Monday’s Poem

29.06.2020

Hello Everyone….

Today it’s more Monday’s Prose – than poem! I was up in my attic digging out the fan to cool the house down last week when I came across a vintage copy of ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’ by Thomas Hardy.

I was blown away by the opening paragraph which I thought would be nice to share here:

‘To dwellers in a wood, almost every species of tree has its voice as well as its feature.

At the passing of a breeze, the fir trees sob and moan, no less distinctly than they rock. The holly whistles as it battles with itself; the ash hisses amid its quivering; the beech, rustles while its flat boughs rise and fall.’

Taken from Under The Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy
Trees in my local park this weekend

I thought that this paragraph was beautiful. It was written at a time when there were no electric street lamps or car headlights. A world closer to nature, in which people would have had a much closer relationship with the natural world around them. It makes me determined to re-connect as far as possible, to know the landscape and the trees intimately. To know from a sound the species of bird or tree, to be aware and to listen. To be in tune with nature and observant of all around me.

The paragraph was written to open a scene in which a group of men are coming together at night time to rehearse singing carols, finding their way by familiar sounds and under moonlight. Despite this being a winter scene in the novel, thinking about the natural world at night made me long for camping trips and nights under the stars. For now I will make do with my little backyard and fairy lights. I have lavender and sweet peas growing in ceramic pots which give off a wonderful scent, I look forward to more summer evenings when I can enjoy my little outdoor space in the warm air.

I hope you enjoyed Thomas Hardy’s words. I will leave this week’s Connect to Nature Class as a surprise, I have a couple of ideas up my sleeve – but I haven’t decided on which one I will choose yet!

Do send me your poems to include here! Happy Writing!


Take care,

Best wishes,
Emma

Lime Tree Blossom

Saturday Art Challenge

27.06.2020

Bees, bugs, beetles, butterflies……natural finds!

Happy Saturday folks!

I have a lovely task for you today, and I admit, it was stolen from a homework project that my Y7 son was set from his school!! Over the last few weeks my son’s art classes have involved line drawing using symmetry and observation and moved on to collage, using insects as inspiration. His final task was to use natural finds to re-create insects. This was great fun, easy to do and really got us observing the different components of the beautiful wildlife around us. If you don’t fancy insects, have a go making other patterns or flowers or landscape pictures….

Here’s how we did it:

Step 1: we went on a walk with our grumpy dachshund and gathered lots of natural materials! (Grumpy dachshund not essential, but very cute!)

Step 2: If you want to, use images from books or the internet for inspiration.

Step 3: Create your chosen subject in natural form. We enjoyed making and photographing our bugs, you could also glue things onto a page or press into the pages of a book if you wanted something more permanent.

I hope you enjoy this bit of Saturday fun! Do send me any images that you create. You can email me at e.mckenzie1@yorksj.ac.uk

See you on Monday for a nature based poem!
Best wishes,
Emma

Friday’s Letters

26.06.2020

Anyone else melting in the heat wave!?

Hello! As I write this ready for Friday, I am sweltering and hoping that by the time this is published we have some rainfall and respite from the heat!

Also suffering from the heat was this toad who took a swim in my friend’s pond and was captured here trying to climb out! (Don’t worry he was helped out of the pond, and there are areas at the other side to aid safe climbing in and out for amphibians!)

I was also sent this poem about Rosemary by Marianne Moore courtesy of @greenspacesyork on twitter, following on from this week’s creative writing theme on herbs. If you missed Wednesday’s creative writing class you can find a link at the bottom of this page.

Meg found this lovely damselfly taking a moment to rest on her window frame.

Mark sent a photo of this healthy little pepper plant that I dropped off at his home a few weeks ago and I am chuffed to bits that an orchid my husband rescued from the alley at the back of our home is thriving and growing a third stem of flowers, it had been chucked out after finishing flowering and was less than a third of the size it is now.

