Autumn Thoughts In The Nature Of

Seed pockets

Three autumnal poems.


Because they’re red
they say you cannot eat the haws
and call them ‘birds' meat’.

But we know better.
The haws and leaves
are bread and cheese
we chew in autumn’s glut

striding across the fields
to spit their pips
into the green of possible lives.
On the Bare Hill
Men have been up on the hills
burning gorse, razing bracken.
I stand in dark, dead hearths
blackening my boot tips
among broken bottles,
smelling ash
on a bitter breeze.
When I was young
we toasted wine corks on the hob,
daubed ourselves in ashy camouflage,
tucked ferns in our belts
and disappeared into the woods
to lie all day in undergrowth
smelling of soil, deer’s hooves,
adder’s underbelly.
Shall I take off my clothes
and roll naked in hill brack?
Smear a blue-black crosshatch,
break up my outline,
Step out of things.
Shall I walk away, grieving, in a fashion
old as red ochre and white clay,
following damp hanks of lily-white wool
snagged along barrow tracks of broom
Spared the fire?
I remember:
lime seas of bracken unfurling,
spiked fists of gorse erupting,
yellow flowers,
smelling of coconut.

In the water meadow:

an old man bowed
in a circle of black cows

lifts the fine tilth of molehills
into an old pail 

hums quietly to the seeds
rustling in his pocket. 

How I write

It generally goes like this: the hare lopes by, unseeing; the kestrel crashes through the holloway roof; the old hawthorn creaks in a gale by the river. Into gaps left by these happenings,words flow and, if I am lucky, sometimes poems form. For me, poetry is the Grammatica Parda or ‘tawny grammar’ that Gary Snyder writes about in The Practice of the Wild. A direct, fleeting, fragile and magical result of minds crossing, blending for a second, leaving their impressions.

Uncertainty is essential. In the outdoors, I try to adopt a thoughtful, open stance – walking, sitting, lying – and then wait for something to happen; for co-writers of poetry to turn up on wing, foot or fin.

Hal Rhoades

Hannibal Rhoades is an anthropologist, environmentalist and writer. He lives in the Malvern Hills and works for Action for Conservation on the Penpont Project in the Bannau Brycheiniog.

Here he is with Igor in Northern Canada.

Poems copyright © Hannibal Rhoades 2023.

In The Nature Of

An illustrator’s eye

It’s fascinating how much more you see when paying the close attention needed for drawing.

I once took a group of scientists to the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth, where they spent an hour or so drawing various creatures. They were amazed by what they noticed, even in fish they had spent years studying but never ‘seen’ so fully before.

I feel that illustration has always been been the most engaging way to explain and understand the natural world. Scientific writing is just as important, but I suspect you are looking at my pictures now more than this text.

Marc Dando drawing of moon jellyfish lifecycle
Lifecycle of the moon jellyfish (from top-left, moving anti-clockwise): A jellyfish medusa releases a fertilised egg. The egg grows into a small larva called a planula, which resembles a microscopic flatworm covered in tiny hairs. The planula swims about seeking a place on the seabed. Once attached, it turns into a polyp. When conditions are right, the polyp becomes a scyphistoma and begins to clone itself. It creates a stack of tiny juvenile jellyfish clones, which are released into the ocean to grow on and become adult medusas. In July and August, the adults are often seen drifting in UK harbours and on beaches.

In the past, before photographs, illustration was the only way to visually represent the natural world. Some antiquarian prints show some rather strange interpretations of the living world, especially the rare and bizarre, and can lead to us wonder how they misinterpreted creatures we are now familiar with. Dead, often decaying, specimens were often drawn, and not having seen the living specimens, a bit of guesswork was added to complement the exaggerated descriptions of travellers’ tales, hearsay and myth.

Today there is much more visual information to hand, but even so, it is still up to the illustrator to interpret this information. Illustrators need to observe not only the visual shapes that make up the whole, but how they layer up and fit together. A photograph, no matter how good, can’t always show everything in one view, which is what an illustrator aims to do.

Collation of correct descriptions, correct photographic material and in person descriptions, as well as a meticulous observation and understanding, is key to any scientific illustrator’s work.

Marc Dando illustrator

Marc Dando is a scientific illustrator who made his name with Sharks of the World, working with Leonard Compagno and Sarah Fowler. Alongside more traditional watercolour, pencil, and pen-and-ink work, Marc uses computer-based illustration. His work has been exhibited at the Musée Océanographique de Monaco, The Mall Galleries in London and the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale.


The life-cycle of the moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) is from The Marine World by Frances Dipper, Wild Nature Press.

The colour illustration at the top of the page is of a wild rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), drawn for WildFish.

Images copyright © Marc Dando 2023.

