A TEXT ON TEXTILES

What’s new this month? The lockdown continues, many people work at home in their pyjamas; clothing shops close or are sold to online retailers, fashion sales are down.

Clothes will never go out of fashion though, they’ve been part of human life since we lived alongside the Neanderthals. Much creative imagination and hard slog has gone into preparing, spinning, weaving, dyeing and sewing body coverings using threads collected from animals, plants or insects and, more recently, synthesised by scientists. 

The Bible tells us not give too much thought to clothes.  ‘Consider the lilies of the field’ the text goes ‘they toil not, neither do they spin, and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.’ 

More than 1000 years after this text was written a textile was discovered in a settlement on the edge of Llangors Lake. Made of finely woven linen with silk embroidery, it shows how much toil went into clothing high status individuals in the 10th century. https://museum.wales/articles/2007-05-03/The-Llan-gors-textile-an-early-medieval-masterpiece/ Today, more than 1000 years later, designing and making clothes is a vast industry that Solomon could never have imagined. 

Humans don’t only cover themselves to keep warm, the clothes we wear also express our individuality, social connections and pretensions and King Solomon’s robes would have been designed to promote his status.

As I wondered if humans were the only animals which construct body coverings the small streams of my childhood came rushing into my memory. Caddis fly larvae walked on the stream beds in coverings made of small stones or bits of vegetation woven together with silk. These coverings are constructed for protection and camouflage rather than display but the insects certainly toil and spin to make them.

Here are two images of caddis fly larvae from the web site https://lifeinfreshwater.net/caddisfly-larvae/ . Thank you Jan Hamrsky for permission to use these wonderful photographs. 

Case-building caddisfly larva (Trichoptera)

 https://lifeinfreshwater.net/caddisfly-larvae/ 

Case-building caddisfly larva (Trichoptera)

 https://lifeinfreshwater.net/caddisfly-larvae/ 

The caddis larvae cocoon themselves in their coverings as they pupate, emerging as winged insects to mate and lay eggs on plants at the water’s edge. When the eggs hatch the larvae fall into the water.

These insects are found almost everywhere and I wondered if King Solomon would have remembered caddis larvae as part of his childhood experiences of the wonders of the world. Might he have recognised his kinship with these extraordinary insects.  Unlikely, I thought, he’d probably have been too busy trying to transform his naked body into a symbol of power and glory with the most fabulous clothes that could be woven in his kingdom. 

That’s enough of Solomon, it’s time now for a caddis fly to give her testimony.

The Caddis Fly’s Testament 
 
In the beginning was the fall.
I plunged into the remorseless 
swirling water and knew at once
I was perilously naked. 
I swathed my infant self with silk 
and fragments from the river bed.
 
I wove a fitting cloak as I grew fat 
and then, shrouded in secrecy,
my body was transfigured. 
I rose on heavenly wings
to mark the tangled weeds
with eggs before I fall again.
 
In the fish’s belly I become
part of its flesh and of the dung
that feeds the golden iris
rising from the muddy shore,
its seeds poised to testify:
in the beginning is the fall.

Anne Bryan

POPPY HEADS

I write this a few days after the 17 day Welsh lockdown came to an end and the English 4 week lockdown began. Even when the lockdowns end it won’t be business as usual, travel will be restricted, the wonders of the Serengeti Plains or the Galapagos Islands with still be out of reach, so it’s back to looking at the small everyday things around us. Here’s a very small thing I noticed on a walk to the corner shop: a poppy flowering in a tangle of spent flower stalks in a roadside flower bed which has been a riot of wild flowers all summer.  I picked the poppy and put it in a vase as it would have been awkward to crouch down at the roadside to photograph it and also difficult to show the scarlet flower and the pepper-pot seed head among the tangle of dead stalks. 

November Poppy

I can’t decide whether to see this unexpected poppy blossoming in November as a relic of last summer or a promise of next summer or a reminder of Armistice Day on 11th November 1918; the day World War One ended. Poppies grow best in disturbed soil and they flourished on the churned-up battlefields. Soon after the warended poppies became the symbol of remembrance. https://www.discoveringbelgium.com/the-poppies-of-flanders/  

Today’s battle is against the Covid19 virus. A vaccine looks promising, we can hear the toot of the cavalry’s bugles but will they get here in the new year as hoped, and will they put up a good fight when they arrive? It’s uncertain, but almost everything about life is uncertain; the only thing we can be certain of is that we’ll all die sooner or later, like everything else that is alive.  

