Blog

Sagg Pond: Notes from the Field by Christine Morro

Land Lines is pleased to share the following guest blog post from Christine Morro, made up of field notes and images  inspired by her visits to Sagg Pond, Long Island. 

Sagg Pond

saggpond
A map of the area

Sagg Pond is the southernmost link in a chain of glacial ponds on the eastern end of Long Island. Groundwater streams in from Solomon Creek at its northeastern edge. Pulses of sea water from the Atlantic wash naturally over the sandy beach merging with pond’s freshwater. When the narrow stretch of shoreline is open to the ocean, a let, the pond mirrors the ocean tides. It is dynamic, never fixed, a sustained integrity attracting wildlife and shorebirds that probe the mudflats in search of small mollusks. Along the shore, stands of Phragmites reach skyward. Their velvety seed heads sway in the wind. Here the propensity of meaningful utterance. Birdsong blends with reedsong. We witness again red-wing blackbirds enlivening the brittle stems of the reeds in early March. Great Blue Heron and Belted Kingfisher endure the harsh winter months. Come late October witness Ruddy Ducks, Bufflehead and Merganser. By mid-April elegant White Egrets return. In the refrain of nature alewives are running and so the Osprey follow.

Photo after map

 

THE WAY IN

We can enter landscape through authority, arrogance, wounding —
We can enter through inquiry, curiosity, innocence and beauty.
To enter landscape as with entering the human heart requires humility
humility derived from humus meaning earth, ground

To enter landscape ~
An invitation — we recognize kinship
Awake as WATER, REEDS, KINGFISHER, WIND swell, WING snap, BIRD song
I began coming to Sagg Pond in 2012. I was seeking the way in —
My imagination influenced by the textures and forms of the landscape surrounding Sagg Pond, by the precision of flight of migrating geese, the patience of the Great Blue Heron, in the midst of this complex dynamic of a brackish pond.

Radiance is life, taken by wildness and beauty, a part of nature’s refrain
I am possessed by Sagg Pond.

Introduced to the work of photographer Edward Steichen…he was possessed by light…by the liminal transitions of the day….dawn and dusk — a certain mystery the paradox of translucency and opaqueness.

Stirred by a resonance and awareness that connects to something ancient.
In the twilight just before daybreak with notebook, pen and camera I cycle two miles to Sagg Pond.

Landscape leads outward. I as witness.

Landscape leads inward to the self. We internalize the landscapes we live and love
and sometimes the two are one.

Continue reading “Sagg Pond: Notes from the Field by Christine Morro”

Advertisements

The Wild Places and I – Guest Blog by Larissa Reid

Land Lines is pleased to share the following blog post and original poem by Larissa Reid, originally published on her blog Ammonites and Stars (find the original post here) and reproduced here with kind permission of the author.

wild-places and I twitter screengrab

 

Recently, I wrote a tweet regarding a book that I value highly – I mentioned the book, and the fact that I read it at a pivotal time in my life; it helped me to climb up and out of post-natal depression (PND). The book was The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane. A small confession would be that I had read it when it was first published, just before my daughter was born. I read it again as I recognised how low I had become; I knew I was desperately unwell but I also desperately wanted to get better. It was a ‘comfort blanket’ to reach for something familiar and re-read it, yes, but it had more impact on second reading, it tugged on my sleeve, begged me to venture back outside, wanted to show me that there was more to life than twisted worries, deepening sadness and seemingly endless regret.

I was touched by the number of people who ‘liked’ my tweet. Not hundreds, by any means, but enough for me to start thinking. Why did I step up to admit, on a social platform where no-one ‘knows’ me, something that I’ve only recently learnt to admit myself? And what was it about The Wild Places that had that effect at that specific time?

Ardnamurchan Point

I was 29 when I had my first child. A few years previously I’d had a traumatic experience when, in the 9th week of pregnancy, I was rushed into hospital with a suspected ectopic – for those who don’t know, this is when the baby is growing in the fallopian tube instead of the womb, and it can end gravely in some cases. Once in hospital, surrounded by white walls and white sheets, with a multitude of flickering screens, I was told I actually had twins, one in a tube, one in the womb. Neither survived. It was hellish. I was young, terrified, and never fully understood what it was I was going through. So, several years later when my daughter was born healthy (albeit slightly early), it was a huge relief.

