Sentences & Mermaids

Sea Nymph by Edward Burne-Jones

It's my personal belief that it's not possible to be a truly good writer without a love of words and sentences. Plotting and storytelling skills will only you take you so far, for writing is the art of language: how it rests on the page, how it sounds in the mind's ear, how it sinks down deep like a stone thrown into the unconscious, leaving ripples of metaphor and meaning behind. Today's quotes come from a variety of writers, reflecting on sentences and the writer's craft.

The mermaid art is a response to the beautiful poems by Jane Yolen and Wendy Howe in the comments under yesterday's post.

Sea Maidens by Evelyn de Morgan

Stanley Fish:

"In her book The Writing Life, Annie Dillard tells the story of a fellow writer who was asked by a student, 'Do you think I could be a writer?' 'Well,' the writer said, 'do you like sentences?' The student is surprised by the question, but Dillard knows exactly what was meant. He was being told, she explains, that 'if he likes sentences he could begin,' and she remembers a similar conversation with a painter friend. 'I asked him how he came to be a painter. He said, "I like the smell of paint." The point, made implicitly (Dillard does not belabour it), is that you don't begin with a grand conception, either of the great American novel or masterpiece that will hang in the Louvre. You begin with a feel for the nitty-gritty material of the medium, paint in one case, sentences in the other."

A Mermaid by John William Waterhouse

Annie Proulx:

"A lot of the work I do is taking the bare sentence that says what you sort of want to say -- which is where a lot of writers stop -- and making it into an arching kind of thing that has both strength and beauty. And that is where the sweat comes in. That can take a long time and many revisions. A single sentence, particularly a long, involved one, can carry a story forward. I put a lot of time into them. Carefully constructed sentences cast a tint of indefinable substance over a story….

"There is difficulty involved in going from the basic sentence that’s headed in the right direction to making a fine sentence. But it’s a joyous task. It’s hard, but it’s joyous. Being raised rural, I think work is its own satisfaction. It’s not seen as onerous, or a dreadful fate. It’s like building a mill or a bridge or sewing a fine garment or chopping wood—there’s a pleasure in constructing something that really works."

The Land Baby by John Collier

Barbara Kingsolver:

"My morning begins with trying not to get up before the sun rises. But when I do, it's because my head is too full of words, and I just need to get to my desk and start dumping them into a file. I always wake with sentences pouring into my head."

Little Mermaid by Helen Stratton

Ernest Hemingway:

"I wake up in the morning and my mind starts making sentences and I have to get rid of them fast -- talk them or write them down."

Mermaid by Howard Pyle

Colm Tóibín:

"The sentences I write have their roots in song and poetry, and take their bearings from music and painting, as much as from the need to impart mere information, or mirror anything. I am not a realist writer, even if I seem like one."

Murmur of Pearls by Gina Litherland

Alice McDermott:

"I've got to hear the rhythm of the sentences; I want the music of the prose. I want to see ordinary things transformed not by the circumstances in which I see them but by the language with which they're described."

The Little Mermaid by Edmund Dulac

John Burnside:

"I love long sentences. My big heroes of fiction writing are Henry James and Proust -- people who recognize that life doesn't consist of declarative statements, but rather modifications, qualifications and feelings."

The Little Mermaid by Helen Stratton

Gwendolyn Brooks:

"My sentences tend to be short and rather spare. I'm more your paragraph kind of gal."

Merfolk by Virginia Lee

John Banville:

"When you're writing there's a deep, deep level of concentration way beyond your normal self. This strange voice, these strange sentences come out of you."

Undine by Arthur Rackham

Wendell Berry:

"A sentence is both the opportunity and limit of thought-- what we have to think with, and what we have to think in."

The Little Mermaid by Sulamith Wulfing

Jhumpa Lahiri:

"Even printed, on pages that are bound, sentences remain unsettled organisms. Years later, I can always reach out to smooth a stray hair. And yet, at a certain point, I must walk away, trusting them to do their work. I am left looking over my shoulder, wondering if I might have structured one more effectively."

Mermaid in Flight by Fay Ku

Zadie Smith:

"Don't romanticize your 'vocation.' You can either write good sentences or you can't. There is no 'writer's lifestyle.' All that matters is what you leave on the page."

