SPIDER TIME

At this time of year spider webs are more noticeable than usual; as I walked along a narrow path through the nearby wood recently I felt several strands of spider silk break against my face and on a dewy morning I saw this web, made by an invisible spider, on my garden hedge.  

Spiders have been spinning webs for at least 100 million years 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spider_web

Something else that’s been very active this month is the organisation Extinction Rebellion.  XR made the news when they prevented the publication of some newspapers because, they complained, the press gave very little publicity to the problem of climate change, habitat destruction and species extinction. 

Many people would rather not hear about climate change etc.  Western civilisation has for centuries encouraged people to think that humans are superior to all other species and, more recently, that our super intelligence can find a technological fix for any problem.  It’s not easy for everyone to accept that we are not the masters of the earth and that the survival of the human species depends on intricate processes and interactions between all living things and the earth on which we live, and that pollution, habitat destruction and excessive consumption may have calamitous consequences for us as well as for other species. 

Barricades outside printing presses may bring the dangers of climate change and species extinction to the front pages (though with a blast of disapproval for the tactics of XR) but effective action on the environment will only happen when many more people are moved to see our life on earth in a new light.  

This s a job for storytellers, poets, songwriters, film makers, and artists of all sorts.  My contribution is ‘Spider Regina’ in which a spider goddess talks about the nature of her earthly queendom.

SPIDER REGINA

I am the Spider 
that cradles the world
in gossamer webs of incredible strength;
my spinnerets exude 
a perpetual flux of protoplasm,
I entwine streams of organisms 
in coils of life and death,
my webs incorporate 
the microscopic threads of mitochondria
and the spirals of the double helix.
 
I select mutations that originate 
phenomenal diversity in tiny scraps of plankton, 
I feed the whales with songs that echo oceans’ depths
and assemble shoals of fish
in scudding clouds that swirl across the seas. 
I am inordinately fond of beetles, 
each one of half a million species 
that whirr and skitter through the air
and scurry under clods of earth
as they bombard my forests and savannahs, 
and when the dinosaurs
have somehow vanished in a haze I raise 
exaltations of skylarks
and scatter hares beneath the moon.
 
Long ago I taught the termites 
how to build their towering nests,
I placed the ciliated corals in their reefs. 
and lately I evolved
the convoluted brains that flood the minds of men 
with more sensations 
than they can consciously interpret.
They have struggled to know my name, 
I have been called Gaia and Isis, 
Venus and Kali, Mati-Syra-Zemlya.
 
Sometimes men are afraid
of my bewitching powers,
they narrow their gaze and only recognise 
the motherhood of Eve and Mary Mother of God,
recklessly forgetting that my earthly queendom 
embraces everything that lives 
or has ever lived:
amoeba and Madonna, echidna and Spinoza,
for I am the Spider
that spins the web of life.

Anne Bryan

TRIANGULATION

This blog is on a mathematical concept: Pascal’s triangle. This is an absurd thing for me to undertake as my knowledge of maths is based on an O level in 1952 with a touch of statistics in University, but now that I’m old I’ve realised it’s OK to be absurd and it’s absurd to try to be sensible all the time. 

First the maths, which is very neat. Pascal built a triangle of numbers: at the top of the triangle is 1, the next line has 2 numbers 1 and 1, the following line 3 numbers 121 and so on

1
1 1
1 2 1
1 3 3 1
1 4 6 4 1
1 5 10 10 5 1

Add any two numbers on one line and the number below is the sum of those numbers. There are many more interesting things that can be done with this number pattern, take a look on https://www.mathsisfun.com/pascals-triangle.html .   

Pascal’s triangle gets its name from the French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal {19 June 1623 – 19 August 1662} but he wasn’t the first to discover it. In Iran the triangle is referred to as the Khayyam triangleas it was discovered by the Persian poet-astronomer-mathematician Omar Khayyam (1048–1131). He wasn’t alone though; Pascal’s triangle was known in China in the early 11th century through the work of the Chinese mathematician Jia Xian (1010–1070). In the 13th century, Yang Hui (1238–1298) presented the triangle and so it’s called Yang Hui’s triangle in China. In India it was known by Pingala, an ancient Indian poet and mathematician who lived around 300 BCE. He wrote the Chandaḥśāstra, where he analysed Sanskrit poetry mathematically and gave the first known explanations of Pascal’s triangle. 