But there was another issue at hand. After her birth, I was placed immediately on watch for puerperal psychosis, for reasons I won’t go into here. Once again, I put up my most fierce blockades: there was no way on Earth that was happening to me. This was my wee girl, my chance at being a mum, my chance of doing a good job. I was utterly determined. I didn’t fall ill after the birth – after a few days in hospital I asked to go home, and they let me (under the supervision of home visits).

That winter I don’t remember a lot, other than lots of crying (from my daughter, more than me), breastfeeding round the clock and watching the herons along the shoreline on the edge of the city from my living room window at 4am. My husband and I were delighted by our scrunched-up, ball-fisted, screaming newborn, and head-over-heels with the little character that began to emerge after the first few weeks. Christmas was magical, the snow fell, we took her out into the Pentland Hills behind Edinburgh and showed her frost-edged leaves and soaring birds of prey. I told her about extinct volcanoes (you know me, geology had to get in there somewhere); showed her crystalline fragments of rock, told her about the lines and fractures and layers and colours that made up the landscape. She was six weeks old, but I couldn’t wait to start teaching her about the world and all it encompasses, from microscopic to massive scales.

SONY DSC

The problem was, she was a terrible sleeper. First few months, fine, you don’t expect sleep. But as the weeks fell into months and months, and more months, both myself and my husband started to suffer. You can’t function on less than two-hour blocks of sleep as an adult. It’s impossible. Tempers frayed, accusations hurled, exhaustion and anger split the carefully-knit bonds we had created over years, and particularly over the previous 12 months. I began to dream horrendous things, hallucinate, wish and hope that I was anywhere but where I was, burn myself because my hands were shaking over cooking dinner, smash things… I stayed indoors, I was terrified of getting hurt or of something happening to my little girl; I began to blame everyone but my own body for what was happening to me. I felt my own hormones and emotions shift inside, play up, spin out of control on all levels. I felt like a total failure; to a certain degree some of my behaviour was such that I was failing as a mother; in short, my entire world crashed down and I felt I had absolutely no control over myself, my actions, my words, thoughts or emotions. It was downright scary, and to this day I’m not sure quite how I survived it.

In many ways, I became the antithesis of my younger self; inverted, folded in, furious.

As a youngster I was forever climbing trees, bent-double submerged in hedgerows, slip-sliding along coastal rockways and edgeways, wonderfully, horribly exposed to falling from crumbling cliff edges. My childhood and young-adult self was carved out in fields, in woodlands, along beaches, kissed by soil and salt. I wrote a poem recently to try to capture fragments of these streaming memories*; for that fluidity of movement, freedom, lack of care was the perfect antidote to a childhood home part-restricted by worry and undefined sadnesses.

Fife Frost

I used to see my world as full of spaces, of absences, of empty moments forever altered because of who or what wasn’t there. Now, I try to invert those spaces; instead of focusing on loss, I focus on what is there. Simple, perhaps, but lifesaving. This is, I think, where The Wild Places comes in; it focuses on spaces that are inherently still wild, be they on epic or miniature scales – and many are easy to find in everyday life if you just open your eyes and focus in. From the opening chapter, which leads us off into a woodland on a city boundary, and me into the edgeland woods of my childhood hometown, Macfarlane takes his reader up and out of the ordinary world, and encourages us to see the natural world anew with fresh, all-seeing eyes. His focus reminds me of a bird of prey – almost literally – flying high before telescoping in on minute, fleeting details. High up a tree, high in the mountains, crouching low over clints and grykes in a limestone pavement, scouring the countryside; he gently coaxes and nudges the reader to go and look at wild places from a different perspective.

I found, gradually, that MacFarlane’s words began to filter in, soak in, sink deep. In my head I followed his lines of description to the supermarket and back with my daughter in her buggy; stopping to watch a bird flick for worms on the wasteland near my flat, or to study the needles and berries on the sea buckthorn bushes along the shore-front. My father told me once that whenever he felt low, or uneasy, or stressed, he would walk until he could find a ‘big sky’; whether that was high in the Scottish mountains or just up the nearest sand dune or sandstone tower in the town, he found solace in the blue-grey-whiteness of empty space and the wind on his face. I never really understood what he meant until I’d hit rock bottom with PND. One day, I took his advice. I took time out from family and drove to Ben Ledi, one of the closest big hills to Edinburgh. I marched fiercely to the top; the weather was awful. I couldn’t see anything but grey swirling mist for the last few hundred feet, and I was soaked with drizzle. I loved every second. With all the efforts I had made to rid myself of pain, anger and sadness in the preceding weeks, I suddenly felt the maddening haze begin to lift a little. I let various regrets go that day, at last; shouting them into the mist and watching as they fell away and tumbled down the sides of the mountain. It was like shedding a skin (or several). Peeling back layers to find what really made me tick again.

