I’ve been writing about diving recently, a research project in Spain studying seahorses. While waiting for the rest of the group to finish counting urchins and so on, following their transect lines, I used the empty space left on my slate to draw. Without a camera I wanted to find a way of recording, of evidencing this under water world. On the back of the white board, the side that wasn’t covered in III’s numbering black and rock urchins, I drew. I was clumsy, it is hard keeping balance and holding in one place eighteen metres below the surface of the ocean, harder still without use of a hand to steady myself. The pencil was awkward in my gloved fingers. Over the course of those last few days of my trip, I ended up with a series of strange and abstract line drawings. Photographs were my only means of documenting them, Gail wanted her slates back. The resultant images were of nothing I could recognise back on the surface, but a record, an attempt at something. I could visualise the scene because of the way I looked at my surroundings in the attempt at drawing them. I remembered it better and differently because of the act. The physical process, the act of immersion placed a seed of something I’m hoping to now nurture.
There has been a pause in posting here. In part due to a fluctuation in energy levels and health, and in part a result of pursuing my writing practice and developing my notebook on my website.
In October I began, almost by accident, a new strand of this project Body of Water. I began to collect a small amount of seawater from an incoming wave. It connected with my physical limitations and the joy of being able to walk to the beach again, even if it took all day to get there. What came next was a mission to get to the beach each day, the jars of water became part diary and part evidence of my achievement.
The writing that has begun to emerge since doing this has felt like it has reconnected with my initial intention for starting here, more than 18 months ago. Things take time. With an energy limiting illness things take even longer. It seems I also need to be able to wander off and start to do something without thinking too much about it – a tricky thing to plan for.
Last week a new piece of writing and images were published by Sussex University Life Writing Projects and I shared my project at a Waterweek event – speaking on the beach at Birling Gap, East Sussex. It feels that this project has now become solid enough to be able to share it here and begin to reflect more on what it is I am doing/have done.
At the end of July there was a full moon. There will be another at the end of this month. Checking my diary it’s a full moon tomorrow, a full 28 days have passed.
July’s full moon was to be a particularly special one: it was a blood moon. There was also a lunar eclipse, where the moon falls entirely into the earth’s shadow: the earth, moon and sun are in perfect alignment. It happens a few times each year, but this was to be the longest lunar eclipse this century.
There was a great deal of excitement about this full moon. The moon is always joyful but this was a special one, I had planned to seek it out.
It had been the longest, hottest and driest summer I could remember. The night of the 27th July was sure to be a good one. It wasn’t. Cloud cover obscured the moon for most of us going to watch. Many people nonetheless lined the seafront with cameras clutched to their chests, waiting.
I have lost all sense of time. Recovering from chronic fatigue I have adjusted to my own internal body clock. I do things when I can, when I feel like I am able, and so inclined. Measuring myself against other peoples time frames is pointless. The Thursday before the full moon was due had been a long day, broken up with a long period of rest in the afternoon, I had felt all the achievement of a day from the mornings activities, and by the evening I thought it was Friday. I set out on the wrong evening to watch for the blood moon and the lunar eclipse and I was handsomely rewarded. The photos are poor grainy phone pictures but they show me that whole warm summers evening of watching a beautiful fat orange moon rise in an indigo sky. Reflections rippled in waves, I felt as though I was far away, somewhere far more exotic than I was, to be sitting on the beach in my shorts at 9pm.
The moon and the sea are inextricably linked. Tides are pulled towards the moon, it makes me wonder about other things so effected. It makes me wonder about me, the water within. In search of some greater understanding I found this online:
“What are lunar tides?
Tides are created because the Earth and the moon are attracted to each other, just like magnets are attracted to each other. The moon tries to pull at anything on the Earth to bring it closer. But, the Earth is able to hold onto everything except the water. Since the water is always moving, the Earth cannot hold onto it, and the moon is able to pull at it. “
I need to go and learn more…
Sussex Wildlife Trust is one of the organisations to routinely survey the beaches along the coast of Sussex. Involving volunteers, it makes for a great afternoon of legitimately staring into rockpools.
Looking with a guide and with a clipboard to record things meant that I also saw far more than I would have done alone. The notion of looking, and really looking, as you are taught with drawing exercises, reveals another layer of experience and discovery. It becomes a kind of meditation, a more focused study of surfaces and crevices, where all may not be as it seems on first glance, and any periphery awareness is temporarily suspended.
Fearing I had not moved this blog on, or this project, in my last post, I am reevaluating as I write now. This is an immersion of another kind. It’s another experience, demanding different skills and renewed attention. It is certainly all research, deepening knowledge, understanding and experience of a particular place. Another liminal space, accessible only during certain times in the day as the tide is followed and carefully judged. Weather, daylight and access are all factors in spending time there and means of recording is not always straight forward.
From routine surveys, data collected can track changes in biodiversity, flagging up indicators of water quality and climate change.
To bring the sea inland, a new exhibition of images from this Shoresearch Survey have been installed at Bexhill Station (with thanks to Sussex Wildlife Trust and in partnership with Sussex Community Rail Partnership). This coincides with the consultation period to increase the number of Marine Conservation Zones – of which Beachy Head East, Hastings to Beachy Head, is one. This will offer a greater level of protection to these fragile sites. The consultation for this is soon to close (20th July) and I urge anyone who hasn’t yet done so, to look at the recommended Marine Conservation Zones, of which there are 41 around the country, and the incredible life that’s out there beneath the waves. More information can be found here where you can also add your wave of support.
With thanks to Sam Roberts and Sussex Wildlife Trust for permissions to use their photographs.
One year from starting this blog and I have been nudged into remembering events which led to it. Three years ago I was diving in Spanish waters, swimming with eagle rays and spotting seahorses. Three years ago I found a seahorse in an area not previously known for seahorses. It was named Louise:
At that point I was fitter than I had been in years, healthier too after a long period of post viral fatigue. Emerging once more from a long period of illness these memories make me smile. They make me more than smile, they make me look forward to life and excited about what else might be possible.
This blog began from that diving trip – attempts made to draw under water on a slate while trying to keep balance and buoyancy. Scratchy sketches of things I’m not sure even I can identify all that clearly anymore.
Whatever they are, they are a trace of those dives, hanging around at the end of a transect line counting urchins and bryozoa. They were impetus to beginning to write and think about how I can connect these wonders beneath the waves to something on land. Helen Scales does this beautifully with writing, in her book Eye of the Shoal it feels like the closest I can get to diving while standing on the shore (or lying on my sofa when I’m not able to walk so far). It was a joy to meet Helen and speak with her last week for Wealden Literary Festival (a celebration of place and nature writing) and it – like the Facebook memories – reminds me of who I am when there is sometimes doubt, and of how much I miss it.
I have wondered around all over the place here, I am not sure I have moved this blog or this work forwards, but it has served as a reminder of the importance of water for me, how strongly connected to the sea I am and I continue to wonder how this can relate to my work. I write, and have written about diving and marine life encounters. I take photographs and have been involved in coastal surveys recording intertidal inhabitants. I walk and write about coastal walks. Perhaps my practice is shifting. Perhaps I just need to be near the sea. As my body is shifting, my connection to water remains. Perhaps I just need to be patient, a little longer.