Pascal is also known as a philosopher and author of Pensees, a compilation of thoughts on life in general, but particularly on religion and the necessity of belief in Christ. He wrote the Pensees at a time of religious controversy in France when a sect known as the Jansenists, to which Pascal belonged, was at odds with the more powerful Jesuits. Omar Khayyam is best known as a poet who wrote the Rubaiyat (though it may not have been entirely his work). This long poem can be interpreted either as an example of mystical Sufism or of epicurean opposition to orthodoxy. 

Many people today would feel mystified by the preoccupations of these men but imagine what Pascal, Khayyam, Yang Hui and Pingala would have felt if they could meet each other, how bemused each would have been by the others view on everything except the triangle that bears their names. It seems rather amazing to me that the properties of this triangle can be understood in any culture or century, and if our civilisation should fail and all knowledge was lost this triangle could be rediscovered anywhere at any time. 

I am in awe of these mathematicians who were also poets and writers and their triangle full of possibilities. I offer a small poem. 

Triangular Ode to Maths

                              O
                             t o
                            s e e
                           d e e p
                          e a r t h  
                         s t r i n g
                        b i n d i n g
                       g a l a x i e s
                      r e c o g n i s e
                     t e r r e s t i a l
                   i n t e r l a c i n g
                  m i r a c u l  o u s l y 
                 t y i n g t h e  w o r l d 
                i n   m a t h e m a t i c a l
               s k e i n s  o f  s u p r e m e
              b e a u t y  a n d  b i n d i n g
             w i t h  f a u l t l e s s  y a r n
            t h e  d e c i p h e r e d   w o r l d  

Anne Bryan

LED BY SCIENCE

Living through this phase of the corona virus pandemic means being bombarded with all sorts of advice, instructions, rules and laws to ‘keep us safe’. These edicts, we are told, are ‘led by science’ or ‘follow the science’. It made me think about what it means when words are said to follow the science. It can’t be easy to find words that follow the science unswervingly, it must almost impossible for the politicians who choose the words not to be influenced by their feelings, prejudices and temperament.

The poem in this blog is based on science, not the emerging scientific knowledge and epidemiology of the newly hatched ever-evolving covid-19 virus but on the ancient study of arithmetic: in particular on the value of pi, often written as the Greek letter π. 

The value of pi has been studied for at least 4000 years by ancient Babylonians, Greeks, Egyptian, Indian and Chinese mathematicians. For more history see https://www.exploratorium.edu/pi/history-of-pi. There’s even a Welsh dimension to this history: the Greek letter π was first used to denote the ratio between the diameter and circumference of a circle by a Welsh mathematician called William Jones (1675-1749) https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/meet-farm-boy-wales-gave-world-pi-william-jones

The value of pi is 3.142592 …. etc., you may remember from school that it goes on and on without end; to refresh your memory on the mathematics try https://www.mathsisfun.com/numbers/pi.html

I’ve used the first 36 numbers of the π sequence (3.1415 926 5358 97 93238 46264 338 32795 0288) to determine the length of the words in this blog’s poem. As pi begins with 314 the first word has 3 letters, the second 1 and the third 4 letters and so on. I solved the problem of zero by substituting O.                

THE SONG OF π 
  
And I sang a motet,  
untangled my spirit  
where the sheep gathered.  
Intricate notions,  
uncertain and no way obedient,  
turn random in simple song  
and woe, ruthless  
but in modular synchrony, moves,  
O, to piercing melodies.   

Anne Bryan  

This poem was not written with any meaning in mind, you can interpret the words in any way that feels right to you.  (Dare I say that it’s tempting to do that with the rules and edicts as well). 

The sheep in The Song of π remind me of the aria ‘Sheep may safely graze’ by JS Bach which I remember singing in school and so I wanted to illustrate the poem with an image of sheep. But even though there are around 10 million sheep in Wales, I find I don’t have a suitable photo. 

