Posts Tagged ‘Robert Macfarlane’

Robert MacFarlane’s “Lost Words” and the Thyssen-Bornemisra Museum

October 21, 2017

In a recent Guardian Review article, Robert Macfarlane – the well known writer on the British landscape – argues that children need to be reacquainted with the natural world. In the article, Macfarlane cites a Cambridge University study that showed how children aged 4 to 11 were much more likely to identify Pokémon characters (80% accuracy) than common plants and animals in the UK (50% accuracy). One of the conclusions of the report stated “What is the extinction of the condor to a child who has never seen a wren?”. Other studies cited show that adults’ knowledge of wildlife is not much better but 9 out of 10 adults wanted children to have much more knowledge of plants and animals. Macfarlane’s reaction to the reports was that he wanted to write a book for children which might increase their appreciation of the living world, as opposed to the digital world of Pokémon. The reasons for children’s lack of experience and knowledge of nature is well known – more children live in cities and more children spend more time online than out of doors.

The result is what looks like a beautiful book, written by Macfarlane and illustrated by Jackie Morris.

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New book by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris (Click to enlarge all photos)

The article concluded with “The bird which became the guiding, gilding spirit of The Lost Words is the goldfinch. Goldfinches flit across its cover and gleam from its pages”. Macfarlane notes that the collective word for goldfinch is a charm which can also mean the singing of a group of children. Below is a close up of a goldfinch, taken by Harry Scott. This book would make a wonderful present for anyone – adult or child – and if you can combine this with a trip to the countryside or the seaside for the children, Dr Macfarlane would be most pleased. I have just come back from the beach near our house where my nearly 6 year old twin grand daughters saw oystercatchers, plovers and redshanks on the shore, feeding on what was coming in on the tide. So, I’m doing my bit.

Goldfinch

Goldfinch by Harry Scott

One of the highlights of our trip to Madrid was the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum which can be found opposite the more famous Prado Museum. The Thyssen-Bornemisza has much more modern painting and is less focused on religious painting. It is a very extensive art gallery, with numerous rooms and would take more than one visit to do it justice. I have always been impressed by the American  painter Edward Hopper and there are four of his works here. The first of my selection is Hotel Room (below) and what strikes you is the rather lonely looking woman, sitting on the bed, in her underwear, reading a book. Then there are the colours – the green chair, the black hat, and the white bed which contrasts with the woman’s undergarment. The museum has a short video on this painting which is well worth viewing.

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Hotel Room by Edward Hopper

The 2nd Hopper painting is The “Martha McKeen” of Wellfleet  which is intriguingly named after someone who took Hopper and his wife sailing i.e. there is no yacht with this name. Although the sandbank looks rather fanciful, this is a painting with delicate shades of blue, white and cream, with the movement of the boat emphasised by the undulating waves. I see a spirit of freedom and enjoyment in this painting, on the part of the humans. The seagulls look away, unimpressed and the small, bubbly clouds on the horizon are dominated by a clearer sky above, suggesting a warm summer’s day.

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The “Martha McKeen” of Wellfleet by Edward Hopper

I’ve seen Hopper’s lighthouse paintings before, but Martin Johnson Heade is a new artist for me. His painting Orchid and a Hummingbird Near a Mountain Waterfall was one of the highlights of our visit. It is a stunningly original painting, with its combination of dark and light and the colours of the orchid are reflected in the hummingbird. There is so much to see in this work – shapes, patterns, the real and what I see as the surreal combined – that you can find yourself standing in front of the painting for quite a while. The detail on the plant and the bird are superb.

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Orchid and Hummingbird near a Waterfall by Martin Johnson Heade

So an exhilarating visit to this museum in Madrid which is not to be missed if you are in the city. No blog next week as I’m off to Pisa and Florence with my pal to take in the sights and a football (aka soccer) game.

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Smooth tattie dreels and bluebells

May 3, 2017

My home county of East Lothian is often referred to as “the garden of Scotland” because of its rich arable soil. In the past two weeks, several fields around Dunbar have been transformed from being roughly ploughed and not very interesting areas, into mesmerising rows of tattie (Scots for potato) dreels (Scots for drills). The first photo was taken at a slight angle to the dreels and I love the curvature of the shaped soil and how one set of dreels leads on to another further up the field – and the 2nd set appear to curve in a different direction.