SONY DSC

And what makes me tick? My mother teaching me all the names of all the birds, and myself poring endlessly over bird books, drawing them, cataloguing them, filing them away so I would always know them; my father’s intense love of the night sky, the Northern Lights and walking; my grandmother’s love of stories and poetry and recitation; my fascination with geological science, landscapes and landforms; reading, writing, drawing, taking photographs; teaching and learning and remembering those who have inspired me and drawn me out when I’ve curled up like an ammonite and forgotten how to engage with the world.

 

*

On the curve of the North wind’ by L. Reid

First published in the Twisted::Colon Anthology, September 2017

Hawk above sails high

On the curve of the North wind.

Weetabix rolls, barrelled to stand stock still on hillsides,

Cast long shadows in the low sun.

Crows stalk the stubble

Of this tableau, frozen in deepest winter.

 

I loved the emptiness of frosted fields

As a child, where I ran full pelt across uneven ground;

Pockets full of crushed leaves and acorn cups.

And as a teenager, where I learnt to escape

The anguish of my still-forming self

By searching the rim of woods, fields and hedgerows

For rare birds and holly berries, mistletoe and honesty.

And as an adult, where the wind fragments

Lingering shadows, sadness and stress

Frost-lines them and carries them away.

 

In my head I name all that I see as I walk,

Running the sounds and shapes of words over my tongue,

Relishing in their warmth and familiarity,

While pink-footed geese pick over furrowed ground

And a burnt-orange fox skirts the edge of the woods at dusk.

 

By Larissa Reid

All photos are author’s own.

 

Islander: A Journey Around Our Archipelago by Patrick Barkham

Land Lines is pleased to be able to share the following extract from Patrick Barkham’s book Islander: A Journey Around Our Archipelago (Granta, 2017) ahead of Patrick’s appearance at the Land Lines conference Nature Writing’s Future Pasts (28th Feb-1st March 2019).

 

islander new

The Shearwater bounces over the waves past trim great northern divers
and seals as fat as slugs. Ahead is a green island with a rocky peak
sticking up like a quiff. We pull onto an old concrete ramp beside a
small shop and a café with a couple of benches outside. A group of
islanders cast an expert eye over the arrivals – visitors and
provisions – which are variously bundled into an old black taxi with a
bent door, a Post Office van and a pea-pod of an electric car.
‘Doubles up as a hoover,’ says someone.

Locals come and go but an ever-changing constellation of half a dozen
people chat by the benches in the sunny shelter of the buildings.
There’s an artistic-looking woman with a French accent, a bloke in
high-vis, a young lad with a flick of dark hair, a mum with a baby,
and an assortment of men of late middle age with florid complexions.

It’s midday, I buy a fizzy drink from the shop and join the milling. A
sheepdog with psychedelic eyes drops a piece of frayed rope at
everyone’s feet, expectantly, for a throw. After the treeless purity
of Barra, Eigg – from old Gaelic for ‘notch’, or possibly Norse for
its ‘sharp edge’ – is a shock, a fecund riot of bracken, meadowsweet,
hazel woods and waterfalls beneath two rising ridges of columnar
basalt. The trees have wild beards of lichen, the residents just have
wild beards.

Continue reading “Islander: A Journey Around Our Archipelago by Patrick Barkham”

The Timescales of Hummingbirds: An Extract from Abi Andrews’ The Word for Woman is Wilderness

We are delighted to be able to share the following extract with you: ‘The Timescales of Hummingbirds’ is taken from Abi Andrews’ 2018 book The Word for Woman is Wilderness.

map

When I returned to the cabin I was glad to find everything as I left it. My permit was in the exact same place on the desk, so I am pretty sure nobody came by. I will go back to camp in the tower at some other point but I need some proper food and my mosquito net. Stan was smug when he added it to my list and I had thought it an arbitrary appendage to make him feel like he had had one on me. I have to give him credit now as actually I would have been fucked without it. In the tower so high up they were not so bad, but in the cabin and outside on evenings they come in swarms. I can slap my arm and kill four at one time. I feel a little bad doing this because I know that only female mosquitoes bite and they have to do it to get enough iron and protein to make their eggs. They are only trying to feed their babies, just like everything is trying to feed its babies.

