The autumn leaves have mostly fallen already. I’ve walked in the woods more this autumn then in the last 3-4 years. I’ve greatly enjoyed it. I made a series of small drawings I have called the #thedogwalkdrawings and posted them on Instagram. Fred has his own account called
https://www.instagram.com/the.redfred/ where I have recorded our autumn walks together.
And todays walk: well two things happened. I don’t normally meet that many people in the woods early in the morning (apart from other dog owners). But today I noticed a woman get out of her car with knee pads on! Mmm, a little unusual, she put a ruck sack on her back and carried a wicker basket on her arm. She was oriental I don’t know where from and seemed to be wearing many layers of clothing, more than most people. With her red plastic knee pads and pink patterned rucksack and wicker basket, she was looking unusual. She spoke English and explained she was collecting mushrooms, and showed me a tall slender mushroom which was at the bottom of her empty basket. She went onto explain that some people like me walk their dogs in their spare time, but she came to the woods to pick mushrooms in hers. Her car was stuffed with ‘stuff’ and I could feel she was reluctant to talk too freely. We said good bye and went in opposite directions.
I have noticed Fred responds to sounds better than voice commands, that’s clicks and whistles, so I have just started trying to get a little sharper on controlling him, as training has been a chore and slid off my agenda. I am not a very good dog trainer and have little consistency when it comes to calling Fred back to me. Sometimes I say ‘Here’ other times I say ‘Come’ and sometimes just call his name out. What chance does he stand with bad habits on my behalf like that? However, whistles and clicks I am having better results with. Which was fortuitous as we had an incident. I had had a very similar incident with my previous dog which did not go very well.
Fred was squirreling and I was just walking, enjoying the slip-slide of the mud and the autumn leaves, daydreaming no particular concerns and no real idea where Fred was. I whistled as I reached a T junction, I like to get him back so he knows which way I have gone. At this T junction is a stile and Fred has got under the stile and is inside what you might describe as a fenced enclosure, there are many of these in the woodlands. I can see him inside and he sees me then starts barking?
I realise he has started barking at the Conic Ponies, there are 4 of them. Fred’s very excited and barking his best. The ponies must operate at a different frequency altogether and remain totally unmoved by a medium/small ginger dog ‘going garrity’. Flash backs of stampedes caused by my previous dog rush into my mind. I whistle and wave, shout and jump about and to my amazement Fred does run under the stile and out to me. I run along the path and Fred follows me. Wow that worked a treat and I stop running. As soon as I stopped Fred turned around and dashed back to the stile and under and back in! Barking. I had to run back and get his attention again and make him come out. I thought it best not to go in myself. The ponies were moving about a bit this time and I felt more urgency to get him out of this. I whistled and ran again. He followed me and I definatly needed him on his lead and I said ‘sit’. He sat, I clicked the clicker thing gave him a treat and put his lead on. Happy days.
Half way through this mornings walk I decided to make a detour and find the abandoned old car that is hidden in woods. I discovered this with my previous dog in 2008. I have taken photos of it over the years and even drew on it with pastels once! In 2015 I made a map called ‘A Walk To Find An Abandoned Car’, which I didn’t have with me and it took a while to find it. Its never straight forward as there are no pathways, it is literally just walking through the woods there are no useful references. Fallen trees, holly bushes I say to myself but there are dozens of holly bushes and countless fallen trees. I will say it is harder to find in the summer, and now than in the winter when there are les leaves on the trees it is easier to spot it.
Fred is much more interested in things more organic than a rusty old car. He is darting around and out of sight. I have grown more confident and as long as I whistle loudly now and again I know he can locate me. I don’t use a dog whistle as I can curl my tongue slightly and tighten my lower lip, and rip out quite a loud sharp whistle this works as a communication system between us. Its a bit one way as I get nothing back until I see him galloping to catch me up. But it has never failed yet! I did test this system out once and hid in the wood and made no sound at all to see if Fred would find me? He looked for a bit I saw him run past along the path a couple of times quite close to where I was hiding, but he just went back to the car and waited for me there. However: when I whistle eventually, he comes crashing through undergrowth and dead bracken to catch me up.