It’s also certain that for millions of years life has bloomed in unexpected ways in the wake of death, and this natural succession has given the world antelopes and bananas, chimanzees and dandelions, elephants and frogs, groundsel and hyaenas, ichthyosaurs and juniper, koalas and lice, marigolds and newts, oysters and poppies.

POPPY HEADS

I admire the poppies
their heads nodding in the breeze, 
crimson petals falling
now and then.

I envy them their heads 
full of nothing but seeds. 
‘Nothing’ 
the poppies whisper to me 
as they shake their heads,
‘seeds are not nothing, 
seeds are everything’.

When the poppy heads have died
the seeds are primed to explode 
in glorious profusion
on the ground furrowed by artillery shells, 
in the mud churned by the hooves 
of terrified horses and fertilised 
by the bodies of the dead.

The poppies would give thanks 
for the unspeakable carnage 
if only their heads were not full
of nothing but seeds 
(which are everything of course).

I salute the poppies 
whose innocent petals
bleed painlessly into the ground;
they carry no knowledge of terror and tears 
but their nodding heads
are ready to burst into the future
with a salvo of small black seeds.

Anne Bryan

EARTH WORMS

Here we are, back in lockdown again. In the last lockdown I escaped by joining Alfred Russel Wallace in the jungles of Malaysia in the blog “IN A FEVER”, this blog only goes as far as Stonehenge, but features one of the most important animals on earth, the earthworm, and the man whose best-selling book “The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms with Observation on their Habits”, first published in 1881, studied the worm in magnificent detail.

Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882) famously sailed around the world on HMS Beagle, a voyage which sparked off his work on evolution, but for most of the rest of his life he was becalmed in the village of Down in Kent. His health was poor and he lived very quietly with his wife Emma and their children and studied a wide variety of animals and plants, beginning with a seven-year study of barnacles.  

His book on worms was his last book. He was a frail old man but he looked at worms with the curiosity of a child. To find out if worms could hear he played the tin whistle to them, his son played the bassoon and Emma the piano. 

He studied the effect of the worms’ burrowing and casting on soil fertility and on the level of the soil. He noted how stones laid on the surface of the ground gradually sank as the worm casts built up the soil around them. He investigated worm activity at Roman villas whose floors and walls had sunk under the ground, and visited Stonehenge to measure the build-up of soil around fallen monoliths. 

In the conclusion of his book he writes that: “Worms have played a more important part in the history of the world than most persons would at first suppose. In almost all humid countries they are extraordinarily numerous, and for their size possess great muscular power.”

A worm cast under my clothes line

There’s more about worms at https://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/earthworms and https://www.earthwormsoc.org.uk .

Darwin had given up going to Church years before he died, though he was not militantly anti-church unlike one of his followers, the scientist Thomas Huxley, who relished using Darwin’s evolutionary ideas to challenge the power of the church. When Darwin died though, Huxley changed his tune and was one of those who pressed for Darwin to be buried inside Westminster Abbey for the prestige it would confer. Emma didn’t go to the service at the Abbey, preferring instead to walk in the garden where her husband had studied worms. I’m with Emma on this. Here are the views of the Worm God.

The Worm God Speaks
I am the Worm without End
my infinite circles surround
an endless intestine.
I came to power in the age
when dinosaurs stomped 
over earth and furry things 
scuttled around their feet.
Just lately a bifurcated
animal decided worms 
are lowlife and humans 
were made to rule earth,
but one of their old men
delved into the world 
of worms and marvelled
at the stupendous power
of their intestines 
that process detritus
and excrete fertility
in massive quantities
over billions of years.
He explained that worms 
cultivated the planet 
long before Adam’s sons
dreamt of ploughing it.
When old Darwin stood
in Stonehenge’s circles
he knew the dynamic guts
and muscular circles 
of legions of worms  
could entomb monuments 
with towers of wonder-shit.
Darwin's body is confined 
in Westminster Abbey's  
worm free environment,
prepared for a wormless 
and soil free heaven, 
but give us time and worms
will reclaim his detritus. 
That is my hope at least
but sometimes I worry
that the barnacles he loved 
for seven years of his youth
will get to him before us.
The earth is fickle but 
one thing’s certain; 
over many epochs
endless multitudes 
of gutsy worms 
created Gaia’s 
glorious skin. 
 

Anne Bryan

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