Looking for mermaids

The Little Mermaid by Helen Stratton

 The pictures are identified in the picture captions. (Run your cursor over the images to see them.)


Myths & shibboleths

Jana Heidersdorf

From Startle & Illuminate: Carol Shields on Writing:

"Writing is a mysterious process, and this vagueness about it makes it into a mystique. Writing is so various; it rises up from so many curiously undetectable springs, it has so many contradictory intentions, and critical judgement swings so wildly that what is good writing in one decade is execrable in the next.

"Like every mystique, it has its sets of shibboleths, its injunctions and freedoms, some of them true or untrue, helpful or harmful, and a good many constitute a systematic discouragement for the beginning writer. Let me mention a few of these myths.

Jana Heidersdorf

"Writing is a performance. This statement has the impact of aphorism, and aphorism is something we must fix with a wary eye. It sounds good; therefore it must be true. Most writers will say that writing is a matter of groping your way to some kind of truth, an act of exploration. Joan Didion plainly said that she writes so she can know what she is thinking, and V.S. Pritchett, a writer I particularly admire, said that he wrote so he could feel out the surface of what he is and where he lives. Notice the implicit modesty of these statements. And notice the moderate though not unintelligent voice. And notice how these assessments remove the burden some writers feel that they must make every word shimmer and every insight dazzle. Survey the whole field of fiction and you will see that pyrotechnics are only a small part of it. There is a great deal of moving people around and listening to what they are saying.

Jana Heidersdorf

From the ''100 Mermaids'' project by Jana Heidersdorf

"Another injunction, a double one this time. All fiction is a form of autobiography. And the command: Write about what you know. This is a serious problem for a beginning writer since there's a good chance he undervalues what he knows and a good chance, too, that he doesn't want to risk exposure. Writers of course draw on their own experiences, but the fact is, few draw directly. As Alice Munro wrote in an essay entitled 'What is Real' in the magazine Canadian Forum, she requires for her fiction a portion of actual experience that acts as a kind of starter dough -- I'm assuming you're familiar with bread-baking terminology. John Irving, a writer I have grave reservations about, said in an essay that his writing comes out of the act of revising and redeeming actual experience. Pritchett goes all the way, saying a fiction writer's first duty is to become another person.

Raven Boy by Jana Heidersdorf

"One of the most discouraging admonitions is this: Don't write until you have something to say. How often have you heard that one? Clearly everyone has something to say, whether she writes it down or not. You don't get to the age of six without knowing fear or intense happiness. You don't get to the age of twelve without having suffered. You don't arrive at eighteen without knowing what it is to love someone or, just as painful, not to love someone. Everyone has something to say; it may not be codified or arranged in the neat linear patterns of philosophy or the point of view of political commitment or as a moral conviction, but the raw material is there, the 'something' to write about.

Jana Heidersdorf

"There's a novel in everyone. You've heard this one. It's a myth that has suffered misinterpretation. There probably is material enough and more in every life, but does this mean that anyone, given time, can write a novel? Time is what you sometimes hear people say they need. In fact, I have heard of one writer who got so tired of hearing people say 'I'd write a book if I had the time,' that when he came to write his autobiography he titled it I Had Time. Time isn't enough. Skills of observation and skills of language (attention to rhythm, extension of vocabulary and distortion of syntax) are required. A feeling for structure. Stamina -- for it takes an extraordinary effort to write even a bad novel or completed short story.

"Finishing has always seemed important to me. The end of a story is as important as the process. The feeling of completion, however imperfect, is what makes art -- when we feel something being satisfied or reconciled or surrendered or earned."

Jana Heidersdorf

About the artist:

The imagery today is by Jana Heidersdorf, a young illustrator and animator in Germany whose art is inspired by folklore, fantasy literature, and the natural world. Her work is filled with animals, birds, and various forms of aquatic life, viewed through the lens of myth, surrealism, and the darker side of fairy tales. "There is mystery in unpredictability and wildness," she says. "I have an undeniable romantic side that idealizes the rawness and chaos of nature, especially opposed to our need as humans to categorize and order everything. One of the reasons I primarily like to draw animals, or at least non-humans such as mermaids, is that we cannot apply our set morals to them. They can be scary or dangerous, but never evil. That’s something that fascinates me."

To see more of her magical art, please visit her website and Tumblr page.

