Sunday, 24 January 2010

'Art, Ecology and Economy' Exhibition

How amazing. A Haldon blog I kind of half pictured would be about the trees and the weather, the hallucinogenic qualities of the Forest and the Hill...but sometimes one finds something else altogether on the Haldon Hills...
I was waxing lyrical about the reflections visible on the estuary miles off, as the day was so clear and the tide must have been in far away, and had just finished the 'adventure cycle trail' part of my route, when we saw and remembered that CCANW the art gallery had it's new exhibition opening. It was packed! as it often is, but we peeped round the door, and there was just enough room for a couple more, and as the wonderful wood artist who has such an excellent range of photography art cards, Sean Hellman was part of it, of course I went in. The exhibition 'Art, Ecology & the Economy' showcases some of the sustainable applied arts - from musical instruments fashioned from wood to felt and wool goods from local sheep to beautiful bird mobiles - allsorts of wonderful things made from resources found in the landscape by the creative industries (artists) and made sustainably, with reference to care for the environment. A fine idea, and one very much in tune with the ethos of the Collective (see weblinks to the right) I belong to. Which is all about making useful things from locally sourced (and in our case recycled) materials, showing people that they can have many quality goods that don't have to have a massively complex production process involving being shipped miles and undergoing polluting manufacturing processes. Environmental arts and crafts that are actually a serious engagement with making things people want without trashing the countryside, not 'just a load of treehuggers' or things that are only good for souvenirs. And that's part of what this exhibition was about, so I was doubly interested.

I was just buying some Sean Hellman cards (as I had meant to keep the ones I bought before, but people's birthdays etc. had got in the way!), when to my delight and surprise, I saw someone I hadn't seen for some time, and had lost touch with - a friend who had given me a big break some time ago, and also was inspirational and supportive in the founding of Spoken/Written Bulletin S.W.! (see weblinks). I could hardly believe it - we greeted each other like the long-losts which we were, and swapped news, and told one another how well the other looked - I was so pleased and so amazed. Imagine you have liked someone, been grateful to them, then for various good reasons, they have dropped out of the scenes in which you have been acting - you haven't heard about them, but have been wishing them well, hoping they were alright - and then out of the blue, there they are, looking well and being full of life. We had both had an experience since we had last met of the life-changing variety, and knew what the other meant by it, and that too bound us up in those moments where we hardly saw what was around us, but only focussed on catching up, on renewal. It was marvellous.
After we parted, I went around the rest of the trail dazed...unexpected marvels at the Haldons in a different way...

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Secrets of the Forest

I think of the friends who I have brought here to share this path and the friends who I have not. Mel looking with a willow artist's eye at the shelters, Jo with his wood artist's eye appraising the sculptures, both always thinking of what and how they would do things differently, admiring and mentally augmenting in turn, imagining how they would have done it...Si through a wasted landscape after it had been cleared looking like the moon...and others.
The light is again looking the colour of pale copper summerlight, but it seems misplaced amongst the dark browns, rusts, intense mahoganies and darknesses of the winter forest. The beautiful tiles that remain are all broken. Those tiles! On the path off the ridge with the view that extends for miles, to the sea and all hills of distant counties...on that path, between the arched seats like upturned boat or a whale's ribcage (where we storytellers once finished a storytelling walk with the end of an abridged Epic of Gilgamesh) and the sculpture of a giant hanging xylophone-like structure, just off the path - were the tiles...Beautiful and striking, and (bizarrely, but the magic of this forest IS just that - inexplicable), despite being wholly artifice, they fitted exactly with the Haldon spirit once uncovered.

