived at the lay-by on the A6 with a sense of emptiness and melancholy. But I surprised myself. In the simple act of walking down from the road to the slow quiet of the riverside path, with butterflies playing light and shade above the grasses and dragonflies rising stiffly into the sun, my mood lifted. The Borrowdale Valley has never failed to infuse me with sense of peace and fullness.

When I crossed the bridge and approached the gate into the meadow, I came to a line of frayed linen canvases. They have been subjected to a particularly wet and windy August but are mostly still legible. I carefully took them from the fence, and put them in my bag.

faded bunting in high borrowdale meadow

Through the gate I paused. In the green between me and the barn my mind’s eye saw the fullness of daisies, knapweed, sedge, hay rattle, clover, sorrel … but they have had their day. They have shed their seeds and now sit tight in plastic black wrap ready to nourish the Wilson’s herd over winter.

The gates to the meadow are open and this year’s growing lambs are welcome to stroll on in and will soon begin to nibble and fertilise the ground. The valley is still alive with birdsong and the uncut fringes of the meadows are abundant. I lay down low beneath the heads of grasses and flowers being thrashed by the wind. Tormentil has spread, taking over spaces once covered in bedstraw. Canary-yellow vetch is thriving. Meadowsweet is spreading its heady smell (although you have to get close, with the wind as it is, whipping the air away so fiercely). Some yellow rattle has yet to dry and release its seeds.

I retraced the steps I had taken so many times in July, walking towards the derelict High Borrowdale farm beneath the sycamores. When I arrived, I felt a familiar sense of gentleness and peace in the enclosed farmyard (now a nettle garden / moth nursery). I pulled up a chair, sat down and took out a snack – a ritual breaking of bread with the valley – and then simply sat and watched, listened, felt.

For my last visit to the toft (farmstead) I wanted to pause and reflect. I must have been sitting for an hour, writing, watching the sky, staring at the single tree that breaks the skyline high on the fell beyond the first field, listening to the sheep, listening to the wind. The wind plays many tunes: a solid rush in the pine plantations on the other side of the valley, low gusts along the wall around the barn, soft rustles in the sycamores above. It’s enough to keep me, at least, entertained for quite some time!

Eventually I locked the barn door for the last time.

high borrowdale barn lockedI walked back into the meadows, gathering in frayed and faded bunting, rereading what others have added to it over the last few weeks. I took the herdwick wool that the bunting was pegged to and wrapped it around the stone gate post – it will last at least a year, if left alone.

I walked along the track between the meadow fields, slowly, my gaze taken to the fringes still rich with flower. I walked into the open fields, unobstructed, and felt them flat and sharp beneath my feet. Guilly (energetic spaniel), ran as if he’d never run before, head down, mindlessly chasing the scent of rabbits. I walked around the pile of black bags containing the meadows’ flowers and grasses. I didn’t expect the black bags to be singing – the wind tugged and pushed at loose ends of plastic, and squeezed into the gaps between bales like an insistent, curious toddler, making low howls and groans as it did.

sileage bags
One last time, I had to go down to the river. It have spent many an hour there, reflecting on what I have written, filling notebooks. I wanted to sit on the cool boulders one last time, listen again to the watery symphony, and look through the bridge which frames the river and the line of fells beyond.

I used the last of the wool on which bunting had hung to wrap a stone, and then hid it. This may last three or more years, staying quite still while the seasons change and the valley’s colours brighten and fade. I will be back to find it.

stone woven with meadow memories

Now that I’ve finished visiting the meadow, the next stage is to bring my writing together. And make some new paper – I am boiling up dried ex-meadow to combine with new paper as I write. Please excuse a pause while I do this …

 

 

Process

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I’ve said it before – the meadow speaks in light, shadow, movement, sound. In layers. I wanted somehow to bring the meadow into my writing – to let it seep in, as it has seeped in to me.