Jana Heidersdorf

Words: The passage above is from Startle and Illuminate: Carol Sheilds on Writing, edited by Anne and Nicholas Giardini (Random House Canada, 2016). All rights reserved by the author's estate.

Pictures: Jana Heidersdorf's art above includes illustrations from her "Raven Brothers" series, inspired by the Grimms' fairy tale The Seven Ravens, and from her "100 Mermaids" project. Identification can be found in the picture captions. (Run your cursor over the images to see them.) All rights reserved by the artist.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Victoria and Tilly, south Devon

This morning, the call of the sea...and life on the coast....

Below: "The Call/Daughters of Watchet/Caturn's Night" by singer/songwriters Ange Hardy and Lukas Drinkwater, from their gorgeous album Findings (2016). Hardy is based in Somerset, and Drinkwater in Exeter, here in Devon.

Above: "The Bow to the Sailor" by Ange Hardy, from her beautiful solo album The Lament of the Black Sheep (2014). The video was filmed on Watchet beach, Somerset.

Below: "Boat" by  alt-folk band Flats & Sharps, based in Cornwall. This charming song appears on their first album, King of My Mind (2017).

Above: "In Spirit,"  a new ghost ballad by Kim Lowings and the Greenwood, from the English Midlands. The song appears on their recent album Wild and Wicked Youth (2017).

Below: "Lady of the Sea" by Seth Lakeman, about a shipwreck off the Cornish coast. I never get tired of this one, which is from an early album, Freedom Fields (2006). Lakeman is from here on Dartmoor.

One more: "Alive" by Skippinish, an alt-folk group from the Scottish Highlands. The song appears on their new latest, The Seventh Wave, and the video is just lovely.

Post script: This upbeat music was chosen and posted before I heard the news of the shooting in Las Vegas. My heart goes out to all friends and family in America.

Me and Tilly, north Devon

Photographs: Our daughter and Tilly on the south Devon coast; me and Tilly on the north Devon coast, near the Cornish border.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Jeanie Tomanek

Tales of sailors, stars, and storms this week, from London and the West Country....

To begin with, two songs by Emily Mae Winters, a singer/songwriter whose work is inspired by history, myth, and literature. Winters was born in England, raised on the Irish coast, and studied music and theatre at Central in London. Her debut album, Siren Serenade, is due out in April.

Above: "Star," a wonderful song referencing a classic poem by John Keats.  The video was filmed in the "Poets' Church," St Giles in the Fields, in London. 

Below: "Anchor."  Both songs can be found on Winters' Foreign Waters EP.

The next two come from The Changing Room, an award-winning music collective in Cornwall performing songs in both English and Cornish. The group centers on songwriters Sam Kelly and Tanya Brittain, working with a range of musicians including Jamie Francis, Evan Carson, Morrigan Palmer Brown, Kevin McGuire, John McCusker, and Belinda O’Hooley.

First, "The Grayhound," a song about Cornwall's lively history of smuggling; and about the ships, known as revenue luggers, whose aim was to hunt the smugglers down. Second, "Gwrello Glaw," a Cornish-language song about weathering storms both real and metaphoric. Both pieces come from The Changing Room's fine second album, Picking Up the Pieces (2016).

And to end with today:  "The Bow to the Sailor" by singer/songwriter Ange Hardy, from Somerset. It's from Hardy's third album, Lament of the Black Sheep (2014), which is lovely -- as is all of her work.

Jeanie Tomanek

The art today is by Jeanie Tomanek. Please visit her beautiful website to see more.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

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Away With the Birds by Hannah Tuulikki

I'd like to follow up last week's music (classical compositions inspired by birds) with Hanna Tuulikki's Away With the Birds, a project exploring the mimesis of birds in Gaelic folk songs. Tuulikki is an English/Finnish artist based in Edinburgh, known for creating interdisciplinary works rooted in myth, folk history and the natural world. In the video below, she gives a talk explaining the genesis of Away With the Birds:

"The idea for the work grew out of an interest in music from around the world," Tuulikki says, "noticing that in cultures where people have an intimate connection with the land they are also good mimics of the sounds around them, and their music seems to grow directly from this relationship. I believe our music, and even our language, originated and evolved from our listening to the sounds of the animate landscape, or what eco-philosopher David Abram calls the more-than-human world. So I began a journey looking for this kind of sound-making process closer to home..."