At the moment the covid-19 rules in Wales say no-one should travel more than 5 miles from home so I can’t drive to the hills to photograph sheep. Instead I offer the image of Welsh Black cattle grazing in the lovely landscape of mid Wales in a pre-pandemic Springtime.      

IN A FEVER

I’m fed up with the corona virus lockdown, I’m tired of being told I should stay at home and ‘stay safe’. I am old and cannot be safe, death will come before long whatever I do. ‘Staying safe’ narrows my life and weakens me physically and mentally, hastening the decrepitude that will make life miserable and death welcome. 

Having a rant brings little comfort though, I need to escape. No one can ground the flights of the imagination so I’m off to explore the jungles of the Malaysian Archipelago with Alfred Russel Wallace (1823 -1913). I’ve no images of this expedition so here’s a photo taken in the nearest approach to a jungle in the suburbs of Barry: the Nature Reserve opposite the Cwmtalwg Pub on Severn Avenue.

A woodpigeon in an ash tree

When he was a land surveyor in Neath, South Wales, Wallace became interested in natural history. Later he travelled to the Amazon collecting and preserving insects, birds and other animals to sell to universities, museums, zoos and private collectors. His ship was wrecked on the way home but, nothing daunted, in 1858 he’s voyaging around the tropical islands of Indonesia collecting exotic species, including a pet baby orangutan which he observes carefully, comparing its development with that of human babies.

As he explored the world Wallace wondered how species came to be so different and yet sometimes so similar. He thought it likely that plants and animals had evolved but no one had yet explained how this might happen. Wallace had exchanged letters on the subject with Charles Darwin who was studying inheritance in pigeons http://darwinspigeons.com/ . Both men had been influenced by An Essay on the Principles of Population by Thomas Malthus which discussed how human population growth was naturally limited by famine and disease. 

The idea that natural selection https://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/evo_25 could be the mechanism of evolution came to Wallace when he was ill with malarial fever. When he recovered he sent a letter to Darwin which changed both men’s lives.

In the poem I imagine how the confused images of a feverish delirium might have helped Wallace to see the world in a new way.

ALFRED RUSSEL WALLACE IN A FEVER
 
          In delirium the jungle muttered 
howled and shrieked in a cacophony 
of uncanny sounds, I couldn’t make sense of it. 
I heard the wawk wawk, wok wok of the birds 
of paradise, and recognised the raucous calls 
of the mias, orang-utans, men of the woods, 
striding above me through the trees.
 
           My baby mias, my little pet, 
eyes full of childish fear, clung close to me, 
her soft red fur against my neck,
and all around the jungle called.
 
           I saw a nest of little birds, 
scarlet mouths squawking with hunger,
but no parent came, only the dragon bird
of frantic nightmares, the winged beast, 
the Malthus bird. In the valley of Neath
I’d lived in its shadow as it snatched
the ragged children with bone thin legs. 
Now its suffocating breath 
stank in my nostrils, my baby mias was torn 
from me but I escaped into an English garden. 
 
           I found Mr Darwin 
cooing softly to his pigeons. ‘Look,’ he said,
‘at my collection of domestic doves, 
varieties bred and culled for different features:
carriers, pouters, fantails, Jacobins, 
I’m almost ready to harness them.’ 
‘How far will they take you?’ I asked. 
‘Around the world I hope,’ he said, 
later, not now, it takes time to select 
the birds who can fly through a hullabaloo.’ 
 
           In the jungle the flurry 
of terrible wings split the heavy canopy. 
In a crazy streak of sun-light I saw
the unsettling faces of monkeys and apes
as they struggled to survive, I saw the leopards 
change their spots, I saw every species that reels
though the ravenous world shift into a new shape. 
In a seminal dawn everything began 
to sing a new song, to flaunt a new body,
to give birth to a new jungle.
 
           When the delirium had flown 
           my fevered visions
           cooled and condensed into lines of ink
           which I sent to Mr Darwin.