The summer rain has been relentless. The meadow can be cut any time after July 20th, by which time the flowers have laid their seeds, but there has only been the odd day of sunshine here and there since then. Once it has been cut, I will gather grasses and flowers and I will put these into a mix to make paper. I’ll also throw notes and poems I have hand-written into this mix. I’ll dry and flatten the paper, then cut it into smaller pieces and on each, I’ll write a new flower name and I’ll pin these, in layers, to create a 3D written meadow.

But it’s still raining, and the grasses and flowers are still swaying in the wind. While I’m waiting for the cutting, there is time to process what is in my notebooks.

buttercups shadow on paperI let the meadow make its marks. The wind was gentle enough for me to trace these.

drawing flower shadows

Then colour them in. I have created monochrome photos – without film or darkroom – that will become the backdrop for writing.

meadow shadows

I will overlay this shadow with fine translucent paper, and add my words to the silent memory of moving flowers.

A written meadow

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New flower names are coming in for me to play with. I will be making a 3D poem, mimicking the layers of the natural meadow. For now, here’s a peep at some of them.

new wildflower names

Names have been contributed by people I have met in the meadow, by children from Tebay school, through twitter, facebook and email. I’m looking forward to pulling them all together.

For comparison, here are the old flower names, taken from the ecological survey of High Borrowdale meadow, with a few of my own thoughts interspersed.

wild flower names

And my previous posts about names on this blog are here and here.

If you’d like to become part of the growing meadow, please get in touch. You can use the comment box here, or send a tweet to @harrietwrites, #newflowernames.

Thank you!

A new word

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A brief post …

I have learnt a new word from the bunting in the meadow. Someone, anonymously, left a message and introduced me to the word ‘petrichor’. Thank you!

bunting in the meadow

Petrichor means:

a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long spell of dry weather

I don’t, however, know what decidium means. Any suggestions?

New Names

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I have been asking people to suggest new names for wild flowers, and they are coming in – I have more than forty now. I will be bringing all the names together and using them as inspiration for a poem, and also presenting the names in a 3D format, layered just as the meadow is.

Please send your names in – the more names I gather, the fuller the meadow! It doesn’t matter that there will be different names for the same flowers.

Here are some that have come in so far via twitter and email:

Sun’s tear drops (Tormentil)
Spiked cloak (Foxglove)
Humblerose (Primrose)
Pink pom pom (Dutch Clover)
Fried egg (Ox-eye Daisy)
Freedom (Ox-eye Daisy)
Bee Heaven (Clover)
Pink Sentinel (Bistort)
Blood red grass (Plaintain)
Dancing Fairy Grass (Crested dog’s tail)
Happiness (Rough Hawkbit)
Missing patch (Wild thyme)

My original blog post about finding new names, with a list of the common names of the flowers and grasses found in High Borrowdale, is here.

Thank you!

Self-heal (image Rob Fraser)

Self-heal (image Rob Fraser)

Open Pages

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A moth arrives at dusk. It settles, an open page on nettles. Then disappears.

moth

Day time. Water droplets in meadow foxtail. Chimney sweeps rarely stay still. Daisies turn their heads to the sun, look every which way when it’s raining and blowing a gale. The river grows and shrinks.

The meadow and the valley have their own language and it comes in colour, light, movement, sound. It is a script of an order I cannot translate – all I can do is keep my senses open. Open for hours, for days. This has allowed me to read the place. And over time my own words have emerged. Some come as poems on paper, others arrive in the landscape, an overlay to its own wordless language. I have used shadows, pencils, hand-made paper, canvas. And in the river, I used water, stone and wind.

writing on stone

writing with water on stone 2

writing on stone with water

writing on stone with water

writing on stone with water

writing on stone with water

What’s in a name?

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Spending so much time among the flowers and grasses has got me thinking. I have been checking in books to identify what I see, and I find Latin names as well as common names – often more than one. Some of the names are as seductive as the flowers themselves. Fairy flax, cinquefoil, self-heal. Ragged robin, Yorkshire fog. Crested dog’s tail, yellow rattle, quaking grass.

