AFTER THE FALL/ MATHS AND MOTHS

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.

MATHS AND MOTHS is the next blog AFTER THE FALL

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. 

BECALMED

This post celebrates a young man called Leopold Blaschka who was very unhappily becalmed on a sailing ship in the Azores in 1853. 

The ship was carrying European migrants to a new life in America. Everyone was upset at being stranded in mid ocean but Leopold was also struggling with grief; his wife and child died in 1850 and his father in 1852. To amuse the bored passengers the sailors let down buckets and hauled up deep sea creatures. Leopold, who was an artist and glassblower, was fascinated. 

Later he returned to Europe and, with his son from a second marriage, he became famous for making anatomically correct and beautiful glass models. These scientific artworks can be seen in museums around the world. Here are some in Cardiff Museum

https://museum.wales/articles/2007-05-15/Sea-creatures-of-the-deep—the-Blaschka-Glass-models/.

In the poem ‘Becalmed’ Leopold sees the sea creatures for the first time.

Becalmed
 
Becalmed, I dream the sea is glass,
the wind and ocean lifeless now,
we wait for movement in the vast
and empty sky above our boat.
 
The wind and ocean lifeless now,
the dead run in my thoughts. A splash,
still empty sky above our boat 
as idle sailors trawl the trifling wash.
 
The dead run in my thoughts. A splash
calls me towards the crowd
as idle sailors trawl the trifling wash
to catch the life that drifts below.
 
Calls me towards the crowd; 
in spite of misery I’m curious  
to catch the life that drifts below
and blooms in depths beyond my gaze.
 
In spite of misery I’m curious,  
the flood of glistening forms that flow
and bloom in depths beyond my gaze 
stir up a shivering thrill of awe.
 
The flood of glistening forms that flow,
the jellyfish and octopus,
stir up a shivering thrill of awe;
my pencil shadows slippery curves.
 
The jellyfish and octopus,
wild things that live so deep, unknown.
My pencil shadows slippery curves
deep ocean dreams now fill my soul.
 
Wild things that live so deep, unknown,
stir up a movement in the vast
deep ocean dreams that fill my soul,
becalmed, I dream the sea is glass. 
 

Anne Bryan

MOTHERLAND

I’ve lived in Wales all my life so my first blog is about Wales, my motherland. I love Wales, I relish the soft rain that sweeps over its hills and valleys and the sun that shines over its wonderful beaches. It’s a land full of heroes like Llewellyn the Great who fought English attempts to dominate this small Principality; it’s a land full of stories and music: the mediaeval stories of the Mabinogion and the adventures of Gavin and Stacey, endless songs sung by ancient bards and miners’ choirs. I could go on and on about Wales but I’ll spare you the rugby champions, the ancient language etc. and tell you the disturbing story of my dear old motherland’s youth. 

My temperate motherland has a torrid past. The Fossil Swamp, an exhibition in Cardiff Museum https://museum.wales/cardiff/whatson/10676/The-Fossil-Swamp/ shows that 300 million years ago Wales basked in the heat of the equator, and there she gave birth to monstrous club mosses as tall as oaks and outrageous insects: dragonflies as big as daggers and immense crawling creatures with a disconcerting number of legs. I find it hard to imagine my motherland as a swamp lashed by tropical storms and know the children she bore were so different from those she nurtures today. The evidence is overwhelming though, and has been dug up in Brymbo in North Wales www.brymboheritage.co.uk. Here, under the surface, are the fossils of the plants and animals that once populated the lump of land that is now Wales. 

I might have to accept that my motherland is a compulsive globetrotter. I hear rumours that the old girl may be on the move towards America. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2019/05/tectonic-plate-peeled-apart-could-shrink-atlantic-ocean-geology/

Where will she be in a few million years, what alien creatures will she nourish in a future where all the heroes of Wales will be forgotten, where sheep do not graze and even the familiar hills have been swept away?