In The Nature Of Summer Thoughts

Rivers, rocks, air and rain

The Chained Swan

Beyond Watersmeet there’s a chained swan.
Above the thundering river, dipper-dipped,
heron-pierced, grey-wagtail flittered,
boulder-bounding down from Watersmeet,
an oasis of cream-teas at the fishing lodge,
yes, way above that densely oaked ravine
there’s a crowned swan in chains.

Beyond the pied flycatchers, flitting from
the oaks to stab the air on invisible strings,
the birches thin to a rising meadow where
crows congregate at cowpats and a path,
cresting the buzzard-cruised meadow,
descending to a dell and a church, leads
to an angry swan biting her chains.

Beyond the isolated church of Countisbury
the coastal path drops from Butter Hill,
high above the sea, balancing through bracken,
airy, loose and steep, towards the Lyn’s mouth.
Raven calls black-flap below. But from that church
echo the distressed cries from a medieval bench-end
of a swan chained to the crown slipped down her neck.
Countisbury church chained swan
The chained swan in St John the Evangelist Church, Countisbury, Devon.
The Singing Bus

for Clifden Community School, Connemara

passes the rising tide on its port side
along the rounding shore road,
whistling the otter’s lament,

bowing the strings of yellow kelp,
plucking at pink crayfish,
sounding the base of the turf,

its dark storied heat of hearts
and tears at the hearth,
beating always with flying feet

the bounce beating back against rain,
those ever changing clouds
that do not know how to end

their raindance the way school ends,
a lesson ends, a journey ends
in the singing bus until tomorrow’s

new sharing session in the old bus
of airs and songs of cart roads,
drove roads, sea roads, songlines.
Relics From My Father’s Greenhouse

Wood tamped earth flat over seeds
secure in their pencil holes, gently
watered by a can from the rain-butt:
flat wood, cracked along its grains
like old skin, as though eaten by sea,
has been screwed to new wood for
holding like a reduced board-rubber.

Stone broke earth for replanting:
sea-shaped stone for my father’s
fingers to fold around for his
potting-on after the pricking-out
of plants rooted in holes from
this dull pebble, its pointed end
whitened by fertilizer’s good wishes.

We’d joked that clearing his shed
of a lifetime of piled rusting objects
would be our grieving nightmare, but
my sister paid to pre-empt our pain.
From his greenhouse I have only his
two Neolithic tools, of aching wood
and that carefully selected cold stone.

How I write – by Terry Gifford

My notebook is essential. It’s hardback, pocket-sized and covered in waterproof tackyback because I write outdoors in it.

I’m a great believer in rewriting and rewriting to find the poem’s form. I try out my work-in-progress at a monthly workshop with fellow poets and I’m hugely grateful for their responses.

Every landscape, every flower, every tree, bird and animal are threatened in some way and climate breakdown and my own culpability are always at the back of my mind. My poetry needs to address this if it is to be more than personal therapy. I try to hint in an indirect, undidactic, way. I believe that the slow drips of poems can make something happen, accumulatively, communally, in the dialogue between writers and readers. 

Terry Gifford has published eight collections of poetry and is author/editor of seven books about Ted Hughes. His most recent book is D. H. Lawrence, Ecofeminism and Nature. He is Visiting Research Fellow in Environmental Humanities at Bath Spa University, UK, and Profesor Honorifico at the Universidad de Alicante, Spain. His most recent book is D. H. Lawrence, Ecofeminism and Nature. See

Terry Gifford poet

Poems © Terry Gifford, 2023.

In The Nature Of Spring Thoughts

A Proustian blossoming

May is the month of hawthorn, the eponymous mayflower, whose small, white and pink buds erupt along country hedgerows and abandoned railway lines, in corners of allotments, in city and suburban parks and gardens. When multiplied by the thousand, its unpretentious, five-petalled flowers become foaming clouds and banks of blossom, bringing “a quickening hope, a freshening glee”, as William Wordsworth writes in ‘Ode Composed on a May Morning’.

Hawthorn is a shapeshifter; a shrub, a tree, a hedge, the marker of a boundary or enclosure giving form and pattern to fields and landscape. There’s a hawthorn in Tavistock Square in Bloomsbury and it is one of the three commonest trees in Manchester.

Tough and ubiquitous, hawthorn also has its queerer, more subversive aspects. It fascinated Marcel Proust, who celebrates the hawthorn in its “parure de fête”, or party finery, in À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time). Even if the 3,000-plus pages of the work are a literary challenge too far, the hawthorn section in the first volume, Du côté de chez Swann, is a poetic tour de force worth reading on its own. You may never again walk past a hawthorn in bloom without stopping to examine, to listen, and to smell.

Although Proust remembers seeing hawthorn laid on the altar of the Virgin Mary “au mois de Marie” (in the month of Mary) in the church in Combray, his worship of hawthorn had pagan roots. Its flowers are linked to virgins and brides – it was carried by young women and embroidered on wedding trains and veils. In France, young men might declare their desire by leaving a branch of hawthorn on the windowsill, or by the door, of the houses of unmarried girls.