I decided to try fishing as I figured it would affect me a lot less than shooting a thing dead. I had bought some fishing line and hooks in Fairbanks, and for the rest I found a sturdy stick as my rod and tied the line to the end, where it splayed, so I could attach it around the adjoining part to make it more secure. I made the line long enough so that I could yank it out the water fast, but with no reel I can only use it in relatively shallow water.

I was stumped for a float until I remembered a redundant tampon at the bottom of my bag that I’d brought just in case I lost my Mooncup. It was still sealed with all the air in so it worked a dream. I attached this to the middle of the line before tying the hook to the end with a little ribbon of foil from a noodle packet just above it to act as the little fish-attracter thing. Then I upturned a log and collected myself some grubs and worms for bait in a rusty tin can.

Continue reading “The Timescales of Hummingbirds: An Extract from Abi Andrews’ The Word for Woman is Wilderness”

Owl Sense by Miriam Darlington

The following extract is taken from the opening of Miriam Darlington’s highly-celebrated 2018 work Owl Sense, described by Robert Macfarlane as ‘A beautiful book, wise and sharp-eared as its subject’. We’re delighted to be welcoming Miriam to the University of Leeds at the end of February, as one of the keynote speakers at the Land Lines conference.

owl sense

Prologue

My son Benji saw the owl first. She was perched like a silky totem pole, talons grasping the gloved hand of her keeper. At first, too busy with getting a place in the queue for artisan bread, I walked straight past the owl man as he stood quietly holding his charge. How was it that they were barely visible? They blurred into the humdrum busyness of the townscape, as if there was something self-effacing – a kind of greyness, an owl-camouflage that both possessed. I learned then that the mind does not easily register things that we are not expecting to see.

The owl relies on the cryptic facets of its colours, markings and posture to shield it from the gaze of others. But something about the plumage flared on the edge of my vision and perhaps my deep-seated fascination with owls made me turn, and when I saw her I lost all interest in buying fresh bread.

owl sense barn owl_copyright talya bladwin
Illustration by Talya Baldwin

Benji was already right there. Together we stared. The Great Grey Owl, Stryx nebulosi. Grail of the boreal forest. Keenly aware, she gripped that leather glove tight as her head swivelled from side to side and her eyes settled on each and every distraction. I drifted closer, not wanting to startle her, but longing to be within reach of those smoky, brindled feathers. Could I touch? – Yes, it was important to get her used to people, he said. She was only a few months old.

Her softness took my breath away. Deadly beauty. She turned her face towards me and I noticed its astounding circumference. There is a narrow area that falls between pleasing and preposterous, I thought, and this owl’s circular face and bright yellow eyes fitted nito it with perfect grace. The massive facial disc, the owl man, Pete, explained to me, produces a funnel for sound that is the most effective in the animal kingdom; she had the most sensitive ears known to humankind. The owl didn’t miss a word.

Continue reading “Owl Sense by Miriam Darlington”

Gendering Natural History: Maude Jane Delap, Valentia Island, Ireland (1866-1953)

by Dr Nessa Cronin (Centre for Irish Studies, NUI Galway)

An Island Home

nessa cronin 1
Maude and her sisters Mary and Connie at home in Reenellen, Knightstown, Valentia Island, Co. Kerry. (Photograph: Nessa Cronin, courtesy of Valentia Island Heritage Centre, Co. Kerry, Ireland)

Maude Jane Delap (18661953) is primarily remembered today for her contribution to Irish and British natural history through her work elaborating the complex life cycle of the jellyfish. She is also recalled for her contribution together with that of her sister Constance to a maritime survey of Valentia Harbour, County Kerry in 18951896. Her contribution to Valentia’s maritime ecologies is embedded within the complex web of family connections and scholarly conversations of late Victorian Britain and Ireland. An examination of her life and work offers a more nuanced understanding of the international networks of scientific life that operated on Valentia, which would have an impact on the writing of Irish natural history in the period.[i]

The study of Delap and her island home, as one chapter in the history of Irish maritime heritage, demands a careful assessment of the particular intellectual milieu in which Delap worked for most of her adult life. It also requires a consideration of the broader cultural and social worlds of late-Victorian Ireland. A re-thinking of the margins of the margin (an island off the west coast of 19th century Ireland) helps us to explain how an ‘uneducated’ Rector’s daughter on an island off the coast of Kerry became an international expert in maritime ecologies. This expertise culminated in the offer of a professional position in Plymouth, membership of the Linnaean Society, and indeed the highest accolade a natural scientist can attain in having a new species named in honour of her contribution to the natural sciences. In more ways than one, Maude Delap (and her island home) challenges the received narrative of the Victorian scientist by her gender, travel, and value of local place as a scientific space of fieldwork and extensive study. Delap’s life and work therefore offer an alternative view of a world on the Atlantic edge, a marginal world that was also simultaneously at the heart of the imperial sciences of Victorian Britain during this time.