Mark also sent this lovely clip of film from York Railway pond, and I have now upgraded this site to add videos. I love the waterlilies and the birdsong. A little slice of tranquility for you all.

Hope everyone has had a good week. I have a simple and fun art challenge on the blog tomorrow – that’s great to do on your own or share with others.

See you next week!
Best wishes,

Emma

Pollen stained bee house at my allotment!

Connect to Nature Online Class

24.06.2020

Garden Herbs and Other Delights!

Hello!
Welcome to another online Connect to Nature Creative Writing Class.

To anyone new to my online creative writing activity, this blog is a little place where every Wednesday I post a set of four creative writing tasks, all designed to help you to connect to the natural world and feel more at one with nature!

This week I thought it might be nice to use some inspiration from my kitchen windowsills and allotment where I have been growing culinary herbs. We often use the senses in writing to bring a piece of work to life. For example instead of just saying:

‘Today I took a walk in the garden.’

I can take you there through words, for example:

‘Today, I stepped into the garden and shivered. Not because it was cold, it was because a warm breeze was blowing and I immediately caught the scent of fresh roses and lavender on the air.’

Hopefully a sentence such as the above will delight a reader and entice them to read further, helping them to have a sensory experience through words.

So today’s session was inspired by garden herbs, but I will also include flowers and other sensory experiences in the natural world – particularly focusing on scents.

Task 1: (5 mins) If you have any kitchen herbs growing on your windowsills or in your garden take a moment to break off a sprig. Inspect the cutting in your hand. What colour is it, how do the lines travel across a leaf, what does it smell and taste like? If you haven’t got any fresh herbs try a peppercorn, or some dried herbs from a spice rack, you could even use a herbal tea bag if you have any.

Write ten words about the experience – (E.g Peppermint: Tingly, fresh, green, spicy, minty, stems, leaves, peppery, bursting, flavour!)

Here are some examples you could choose to use:

Garden Herbs IdeasKitchen finds
Rosemary
Thyme
Oregano
Basil
Lemon balm
Peppermint
Peppercorns
Fennel seeds
Mixed herbs
Curry powders (be careful spicy!)
Teas – such as chamomile or mint

Task 2: (5 mins) Routines and rhythms inspired by garden herbs. There are many health benefits linked to our kitchen herbs. For example: Mint is said to ease digestion, lavender can help soothe the mind and bring on sleep. Marigolds are antiseptic and used to heal skin problems. Lemon balm is said to be the elixir of life and to strengthen the heart. Bergamot (used in earl grey tea) and St John’s Wort are said to lift the mood and ease depression. Thyme was often used to keep the breath fresh and healthy in Roman times!

Write about a day in which garden herbs and flowers are used to balance the day. You could write this as a diary extract, or perhaps medicinal advice for a fictional character. Or if you like you could write about one of the health benefits you have experienced from a favourite garden herb or plant.

Task 3: (10 mins) I have read that the aroma of Rosemary is said to boost our memory function. I even found an article on it here which not only sites current evidence from a recent study, but also says that Rosemary Garlands were worn in exams in Ancient Greece! Inspired by this knowledge write about a memory of freshly smelt flowers or herbs:

Here are some examples to get you started (but feel free to use one of your own):

  • A freshly cooked meal full of herbs and spices
  • A wild woodland full of wild garlic flowers
  • The smell of freshly cut flowers (sweet peas, lavender or roses are good for this one!)

Task 4: (5 mins) Now you have fully warmed up to using the sense of scent in your writing, take it further than kitchen herbs. Write a paragraph of ‘free writing’ (whatever pops into your head) using one of the following themes:

  • Freshly cut grass.
  • The smell of sea air.
  • The smell of the air after a heavy rain storm.
  • The smell of lime trees on a promenade walk (for York Residents – the lime trees along the river near Millennium Bridge and along Bootham Road smell amazing right now!)

