16 June 2014

Time-wasting and other stories


In the mornings, before I go into the studio, Daisy and I walk.  About half way round our usual hour-long route is a steep meadow.  Strictly speaking a meadow is a field of grass ' shut up' against cattle between March and June or July, mown and then grazed until the following spring. These days such places are rare,  reduced to steep hillsides, nature reserves and corners of churchyards.  Most grass for fodder is grown in 'leys', regularly ploughed, flowerless green deserts of single species, high-yield rye-grass, cut for silage in the spring.  A meadow is now, in Richard Mabey's words, 'a place of the mind' as much as as a precisely defined ecological system.  'My' meadow is a true hay meadow and, to climb over the stile into its quiet apartness is often the best moment of my day.

Six weeks ago the field was a close, springy tapestry of short herbs and grasses, embroidered, star-like, with thousands of tiny wild-flowers.  Now in mid-June it is full blown, full up, breath-taking in its depth and softness.  This morning my feet push through a damp world of fine roots, slugs and beetles.  My knees, thighs and hips meanwhile, are in a dryer heaven of their own - clouds of pollen, laced with small white moths, rise up around me, to swirl and hang, gauzy and impossibly weightless in the early light.

On another morning I might have pushed on through, planning, keen to work, thinking about the day ahead, half an eye out for foxes perhaps but on the whole pretty brisk.  Things to do.  This morning however, I dawdle, breathing in the quietness, content to wait while Daisy comically appears and disappears -  'hunting'.   A huge and very blank sheet of paper waits for me in the studio - heavy and impossible.  This week I must start a new drawing.  Who chooses to embark on obsession, to start again, to begin the many hours?  This morning meadow is clearly a happier place than studio and the mind - ever inventive when it comes to procrastination - has an idea;  whilst my knowledge of wild flowers is moderately good, I know next to nothing of the sea of grasses around me.  Perhaps I could pick a few?  Just one or two to learn their names - won't take long.  Two hours later, the sun high in the sky, my collection spread out on the studio floor and (with my back firmly to the tauntingly white sheet of paper,) I am looking in books.



More hours pass, the studio warms. Daisy sleeps through the morning dreaming of rabbits and my piece of paper stays stubbornly pristine.  I continue to sit with my back to it, earnestly studying spikelets, ligules, nodes and leaves.  The names alone are distracting:
Wild Oats, 
Sweet Vernal Grass, 
Purple Moor Grass, 
Hairy Love-Grass, 
Cock's Foot, 
Crested Dog's-Tail, 
Yorkshire Fog, 
Sheep's-Fescue, 
Timothy Grass 
and my absolute favourite, one half-known and loved for years - 
Quaker or Quaking Grass.  



It is the trembling of the spikelets that give this grass its English name. (Much, I assume, as Quakers are said to tremble or shake when moved to ministry.)  The generic name Briza (the sample I picked is maxima but the smaller, daintier media is prettier,)  comes from the Greek britho, meaning 'I balance'.

Quaker Grass has  one other lovely characteristic; when the wind blows - and you need to be seriously wasting time lying down in it to hear this - it rattles.  The dry papery scales on the heart-shaped spikelets rubbing and scraping together in the breeze.

Amusingly, I read it is also known by a variety of folk-names such as 'doddering dickies' or 'dillies', and 'didder'.  Dillying and diddering - exactly what I'm doing this morning!  Wandering round hay meadows and burying myself in reference books - anything other than start WORK.



"Our hands imbibe like roots,
so I place them on what is beautiful in this world."

St. Francis of Assisi


6 comments:

  1. sounds like a morning well spent to me Sarah!
    Phil

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  2. A beautiful post Sarah - I could smell those grasses - time out well spent I'd say!

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  3. such a lovely description of a wonderful moment

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  4. Most definitely not wasted time! I was having similar thoughts this morning, as I slogged through my own soggy meadow (it has rained for 4 days straight...or is it five?), noticing the white daisies, the delicious magenta of those feathery grasses you picked (purple moor?), the rich perfume of clover, the sweet little bugles of purple vetch, the vibrant yellow of scotch broom, and wondering about the identity of numerous other grasses and flowers. Alas, no quaking grass - I which I also love with a passion. Yes, I am supposed to be working on something else (an expressive face), but not a minute spent with the minutiae of nature is wasted. When the deluge abates, I shall return to collect samples for a sketchbook spread. I'm sure that, at some point in the future, the knowledge of the details gleaned from drawing these beauties will improve a meadow drawing. You will be spending many long hours with that blank piece of paper when you finally attack it - there is no harm in a meadow segue. Who knows where it might lead?

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  5. Brilliant post. I have been soooo inspired by grasses of late and they have shown up in my wallpaper and lamp designs...but I'm always stuck when it comes to naming them. I think I need a better book than the one I have. I love your grass collection. I had one very similar in my studio. Enjoy those meadow wanderings

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  6. Lovely post. I'm sorry I missed it, but lovely to see it now.

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