#30DaysWild – Day 3 – Wild flower goodbye

wpid-wp-1434103563291.jpegWhat is Success?

To laugh often and much;

To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;

To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;

To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;

To leave the world a bit better, whether by
a healthy child, a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;

To know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived;

This is to have succeeded.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

In Loving memory RPW x

#30dayswild 2016 – Day 1 Moon Jellies

I’ve neglected my blog for a long time, a mix of time short and illness has meant that sitting down to write has been difficult. My target of a blog a week has well and truly gone out of the window.

But it’s June and I’m taking part the Wildlife Trust’s 30 days wild so I’m going to hijack my blog to post the 30 wild posts. To keep it vaguely relevant, like last year, I’m going to try and link the ‘wildness’ to landscapes, folklore, archaeology, or all three is possible!

So… Day one: as part of Little Un’s continued birthday celebrations (and half term break) we went to the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth. I loved seeing the diversity of plants and animals from around the UK coast line (and further afield…) and little un truly loved the Shark tank….

But one of my favourite exhibits were the jellies – there was something about the beauty that was mesmerising.

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I found the Common Jellyfish or Moon Jellies fascinating – and as they are prevalent around the British coastline, I’ve chosen them for my first wild experience of 2016. If it hadn’t been for the wild ones I would have happily spent my time watching them….🙂

Unsurprisingly I guess, much of the folklore relating to jellyfish is Japanese (I found a lovely story here) – in Britain there isn’t much that i have come across, with the exception of modern ‘urban myths’ of jelly invasions of large swarms; many of which are based on fact.

So for Day One I’ll just have to be content with the wildlife itself – and that is probably enough.

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Who you gonna call…

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I’ve tended to shy away from ghosts within my landscape/folklore/archaeology research (with the obvious exception of the ‘haunting’ of Jacob Seley, which can be found here). This is not through lack of interest, more due to the fact that it is a pretty emotive subject.
Unlike tales of pixies, giants, and demons, the belief in ghosts (or lack of it) is not something that can always be approached objectivity, and in many cases belief, or the need to believe, in the existence of ghosts are tied up in personal experiences of loss and bereavement. By questioning validity takes away the needed link to a love one. Equally, by following up on stories could reflect back to a real person and/or tragic event.
Though the collection and mapping of folkloric stories across the South West of England I came across a number of visual places in the landscape held stories relating to ghostly occurrences (and I’m not referring to ‘sightings’ of famous and historical figures), but I’ve always been avoided further analysis of them. I think the reason comes from a personal observation of the danger of forgetting the people in the stories told (and I’m changing/omitting the names and location deliberately in this next paragraph).

A number of years ago there was an investigation of a haunting of a house next to a relative of mine.
Their new neighbours were experiencing supposedly ghostly interactions with the former occupant of the house who had passed away about 6 months before.
They described in detail the appearance and mannerisms, and suggested the activities were strongest in particular locations that reflected the habits of the person when alive.
A team of investigators arrived, and subsequently published the account in a book on regional ghost stories.

Consequently, and perhaps inevitably, despite changing the name, the details listed relating to the location and suggested haunter were such that a family member of the ‘ghost’ ended up finding out and recognising their loved one. Obviously, to find a relative is supposed to be haunting your childhood home is not something I think anyone wishes to know.

So, as I think a semiconscious result of this, I’ve deliberately avoided working in this area, and edged around the ghost stories in my database. That is until recently. Maybe my reputation as “the girl who talks about fairies” means that I appear more approachable, but I have been asked to undertake archaeological and landscape investigations a number of supposedly haunted buildings or places.

I’ve not been asked to prove or disprove the existence of ghosts, let me make that clear, nor am I undertaking any ‘ghost hunting’ of my own (I’ll leave that to those with the specialism and the fancy equipment!). But through documentary and map evidence, and clues in the landscape I have tried to piece together the background to a location, and suggest a reason for the story to occur and be tied in a place. In one case I was asked to research the siting of a school, and from a landscape perspective overlaying the modern building on to old maps, and discussing what is now a built up area before the urban spread, was fascinating. For another, I actually had a name to work with, and finding reference to it in the archives in the right place did come as a bit of a suprise!

