Thursday, 19 August 2010

Mares' Tails

Yesterday I went to the shelter with a small tent and stayed overnight, returning at midday today. It was an interesting experience but it didn't produce much in the way of immediate artwork - which had been my intention. Instead, most of my time seemed to be spent keeping warm, dry, safe and comfortable.

Laden with a sack containing tent, doss-bag and sleeping mat, kettle stove, camera, torch, art materials and some fruit and coffee, I walked up to the top of the gill arriving around 8pm. It was breezy so no midges. I had to set-up the tent immediately and gather enough firewood to see me through the first couple of hours of darkness. As soon as I started it became clear that I would be here for the experience, rather than the production of art. With the light fading, the lively sky was the main focus of attention.
The moon made a brief appearance before disappearing all night into the plumes of cloud formed as the moist air hit the Cross Fell massif. This photo was taken with a slow exposure - the sky looked a lot darker than this at the time. As the light faded in the north-west, the stars made an appearance about as brief as the moon's before the cloud thickened. I watched them for as long as I could from the supreme comfort of the hammock, occasionally swathed in woodsmoke from the fire, before they disappeared and the sky was only distinct from the ground by being slightly lighter.  It was not until dawn that sufficient low-level cumulus from Cross Fell cleared to reveal once more the mares' tails. There were two distinct layers of them, and I imagined a third layer even higher, each going in a slightly different direction. It can sometimes be difficult to remember that the sky is in three dimensions, but here was proof in all its raw beauty. As the morning sun climbed it reflected off the clouds in the east.
The overnight rain had soaked all the wood, of course, but there were enough dry twigs on the inside of the shelter structure. I placed them in the base of the kettle and put some lighter fuel on. After a few sparks from the steel, there was a small flame and I slowly added wet wood until I had a healthy heart to the fire. I decided that since I was boiling the water that I'd use it straight from the gill. This I did and apart from the odd ground of coffee (I had no strainer or extra cup), the drink was a delightful way to start the day. Luckily, the showers stayed away as well. I did this drawing of the kettle.
It seemed a shame to stop at one cup, so I boiled some more water and had another, using the rest of the water for a wash in my little pond. (I wished I'd remembered to bring a towel). Spending time doing these domestic things took my mind off what I had come here to do, but it felt OK to just enjoy being here in the fresh morning breeze.

I must have messed around looking at plants and rocks and running water for more than an hour, although I had no way of knowing since I hadn't brought any means of telling the time. That was good, too, being led by the length and direction of shadows. Apart from seeing some car headlights last night heading up to Hartside and the sounds of distant airliners, I had no inkling of the rhythms of other people. That's not to say that I wanted to be alone. It suited this exercise, but I would have loved to have shared the warmth of the fire and the tent, and the hot drink, with some good company. To have been with someone else who felt the same way would have more than doubled the value of the experience. Humankind is gregarious by nature; we are herd animals, and a warm fire and shelter are good incentives for companionship.

I had decided that I would map this gill in its entirety, starting from the top, so I went to where it springs from the ground and did some drawings. Because of the breeze and the rain, I didn't really record what I was seeing as well as I ought, so I'm now hoping that my memory serves me well for work in the home studio. In the meantime, here's a rainbow to nurture that hope.
After taking the tent down in the rain and packing everything up, I walked back home, sensing that there's still a lot to absorb from the experience before it results in any meaningful artwork.

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