Maude Jane Delap was born in 1866 at Templecrone Rectory, Dungloe, County Donegal, the seventh of ten children born to the Reverend Alexander Delap (1830-1906) and Anna Jane Delap (née Goslett, 1831-1914). In 1874 the family moved from Donegal to Valentia Island, a small island off the Iveragh Peninsula, County Kerry, where her father was appointed rector of Valentia and Caherciveen. Reverend Delap undertook the journey by boat to transport the family furniture, while Mrs Delap and the children travelled down by land. In the rectory at Reenellen, Knightstown, Valentia, Maude would maintain a laboratory in a room that she later called ‘The Department’. From 1895-1896 she was actively involved with the Valentia Harbour Survey, a survey of flora and fauna of Valentia by a team of eight naturalists and scientists, led by Professor Edward T. Browne of University College London. Her contribution along with that of her sister, Constance (better known as Connie, 1868-1935), is noted in the final publication of the survey in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy (Vol. 5, 1898-1900).

nessa cronin 2
Maude Delap Notebooks, n.p, located in Valentia Heritage Centre Archives. (Photograph: Nessa Cronin, courtesy of Valentia Island Heritage Centre, Co. Kerry, Ireland)

It appears that Reverend Delap was locally well known and liked, and in his ‘Memories of a Loving Alien’, Peter Delap records an incident with his grandfather. “There is a sad stereotype of the Church of Ireland clergymen of yesterday as a lackey of the establishment”, he writes. “Not all were so, my cousin Rhoda once asked Grandfather, what are the Catholics and got a sharp reply. Never ask me that child, we are all God’s children”.[ii] The Delap sisters were equally liked and respected with Peter Delap recollecting that, “Wherever we went, she [Maude] was instantly recognized and greeted with delight”. He notes that his grand-aunt Maude “was an old-school Victorian all-round naturalist” and that “we learned so very much from her”.[iii]  In an interview with Joanna Lee, a grand-niece of Maude Delap, Lee recalls that it was noted in the family that, “Mary told you what should be done, Maude got it done, and Connie was the one who comforted you”.[iv] After her father’s death, Maude’s mother and her sisters (also unmarried) led a largely self-sufficient life on the island, by growing fruit and vegetables (including grapes and peaches in their greenhouse) and selling gladioli and lilies for a supplementary income. Prayers were said before breakfast, alcohol was not consumed, and rabbit and fish were often served for dinner. Grand-nieces and nephews remember the sisters as wearing Edwardian-style clothes well into the 20th century (“they dressed fifty years out of date”[v]), which they felt was out of a sense both of social propriety as well as economic necessity. Peter Delap notes that this was not out of “prudishness” but a “compulsion to preserve a low profile” as “ostentation was intolerable in the face of poverty”, which was evident throughout the island at the time.[vi]

Gendering Natural History

As with many self-taught female natural scientists in this period Maude had no formal education and was greatly influenced by her father’s interest in marine biology, zoology and botany. It is not clear from the existing archives what exactly her father’s engagement was with Darwinism, but as Thomas Duddy has noted, “What you get in Ireland in the nineteenth century is a spectrum of responses”.[vii] Reverend Delap, primarily as a man of religion in addition to being an avid amateur naturalist, may well have fallen into a category of natural scientists that could ‘blend’ science and religion by following the precepts of evolution, but explained godly design through the employment of a natural theology which showed that ‘divine unity’ lay beneath the diversity of animal and organic structures. Following her father’s example, Delap sent specimens and samples to the Natural History Museum, London. In 1894 she started a correspondence with Dr Robert Francis Scharff, curator of the Dublin Natural History Museum. Maud sent him regular observations, field-notes, letters, preserved specimens and sketch drawingsa practice that she would retain with the Museum until 1949. In 1906 she was offered a post in the Marine Biological Station at Plymouth, but turned it down. In her great-nephew John Barlee’s account, the reason cited is that her father reputedly stated that “No daughter of mine will leave home, except as a married woman!”.[viii] The reality of leaving Valentia at this stage of her life (as she was approaching 40), in addition to leaving her sisters, may well have been other equally pressing reasons as to why Delap did not take up the position.

