Spring 2018 RSPB Sandwell Writing Workshop

Spring 2018 RSPB Sandwell Writing Workshop (from March 2018)

It is March but it has been a harsh winter: cold right up until it had no excuse for being cold any more.  Snowing when it shouldn’t.  So freezing that when it snowed, we couldn’t even bear to go out and do snow angels. I go to an RSPB writing workshop with Andrea Mbarushimana and her friend Leigha.  As is customary for this workshop topic, there is much gazing out of the floor to ceiling windows on arrival.  This is what floor-to-ceiling windows call for, after all. But this landscape is more drastically dramatic than grass or hills or sea.  It is mostly reeds and trees, scratched onto a surface, but soft in its own way.  It is like a huge bale of hay with some grey sky drawn across the top.

We go for a walk in the nature reserve and spring has been a strain on this landscape.  A penitentiary, all containment.  Repentent, fallen reeds bent by snow. Bare, crowded branches make fences, hallways, fringes.  Tiny catkin cones on alders.  Something has a stranglehold on this place, its burgundies, its bleached browns, it’s dark yellows and tarnished golds: crushed colours.

But as though spring is a pulsating, fermenting, breathing thing, with a hint of warm air, by degrees, it releases it’s smooth branches.  There is nothing like the way nature can gild, sew, repair.  There is nothing like the epicentre of clenched buds, tree roots, leaves veiny stems, for making you realise that everything has a beginning.

It is tricky to see much hope after so much cold but to me it is clear that grit is becoming the linchpin of gloss.  Who is slave to whom is changing.  Hidden in that John Burmingham landscape, green lichen and moss are growing in anarchy.  Melted permafrost cleaves tree bark open and piles of twigs lie, soaked, like wet, salty pretzels. Everything has absorbed what the weather has thrown at it and now exudes it.  This year, spring is a slow breathing out.

I write this short piece about winter:

The Snowman

These swatches of fabric landscape are so familiar to me.  This cartoon landscape – painted world. Every living animal has disappeared under the snow and we go out badly dressed for the cold, coming home soaked with melted slow. I always wondered what was so beautiful about all that white.

When it melts, those reeds are stop-motion animation, long animal fur.  They look like the colour before fire; a milky orange, they look drenched. It is a drawing that can breathe, driven by something else.  Enid Blyton, John Burmingham, Roald Dahl, Shirley Hughes, Raymond Briggs.

I would love to walk through that wet landscape, hear the creeks, feel the needles and moss underfoot, be part of those stories, as though it’s been put there for my benefit.


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