To learn more about Away With the Birds, go here...and then follow the link at the bottom of the page to the project's interactive website, where you can explore "two hours of film, half an hour of music, over two hours of commentary, field recordings of over twenty birds, fifteen drawings, and audio recordings of nine Gaelic songs and five poems. "

The Wildscreen event where Tuulikki was speaking was a celebration of natural storytelling held in Glasgow, Scotland last May. In the video below, from the same event, Scottish singer Julie Fowlis performs two Gaelic songs about seals: "An Ron" and "Ann an Caolas Ododrum." She's accompanied by Donald Shaw (from Capecaille) on keyboard, backed up by gorgeous film clips of seals and shore birds from the BBC series Hebrides.

Grey Seals (from the Hebredies tv series)

To end with, here's Julie Fowlis again, performing "Smeorach Chlann Domhnaill" at the Folk Awards in 2015. Hank by Carson EllisThe song includes the following words (in translation):

A mavis, I, on a mountain top,
Watching sun and cloudless skies.
Softly I approach the forest
I shall live in otherwise.

If every bird praises its own land,
Why then should not I?
Land of heroes, land of poets...
The abundant, hospitable, estimable land.

Illustration by Honore Appleton

The image at the top of this post is by Russian surrealist photographer Katerina Plotnikova. The seal photograph is from the Hebrides tv series. The drawings are by Carson Ellis and Honor Appleton (1879-1951). More avian folk songs can be found in "Going to the Birds." For avian folklore:"When Stories Take Flight."


Tunes for a Monday Morning

The Isle of Eigg

Today, music from the Songs of Separation project: the brainchild of folk musician Jenny Hill, conceived during the contentious run-up to the referendum for Scottish independence. Hill's idea was to bring ten English and Scottish women folk musicians to a fairy tale island off Scotland's west coast to create an album reflecting on "separation" in its many forms.

"Celebrating the similarities and differences in our musical, linguistic and cultural heritage," she writes, "and set in the context of a post-referendum world, the work aims to evoke emotional responses and prompt new thinking about the issue of separation as it occurs in all our lives. The collected songs aim to get to the heart of what we feel when we are faced with a separation, both good and bad."

The musicians (along with Jen Hill) are: Hazel AskewJenn Butterworth, Eliza CarthyHannah James, Mary Macmaster, Karine PolwartHannah Read, Rowan Rheingans, and Kate Young. They spent an intensive week planning, rehearsing, and recording the album on Isle of Eigg in June 2015 -- including recordings made at the two sites central to the ‘Big Women of Eigg’ legend.

Above: A short video on the making of Songs of Separation, which includes fascinating discussion on the project's theme, on the creative process, and on the role of folk arts in society -- a perfect combination for Myth & Moor.

Below: An even shorter video from project's video diary, documenting a group sing, in Gaelic, with the Isle of Eigg community, along with a glimpse of that beautiful landscape. (You can view the other "Daily Reflection" videos on the project's YouTube channel.)

Next, two songs from the album itself.

Above: "Echo Mocks the Corncrake," featuring Karine Polwart. As Helen Gregory notes in her insightful review of the album, this traditional song "contains subtle political content and references to at least two forms of separation, even though it’s often thought of as a simple love song. The lyric tells of a young man whose partner leaves him for the bright lights of Ayr (located on 'the banks o’ Doune'), an act of separation which is one manifestation of the rural depopulation occurring as a result of the impact of the spread of industrialisation during the 18th and 19th centuries, further exacerbated in Scotland by the greed-fuelled brutality of the Highland Clearances. And the corncrake? The subject of the separation of humankind from the natural environment is key: habitat loss has meant that the numbers of this migratory bird have declined across the British Isles since the mid-19th century. Consequently, corncrakes are now restricted to Ireland and the northern and western islands of Scotland including, of course, the Isle of Eigg. So it’s fitting that 'Echo Mocks The Corncrake’ opens with a field recording of the bird’s distinctive krek krek call which sets the rhythm of the piece, picked up by percussive beats on a variety of instruments ahead of Karine’s vocals."