During the inter-war years she was the official recorder of whale strandings in south-west Ireland for a study conducted by Dr Francis Charles Fraser of the British Museum. Her scientific work was internationally acknowledged in 1928 when zoologists Oskar Carlgren and T.A. Stephenson named a sea anemone after her, Edwardsia delapiae. In this, Delap is unusual in having a species named after a woman and becomes embedded within a masculine tradition that used naming as a form of recognition of accomplishments. In 1936 her contribution to marine biology was acknowledged when she was made an Associate of the Linnaean Society in London.[ix] There are over 40 references to her contribution to the Valentia Survey, and there are 81 noted entries of donations of specimens to the National Museum of Ireland, Natural History database under the name of ‘Delap’. Between 1901 and 1924 she published over 15 articles in journals and magazines such as the Irish Naturalist, Kerry Archaeological Magazine, and Fisheries Ireland. Throughout her lifetime Maud also contributed notes and information to scholars in the areas of botany, zoology, marine science, folklore and anthropology.[x]

Bridge to the World

In many ways, Delap’s home, Valentia Island is an exception to all the perceived ‘rules’ concerning island life in Ireland at this time. Due to its physical location, as an island off the west Kerry coast (measuring almost seven miles by two miles in size), one could be forgiven for thinking its remote location as holding a distinct disadvantage for the island and its inhabitants. It is, however, precisely the location of the island that led to its prosperity and to its exceptional status in 19th and 20th century Ireland. Valentia may have been physically cut off from the Irish mainland, but it was intellectually, scientifically and economically connected to the rest of the world in many different ways. Such connections to the cultural and scientific worlds of metropolitan Dublin, London and New York can be attributed to the location of a telegraph station, weather station and an observatory on the island in addition to extensive fishing and mining industries established since the early 1800s. Before the Great Irish Famine of the 1840s, Valentia had a population of approximately 3,000 while today just over 660 people claim it as their fulltime residence. In the 19th century it had three major industries: fishing (500,000 mackerel being landed daily in 1912); slate quarrying (opened in Geokaun in 1816 and employing over 500 people at its height); and communications (it was the European terminus for the first Trans-Atlantic cable, with the Telegraph Station opening in 1865).[xi] By the time of the Valentia Survey the island was seen as an open laboratory with science as its bridge to the world. Valentia was indeed then ‘a different Irish island’, and was markedly different to other islands along a western Irish coastline that would become familiar to tourists, artists and scholars. If Yeats could have reasonably said to Synge to go to Aran to express a life that had never found expression (except that it had already found generations of expression in story and in song, albeit in the Irish language), the same could not be said for Valentia in terms of it being an ‘unknown’ entity to an anglophone world.

nessa cronin 3
Eastern Telegraph Map, showing Valentia as the ‘centre’ of the new telecommunications world in the late nineteenth century, with the Atlantic Cable heralded as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’. (Photograph: Nessa Cronin, courtesy of Valentia Island Heritage Centre, Co. Kerry, Ireland)

The flow of visitors (engineers, scientists, marine biologists) to the island over the years for scientific and scholarly research purposes finally culminated in Browne’s decision to locate an extensive marine survey on Valentia in the mid-1890s. This choice was in part informed by the interest in natural science of Reverend Delap (who was already well-known through his previous activities in the Belfast Field Club) and the availability of existing infrastructure. With the arrival of the survey team in 1895, Maude and Constance would become centrally involved with Browne’s study. They would continue to log information and collect specimens for him years after the initial ‘official’ fieldwork had been completed. In Irish, if not in European terms in this period, the only other comparable island to receive such multidisciplinary attention would be Lambay Island, County Dublin with the survey of its flora and fauna in 1905-1906.[xii]

Laboratories of Art and Science

The Valentia Island Visitor Centre opened in 1986 as a volunteer-run heritage centre. It is housed in the former Knightstown National School, which was established in 1861. There are three main display rooms, one of which contains the archive relating to the life and work of Maude Delap. The centre holds materials relating to Delap’s work in particular, and items displayed include her field notebooks, bell jars and the microscope from a room dedicated to Delap’s archive called ‘The Department’. The presence of shell, bone and coral specimens in the Delap Archive illustrates the collecting and preserving practices that she experimented with in addition to demonstrating the range of interests that she had in Valentia’s natural environment. She also encouraged other islanders to collect specimens and wrote to the Dublin Natural History Museum on several occasions that they should pay for such collections when and where possible to encourage further local fieldwork in the region.