I hope that this session has awakened your senses and left you wanting to go out and find lots more interesting scents and flavours! A sprig of mint in lemon water is a lovely cooling drink in the hot weather. Remember there are no rules to creative writing, the whole point is to have fun with words, no restrictions!

I look forward to hearing how you get on with these tasks. Have a lovely week, see you on Friday with words and pictures that are sent in to me in response to tasks. I have an easy and fun art challenge coming out on Saturday.

Best wishes,
Emma

Monday’s Poem

22.06.2020

Stones

Stones
Deep down below
Goblins toil
For their castles to make
They move mountains of soil
Hard rocks too big
Are fashioned to blocks
Leaving so many small pieces
From their stone axe knocks
“But where can they go?”
They cry, so discontent
Then lips curl in smile
- “Send em up the allotment!”

By Richard Morgan

Thank you Richard for sending me this poem! I had to include it today, after I spent the weekend lifting stones out of a bed I have been digging at the allotment. It’s back breaking work, but the pay off is worth it! We also found a little rabbit living on our plot, he has snipped off the tops of all my beautiful chive border! The top photo is of wild poppies that have self seeded, but I have left those alone as they are so beautiful!

Anyone else have any fantastical or cheeky visitors to their gardens or allotments!?

See you on Wednesday for the creative writing class. This week’s theme is going to be on garden herbs.

Best wishes.
Emma

Saturday Art Challenge

20.06.2020

Marvellous Moths!

Hi everyone,

This weekend I have a lovely nature journal idea for copying the patterns of moth wings to help learn about the species.

This was inspired by two things. First of all I found some unusual looking eggs in the corner of my allotment greenhouse. It just happened that my Dad had passed on to me his book of insects from when he was a boy, in a moment of synchronicity I opened the book and there in-front of me was a picture of exactly the eggs that I had found. I discovered that they were Vapourer Moth eggs….which then led me to do some more research.

Deciding to add this to the nature journal I made it into a bit of a nature based fun homeschool project from my children. We decided rather than making butterflies by dropping paint on paper and folding it over, we would try and make moths instead. Here’s how we did it:

Step 1: We found some old card (in this case it was card postcards that we hadn’t used). We soaked the card in tea….this wasn’t 100% necessary but gave a nice background colour for a moth and was of course just lots of fun.

Step 2: Once the card had dried we marked out our basic moth shapes in white pencil crayon and cut the moth out.

Step 3: We chose some colours to mix that we felt would represent our fairly basic brown moth. We then used thick water colour paint from a tube to make a nice brown and painted on one side of the moth wing pattern. We then folded the wing over to print the pattern on the other side.

We found that the pattern on the opposite side didn’t always print as strongly so we kept adding blobs of colour trying to mimic the shapes that we saw and reprinting. This gave a lovely effect of the mottled wings.

Step 4: Once the paint layers were down I drew into them with pencil crayons to give further details. We then also replicated the egg nest I had found and discovered that the female vapourer moth can’t actually fly. Once she hatches she clings to her cocoon where she lays her eggs.

I stuck them into my journal with little foam tabs so that they stand off the page when I open the book. Although it’s nice to be as accurate as possible, it’s the process of observation that is important. The whole time you are trying to be accurate you are memorising the shapes and colours and will remember the moth much more easily when you find it in the natural world.

After completing all that, I realised I had no idea what the caterpillar of this moth looked like. I was pleasantly surprised to find he was a funky little creature in 1970’s inspired get up! Lot’s of orange, green and tufts of hair everywhere! I had some painted paper patterns left over from another project so collaged a little caterpillar to complete my journal page before adding annotations.

While I was doing this my little girl was busy making her very own representation of a silk moth, I thinks she did a great job 🙂

For anyone that is interested – here is the original picture that set off my learning!

It’s a wonderful thing to start off with one tiny discovery to then go on to find out so much more, and to create a lovely art project. I hope it inspires you to do something similar! Happy Saturday Art Challenge!