Wallace was interested in many subjects: natural history, anthropology, biogeography, architecture, socialism, spiritualism and whether there was life on Mars. Explore his remarkable life and work at http://wallacefund.info

Anne Bryan

APPLE TREE ABC

I’m a great believer in ‘make the best of things’, ‘no point in grumbling’ etc. but today I absolutely feel I must moan and wail at the present epidemic of social distancing, at the drought of hugs and kisses and chats with children and grandchildren and dear old friends. Skype and Zoom meetings are better than nothing, but I long for natural conversations. 

In desperation I go and talk to the old apple tree in the garden. It’s a very old friend: when we moved here it was already well grown and fruitful and it’s provided Bramley type apples for innumerable puddings for more than 50 years. Children and grandchildren have climbed it and hung swings from its rough old branches marked with many pruning scars. The tree is covered by delicate pink blossoms which are falling like confetti, but it’s also showing signs of advanced age. It’s leaning over and there are woodworm holes and rot in the trunk and branches.

Both of us will fall over and return to the ground before too long, but while we wait it feels good to sit in her shade. I like to think of Newton finding enlightenment under an apple tree but maybe I should also remember that an apple tree got Eve into a lot of trouble. I decide to start the conversation with a Haiku. 

as your blossoms fall
dark seeds take shape in secret
shielded by pale flesh

The tree drops a few petals.  I decide to try again, maybe something more cosmic would be better.

I bite your sharp fruit
tasting gravity’s pizzazz
and the sun’s gusto

The tree shakes its leaves slightly in the breeze. The leaves are only just unfurling but some have already been chewed at the edges by unseen insects. Bees are busy sucking nectar, trails of ants hurry up and down towards the top of one of the branches, I can’t see why. In autumn birds come and feast on the fallen fruit; blackbirds and thrushes love them and sometimes I see redwings that fly in from Scandinavia and in the last few years a couple of seagulls appear regularly and stab the apples rather awkwardly with their large beaks.  Slugs leave evidence of their munching meanderings on the fruit rotting in the grass; the slugs and the worms that live among the network of tree roots are food for frogs, hedgehogs and foxes.  I begin to see the tree as more like a metropolis than an individual, a network of comings and goings, nourishing and lethal, a harvest of success and failure, birth and death, a mesh of interactions in the natural world that link to science, art and myth.

I sit under the tree and try to weave some of the apple tree’s threads into an interesting pattern of words, it’s much more fun than wasting time grumbling at the limitations of my life which, like apple blossom, clings to the tree for such a short time. So, dear old tree, here’s a hug and a poem for you and all apple trees, wherever they grow.

APPLE TREE ABC
 
Apples in the Art class, in lessons for
Beginners - take your pencils and try to
Catch the light on their convexities the
Dimples, the silky skin that so delighted 
Eve - desire slithered into her mind - taste the 
Forbidden fruit. Name the varieties -
Gala, Worcester, Coxes Pippins floating in
Halloween; make enchantments of spiralling peel.
Inhale the sharp sweetness. Drip through muslin
Jelly coloured with brambles. Ferment the juice it
Kicks the brain. Rest under the shade of the 
Leaves in July, the blossoms have dropped and 
Maggots are eating their way to the core.
Newton understood there was gravity in 
Orchards, origins of homely apple
Pies and puddings, motherly food fit for 
Queens and Kings. Sometimes in winter before
Rot sets in, redwings strip the flesh from the skin.
Snow White is a story of deadly apples,
Though in truth, earth sends its succulence through the
Umbilical stalks. Keep the doctor away with 
Vitamin C, eat an apple a day.
Wasps suck the juice that rises through
Xylem and phloem. It all shuts down at the 
Year’s end, but as the sun reaches its
Zenith again, petals give way to green spheres.

Anne Bryan

DRAWING ON BLACK

I am accustomed to being becalmed, and going out very little, but now most of the rest of the world has joined me. Keyworkers are busy but others must stay at home to protect us from Covid-19. Life is not a bed of roses for anyone.

People are looking for ways to cope with isolation, singing silly songs, knitting, gathering in virtual chat rooms, or learning to play the ukulele.  Gardens and allotments are being tended as never before.