Recent work on Delap’s legacy by artist Dorothy Cross and marine biologist brother, Tom Cross, highlights the potential of interdisciplinary work across the realms of arts and sciences through their collaborative work Medusae, produced in 2000-2003. The project was supported by the Sci-Art Fund to pursue investigations focusing on the aesthetic, anthropological and scientific aspects of jellyfish. Medusae is the result of this three-year collaboration which was the basis of a 30 minute film, one of a series of video based works by Dorothy Cross that combines the mythology life story of Irish amateur naturalist Maude Delap, with present day scientific research. The project involved juxtaposing new scientific experiments of Tom Cross’ exploration of the swimming techniques (biomechanics) of a deadly species of jellyfish known as the Box Jellyfish found off Queensland, Australia, with historical experiments of Maude Delap. Notes, drawings and charts from Delap’s research, alongside new material discovered in making Medusae, as well as some of Dorothy Cross’ artwork inspired by Delap, remain on permanent exhibition at the Valentia Heritage Centre. Part of this project was explored on the BBC Radio 4 programme Women’s Hour broadcast on 4 October 2001, with regard to Dorothy’s iteration of her work entitled Come into the Garden Maude.[xiii]

nessa cronin 4
Film Still, Medusae, Dorothy Cross and Tom Cross. Produced by Fiach Mac Conghail, 2000-2003. Kerlin Gallery, Dublin.[xiv]

The legacy of Delap can be regarded in terms of re-thinking the borders of the study of natural history, in foregrounding the contribution that ‘marginal’ island spaces made to Irish scientific culture. It also opens up questions as to the interconnections between local places that become sites of enquiry and transnational scientific cultures in terms of re-thinking the spaces of science and natural history. This is of particular importance when thinking of the contributions that amateur and professional naturalists and scholars equally made to a nascent sense of an Irish natural history that was visually symbolized by, and housed within, the new Dublin Natural History Museum.

The complex web of connections that linked Valentia to the scientific worlds of Dublin, London and New York, also served an intellectual social network that stretched across Delap’s life and career as an ‘amateur’ natural scientist. While Delap’s maritime work is rooted in the island space of Valentia in this period, it also made a contribution beyond those shores and compels us to re-think the spaces of domestic science and fieldwork cultures in a broader Atlantic context.

Irish bilingual poet Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s current work also adds to our understanding of how a young girl, on a remote island, becomes enthralled with maritime life and the life of science. In her award-wining poem, ‘Maude Enthralled’, Maude’s knowledge changes as she ‘peers through glass’ she is looking ‘into a deeper dark, telescoped.’ The views afforded through the lenses of scientific instruments enable her to see ‘through waves to a world of hover and float, of swim and flit and gilled throats.’ Ever mindful of the fleeting nature of knowledge and how science can be as much about the laws of accident as the laws of nature, she finally learns ‘the art of clasp and let go’.[xv] Delap’s life and legacy for a new generation of artists in Ireland has a new potent legacy and offers new platforms and new modes of enquiry into the connections between art and science, nature and landscape, people and place. Such interdisciplinary work provokes us to rethink old epistemic boundaries and to explore ideas of a ‘deeper dark’, the boundaries between the known and the unknown, the imagined and the real, and how new knowledges and ways of describing the world can be re-created.

nessa cronin 5
Maude Delap’s private telescope. (Photograph: Nessa Cronin, courtesy of Valentia Island Heritage Centre, Co. Kerry, Ireland)

Endnotes

[i] For more on this see, Nessa Cronin, ‘Maude Delap’s Domestic Science: Island Spaces and Gendered Fieldwork in Irish Natural History’, in Coastal Works: Cultures of the Atlantic Edge (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), pp. 161-180.

[ii] Delap, P. (n.d.): Memories of a Loving Alien, p. 3, unpublished memoir. I am grateful to Joanna Lee for this source.

[iii] Ibid, p.1.

[iv] Personal interview with Joanna Lee, Dublin, November 25, 2013.

[v] Personal interview with Joanna Lee, Dublin, November 25, 2013.

[vi] Delap, P., op.cit., p. 2.