When I finally do locate the car Fred’s really not interested in the fact that it looks like squirrels or rodents of some description have chewed the aluminium parts of the engine and the rims of the wheels. He’s not interested that the spark plugs are visible or an enormous ants next has engulfed the rear of the car. The cam belt has long gone but the pulleys wheels are visable and I can tell it was a front wheel drive car. The oil filler cap is rusted and can’t undo it, Fred’s not interested in these, he’s interested in sniffing at the base of an adjacent tree, he is even licking the leaves. He’s found traces of things that interest him clues to what’s going on.
The location is closer to the road than I remember as I can hear traffic moving past in the distance. So what I think might have happened is: The car was stolen in Canterbury driven out the woods by 3-4 drunken guys on Friday night. They turned into the woods along a short stretch of track made by maintenance vehicle, which has become long overgrown now. They stopped when the trees got too thick or possibly a fallen tree halted their progress. They got out and ritualistically set it on fire. Human sacrifices in Aztec South America are cloudily coming into my mind through fire and smoke, chanting to make something change or happen. These four guys back in the mid noughties are singing/shouting raucously throwing bottles at the car. Disaffected youth protesting, but not quite sure about what using the property of others to vent their anger! Were they selfish alienated youths citing the rights of individuals, hoping in some way to change their futures?
The car I thought back in 2008 might have been a Renault! In 2018 I’m thinking it might be the start of a series of wood or lino prints?
When the dust had settled this morning after a bit of a stand off with Fred about attitudes and behaviour, we set off for East Blean Woods rather later than usual!
The trees were spectacular and we saw a few more people than previous walks, including a formidable staff/pitbull cross. This dog was on the lead and was growling. Not perturbed by this Fred continues to sniff, paw and play with this dog. The owner tells me ‘ no she’s fine’, said in that tone that you recognise as no she’s not fine at all. Turns out she is a rescue from St. Ives or somewhere miles away. He told me he had two labs previously and put them down both on the same day! Three weeks later he was down to St. Ives to collect this dog which apparently had been used as a ‘bait dog’. I’m not into fighting or gaming dogs but understand bait dogs are like sparing partners for boxers. The are used to train the fighting dogs – only they usually die or are maimed in this role. He tells me that the dog has no recall what so ever and if he let her off the lead he would probably never see her again! She was covered in shaven squares of short hair I assumed treatment for injuries. He said no he has had her for four years and it was treatment for cancer. ‘You see, she’s fine now they are over the initial greetings ‘he says. So I test this statement out by letting Fred over to her again to resume playing. Plenty of growling and snapping so I say good morning and move on.
In the centre of East Blean Woods is a section marked with a barbed wire fence and a sign nailed to a tree 15 feet high – Private Property. I am always a little on edge as we pass this section as I really don’t like this fence, two lines of barbed wire between wooden posts. The lowest of the two wires is about two feet from the ground. My concerns are real today as I see Fred chasing a squirrel ahead and realise he has entered this section. He has run under the barbed wire and is totally unaware he even ran under a wire. This fence is almost invisible with the trees behind and I only know the section where the sign is, where the perimeters are I have never really discovered. The part where Fred had entered the wire is high enough to pass under no problem. In other places where the wire is nailed a little lower, a dog can run straight into it at nose height and I fear this might happen to Fred on the way out. I have Steve McQueen as Hilts on his stolen motor bike trying to escape to Switzerland laying tangled amongst barbed wire in my mind as I climb through this co called fence intending to get Fred on the lead and to safety. I see him running some way off and follow the fence in his direction. I reach a corner right angle in this fence and see that this side of the enclosure the posts have been pulled over and the barbed wire trampled down. Fred has clearly jumped over this trampled section of the fence and out injury free and I am very relived.
Further on we meet a woman with 5 King Charles Cavalier Spaniels. One is being pushed in a very grubby battered baby’s push chair. I can’t remember which major organ failed on this dog but ever since an operation he can’t walk but likes being taken out with the other 4 dogs in his push chair. On a good day it may jump out run about for a minute and then climb back in. Didn’t get out to play with Fred. We wave good bye and its time to go home.