Before that, the path went under the arched seat and then wound about in a pretty story-book coil into the distance and beside a stream until it turned to both the giant rattle sculpture (now elsewhere) and the lovely keyboard xylophone (probably my favourite noise of the musical sculptures, the permanent ones along the trails organized by the Forestry Commission) - before finally meeting with the flat broad bridlepath/quarry-esque road. But then, lovely as that path was, with a fabulous tree all black and twisted and a genuine 'moment' in its own right to the left, and all the bracken and reeds' oranges in Autumn, the constant interest in the ever-changing stream, muddy or flowing, high or a trickle...the rise and then fall of the twining path...the stumps and silver birches that were characteristic of that path was closed. Closing a path currently means making it into a ribbon of gravel ridges, and shutting it off with a hurdle fence or other impediment. And so the sculptures were moved, and a new path was made.

The new path - in place of skirting heathland and being open, runs through dark trees in Narnian woodland, and the twists and turns come from another storybook tale. On the right before the pipe-like sculpture and after the hanging 'mask', was uncovered and made visible, just in the earth, exquisite octagonal tiles, terracotta colour, fitted together in a classic pattern interlocked by small square tiles of the same material. At first (last year) the section of some old path (from the fantasy of a folly landscape mentioned in a previous blog) made from them was to be seen. What delight! How charmed it was to find this fragment of a castle forecourt in the enchanted forest! Or so fancy made it seem. Heavy and well made, a magic path paved its way randomly through the forest, found only by the making of another different kind of path...all overhung by trees. For a short while I just enjoyed them, thinking of what else must once have been there, of why the original path had been built, of 'The Beginner's Way' (also called the Magic Path, much talked of but of which little remains, built years ago by the first? public art commissioned artist of the Hills, Jamie McCullough) and whether he had found and been inspired by them?
Then some were taken from the earth, piled up anyhow. And then they began to disappear. If I had thought it was the FC, taking them to restore them or to remake what there had been of the unexpected found court or whatever it was, then that would have been fine...but it didn't look like that. The path came into worse and worse disrepair - from looking like something just uncovered, but otherwise untouched and preserved, it came to look like a building site - the path prised open, stacked, and worst of all, broken. It was hateful, (and probably just as well I wasn't writing this blog then), as all the order and beauty was sacked. I don't know whether by policy or if it was simply raided by vandals or antique dealers. (The picture above is from last July when it was recently uncovered.)
Now only broken tiles remain, no good to anyone, just an echo to show how it must have and did once look.

What was their history? Why were they there, to what did they lead or of what were they a part? What parties were held by them or over them? What merry words spoken? I point out where they were to those I bring here.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Precursor of Spring

A stolen day, taken swiftly from the jaws of needs-must. The light this time was of a surrealist painting in Italian sun. The slanting sunlight shafted through the pines like lasers, and the moss greens still vivid looked as inviting as velvet cushions in Nature-the-stylist's corridors otherwise known as paths.
On the ridge, the fog rolled in from the Sea along the estuary, the patchwork of fields and woods, hills and perspectives was lit up and darkened according to the cloud, some in sun, some in shadow, the fields alternately green or dark blue. The fog beyond took on the shape of the hill it had just been on, and made the landscape higher, grander, as I have seen it do before.
Once the fog lifted so high and in so many places taking the hills as models, that the view toward Exmouth and the Blackdown Hills was transformed into a mountainous realm, of gentle drama - a rugged terrain yet with the watercolour light of shadow and slate blues.
Pre-occupied with serious work-related concerns, still the light through the trees went through me like a cleansing arrow of clear-mindedness, and the fog and rolling mists beyond, the sheet in the distance between wood below and hilltop above floating like a flying carpet...layered my consciousness with that meditative quality which the Haldons so often exercise. What is this place? Hardly another soul there, what is it's strange power? I could not deny its call.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

The Thaw

Having been up to Dartmoor the day before, it meant that one knew that the ice and snow must have melted at last. As last year, Telegraph Hill had been closed, the road that leads to the Haldon Hills from the east.
Up on Dartmoor, the landscape had been monochrome, and the roads turning to streams with borders of slush, as the suddenness of 7 degrees hit the frozen tors and moor. Around Widecombe there had been a shifting mist, sometimes turning to fog as huge amounts of melt water evaporated into the air. Stopping at Haytor Rock, on the way it been snowy, on the way back, huge patches of green showed new streams everywhere. The sheer amount of water meant that surely it would be sinking mud? No, the ground was hard, as if still frozen solid. Walking up the hill merely meant avoiding the many streams. At the top, as there was everywhere, a swathe of snow remained. It was untouched in many places, truly deep and crisp! and with a backdrop of the stone cliff. It was definitely snowball time! The crystal pure snow making wonderful instant compacted shapes. The fog lifted and drifted, darkening, and incredibly, within half an hour, the ground that had been firm turned to the mush that one had thought that much water should do. Boots splashed at every seemingly green patch of ground, and began to sink, where before they had not.