[vii] Duddy, T. (2009): ‘The Irish Response to Darwinism’, in Jones, R. and Steer, M. (eds), Darwin, Praeger and the Clare Island Surveys, pp 10-11, Royal Irish Academy, Dublin.

[viii] Byrne, A. (1997): ‘Untangling the Medusa’, in Deevey, P. and Mulvihill, M. (eds) Stars, Shells and Bluebells: Women Scientists and Pioneers, p. 104, WITS, Dublin.

[ix] Women had only been admitted as members to the Linnaean Society since 1905.

[x] She was also recorded as being a member of Cumann Béaloideas na hÉireann (The Folklore Association of Ireland) in 1948, as noted in Béaloideas, Iml. 18, Uimh 1/2, 202, (Meitheamh-Nodlaig, 1948).

[xi] In 1922 as many as 242 staff were listed as working at the station, many of them students, with over 50 young women and girls employed as maids in the Knightstown area in the years just after World War I;  O’Cleirigh, N.(1992): Valentia: A Different Irish Island, p. 104, Portobello Press, Dublin.

[xii] Both the Valentia and Lambay surveys in many ways laid the template for the more famous Clare Island Survey (County Mayo), led by Robert Lloyd Praeger and conducted by a team of over 200 experts from the Royal Irish Academy and the Royal Society of London, 1909-1911.

[xiii] http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/womanshour/2001_40_thu_02.shtml See also Dorothy Cross’ latest work on Medusae (based on her Delap work) here: http://www.stoneyroadpress.com/artists/dorothy-cross/

[xiv] https://publicart.ie/main/directory/directory/view/medusae/5da05703f73bd73b4afe35a59322d3ea/. See also http://www.imma.ie/en/downloads/strands-dorothy_cross.pdf and http://www.bbc.co.uk/nottingham/students/2003/02/glass_aquarium_exhibition.shtml

[xv] Doireann Ní Ghríofa, ‘Maude Enthralled’, http://edgeworthstown.net/blog/blog1.php/poetry-winners-2017 

 

Nature Books of the Year

The Land Lines team were invited to curate a page of the ‘nature books of the year’ for the Arts and Humanities Research Council. 

By Dr Pippa Marland

This year’s protracted wrangling over the terms of Brexit has dominated political and social debate and at times drawn attention away from the parlous state of our nation’s nature and from devastating new global evidence of climate breakdown and species decline. At the same time, people around the world have taken to the streets in unprecedented numbers to call for political action on climate change mitigation and protection of wildlife. In the UK, September saw the publication of The People’s Manifesto for Wildlife, delivered to Downing Street by a ten-thousand strong band of marchers, and October witnessed the first actions of the Extinction Rebellion. There’s a widespread sense that we need new stories to narrate our relationship with the natural world – stories that inspire us to pay attention, to mourn what is gone, to cherish what is left, and to translate our enchantment and grief into political action. We invited ten people to nominate their books of the year (or recent years), and one person to give us a recommendation for 2019; their choices reflect the dual roles of contemporary nature writing in exploring innovative, imaginative ways of understanding the natural world, and encouraging us to take a mighty stand on its behalf. From the ‘amulet against the Anthropocene’ of Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris’ The Lost Words, to the ‘unexpected call for revolution’ in Mark Cocker’s Our Place, here are the nature books that have delighted and challenged our panel of readers.

Our place

Richard Smyth

 Our Place, by Mark Cocker

 In November this year, Sir David Attenborough described environmental issues as a ‘turn-off’ for television viewers, and was righteously clobbered by George Monbiot as a consequence. The tension here, between candid bio-realism and nature-as-escapism, is a problem for anyone who writes about wildlife in this age of the Sixth Extinction. Few front up to the challenge with the boldness, rigour and vision of nature writer Mark Cocker in what might turn out to be his defining work, Our Place. It’s a book underpinned by the premise that we can only understand the present condition of our countryside by examining the past, and that only a clear-eyed view of the present can equip us to confront the future. British nature is in a bad way and getting worse. Through prisms of landscape and history, Cocker – in his usual measured manner – lays out a blueprint for radical reform. An unexpected call for revolution.

Richard Smyth is a writer and critic. His essays and reviews have appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, the New Statesman and the Literary Review, among others, and he writes regularly on wildlife for The Guardian, Bird Watching and BBC Wildlife. His most recent book is A Sweet, Wild Note: What We Hear When The Birds Sing (Elliott & Thompson, 2017).

Continue reading “Nature Books of the Year”