Many years ago we made a pond in our back garden; it was immediately colonised by frogs, dragonflies and other wildlife, including an occasional heron.  Sometimes, in November when the tadpoles have all hopped out of the pond, a build up of dead leaves and other gunk needs to be cleared from the bottom of the pond. All this dead muck goes on the vegetable garden to await transformation. 

These are prize-winning vegetables photographed at the Vale of Glamorgan show a few years ago. I love the way they have been so carefully dug up with their roots unbroken and washed clean to show the beauty of the colours drawn from the blackness of the mud. 
DRAWING ON BLACK
 
The barrow’s full of gloop
dredged from the pond. I lift 
the handles and the muck
slumps on the kitchen plot. 
 
The birds fly down, 
impress the sticky surface
with spiky hieroglyphics; 
at night the narrow-footed fox
 
sets down his feral mark, 
the worms cast autumn towers,
strange outlines overlap and crack.
I fetch a spade and turn 
 
enigmas upside down,
and hide the stinking ooze
of long dead frogs and fish, 
their convoluted DNA
 
torn into shreds, the slime
of spawn that failed, the dung 
of herons, beetles, gulls;
a sludge of windswept leaves 
 
and curling water weeds,
collapsed, compressed, 
with fallen flowers of iris,
lilies, kingcups, mimulus. 
 
I’m hungry for the Spring, 
for lettuce, carrots, beans and beets, 
the scrumptious colours rising from 
the slurp of sickening black. 
 
 
there are no vegetables in my garden at the moment but the rhubarb is flourishing

FROG TIME

February this year has been full of floods, I’m writing this blog as storm Dennis fills the garden pond to overflowing and South Wales Police have declared that flooding across the region is a major incident. All over the country travel by rail, air and road has been disrupted, but frogs have travelled from who knows where to spawn in the garden pond. Frogs appear every February as if by magic, it’s hard to find more than an occasional frog in the garden at any other time of year, but every year they emerge as though from some parallel universe and leap into the pond. 

The water comes alive as the frogs, croaking softly like distant motorbikes revving up a hill, jostle and leap about as they arrange themselves in pairs, males clutching females, and lay clumps of spawn. A week or so later the frogs disappear and the black spots in the spawn start to wriggle and swim free of their nursery slime. In summer the tadpoles grow legs and lose their tails and tiny frogs hop into the flower beds and into the wild edges of the garden. The birds eat quite a few, but although that looks sad if all these small amphibians did survive there would soon be hungry frogs everywhere.

I remember being fascinated by tadpoles when I was a child, watching some I’d collected from a wild pond in a large jam-jar. I loved their lively wriggling bodies that changed shape as they grew. As their tails grew smaller and their back legs appeared I was told to take them back to where I found them before they tried to hop out of the jar.


There are more photos and info on the life of frogs at
 https://www.froglife.org/info-advice/amphibians-and-reptiles/common-frog-2/
 

The frogs are hidden for most of the year in damp and sheltered places in the wild corners of the garden and in the dim recesses of my memory. Here is this blog’s poem on full stops which mark an ending and also the beginning of frog life. 

Full Stops        
 
Full stops appear in clouds of trembling slime
and then becoming commas start to wriggle
into quivering exclamations that break free
and trace across the pond a series of cadenzas,
to graze amorphous specks of sunny algal bloom,
and taste decay in muddy ooze ecstatically.
 
Gathered up in jam jars full of childish hope,
half-forgotten on a kitchen windowsill
until the sudden legs break out, tails vanish.
Time to let them go and look for something new.
I left them in a grey and slippery place.
they hopped into the future to survive for years, 
 
They stayed alive in tangled swamps
and waterfalls of wild connections,  
fantastically emerging from the chaos
the long-departed tadpoles turn to frogs
they’ll jump across synapses in my brain 
until my final punctuation;one full stop.
 
Anne Bryan
 

AFTER THE FALL

On my home page I promised there would be dinosaurs, so here’s a post on the dinosaur Dracoraptor hanigani whose fossilized bones were discovered ner Barry in 2014.