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Tattie dreels on the edge of Dunbar (Click to enlarge)

The 2nd photo is taken more or less straight on and the regimented dreels look like an endless set of brown piano keys, which might play a song such as (appropriately for this blog’s author) Tatties and Herrin. This song claims that the “natural food” of the Scots is potatoes and herring – and the video shows the reaping, gutting and barrelling of the herring (aka Silver Darlings). In the 1920s and 1930s, tatties and herrin’ were indeed the staple diet of many Scots people. Of course, in the 1920s and 1930s, before the advent of tractors, tatties would be sown by hand or by an early potato planter and they would be sown in much smaller fields, compared to the huge fields we see today. I have planted tatties in my own garden this year – the first time for over 30 years and yes, my dreels are smooth. When the first nascent shaws appear on my crop, I’ll post a photo

 

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Tattie dreels and the Lammermuir Hills

It’s May, so time for the bluebells to make their annual appearance and, for a brief time, be the dominant flower in woodland areas. A fellow blogger – Bookish Nature – has an excellent post on bluebells and she includes a lovely quote from Gerald Manley Hopkins and a clip from a Robert MacFarlane video, based on his excellent book The Wild Places. I ventured to the woods at Foxlake Adventures – as I did last year, to try to take better photos of the bluebells. The first two photos show the extensive bluebells among the trees at Foxlake. In some ways, the trees enhance the bluebells, emphasising their colour and showing how they cover the ground around the trees. The bluebells also enhance the tall, erect trees which are just coming into leaf, showing their mottled bark and their reach towards the light. In the 2nd photo, the sunshine has lightened the colour of the bluebells and strengthened the green of the new leaves. The bluebells will soon fade away but the leaves will get bigger and change colour to a darker green, so you have to appreciate the light green shapes that have emerged from the buds while they last.

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Bluebells beneath trees at Foxlake Woods

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Bluebells and trees in the sun at Foxlake Woods

Taking close-up photos of bluebells is something I find quite difficult but I keep trying. The first photo shows how the bluebell petals curl up when open and when you are looking down on stretches of bluebells, you hardly notice this feature, which is like women’s hairstyles in the 1960s. The vibrancy of the blue in the bluebell comes out very well here and you have to crouch down and look closely to appreciate this. So, next time you are in a bluebell strewn wood, hunker down and take a close-up view.

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Bluebell close up

For the 2nd photo, I had to hold the stem of the flower and turn it upwards. Bluebell flowers droop down, as if the flowers are too shy to show off their attractive pale cream anthers which hold the pollen. Only the creatures that scurry in amongst the bluebells, e.g. the beetles or perhaps a curious little wren, will appreciate the aesthetics of the underside of the bluebell. Seeing the bluebells in full colour and spread is a heart-warming sight, as you can feel the warmth in the colour of the flowers and know that Spring is well underway and soon the sun will have real warmth as well.

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Bluebell close up, showing pale cream anthers

Neil Foster photography and the Anthropocene age

April 10, 2016

One of the most common clichés of today is that “It’s a small world”. This week, I was alerted to the wildlife photographer Neil Foster by my brother in law Jim who lives in Tauranga in the north island of New Zealand. I looked at Neil Foster’s website and greatly admired the quality of the photos, particularly of the birds. I was admiring the 2nd photo below of the banded rail among some vegetation and how the photographer has cleverly caught the fact that the bird’s legs mimic the shape and colour of some of the plants around it, and then I got another email. This one told me that the photo of the band rail was taken just near my sister and brother in law’s house which looks on to Bay Street Reserve in Tauranga. We have visited there many times and it’s a beautiful place. The bay is tidal, so when the tide goes out, you can walk across the sand. One of the features of the bay is that sting rays often visit and when the tide goes out, you can see where the rays have landed on the sand and created mini craters. It’s a very unusual feature of the landscape. The first photo below is looking across Bay Street Reserve back to my sister’s and BiL’s house.

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Bay Street Reserve Tauaranga NZ

Back to Neil Foster’s photos. Wildlife photographers must be among the most patient people in the world and Neil has been spotted in a hide on the reserve, trying to get the right shot. My BiL overheard a conversation between 2 locals who were speculating about the possibility that the hide might in fact be the abode of a homeless person! The photos on the website show a remarkable variety of birds from various angles and in various poses and Neil kindly sent me two of the images for my blog. The photo of the band rail below is noticeable for its clarity – you can see the alertness in the bird’s eye and how its beak might be poised to strike. The balance of colour and light is also admirable – the pink beak shown off by the whitish underside of the bird.

