Monday, 12 May 2014

Winter Reflections on the Island

Summer is almost upon us on the island. In fact seasons are something that I have had to rethink since coming here. In October when you expect leaves to fall, few do. What does happen though is that the last of the seasonal visitors leave and their passing is almost as sad as the falling of leaves. But in the natural cycle of course we need to rejuvenate – and I know a number of people who would be dead if they didn’t get a few months of R&R. Summers here are intense - in the nicest possible of ways. Strangely the summer months are the time when the island is most barren but it still manages to buzz and sparkle.

We arrived here last spring – or rather I left the UK in spring but I arrived to what seemed like a pretty warm blue skied summer.  The summer months were a blizzard of names and faces and I can only apologise to the number of dear people who have said to me, “You can’t remember where we met can you?” I don’t think this face and name memory thing is anything new for me. It has long amused me that I can get completely thrown when I meet someone, who I might know very well but in a different environment. Like neighbours, of many years, who I meet in a bar on the other side of the city. A lady who I only ever see from waist upwards as she stands behind the counter of my local shop but who I can not compute when I meet her full length. Whatever, winter months here are a time to meet and reinforce those friendships previously only glimpsed from the whirlwind of the season.

The visitors go home and some days it rains but mostly I remember dazzling sunshine and trees full of figs and oranges. Then in January overnight the whole island is covered in small yellow flowers. This continues till round the end of February when the farmers plough up many of the fields to reveal vivid ochre toned soil, so that the land looks like a rather fanciful Impressionist painting.
Art Critic: “That’s ridiculous, the land never looked like that.”
Observer: “But that is the land.”
Then just as the yellow flowers have diminished to provide an edging to the landscape, rather than its main radiance, an army of wildflowers starts sprouting from everywhere and the roads are lined with ostentatious growths sprouting white and yellow flowered wheels.

Just before I left the UK I saw a programme on TV about the growing campaign to plant wild flowers in cities. Every council in the country pays quite a bit of money each year to plant bands of brightly coloured flowers in civic areas and roundabouts etc. It hadn’t occurred to me that these plants are largely useless as far as insects are concerned because they have been bred for colour and don’t produce any nectar. Sheffield is trying to lead the way in planting wild flowers in their city. As well as being more sustainable I think wild flowers could help soften the hard edges of a city. Part of the problem though is one of taste. In the West we are used the concept of man dominating nature so a perfect rectangle of identically coloured flowers appeals to our innate learned sense of order. I remember hearing a review once on the radio by an art critic who was comparing two contrasting exhibitions. One exhibition was of Chinese landscape painting, the other of Victorian photography. The critic noted how the attitude of Victorian Britain was summed up by one of the photographs which featured a formal group of inappropriately be-suited surveyors standing proudly and dominant infront of the mighty and majestic Victoria Falls on the boarder of Zambia and Zimbabwe. He noted that their demeanour seemed to suggest that they might have made this magnificent edifice themselves. By contrast he noted that in a large Chinese landscape painting you have to look quite carefully to see the tiny man with his donkey cart as it disappears behind a willow tree. He continued by comparing a Chinese poem with that of ah honoured Victorian British poet. I can only offer a wild paraphrasing but the Chinese poem read something like this.

Fragrant peony
Bursting through a broken wall
I stop to breathe with you
Then walk off remembering your sweetness.

By contrast the British poem went something like this.

Oh simple dandelion growing out of the crag of rocks
I stoop down and pluck you from your hiding place
Gazing at you in my hand I think, ‘what is it that make you live?’

By which time of course the poor bloody dandelion is dead!

So maybe it's not just public policy that needs to change but also an attitude about our relationship with the living world.

In the meantime music continues and while there are less opportunities to share it with others in the winter I still find myself putting in around 20 hours a week sifting through music websites hunting for gems, all of which will be revealed when summer finally breaks on the island.

Here is a mix I put together reflecting on this time:

Warm Winter Beaches Part 1

Warm Winter Beaches Part 2