wilderness : self-willed flora, fauna & minera in the community of Earth
BACK TO BEYOND
For a good twelve years of my life, I read everything written by the 19th-century poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. "Kubla Khan." "Christabel." "The Songs of the Pixies.” And of course "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." Every summer, I tromped around England, walking where Coleridge walked, eating where he ate, sleeping where he slept, feeling and thinking my way into the landscape of his supernatural poetry. One day I quit traveling to England and learning its old pathways. Ten years passed. And then, just before the pandemic, I returned to walk the Coleridge Way, a journey that has stayed with me this year.
The Coleridge Way has been comprehensively mapped and lovingly annotated. The route intersects with ancient footpaths dating to medieval days and beyond.
Copy of a map from Coleridge's Notebook 2 (above), his solo, haphazard walks around the Cumbrian mountains in the Lake District. In all his travels, he wrote intricate notes and drew sketches and maps. Coleridge is sometimes considered a cartographic poet. In this case he took an earlier map and layered personal geography onto the official cartographical depiction of space.
The Coleridge Way is a 51-mile route winding through Somerset along the Bristol Channel with scheduled stops where the poet composed some of his most powerful poetry such as Porlock, site of the fantastical "Kubla Khan." Much of his poetry was concerned with the supernatural and metaphysical. The Coleridge Way skirts Watchet, the town that inspired his best known poem, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." My walk took me through the Quantock Hills to Kilve Beach and then along the Coast Trail to Watchet and the Church of St Decuman, where a rainbow appeared.
Mud. Refuse. Play. This month I molded slithery clay gathered from the Palouse River into a sheet. As it oozed between my fingers, I felt its vulnerability and its strength. On my ramble to and from the river, I plucked pieces of garbage--plastic, pottery, and glass--from road, which I used as imprint tools to mark the clay into a medieval map of my journey. Clay of earth, of flesh, of breath.
Monthly celebration of makers who are teaching / re-teaching us how to connect with the natural world and with one another.
Artist Annique Goldenberg
Annique Goldenberg has lived near water all her life, as a child learning to sail on the coastal waters of England, and as an adult spending 10 years living on yachts sailing various Oceans with her husband and children. She currently lives next to the Pacific Ocean on Bundjalung country, NSW, Australia, and is undertaking a Doctor of Visual Art at Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, Brisbane. Her multidisciplinary practice covers installation, papermaking, artist books, printmaking and photography.
James Canton has written widely in creative nonfiction forms and taught on the MA in Wild Writing at the University of Essex since its inception in 2009, exploring the fascinating ties between the literature and landscape of East Anglia. His first book From Cairo to Baghdad (2011) explored the writings of British Travellers to Arabia from 1882 to 2003. Out of Essex: Re-Imagining a Literary Landscape (2013) is inspired by rural wanderings in the county. Ancient Wonderings: Journeys into Prehistoric Britain was published by William Collins in 2017 and tells some remarkable tales of life in ancient Britain. His latest book The Oak Papers was published with HarperOne in February 2021.
O happy living things! no tongue Their beauty might declare: A spring of love gushed from my heart, And I blessed them unaware: Sure my kind saint took pity on me, And I blessed them unaware.
The self-same moment I could pray; And from my neck so free The Albatross fell off, and sank Like lead into the sea.
"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," Samuel Taylor Coleridge
I’m drawn to the aspens outside my house in Moscow, Idaho. When the round, serrated-edged leaves talk in whispered voices, I hear the music of a vanished community. What natural supernaturalism inhabits your environment and your imagination?
1. Find the supernatural in the natural. What part of your natural environment flashes and flickers with energy and mystery?
2. Bring an apparition of the past to the grounded present. Ancient thread to decaying leaf to forgotten encounters.
3. If you're so moved, listen for the old ways, the ancient tales, the vanished communities. Feel the mystical in the banal. Write your leaves and stitch your stories.
This month, my mother gifted me my grandmother’s 1955 Singer Featherweight sewing machine and some of her ancient thread. With the machine I stitched together the fallen and silent aspen leaves from which moss and tiny buds were just beginning to emerge. From the clay I had collected on the Palouse River, I formed amulets, creating a shadow-site, a supernatural message.
STORY | Slime Redemption
In October 2017 I became a mariner. I set sail from Longyearbyen, Svalbard, ten degrees from the North Pole, on board the Antigua, a traditionally-rigged barquentine tall ship like those of the seventeenth century but with modern amenities like a gourmet kitchen and a diesel engine.
I’d brought along a copy of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1802 The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a poem I teach every year. Before squeezing into bed at night, I reread the familiar story, how the mariner shoots an albatross, how the crew hangs the slaughtered bird around his neck for penance, how in the land of mist and snow, there is no redemption, only a dying world. The wind stops blowing. The sun sits like a disc on the rim of the earth. The ship stagnates in its own shadow. Rain ceases and the ocean begins to rot. As the crew members drop dead and resurrect as ghosts, the mariner sinks into existential depression.
This month, I returned to Robert Macfarlane's remarkable books The Old Ways and The Wild Places. I was reminded of how close to the land Northern Europeans once lived. The Mitchell Lecture Series of the Fiber and Material Studies at the School of the Art Institute Chicago recently featured the fascinating Andrea Peterson, a papermaker who addresses humans' relationship to environment. You might be interested in Susan Robb's fun prompts in Hack Your Wild. Elissa Washuta new memoir White Magicis just out, which I've ordered from my local bookstore. I love the ongoing Instagram residencies curated by the WildernessArt Collective. Wishing you the best as you/we slowly move out of the extreme isolation of the pandemic and into a new way of being.
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