Up on Haldon ridge, it had melted almost entirely. The heaps of dirty snow were just where it had been piled to clear the roads. The paths were muddy, naturally, the adventure trail more of a stream, but the light was like a photographic studio. At a heady 10 degrees celsius, the Forest felt positively balmy in comparison to the previous wintry conditions, and many of the trees were livid green with mosses. Single dew drops hung from delicate branches in the thaw, and some of the barks of the thinner trees and saplings felt so mouldy and damp that they would imprint to the touch. They were shedding bark from the frosts, renewing themselves, perhaps?
Many of the most picturesque twists of roots and apoplectically writhen stumps were backlit with a soft dark light, their viridian greens sharply contrasting the with dark greys and browns and rusts of the January forest hollows. On the ridge, so much water vapour came off the pines that they looked as if they were smoking with a chill damp fire. The mist after thaw again.

On the path off the ridge that joins with the bridle path again, past the part where broken tiles (many tales of those!) lie recalling that lost folly landscape (that I have a fantasy was there), was a tiny palisade fence made of thin logs to the right. I went over to it - and it marked the top of a steep dip. Below in a beautiful shallow bowl of the forest, was an exquisite electric green tree, short, with its bare arms open in the shape of a many-fingered hand. There it was, the centre of a small fort, the ramparts defended with logs, the drawbridge the little palisade. A new feature - one of the amazing things about the Haldon Hills is not that they change so dramatically with light and shade, season, weather, time of day, but that there is always some new feature to be seen, whether by nature, an arts project connected to the Gallery, CCANW, or the Forestry Commission or - well, who knows? On one tree on the same path, there's a piece of bark hung up - which looks, whether by chance or design, exactly like a mask.

And then the day darkened - the cloud had come over the hill at last, and it began to spit a light rain. Back just in time before the heavier rains began...

Saturday, 2 January 2010

New Year's Day on the Hills

Yesterday, (being New Year's Day), the Haldons called again. Up we went, encountering a little ice only at the turn to the bottom ridge...and then on the track the ground was frozen rather than icy. The forest - ever surprising, had kept some chill out and the paths were mainly just muddy save where some stretches of shallow water had turned to ice, or there was frost on parts of the forest floor that flanked the paths.
The light was extraordinary, long slanting golden light like a summer evening. And being a crystal blue sky with such a sun, and the day that it was, there were plenty of people on the trails.

How different to last New Year's Day! When one almost had second thoughts...but went anyway, to see. The mist was thick, and there were no panoramic views to be had, but the whole forest was hung with an exquisite hoar frost. The paths were all clear of snow or ice, but the entire place was a winter wonderland, all delicate silvers and grays, an infinite lace filigree to wander through. The mist was all sudden shadows and breathy veils - plumes of steam seemed to rise from some pines below the main ridge. The ground was covered in icing, the woods all cake and chiffon. The clear rime glimmered like a thousand diamonds even in the subdued light of the shrouds of low cloud. And there was almost no one else there. As ever, it was completely transformed, the special effects of another season. Full of unexpected moments, and of dazzling beauty.

That was last day of the electric ex-Finnish postal van - left stranded partway between hill and somewhere warm! The rescue van came at last in the fading light as the temperature dropped to below freezing, and one was just beginning to think it would never arrive. When the snow came, Telegraph Hill (the road that leads to the Haldons) was completely blocked. And the wait was on to find another van...hopefully one that worked!