Transient Art

Shells on branch

We often cry “Process, not product!” Both Tom and I work with children (he’s a teacher, I’m a therapist) and we often chat about how the process of doing something (and the conversations that crop up while we do it) is where the magic happens.

‘Process over product’ is a catchy phrase, but it’s not always easy to put into practice. After all, we like a pretty end result. We all have an idea of how something ‘should’ look (thanks Pinterest).

When I was a kid I’d often give up on art projects because they didn’t look like how I imagined them in my head. Perhaps if I’d focused a little more on enjoying the process I would have got further. I might have enjoyed selecting the paint colours, figuring out the shapes, telling someone else about my idea.

Shells in hand

I’m no artist, but I enjoy making things. Part of that enjoyment has come from abandoning hope of a perfect product. Focusing on what I enjoy about the process.

Transient art is a perfect project for adopting this mindset. By its very nature transient art is impermanent. So, you needn’t worry about how it looks. Just focus on enjoying the creative flow. Gather together and arrange a bunch of natural objects that are appealing to you. Enjoy the fact that this isn’t your lasting legacy.

We wandered down to one of the Island’s many hidden little beach to play and create. We had in mind a few ideas and talked about them on the long grassy path down to the beach.

Reaching the shoreline, we spent time sifting through the shells and pebbles, absent-mindedly filling hands with the things we liked. The searching and sorting is half the fun of a transient art project. It’s like gathering a giant box of craft materials, gifted by nature.

In fact, it’s only loaned by nature. We aren’t taking anything away. Only rearranging it until the high tide comes to reclaim and rearrange.

We had a go at several different projects, each in our quiet corner, with the dog running between and reminding us that chasing sticks is his favourite art form.

Shells on bush branches

Tom decorated a driftwood tree with shells, playing with gravity, balancing shells on the tips of each twig. We made zentangles in the sand, clearing the space like a bird of paradise, moving each twig and leaf out of the way to create a clean blank canvas. This appealed greatly to the dog, who thought we’d simply cleared a nice patch of smooth wet sand for his belly. Thankfully, paw prints have their own kind of beauty. And we’re not aiming for perfection.

We also stacked stones and laid out shells. I had a go at my first mandala. This geometric design intended to symbolise the universe and our connection to it seems a good choice for a natural art project. I must tell you I really enjoyed the process. I am focusing on that because I wasn’t too sure about the final product. But the process was fun enough that I’ll definitely have another go in the future. And perhaps I’ll even get better at it.

However you choose to gather and arrange the things around you, I hope you enjoy the process and embrace the beauty of impermanence.

Hidden Bays

We have some wonderful majestic bays here on the Island. The ones that feature on national award lists and end up on all our tourism posters. They’re the striking, instantly recognisable spots: that long smooth stretch of sand across Compton’s low tide, those steeply shelving sands of Alum Bay, the bright white cliffs at Yaverland.

There’s also plenty of smaller hidden treasures. Small bays dotted around the Island. Ones that you quietly collect over time as the Island becomes your familiar playground. They’re the discoveries that you share with a friend, like passing on a gift. The ones that determine your local-ness and connect you to your neighbours.

When I mentioned to people that I was planning to write about some of the Island’s hidden bays, they were keen to add their own favourites to the list: Red Cliff, Whale Chine, Binnel Bay.

Some aren’t exactly hidden, but the effort required to get to them does give them a special feel. When you can’t simply tumble out of the car and onto the sand, it feels like you and Nature are conspiring to do something marvellous together.

The extra effort means that you rarely have to share. If there’s a boardwalk, an overgrown path, or even an abseil required (hello Rocken End!) then you’ve earned the peace and quiet.

And it is incredibly peaceful. Hidden bays invite contemplation. Give in to the rhythm of the waves, the pace of the gentle breeze. Even in a storm, it’s worthy of pause. Being whipped about in a salty gale feels just as good.

I like to look out for the different the textures, the shoreline and the cliffs. Sometimes it’s good for a photo. Sometimes it feels good to leave the phone in your pocket. Maybe you want to keep this hidden treasure a secret for a little while.

And pack snacks. Always snacks. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve ended up on a journey longer and epic-er than anticipated and been rationing out the odd raisin we find in the bottom of our bag. (The dog’s always fine – there’s dog treats in every pocket.)

We’ve lived on the Island for over 12 years. My dad grew up here. It feels more like home than anywhere I’ve ever lived. We delight in our Island knowledge and how much there is still to discover. I’m constantly surprised by how our mental map grows, purely by dint of keeping an open and curious mind. What’s down that track? I invite you to find out. I bet there’s a path near you that is new to you, or perhaps new in the direction you take it, or the season in which you cover it. Look up, look out. And then share your discovery with a neighbour.

A Winter Wonderland

In our part of the country a white winter is far from guaranteed. But perhaps its infrequency and unpredictability is what makes it all the more magical. When snow does come our way there’s an implicit demand to make the most of it.

Earlier this year we drove through the night and arrived in Wast Water for first light. It hadn’t been a particularly wintry drive and we didn’t expect to see snow-dusted hills when we finally arrived. It did look rather beautiful as the sun lit up Scafell Pike across the water.

Heading through the first stile at the car park’s edge, we stomped our woolly socks hard inside our boots, trying to wake up numb toes. We slogged up the dark valley beneath Yewbarrow, opting against the top ridge path with its icy stones and our dicey dog. A little snow to our southern sensibilities makes everything seem a little treacherous.

We were aiming for the notch below Stirrup Crag at the top valley far ahead, jumping between tufty drifts of snow and sludgy sheep prints with icy rivulets running beneath. No clear path, but a definite destination.

