Sunday, 21 February 2010

Co-ordinates of a Metaphysical Map

The forest was looking majestic again despite the complete absence of leaves still, although some buds were visible. The snow on distant hills of Dartmoor looked like spilt paint on the land canvas, dripping downward toward the grey-blues of the hills without snow.
It struck me as I looked out at the ridge over the constantly transforming scape that part of why the forest is so special is because of its peculiar position. It looks one way to Dartmoor, and the high tors with their rocky stacks, and all the treasures both hidden and evident. Yet to the south it looks to the estuary and to the Sea, to another ceaselessly shimmeringly changeable placeless place - Exmouth beach and cliffs, the sensational coastal path running before, through and beyond them. And yet above on the hill, stands the Belvedere. From many parts of Exeter lying in the dale below, that tower itself is visible. And so in some way, more than geographical or topographical, the Forest lies at the heart of the landscape, connecting these powerful places that pull so many toward them in a way that seems almost spiritual in a Kandinsky-like sense. As if it was the centre of a soul compass where the arrow or gnomon has its turning point, where it can point in any of the key directions. Or am I waxing too lyrical? Yet whether swinging on the hammock looking up at the sky, or hypnotized by the views or lost in some storybook of a wooded path, the Forest exerts its power.

Even when rehearsing for a performance or going through a workshop plan, the Forest startles you. Today it was the green sky that lay between the wine fields, the dark mint woods, the watery blue hills and the navy-grey clouds. The turquoise horizon so un-blue that it was instead the lime green one sees in paintings...

Friday, 19 February 2010

Quality of Light 2

This time however, the daylight was peach - as the unexpected sun lit up the emeralds of the moss, and tinted the path and tall trees with a roseate softness. The path as soon as one gets off the main quarry-like road (FC track used for logging), and the hill winds upwards, it's the Forest Lover's Path, a fantasy of soaring trees that no photograph (not even those by the wonderful professional photographers who take it) seems able to capture. In mist it looks like a film set, in summer like a painting, and an awful lot of the time, simply like some kind of dream. It had been chilly, so I wasn't expecting peach. Nearing the rhododendron tunnel (an extraordinary feature, and one which used to be feral! but is now managed and sometimes cut back, since the paths became made up and 'all weather'), the trees turned out some purple to blend with the peach into that orange/purple light that always so amazes me (and is more often to be seen on horizons or high in the sky, that in sudden moments on an enclosed path).
On the ridge, the view fell away into valley after dale after range of hills, to a glassy estuary, all burnished like a mirror - it turned in swathes from silver to gunmetal to pewter to silver again, and what was remarkable was that the clouds above did the same. They hung like vast curtains above the estuary, and shimmered silver to pewter to grey to silver again. I often say I've never the view like that before, but it does change continually. Just as the beach at Exmouth, due to the tide, the sands, the weather, is almost never the same twice, so the view from the ridge changes with the seasons and the weather in a way that sometimes leaves me surprised still to recognize familiar landmarks. It is so absolutely transformed by light, mist, shadow, and cloud. The hills can look much higher some days, on others you can see many more ranges of hills...sometimes the ploughed fields are electric in their ruby red, sometimes the forests shine green, more often a shade of blue...and in its entirety, the view is both not to be fathomed even with video, and is frequently frankly beyond any comprehensive or explanatory description. This time on the farthest hills was snow, which looked like icing above the lower hills before them which had none.

Even the Belvedere changes from snow white to ivory to cream to cotton wool-edged in mist, and from spectral nightmare to summer picnic fantasy to fairytale picturebook to a dream of some other reality to a symbolic aspect too intense to speak of freely...Not including of course its actual identities as historical building, tourist attraction, folly, viewpoint etc..

On the 'Adventure Cycle Trail', the sky turned dark - gone was the delicious sunshine. I had seen on a hill behind, a dark cloud looking like rain, and wondered if it would come our way. It did, as the cathedral of straight black pines in a long straight path came over even blacker, and white confetti fell from the sky. But it was hail, a light hail, though enough to be a mild blizzard. Kindly, the air was too warm for it to remain hail, and also kindly, being hail, it bounced off coats and so didn't make one wet. To travel through the white on black woods was a privilege of its own, and by the turn in the track where it goes to another view, it had stopped, and the sun had again graced the forest. Mind-blowing.

Later on the side of the trail after the hammock - what bliss it is to lie there staring at the sky, always thinking that much more time should be spent lying there or on grass in a favourite field under favourite trees, staring up at the sky...after that the light went silver - this time I knew it must be the trees that were mostly responsible. It was a beautifully Victorian antique silver with a hint of gilt. Pure elegance to set off the delicate filigree of the lattice-branched trees...

Qualities of Light 1

Earlier in the month, there was an intense light that can only be described as burgundy - the locus of it was at the Hawk Observatory point, where the land falls away in folds of trees, bare in the season of darkness, but with clouds of wine red coming from them. Painterly and Medieval tapestry-like, they glowed dark jewel red, and much of the path on that side of the trail also glowed with the red quality - despite the fact that the sky was gunmetal grey and many of the taller trees were silver. When I asked the painter - how would one go about depicting that burgundy light? he said maybe painting the whole canvas red first, and then painting the colours of the grey cloud and mahogany trees over it...yes, I could see that.

There were some trees on the path above the escarpment, the bark was peeling and the sun lit up the silhouettes of the trees a crimson amber. Haloes of the trees - a remarkable effect and not one I'd seen there before.

The next time it was the hills by the gate down from the Belvedere - the landscape was like so many dreams I have had - a Tolkienesque supernatural quality, the dark blues of the hills or patches of forest, the darkening sky like the threat once (in 'The Lord of the Rings') they leave the Shire for a road with who knows what about to descend. And every distant hill seems to speak of Weathertop.