That said, it could be argued it merely a straightforward piece of landscape research; being pragmatic by nature, it’s certainly the best way to approach it, and how I conducted it. But I’m conscious of the ethical issues relating to something that could uncover real people, and real tragedies, misremembered and the context lost and forgotten. After all, as Prof. Tolkien wrote “And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth…”

I’m continuing to look into the stories as a little distration from my normal day job and research, but fully aware of the veritable minefield of issues that come from it. Maybe I’m being over cautious, but I’m probably going to stick with pixies and petrification myths in the long term. After all, the likelihood of upsetting someone by investing fairy activities is much less likely than that of a tale of hauntings.

Messenger from the other side

This morning, at an hour way too early to be up and about on a Sunday, I was pootling around and saw this lovely lady sitting watching me.
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I love blackbirds; one use to sing in the eave next to my window as child, and mum put my hair from my brush in the garden from which they made their nest in our clematis in spring.

A blackbird nest near to your house brings good fortune, but I’ve subsequently found out that my mother’s act of kindness was endangering me to bad luck and headaches for the period the nest with the hair was in use, but I luckily escaped that fate!

Like magpies, seeing two (male) blackbirds is deemed lucky, and in some traditions dreaming of a flying one is said to indicate good fortune.
That said, much folklore tells that dreaming of blackbirds can bring misfortune for many weeks.

Blackbirds are also associated with Yggdrasil, or the mythical world tree, and are able to interact with other realms.
They are often said to be able to bring messages to our world from the dead.

Interestingly, in Ireland during the nineteenth century the shrill song of blackbirds was supposed to be the souls of those in purgatory; the singing at dawn foretelling forthcoming rain.

Personally I prefer the idea of the messenger role, although I’m not sure what message she had for me…

The Green Man is coming…

This striking picture appeared in the Queen’s Building Gallery at the University of Exeter about a month ago.

I’ve passed it a number of times over the last few weeks, but finally stopped to look properly.

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The Green Man image is a potent one, although appearing frequently on ecclesiastical buildings as bosses or stone carvings, it’s association with fertility, birth, renewal, and the coming of spring is decidedly ‘pagan’.
Often the Green Man is seen as a Tom Bombadil (from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings) type character, tied to the environment and controlling the seasons.

So why has he suddenly appeared?

Well, it seems he’s coming to Exeter….
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I’ll keep you posted…

“Eternal remembrance” – landscapes and memories of the victims of Stalin

I’ve already slipped badly in my 52 posts challenge, so I have some serious catching up to do… Anyway, the article on the BBC website regarding the new plaques to mark Stalin’s victims caught my attention yesterday.

I think it’s impossible not to be moved,  or see the incredible significance of the memorials for the victims of the Starlin era, particularly those placed by the families of those executed at Kommunarka. Equally, I can see why those living in the houses marked by the simple metal plaques are also concerned by what is essentially enshrining their homes to those who lost their lives, but also that they feel it is too “depressing” and “gloomy”, especially to explain to their children.

The act of commemoration, remembrance, and marking of the darker parts of our history is always emotive and fraught with conflict, and I’ll leave that discussion for those better placed than I. However, as a researcher of landscapes what struck me was not only the role of the natural environment in the making of these memorials, but also the temporary nature of them. There is an official memorial at Kommunarka – a cross and stone placed by the Orthodox Church who now control the land – but nothing of the individual ‘shines’ placed in the forest is permanent; the photos tied to trees will fade, disintegrate, and be blown away,  the plastic flowers will fall apart. But what remains is the significance of this place, beyond the last surviving memory – what those responsible for the plaques call the “gathering together” of people to remember and, perhaps most importantly, to learn. In time the personal memories will become stories told, a more distant and removed narrative that reflects the collective loss, but rooted to these places long after the photos have blown away.

There is an evolution of Kommunarka from summer house of Gennrich Yagoda (Stalin’s secret police chief), to a place where thousands lost their lives, to make-shift memorial. These acts tie the individual stories of those involved, both those who were the instigators of the purge, and those who fell victim of it, intrinsically to the place.