Best wishes,

Emma

Friday’s Letters

19.06.2020

Incy wincy spider…..

Hello! Hope everyone has had a good week and looking forward to a rest over the weekend. Even when we are locked down it’s important to have delineation between days and something different to do. If you are stuck for ideas I have a nice Saturday Art Challenge tomorrow making paint prints of moth patterns.

Following this week’s creative writing class on ‘My Friend the Spider’ I received some lovely messages from my good friend Anna who is an amazing artist and crafter. You can check out her creations here and on instagram @louismakes .

Anna sent me this fabulous poem which made me smile:

I also received these pictures of a little spider adorning some craft work and her gorgeous rescue Lurcher Louis!

In other news Rich emailed me this stunning picture of the sky line over York earlier in the week. There have been some fantastic sunsets recently.

In my allotment I have dark velvet poppies blooming and the English lavender and Sweet Peas in my yard are starting to flower. Let’s hope for another burst of warmer weather. In the mean time stay safe and I hope you enjoy tomorrow’s art challenge.

Take care!
Best wishes,

Emma

Connect to Nature Creative Writing Class

17.06.2020

My Friend the Spider

(This Session is especially dedicated to Nick Noble from Saltburn Surf Hire and Shop)

Hello!! So this session is dedicated to a very close family friend of mine…the awesome Nick Noble! AND …before I start….please don’t run away just yet …there are NO images of spiders on here, only beautiful webs, I want to see if just maybe I can change your perception of these amazing creatures.

Why is this session dedicated to my friend Nick I hear you asking?

Well, I grew up on the North East Coast of England, Nick is a good family friend of ours and would often be over for dinner and being a few years older than me also let me do my obligatory school work-experience at his surf shop…which was the best EVER!! Especially when most of my friends were stuck in offices or supermarkets. Below is a picture of the gorgeous coastline we would often walk along, if you haven’t visited the North East Coast I highly recommend it.

Nick has a love of the natural world and conservation and introduced me to a shared love of landscape and the geography of our area. He also runs Saltburn Surf Hire and Shop and has been a very positive influence on the local community.

Alongside all this when I was growing up and used to visit he had a very intriguing book on his shelf…..it was entitled ….My Friend the Spider!

Now the house that I lived in was 200 years old, it was derelict when we moved in to renovate it and had a lot of very HUGE spiders, which incidentally (at the time) I was terrified of. Where did this fear come from? Well, I think it is an innate response in us to a certain point, but I also believe a lot of fear comes from learnt patterns of behaviour from adults around us and also an unfortunate disconnection from the natural world. Very gently Nick would humour me, but also get me to think in different ways about things. It is thanks to Nick that I remain interested in the natural world today, and also would never harm a spider. I will leave it at that…but here are some lovely tasks to hopefully translate a lovely new way of thinking….

Task 1: (5 mins) The picture below is taken of a cobweb on the cliff path – by another good friend from that area Tim (his instagram link is @c_r_a_g_r_a_t for anyone wishing to find more beautiful pictures of the coastline).

In ten words can you describe a delicate spider web such as this:

From my friend Tim. Instagram Account: @c_r_a_g_r_a_t

Task 2: (5 mins) Here are eight good and interesting things about our eight legged little friends:

  1. Spiders get rid of houseflies.
  2. Spiders are an important part of the eco-system and food for birds.
  3. Birds use spider cobwebs to bind their nests together.
  4. Spiders webs were used for bandages in the old days, they actually contain vitamin K which helps decrease bleeding.
  5. Most spiders are harmless to humans.
  6. Spiders eat insects which damage crops, therefore helping to protect our food supply.
  7. Spider web silk is five times stronger than steel (if we could replicate spider silk in much bigger sizes the cable would be strong enough to prevent a plane taking off!)
  8. Male spiders save food gifts for female spiders to try and tempt them to mate!

With the above information in mind, can you write for five minutes standing up for the humble spider? You might like to do it in the form of a letter to a newspaper, or perhaps a little section in a journal article. Remember to use positive words to support your story!