Not a very nice morning drizzly and wet, as I am leaving the house, I realise the shoes I’m wearing are not suitable for muddy woods so I we walk along the beach the tide is out. One of Fred’s favourite things is careering across these sandy flats after lazy seagulls. We saw a black lab who didn’t want to play and that was about it, everybody else inside nice and dry.
My feet are wet and its all a bit of a chore. I get Fred on his lead and we start to walk up and back through the residential streets. I change my mind at the last minute and take him off the lead again and go back the way we came along the beach. I was enjoying looking at Herne Bay from the sea, its only when the tide is out and you walk along the beach you can see the houses and the beach huts along the water front.
It’s a stony beach and all the water was draining down the slope through the pebbles and spilling out onto the silty sand. At that point between pebbles and sand the water had carved out small rivers on their way to the sea. It was a replica of real rivers in micro scale, leaving the Rocky Mountains and finding a route around obstacles all the way to the sea. Looked at another way a series of marks running off a vertical line put me in mind of Ogham script? Which may have been a coded language used by Druids as an alternative to Latin, or it might have been just an early Irish Language. Something fascinating about this script, with its grouped lines and central spine. The colours of the pebbles were enriched by the water and looked pleasing.
Nearly home now and I notice a black van parked at the kerbside with the number plate WASHTUB …what! Can’t be allowed? Closer inspection reveals WA58TUB with a trick using two round screw head covers strategically placed centrally top and bottom of the 8 to break the curve and appear more like an H. Why do people need to do this I thought? Then the I noticed a black Mercedes or Audi or whatever that was parked on the driveway with the number plate WASHTUB ? Two cars with the same number plate, this was getting silly and why was I even interested in number plates? Such a niche vanity thing. I was beginning to feel resentful that this ridiculous game had got my attention. I had to look again to work out how two cars could possibly have the same number plate?
The big black saloon car was actually WA59TUB and the same screw cover trick applied to the 9 somehow making it read as a H. Is this a conspicuous display of wealth that makes you a terrible person? Or is it like having a tattoo?
The trees really speeded up in changing from green to yellow in the week spanning the end of October and the start of November we are well into November now and there is a golden atmosphere amongst the sweet chestnut trees in my local woodlands. Still some green left and a hint of the red yet to come. A really great time for me as I love colour and yellow always been a key favourite. The general vista has transitions from the dark interior of the wood through all kinds of ochres, bit of green, bit of white (silver birch trunks) and blue sky. It’s a series of paintings I never do, the contrasts against predominantly yellow is where the excitement lies. Sadly, for several years I have constantly used green through, this has been an involuntary happening, like a tune stuck in one’s head. I think partly led by the need to represent grass in all of my drawings. Fred is an earthy orange and I’m looking to him for help to break the green spell. A change of content and subject matter and possibly a new medium all required to move through the green.
The transition form Oct to Nov reminds me of a folk song called the January Man where the year is described month by month. ‘The man of new October takes the reins and early frost is on his shoulder’. I have not seen a frost yet and we are now a week or more into Nov. The song continues with ‘The poor November man sees fire and wind and mist and rain and winter air’. Might have had a bit of rain but that’s about it.
We have a newly discovered path in East Blean Woods which was spectacular in colour yesterday I have walked this path twice before and it is not well defined at all in some places. The leaves on the ground making it impossible to know which is path and which is not. Some guess work required at a few key points but its fine and we have navigated it without mishap. This time I discover a newly fallen tree right across the path. We pass around the obstacle but it takes us through quite a bit of deep undergrowth. The fallen tree has most of its leaves and they are a deep reddish brown having died long ago. It is now a dark dense obstacle and will be in the way for years to come.
There are perhaps a dozen hollowed out pumpkins with faces on at the side of the path. A few intact but most smashed and broken now. I have never seen this Halloween tradition extended into the woods before. I have seen some impressive urban displays in people’s front porches this year, again a first, tableaux or are they still life? Arrangements of skulls, pumpkins and ghoulish figures arranged for passers by to see. I have been working with early Celtic imagery lately and the spirit world seems high in my consciousness at the moment.
It’s a shame as deep down I can only process this as mumbo jumbo, as everything is explained and scientifically straight jacketed. The world has less meaning, as I arrange my trees, horse riders, guardian creatures, suns and moons around the paper.