In that whole great valley we saw only one other person. Someone braver than us skipped down from the top of Yewbarrow and briefly stopped to share weekend greetings in his friendly Scottish burr. No wonder he was braver; what’s snow to a Scot? He soon disappeared around one of the many rises and we had the rising valley to ourselves, finally stepping out of the shadow to reach Dore Head in full morning light.

There the snowy hills lay all around, deep-sided drops and every surface sparkling. We spun round in joy, taking it all in and feeling a million miles from the motorway drive just a few hours prior. Here was our winter wonderland, the sun so warm, the sparkle in the snow so spectacular and every dip in the landscape inviting more adventure.

That first spectacular distant view marked only a third of our planned route. Beyond this there was a treacherous rock-gripping climb and a high peak trudge through thick cloud that spooked the dog. There was a final high ridge with drifts carved out like sandstone against ancient drystone walls and a final cold descent down a valley that was about four times the distance I had reckoned (and made all the tougher by several stumbles and slides.)

It was all memorable fun in the snow, but if we’re picking one moment of pure winter wonder, I’ll go for that joyful spinning release at the top of that shadowed valley, the sun spilling over us and glancing off the snow. We may not have a white Christmas but we can all hold on to at least one perfect snow-filled moment.

Falling in Love

If your soon-to-be spouse suggests a mountain trek for your honeymoon, consider it a little hint of your life to come. I may have longed for the ‘white sandy beaches’ honeymoon cliche, but with a proposal over mugs of wine on a river bank, you could say I was duly warned.

The day after our wedding we collapsed on to the overnight train from Paris to Pau. A brief hotel stopover only made the shift to hikers’ hostel all the more stark. Swapping a walk-in shower and enormous double bed for grimy tiles and a rickety bunk, I started dreaming of sandy beaches once again. Perhaps this mountain thing was overrated?

But here I was, clattering my cup down at the communal breakfast table, brushing aside the strong suspicion that every other person, from 6 to 86, was more capable than me. And after a final coffee there was no choice but to head on up that hill.

A world away from the sunny mountain meadows I’d pictured, we were instead beset by fog. No grand vistas to reward us for our steep steady slog uphill. Only the eery, ever-present ringing of cow bells from bovines in the mist.

Hours on, we reached the final pass that signalled the final point before an easy amble to our home for the night. I’d been picturing the view for hours, but when it came it was nothing but cloud. We picked our way down the track, using our dangerously-naive navigational skills to find the spot. Just at that moment there was a tiny tear in the cloud cover and we realised we were heading past it. We had almost missed our shelter entirely.

The hut’s designation as a ‘refuge’ was perfectly apt, as we bravely watched the afternoon thunderstorm, armed with tea and chocolate. That night, crammed in to our bunks, I was simply grateful for my full belly and sheltered sleep. Not a single whisper of white sandy beaches entered my thoughts.

Seemingly seconds later, someone’s alarm clock pulled us all out of bed, into a sunrise too spectacular for words. There was a hushed collective worship as every hiker stood in silence, facing Pic du Midi d’Ossau in the growing light. Right then, no one was dreaming of anywhere beyond that perfect moment.

Sit Spots

The alarm clock wakes us before sunrise. This time of year it’s a less ambitious start than in the height of summer. None the less, leaving the comfort of a warm bed on a chilly morning remains a challenge. Bleary-eyed, we hustle together picnic blanket, thermos and woolly hats. Bundling in to the car, we drive to the furthest West point of the Island, to tramp up to Headon Warren in time to watch the light grow all around us. It’s cold and windy, but wrapped up in a blanket, hands wrapped around a cup of coffee, I can settle comfortably to watch the world wake up.

As I sit, my focus shifts, noticing different elements to the surrounding scene. First, the wind, it’s insistent whistling through the gorse seeming to drown out every other sound. This is not the spot to notice the gentle waking of songbirds, but rather to respect the wild power of the wind on this exposed downland. I notice the texture of the heather beneath me, their twisting twigs and dried blossom. A moment later, a kestrel hovers overhead for just a flash before swooping obliquely down beyond my sightline. Flocks of some unknown tiny bird appear on the scene. Skylarks perhaps? With my limited ornithology, all I can do is watch their small sharp silhouettes tussled amongst the gusts of wind, clueless as to their identity.

After all, this isn’t an exercise in identification. This ‘sit spot’ is an exercise in sitting still, taking ten quiet minutes to observe my surroundings and notice what emerges once I cease my stomping and leave space for life to show itself. Taking even a moment to pause on a walk and notice the sounds around feels like a worthwhile moment. But to sit and take ten requires a more definite intention. It seems strange to me how the feel of ten minutes can change depending on the activity. I can easily lose that little chunk of time scrolling through social media, but to sit and ‘do nothing’ for ten minutes can feel incredibly long and drawn out. That’s the beauty of it. I feel almost like a master of time, able to stretch out a mere ten minutes to feel so full of space.

Anywhere will do, to simply sit and soak up the scene. Some favourite spots usually spring to mind, a sunny clearing in Brighstone Forest or a perch above Freshwater Bay. It could be a quiet park bench or a corner of the garden. In the forest it’s often quiet for several minutes of sitting, before the birds regain their confidence and resume normal chit chat. To think that without this time we can often walk through a corridor of quiet, as the nature around us stills to a hush as we come crashing through. Lying back amongst the leaves, the smell of the earth wraps around. With time to spare, there is time to notice every sense anew.

Emerson once said “Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience.” Not necessarily easy advice to follow. But if ever there were a way to achieve such a pace, perhaps it is amongst the meadow grass or piney carpet of a favourite sit spot.