Limestone cliffs extend east of Barry to Penarth and west along the Heritage Coast from Aberthaw to Porthcawl. The cliffs are geologically very interesting as well as scenic, and there is a glimpse of this at

https://www.valeofglamorgan.gov.uk/en/enjoying/Coast-and-Countryside/Heritage-Coast/Fossils-and-Geology.aspx#ad-image-5

I’m fortunate in having a personal guide to the geology as my granddaughter Rhiannon is studying for a degree in Earth Sciences.

Rhiannon and fallen rocks near the cliffs at Southerndown

Sections of the cliffs fall down all the time and when part of the cliff at Lavernock Point fell onto the beach in 2014 brothers Nick and Rob Hanigan, who are keen fossil hunters, examined the newly broken slabs. They had hoped to find fossils of ichthyosaurs but instead they saw the outlines of bones they did not recognise. They sent their puzzling find to Manchester University where the fossilised bones were scanned and X rayed and then sent for further study at Plymouth University.

The bones were judged to belong to a previously unknown dog sized dinosaur which had feathers and sharp teeth and lived on the shoreline as a hunter and scavenger around 200 million years ago. It was given the name Dracoraptor hanigani. There’s more info on the dinosaur at  

https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/news/2016/january/welsh-dragon-thief-is-oldest-known-jurassic-dinosaur.html

Nick and Rob Hanigan donated the fossil bones to the National Museum of Wales and these, together with a model made by a paleo-artist, can be seen in in the Evolution of Wales Gallery at Cardiff Museum. 

The cliffs around Barry contain the fossils of a variety of prehistoric animals with hard shells or skeletons but there are no traces of the soft single celled organisms which were the earliest forms of life. Amoeba is the name given to unicellular organisms with a nucleus which move by extending their cell wall; the first amoeba probably first appeared around 3 billion years ago, thousands of millions of years before Dracoraptor and I took our turns at exploring the coast around Barry.

The poem that follows has inexplicably acquired a large space after the first 2 verses which I can’t manage to correct. Please scroll down to reach verse 3 onwards,

AFTER THE FALL 
 
After the rumbling fall 
the brothers arrived to find
the shadows of bones;
a gruelling scrutiny 
fleshed out the stones.
 
An artist appeared
and conjured up
a dog sized animal  
with downy feathers
and tiger-sharp teeth.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
The moon once rocked it 
on its tides, sea urchins 
scavenged its entrails,
each scrap of rotting flesh 
a life-giving blessing.
 
A rain of small corpses
drenched in calcium, 
floating on millennia,
weighed down its bones
and turned them to stone.

I honour the relics 
laid out under glass, 
the radius and ulna, 
femur, fibula and vertebrae, 
small ghosts of my bones.
 
Dracoraptor and I 
paddle in the shallows,
a sea of trillions of sunsets 
flows beyond the horizon
to a foggy shore.
 
Here the first amoeba
rippled and stretched, far 
upon far from the precarious 
tumbling cliffs of home 
and Dracoraptor’s bones.
 
 
Anne Bryan

ON MATHS AND MOTHS

I’ll start this post with a quote from the Statutory Guidance: National Curriculum for England: Mathematics Programmes of Study: Purpose of study for maths.

 “A high-quality maths education therefore provides … an appreciation of the beauty and power of mathematics…”

My granddaughter Elin showed me this as she thought I’d find it interesting. She has a degree in Maths and Music and later this year is going to study for a PGCE; she plans to become a Maths teacher in a secondary school. We agreed that the power and beauty of music is evident, it works its magic on everyone from infancy, but that helping children to appreciate the power and beauty of maths is more of a challenge. I don’t remember that my maths lessons at school gave me this appreciation. 

Years later though, I read The Curves of Life, which is an account of spiral formations and their application to growth in nature, science, and art, written by Theodore Andrea Cook in 1914 and illustrated with many photographs. Cook writes that “I shall not be more mathematical than I can possibly help” and geometrical drawings are more prominent than equations. The Curves of Life made it easier for me to appreciate the mathematical power and beauty of spirals, from the shells of the common snail to the arms of a galaxy, the horns of the greater kudu or the twists of the umbilical cord. I didn’t understand the maths any better than when I was young, but I felt the power of maths in exploring the beautiful forms of the natural world.