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Band rail at Bay Street Reserve Taurangu

The next photo is of a dabchick (aka New Zealand Grebe) and baby bird. This is an action photo. The adult dabchick may be opening its wings to protect the young bird, or it may be cleaning itself or it may be showing the chick what s/he might be able to do in the future. Whereas the rail bird is looking for action i.e. in the form of food, the dabchick is the action. Another superbly clear photo, showing the concentration on the part of both birds.

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In last week’s Guardian Review, there was a thought-provoking and terminologically challenging article by Robert MacFarlane. In this article, MacFarlane argues that we are no living in the Anthropocene age, which is “the new epoch of geological time in which human activity is considered such a powerful influence on the environment, climate and ecology of the planet that it will leave a long-term signature in the strata record”. For the first time, the author suggests, it is human beings who define the age i.e. not as in the past where rock strata or dinosaurs were the significant feature and it is the implications of this human impact that MacFarlane wishes to examine. The author is involved in an attempt to establish a glossary for this new age and he states that the Bureau of Linguistical Reality (which sounds like something our of a science fiction novel) was founded “for the purpose of collecting, translating and creating a new vocabulary for the Anthropocene”. He cites common words such as petroleum and ice-melt but also new words such as stieg, apex-guilt and shadowtime, only explaining the last term. MacFarlane discusses how art and literature have tackled the issues relating to the Anthropocene age but implies that it is difficult to encompass the whole age e.g. in a novel. There are many critics of the term Anthropocene and some object to the arrogance of the term i.e. it implies that humans are super-beings that can affect the universe, while others criticise the generality i.e. all of us are not leading irresponsible lives which produces climate change. Others see the term driven by technology and capitalism, suggesting that the authors of the term see only a technological fix to world problems. This is a provocative and challenging article but it will certainly make you think.

Robert Macfarlane, rocks and flower heads

March 20, 2015

I get The Guardian delivered 6 days a week. On Saturday, the paper comes with several sections, including The Review, which has an extended article related to literature, and I keep this to read on a Sunday morning. A recent Review article by Robert Macfarlane was one of the most interesting I’ve read for a long time. Macfarlane writes “I have long been fascinated by the relations of language and landscape – by the power of strong style and single words to shape our senses of place” and his new book, Landmarks is a gathering together of local words for place, flora and fauna from across the UK. Macfarlane seeks out the old worlds, but also the new words being coined by children. An example provided: “On Exmoor, zwer is the onomatopoeic term for “the sound made by a covey of partridges taking flight”.” Many local words have traceable ancient origins but others have just been developed, such as terms used by miners in the NE of England, a dialect known as Pitmatical or Yakka. An example from Dunbar is the very localised word for a crab – poo which is not used elsewhere in the neighbouring coastline. The most frequent example quoted in the town is that, whereas people in the posher areas of Dunbar might eat crab sandwiches, fishermen have poo paste pieces, with the word “piece” referring to a piece of bread. I urge you to read this article.

A walk along Belhaven Beach on the east side next to the golf course revealed a variety of rock formations and a variety of colours and abstract forms in the rocks. The rocks are predominantly sandstone but the more malleable texture of the sandstone has created a wide range of both colour and shape to the rock formations and individuals rocks. The first photo shows a delicately coloured sandstone pavement, the second a lichen covered rock with an attractive pale green coating, and the third a large rock with apparently random abstract lines.

Sandstone pavement on Belhaven Beach

Sandstone pavement on Belhaven Beach

Rock on Belhaven Beach

Rock on Belhaven Beach

Rock lines on Belhaven Beach

Rock lines on Belhaven Beach

It is officially spring hereabouts and the spring flowers are now making a grand entrance en masse in some parts of the town. In my garden, tete-a-tete mini daffodils, dwarf tulips and polyanthus are all showing off their resplendent colours, and the closer you can get with your camera, the more abstract the patterns of the flower centres become. I’m always trying to get the perfect close up photo, but of course, there isn’t one, as only the original can be deemed to be perfect. The photos below show the tete-a-tetes, dwarf tulip and the centre of a polyanthus.

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tete-a-tetes

Dwarf tulip

Dwarf tulip

Polyanthus centre

Polyanthus centre