Image from Pixabay

Task 3: (10 mins) Have you heard of the term ‘Money Spider’ it’s the name we use for tiny spiders that are meant to be a good omen. They are the ones that leave strands of web across grass on the fields.

The term Money Spider actually dates back to Roman times when it was said that if a tiny spider walked across you it might spin you some new clothes and help lift you out of poverty, bringing good wealth and fortune. In fact the Roman coins used to have a symbol of a spider on them as a sign of good fortune. You can read more about that here.

Write about a tiny money spider, how he came to be on someone’s clothes and the good fortune that he brought to them.

Or, write a descriptive piece about a tiny spider living on a lawn.

Image from Pixabay

Task 4: (5 mins) Did you know that spiders actually have paws?! They are very cute, if you are feeling brave you can see them here. Can you spend the last five minutes writing about something else unpopular in nature in more positive terms.

Here’s some ideas to get you started:

  • Dandelions are deemed a weed, but I see them as sunshines.
  • A bird’s skull might make a beautiful drawing in an artists studio.
  • Slugs are homeless snails!!
Picture from Richard Morgan

Well – I hope for anyone that is afraid of spiders that the session wasn’t too bad! I’m not saying I’m totally fearless, I don’t want a big guy or girl spider walking across me, but I would be brave enough to trap him / her in a cup and put him outside.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments, or email me at e.mckenzie1@yorksj.ac.uk

Have a good week, I look forward to your letters and pictures for Friday’s blog post!

Best wishes,
Emma

Monday’s Poem

15.06.2020

A Collective Poetry Experience

Hello! I have some beautiful relaxing words for you to start the week. If you looked at the blog on Saturday you will have seen the feather drawings inspired by a Turner / Ruskin exhibition that my creative writing class were lucky enough to be involved in last year. If you missed it the link is at the bottom, or just scroll down on the blog.

As part of the exhibition at York Art Gallery we got to spend time practising writing in the gallery and using the paintings for ideas and inspiration. Many of the works featured clouds drawn by Ruskin and stunning mountainous landscapes. Alongside Turner and Ruskin the exhibition also featured the work of Emma Stibbon which was absolutely breathtaking, please click on her name to view her work.

The following work was created as part of a group exercise where each participant was asked to reflect on building relationships with the art work and to imagine that they had stepped into a painting. A series of questions were then answered, however each time a question was answered the page was folded and handed to another class participant.

What emerged was a collective of beautiful poetic words made up of each person’s individual vision of a painting in the exhibition, here are a few (anonymous) words from the collective:

I step into the painting and immediately find… 
a swirling wind, snow sweeps from a mountain top, ice freezes my hair and chills me. 
A vast mountain rises from the mist. 
I am utterly alone and in awe. 

I am surrounded by … not only the clouds but as I hang on and become accustomed to the vibrations I notice who I have for company. 
They all have wings – some are cherubs with rosy pink cheeks; others with majestic wings towering above their heads. 

I feel …as light as a feather up here amongst the clouds, calm, as though all my worries are left behind and out of sight. 
I feel like anything is possible. 

Being here makes me… happy and at one with nature. 

*
I step into the painting and immediately find … 
My head is surrounded by clouds and indeed my whole body is resting on fluffy white clouds. There is a strong breeze and we are moving rapidly, a whole flood of clouds and gale force wind. 

I am surrounded by… 
The gentle movement of the cloud, swirling lilac and white mist. The stillness of the view of mountains – warm sunlight shining through the mist. 

I feel… 
At one with nature, and at one with the outside world. 

Being here makes me… 
Forget I’m alive, my heart relaxed and body warm. My mind distracted by the griffin stones.
I step into the painting and immediately find… 
Lilac mist all around me, hints of purple and some orange light. Shades of white mixed in with the vast lilac cloud. It is hard to find anything amongst the mist, but I can make out a view of mountains. 