Below: "It was A' for our Rightfu' King," written by Robert Burns in the 18th century, arranged here by Hannah Read. "The song is inspired by the failed Jacobite uprising of 1745, lead by Prince Charles Edward Stuart (1720 - 1788)," explains Pauline MacKay. "The Jacobites sought to restore the deposed Stuart dynasty to the Scottish and English throne. The Jacobites were defeated at the battle of Culloden in 1746, forcing Bonnie Prince Charlie to flee to the highlands. He eventually reached Europe where he died in exile (in Rome). In this song a young woman laments the failure of the uprising and her Jacobite lover's absence from Scotland."

For those of us who have been following the project since it was first announced, the good news is that the album has now been released, and has proven well worth the wait. For those new to the project, you'll find more information on the Songs of Separation website, and updates on their Facebook page.

There's also a concert tour in the works -- but if you can't make it to any of the tour locations, perhaps you'd like to help someone else attend through a random act of musical kindness. (I'm assuming they'll continue to run the "Save Our Seats" program for other venues on the tour, though it's not listed on the website yet.)

The musicians of the Songs of Separation project


One last post on the magic of water

Morning coffee

This morning, in a pause between rain showers, I took my coffee break out on the hill with The Last Selchie Child by Jane Yolen in my bag and the hound at my side. This lovely little edition from A Midsummer Night's Press contains poetry rooted in fairy tales, folklore, and myth -- including five gorgeous selchie poems, and one based on The Little Mermaid. I recommend it highly.

P1260998


The magic of the world made visible

A detail from Underworld Beauty by Virginia Lee

From "Learning to See" by Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass, from an earlier essay collection, Gathering Moss:

"I remember my first encounter with the North Pacific, at Rialto Beach on the Olympic Peninsula. As a landlocked botanist, I was anticipating my first glimpse of the ocean, craning my neck around every bend in the winding dirt road. We arrived in a dense gray fog that clung to the trees and beaded my hair with moisture. Had the skies been clear we would have seen only what we expected: rocky coast, lush forest, and the broad expanse of the sea. That day, the air was opaque and the backdrop of the coastal hills was visible only when the spires of Sitka Spruce briefly emerged from the clouds. We knew the ocean's presence only by the deep roar of the surf, out beyond the tidepools. Strange, that at the edge of this immensity, the world had become very small, the fog obscuring all but the middle distance. All my pent-up desire to see the panorama of the coast became focussed on the only things that I could see, the beach and the surrounding tidepools.

Mer Village by Virginia Lee

"Wandering in the grayness, we quickly lost sight of each other, my friends disappearing like ghosts in just a few steps. Our muffled voices knit us together, calling out the discovery of a perfect pebble, or the intact shell of a razor clam. I knew from pouring over field guides in anticipation of the trip that we 'should' see starfish in the tidepools, and this would be my first. The only starfish I'd ever seen was a dried one in a zoology class and I was eager to see them at home where they belonged. As I looked among the mussels and limpets, I saw none. The tidepools were encrusted with barnacles and exotic-looking algae, anemones, and chitons enough to satisfy the curiosity of a novince tidepooler. But no starfish.

Merfolk by Virginia Lee

On the south Devon coast

"Disappointed, I straightened up from the pools to relieve the growing stiffness in my back, and suddenly -- I saw one. Bright orange and clinging to a rock right before my eyes. And then it was as if a curtain had been pulled away and I saw them everywhere. Like stars revealing themselves one by one in a darkening summer night. Orange stars in the crevices of a black rock, speckled burgandy stars with outstretched arms, purple stars nestled together like a family huddled against the cold. In a cascade of discovery, the invisible was suddenly made visible.

The Selkie by Virginia Lee

On the north Devon coast

"A Cheyenne elder of my acquaintance once told me that the best way to find something is not to go looking for it. This is a hard concept for a scientist. But he said to watch out of the corner of your eye, open to possibility, and what you seek will be revealed. The revelation of suddenly seeing what I was blind to only moments before is a sublime experience for me. I can revisit those moments and still feel the surge of expansion. The boundaries between my world and the world of another being get pushed back with sudden clarity, an experience both humbling and joyful."

Merwyna by Marja Lee

The magical ocean imagery today is from two Chagford artists who are also mother and daughter: Marja and Virginia Lee. (Each picture is  identified in the hidden captions. Run your cursor over the images to see them.)