So now I see the distance between maths and moths as a short stretch, the distance a tiny caterpillar of a Geometer moth might travel in one move. The caterpillars, known as inchworms, travel by stretching forward, anchoring their front legs and then moving the back legs forward, giving the impression that the caterpillar is measuring the distance as it moves along. You can see inchworms at https://animalsake.com/facts-about-inchworms-you-probably-didnt-know

The Geometer family includes many species, see some British species at https://ukmoths.org.uk/thumbnails/geometridae

The moth resting on the wall of my house is a geometer called the yellow brimstone. 
      THE HEAVENLY GEOMETER
 
And the caterpillar said 
I am the inchworm, the measurer, 
Look at the way I move - 
I hold fast with my back legs 
while I advance my supple body 
to grasp the future with my front legs.
I let go and heave myself forward into a curve
that mirrors a graph of the height of Manchester men
or the wing spread of Mandarin ducks.
 
See how I flatten myself,
to rule on the span of each leaf.
Watch me when I hang
on a thread of silk that measures the height
from the last leaf I chose to the ground below.
But this isn’t the end of my surprises
I’ll lie buried in dirt then fly up transformed 
into a perfect geometer 
with angelic wings.
 
I fly in the formidable storm of moths
that scrawl though the evenings of the world,
look at our pigments and iridescent shadings;
to give you an inkling
flag our names, large emerald, mottled umber, 
argent and sable, coppery dysphania.
 
Don’t ever think we’re just aerial flotsam 
floundering in the dusk - 
our wings, scalloped, indented, 
curved, angled or swallow tailed, 
are inscribed with geometry
that Euclid would have gazed at in wonder:
graphical zig zags,
curves that duplicate maps of islands and bays,
trace segments of spheres,
delineate waves, copy windblown clouds.
 
Marvel at my patterns
for my wings are signed with cryptic configurations
that you’ll never decipher,
for I am the Geometer that measures out the world
I span the universe and mark each curve and angle
throughout the cosmos. 


Anne Bryan

AUTUMN

It’s almost the end of Autumn, the time of year that John Keats famously described as the ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’. I was introduced to Keats as a teenager around 70 years ago, and fell in love with him at once. I am still absorbing his amazing poems, chewing them over with the work of many other English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish and American poets. Though many of these poets are dead and much of their work lies in disregarded heaps, I still feed on these half-forgotten poems, just as trees growing in a wood absorb the nutrients of decaying leaves. 

My Autumn poem is not only fed by this mulch of poetry but also by layers of scientific education and an interest in ecology https://www.britishecologicalsociety.org . As a result, particles of science have wormed their way into this poem. Some people feel that the tang of scientific facts can spoil a poem, others that science can be a savoury addition to poetry. You can decide if you like the taste of my poem or not.   

AUTUMN
 
The leaves begin to be unsettled,
the trees prepare to sever all connections,
there can be no sentimental attachments,
it’s all a question of profit and loss.
The machinery is dismantled,
any useful resources removed, each leaf filled
with chemical waste, the gates locked.
 
A vehicle for disposal arrives sooner or later
(the wind has its own chaotic schedules).
Golden leaves stacked with toxins 
float down like fragments of fallen angels,
sink to the ground bearing their proud
blemishes, caterpillar chewn out gaps, lacy insect
underminings, spangle galls, mildew spots.
 
The dead leaves are laid out to be carried
on the tide of winter’s turbulence,
to be curled and crisped, 
softened and squelched,
prepared for the fungi that destroy 
and connect them. Wood lice, 
grey, sea-forsaken crustaceans, chew the rot.
 
Leafy skeletons pass through the subterranean
pink circles of worms. Utterly cast out,
the leaves are ready to receive a benediction;
a thrush pours out a haunting song and then 
bestows a crap that’s full of rowan pips.
As though enchanted by the mould and dung  
wispy roots strike out, green wings unfold.
 
Anne Bryan 
oak leaves not quite ready to fall

The photographs on this page were taken on November 25th at the Cwmtalwg Local Nature Reserve, Severn Avenue, Barry, Facebook @cwmtalwgwoodsgroup.