If you know them and say their names out loud, you’ll know their particular way of moving in the wind, the tone of their yellow, red, white or green. You can almost taste the meadow breeze on your tongue as you wrap your mouth around their names. If you do not know them, take yourself out and let them introduce themselves. I don’t believe it’s necessary, for enjoyment, to know what others have called the plants before you. And I think it’s quite fun to come up with new names.

And this is what I am doing: with the help of anyone who wants to join in I am creating a new guide to the flowers and grasses of High Borrowdale meadow. I have been asking people when they walk through. The suggestions paint a revealing picture of the relationship between us and the wild flowers. Here are some of the ‘new’ names so far given to me:

Happiness
Freedom
Butterfly Candyfloss
Shade in the Dale

In order, the known names to match those above are: rough hawkbit, oxeye daisy, common nettle and sycamore.

I am gathering new names throughout July so if you’d like to send one in, please do. Or two, or more! Just add it to the comments. If you don’t know the original name, just describe the flower, grass or tree that you have seen, or send in a picture.

To give you an idea of what is in the meadow, the names shown below are taken from the 2014 ecological survey of the High Borrowdale meadows, put together by Heather Marshall and Tony Marshall for Friends of the Lake District.

red fescue ~ sweet vernal grass ~ common bent ~ Yorkshire fog ~ yarrow ~ crested dog’s tail  ~  common sorrel ~  common mouse-ear  ~  cuckooflower  ~  pignut ~ creeping buttercup ~ soft rush ~ measured from the Eagle’s Stone ~ field woodrush ~  germander speedwell ~ sharp-flowered rush ~ forget-me-not ~ marsh thistle ~ meadow buttercup ~ marsh bedstraw ~ brooklime ~ tufted hair-grass ~ soft rush ~ compact rush ~ greater bird’s-foot trefoil ~ harebell ~ lesser spearwort ~ heath bedstraw ~ white clover ~ creeping thistle ~ common nettle ~ greens uncountable ~ common field speedwell ~ tormentil ~ ribwort plantain ~ rough hawkbit ~ red clover ~ mouse-ear hawkweed ~ betony ~ autumn hawkbit ~ selfheal ~ bird’s-foot trefoil ~ broad-leafed dock ~ meadowsweet ~ rough meadow-grass ~ meadow buttercup ~ eyebright ~ oval sedge ~ marsh marigold ~ willowherb ~ star sedge ~ thoughts of summer  ~ marsh hawk’s beard ~ quaking grass ~ mountain pansy ~ sheep’s fescue ~ heath-grass ~ mat-grass ~ heather ~ common knapweed ~ lady’s mantle ~ lady’s bedstraw ~ barren strawberry ~ flea sedge ~ carnation sedge ~ devil’s bit scabious ~ heath speedwell ~ marsh valerian ~ bog moss ~yellow oat-grass ~ heedless of the wind ~ cock’s foot ~ meadow oat-grass ~ perennial rye grass ~ false oat-grass ~ meadow foxtail ~ yellow rattle ~ red clover ~ ox-eye daisy ~ wood crane’s-bill ~ greater butterfly orchid ~ ragged robin ~ marsh cinquefoil ~ lesser stitchwort ~ lesser spearwort ~ mint ~ jointed rush ~ cat’s ear ~ meadow vetchling ~ globeflower ~ common bistort ~ great burnet ~ melancholy thistle ~ soft brome ~ wild angelica ~  purple moor-grass ~ like children laughing in the rain ~ marsh pennywort ~ bog asphodel ~ sneezewort ~ great burnet ~ wavy hair-grass ~ bugle ~ burnet saxifrage ~ fairy flax ~ St John’s Wort ~ common dog violet ~ bilberry ~ wild thyme ~ green-ribbed sedge ~ opposite-leaved golden saxifrage ~ bulbous rush ~ glaucous sedge

a crowd of flowers

a crowd of flowers

My poem about finding a name for Galium Saxatile is here.