Marja Lee is a painter and harpist inspired by Celtic art, music, myth and mysticism. Born in the Netherlands, she studied art in Amsterdam, worked as a fashion illustrator in London, and then settled and raised her family here in Devon. Her delicate watercolor paintings and drawings are rich in esoteric symbolism, and fall into the Visionary tradition of such arists as Odilon Redon, Jessie M. King, and Sulamith Wulfing. The drawing just above and the painting below are by Marja.

Virginia Lee is a painter and sculptor inspired by folklore, Surrealism, and the mythic landscape of Dartmoor, where she was born. She has illustrated several fine books for children and adults, including The Frog Bride, Persephone, and The Secret History of Mermaids. She was a sculptor on the set of the Lord of the Rings films, and has published exquisite decks of "oracle" and "story world" cards. To see more of her work, please visit her website, her lovely blog, and her Etsy shop. The first four paintings and drawings above are by Virginia.

Mermaid by Marja LeeThe passage above is from Gathering Moss, a collection of linked essays on the natural & cultural history of mosses by Native American author & plant biologist Robin Wall Kimmerer (Oregon State University, 2003). The photographs of me and Tilly were taken by my husband. All rights to the text and art in this post is reserved by their creators.


Shaped by water

No Turning Back by Jason Decaires Taylor, Punta Nizuc, Mexico

From Singing to the Sound: Visions of Nature, Animals, & Spirit by Brenda Peterson, a beautiful collection of essays about life on America's Northwest coast:

"If landscape is character, then Northwesterners are most like water. We are shaped by the voluptuous shores and salt tides of Puget Sound, the deep currents of the Columbia, Salmon, and Snake rivers. Northwesterners have always been water folk, shaped by this Sound and also by the sounds of rapid rivers and dousing rains. Our tales are syncopated with rhythms of tide and wind, cries of seagulls, ospreys, and eagles, the mystical breath of whales, and grieving argpeggios of foghorns. Northwesterners are held back from falling off the proverbial edge of the world by a Pacific coastline whose nurturing rain forests and rocky peninsulas face the sea like guardians.

"Our intimacy with water is crucial to understanding our Northwest character; we are more changed by the environment than it is by us....When we try to spell out our 'rainy day intimacies' to outsiders, they cannot believe we actually enjoy living for many months aswirl in great, flowing gowns of gray mist. To survive here without the daily illumination of sunlight, we must have an inner life bright with hidden worlds.

copyright Jason deCaries Taylor

copyright Jason deCaries Taylor

copyright Jason deCaries Taylor

"Northwest Coast Natives tell stories of sea creatures and underwater tribes that shape-shift into humans then return to the original People -- the animals. For example, the Salmon People are an underwater tribe who also spend a season on land; the whales and seals can metamorphose into humans as easily as the ever-present mist and clouds change shape. Many Northwest coast tribes tell of merpeople, part human, part mammal, who mediate between the worlds to keep a watery balance. One of the most common gods was called 'Changer.' Many native tribes began their mythologies with water -- floods and seas creating what we now call The People. A Skagit myth details this beginning, when Changer decided 'to make all the rivers flow only one way' and that 'there should be bends in the rivers, so that there would be eddies where the fish could stop and rest. Changer decided that beasts should be placed in the forests. Human beings would have to keep out of their way.' "

copyright Jason deCaries Taylor

copyright Jason deCaries Taylor

"Northwesterners not only reckon with water shaping our physical boundaries, but also our heavens," Peterson writes a little later in the essay. "Rain is a Northwest native. One recent winter, we had twenty-seven inches of rain in three months and mudslides are now as familiar as side streets. Northwesterners live like slowly drowning people. We are well aware of the predictions that in the next millennium our Pacific Rim shores will sink from the volcanic tsunami waves copright by by Jason deCaires Taylorinto an Atlantis-like abyss. Our famous rainfall is perhaps all that shelters us from the massive population and industrial exploitations of nearby California. The rain is so ominpresent, especially between late October and even into June, that most Northwesterners disdain umbrella, the true sign of any tourist.