I am surrounded by… 
The story of Apollo and Daphne which depicts a scene in the country. 

I feel… 
Content and relaxed. 

Being here makes me… 
Relaxed and happy.

I hope you enjoyed reading these. If you did you could practice this yourself. Imagine that you have stepped into your favourite painting of a natural landscape. Ask yourself, what do you find, what are your senses detecting, how does it feel?

Happy Monday! See you on Wednesday for the next Connect to Nature creative writing class!

Best wishes,
Emma

Saturday Art Challenge

13.06.2020

Ruskin Inspired Feathers!

Hi Everyone!

About a year ago St Nick’s Environment Centre was lucky enough to partner up with York City Art Gallery to run creative sessions as part of a Turner / Ruskin Exhibition which was curated by the fabulous Dr Suzanne Fagence-Cooper.

The exhibition aimed to highlight the plight of the environment and the incredible work that both Ruskin and Turner did ahead of their time charting landscape and natural details.

William Davidson (St Nick’s Book Club) and I ran a series of literature and writing sessions inspired by the exhibition, it was great fun and it also gave us the chance to keep re-visiting the paintings and drawings and to become very familiar with the work.

In particular I was really taken with Ruskin’s feather drawings. The attention to detail was immense, you felt as if you could literally just pick the feather off the paper, so beautifully had it been crafted on the page. So I thought I would have a go!

The lovely thing about drawing feathers is that you can really start to get to grips with using tone and light and dark shades to draw the feather out. You can also play about with the the weight of line – changing how hard you press into the paper to start to mimic the lightness of the feather.

As many feathers are so delicate and often pale colours, I have found that drawing on brown paper gives a lovely effect and also helps the lighter tones to stand out. These pictures are taken from a basic brown paper sketch book that I found in PaperChase but simple brown packing paper would work just as well.

I used water soluble pencil crayon’s which are lovely and soft and blend very easily, although for most of the pictures you see here I used them dry, rather than going over with a paint brush or dipping them in water. You can, however, use just a basic pencil or pencil-crayons to sketch with. As Ruskin often taught – the act of drawing is not to be an excellent artist, but to actually observe properly and to take your time with detailed observation of the natural world.

So, your Saturday Art Challenge is as follows:

Task:

  • Find a feather! If you aren’t able to go outside at the moment google images of feathers on line, you could even draw a fluffy Jackdaw’s feathers – as featured on this week’s creative writing class.
  • Choose your pencil, or drawing tools.
  • Choose some paper, this could be the back of an envelope, some plain paper, or the inside page of a book (Yes! I am one of those terrible people that adds sketches and notes to the books that I am reading!)
  • Begin to draw your feather. Note where the lines are clearer down the stem of the feather – here you can press harder to create a bold delineation of tone. For the actual strands of feather imagine the softness of the feather as you draw your lines, use that softness in the stroke of your pencil against paper.
  • For darker areas of tone, browns and blues give deeper colours and hues and blend nicely together to create shadows.
  • A white pencil crayon is excellent for highlighting where light falls on the shiny parts of the feather. White pencil crayon also captures those lovely wispy feathers at the base of the feather spine.
  • Really try to copy exactly what you see, where is light, where is dark? Take your time, get lost in the moment, enjoy!

If you are anything like me you might find this addictive. You will be picking up feathers everywhere you go!

If you are interested in the work of Ruskin, Suzanne Fagence-Cooper wrote an excellent account of his work in her book Why Ruskin Matters. I highly recommend it.

Yes my bookmark is a battered page from a book that fell apart!!

If you are interested in Ruskin’s feathers – google Ruskin and Feathers and then click on images at the top of the search engine – you will find many examples.

Hope you enjoy sketching feathers. Remember the most important part is not the end result of the drawing, it’s observing all the fine and beautiful details of feathers!

Take Care! See you on Monday for our next nature based poem.

Best wishes,
Emma