"One must be rather fluid to live underwater; one must learn to flow with a pulse greater than one's own. A tolerance for misting gray days means an acceptance that life itself is not black and white, but in between. If the horizons outside one's window are not sharply defined but ease into a sky intimately merged with sea and soft landscape, then perhaps shadows, both personal and collective, are not so terrifying. After all, most of the year Northwesterners can't even see their own literal shadows cast on the ground. We live inside the rain shadow. We tolerate edges and difference in people and places perhaps because our landscape blends and blurs as it embraces.

copyright Jason deCaries Taylor

"Widely acclaimed Port Angeles poet Tess Gallagher tells it this way: 'It is a faithful rain. You feel that it has some allegiance to the trees and the people....It brings an ongoing thoughtfulness to their faces, a meditativeness that causes them to fall silent for long periods, to stand at their windows looking out at nothing in particular. The people walk in the rain as within some spirit they wish not to offend with resistence.' "

copyright by Jason deCaires Taylor

The-gardener-05-jason-decaires-taylor-sculpture

copyright by Jason deCaires Taylor

My morning prayer: Let me learn to live the grey days of Dartmoor's "faithful rain" without resistence. May these long, wet winter months teach me to be more fluid, more meditative, unafraid of change and metamorphosis.

copyright by Jason deCaires Taylor

The extraordinary photographs today are by Jason deCaires Taylor, an artist and naturalist known for creating living underwater sculptures that evolve over time into coral reefs, intended "to portray how human intervention or interaction with nature can be positive and sustainable." Born to a British father and Guyanese mother, Taylor was raised in England and Asia, studied sculpture and ceramics in London, then trained as a diving instructor and marine conservationist before bringing all of his interests together in the making of environmental art. He is also the co-founder of an underwater sculpture park in the West Indies, and an underwater museum in Mexico. Currently based in the Canary Islands, he's at work on an new underwater museum for the Atlantic Ocean.

"Working in conservation, I am very concerned with all the associated effects of climate change and the state of peril our seas are in," says Taylor. “If we walked past a forest that was disintegrating every day, with animals dead by the side of the road, we would be much more aware of our actions. But underwater life is out of our sight and the problem is easily ignored. So a big part of my work is to bring people's focus and awareness to the destruction of our seas and of the natural world."

copyright by Jason deCaires Taylor

copyright by Jason deCaires Taylor

copyright by Jason deCaires TaylorThe passage above is from Brenda Peterson's essay "Faithful Rain," in Singing to the Sound (NewSage Press, 2000). I highly recommend her books -- including three wonderful fantasy novels about mermaids and silkies: The Drowning World, Tattoo Master, and The Secret Journal of Kate Morag. All rights to the text and art above is reserved by their respective creators.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Photograph by Dafydd Thomas

Selkie drawing by Alan Lee

Today's music has an ocean theme, with songs of selchies, sailors, and ships lost at sea.

Above, "The Great Selchie" (Child Ballad No. 113), performed by American folk singer Judy Collins and Tommy Maken (of The Clancy Brothers) on a 1992 television program, Songs Of The Sea. (The second guitarist is uncredited.) Collins recorded the song on her second album, The Golden Apples of the Sun, way back in 1962. The ballad's words are traditional, and the tune is by Jim Waters.

Below, "Cruel," performed by Yorkshire singer/songwriter Kate Rusby and her band (including John McCusker on back-up vocals). This traditional song, set to new music by Rusby, appeared on her lovely sixth album, Underneath the Stars (2003).

Illustration by PJ Lynch

Above, the great English folk singer June Tabor performs Cyril Tawney's "The Grey Funnel Line" for BBC 4 in 2011, backed up Andy Cutting, Mark Emmerson, Tim Harries, Mark Lockheart, Martin Simpson, and Huw Warren. June first recorded the song with Maddy Prior on the first of their two collaborative albums, Silly Sisters (1976).

And to end with, original songs from two of my favorite songwriters, both of them from the West Country:

Below, "Lady of the Sea" by Seth Lakeman, who lives here in Devon on the other side of the moor. The song, a long time favorite, is from his third album, Freedom Fields (2006).

Storm at Sea illustration by PJ Lynch

Below, "Bow to the Sailor" by Ange Hardy, who hails from Somerset (the county just east of Devon). The song can be found on her gorgeous third album, Lament of the Black Sheep (2014).

East of the Sun, West of the Moon illustration by PJ Lynch

The photograph above is by Dafydd Thomas, the selkie skin drawing by Alan Lee, & the three paintings by P.J. Lynch.