Hawthorn is also linked with death, as Proust knew. The smell is the clue. He describes it as the “odeur amère et douce d’amandes” (“the bittersweet odour of almonds”), rather like frangipane. This unmistakeable and powerful scent (think of Copydex glue) is due to the presence of trimethylamine, a chemical which is produced by corpses and is present in sexual fluids.

The young Marcel is entranced by the “suite de chapelles” (series of chapels) formed by the hawthorns that line the path by Swann’s estate. Stopping to examine the blossom, he becomes aware of the “bourdonnement” or buzzing of the hedges, which are charged with sexual activity and electricity, vibrating with throbbing bees collecting pollen from the flowers’ obvious stamens. The hedges are alive with sex, something Hockney (a lifelong reader of Proust) captures in the huge paintings of hawthorn hedges in Yorkshire he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 2012 with their almost indecent phallic wavings. It is no coincidence that Marcel encounters hawthorn at the moment he is becoming aware of his sexual desires; it is in this setting that he meets Gilberte for the first time, the fillette or young girl who captures his heart.

À la recherche is a paean to many kinds of flowers and blossom. But only the hawthorn can stir so much Proustian passion and embody the two primary subjects of his masterpiece: sex and death.

Jane Brocket is the author of books on a variety of creative and cultural subjects. She has an MA in Victorian Art and Culture from Royal Holloway, University of London, and her most recent book is How to Look at Stained Glass (2017). More recently she has been writing the weekly yarnstorm newsletter on Substack which allows her to consider a wide range of favourite subjects including rag rugs, smocking, tulips, bookbinding, Proust, allotments, and domesticity. Her photos can be found on her Instagram account.

Text copyright © Jane Brocket, 2023.

In The Nature Of Spring Thoughts

Make me ready


They leave by detachment
one by one and in clusters, layering. 
A seeming fragility.
Pollen grains and their microspores 
are one of the most resistant substances 
in the plant world.
Under anoxic conditions, they linger 
in ponds and fens for thousands 
to millions of years.
They mirror the past in the future. 
A story of earlier vegetation 
and climate status. 

Pollens waft through me.  
They intersect my white 
the mesmerising orange-blue flight 
of the kingfisher and the bee-eater 
on the Bacchiglione. 
Absence wafts through us. 
Our persistent morphology 
gradually degraded. 
Walls and apertures 
to indicate our structure.
Lie down on the ground 
with me like a layer. 

The woolly soil teasels 
the substratum and the soles. 
Moisture wets palms 
holding the leash.
It’s so windy lately.
Make Me Ready

Make me ready 
for the arrival of the rain
which is expected heavy 
but needed.

Show me 
what I can get rid of
pruning shrubs 
along the fluvial corridor.

And if we must leave 
the fourth industrial revolution behind
this augmented social reality 
to repair our notion of mortality

help me not to falter.
We may remain one day
one last day.
Red Giants

What if this is the time 
the non-negotiable self, the sacred.
The line we already crossed.

Nothing is more real than the wind 
in the winter when it cracks the skin and
clenches the throat, when it forces 
each frequency. On the riverbank, it lashes 
the floodplains and then it pauses.

You told me about these years
the fatigue, and I do nothing
but ponder over our presence.

Where were we? What are we 
bringing along? History is
a tale within a tale 
a series of omissions, hypotheses
and mitigations. 

And we may desecrate remembrance
and contaminate our becoming
but the urge to outlast the death
of the sun slams us. 

Entrenched in the anxiety to get lost 
evolving away from the main sequence 
like red giants.  

A few decades down the line
we will meet, I will sit down 
across from you and 
I’ll ask once more
do you know my name? 

Ilaria Boffa: How I write

My artistic work is mainly based on observation, research, experimentation and language “contamination”.

For me, observing subjects and objects, living and non-living beings, means to pay attention, listen, care, and look with an open mind, compassion, tolerance and curiosity. This entails asking questions and raising doubts about the Anthropocene era.

I write in Italian and English. My sono-poetry combines poetry and field recordings of natural and human-produced sounds that I take with a zoom H6 recorder during trips around the world, or in the Euganean Hills in Italy where I live.

pic taken in the Euganean Hills (Italy), 2020, by Ilaria Boffa

Ilaria Boffa is an Italian poet and sound recordist. She writes bilingual poetry and has published three poetry collections to date. She is one of eight authors included in NeMLA Writing in a Different Language Vol XL 2018. Her sono-poems, which combine poetry and field recording, have been broadcast on Radiophrenia Glasgow radio art festival and Clyde Built Radio Glasgow. Three of her collaborative audio-video installations have been exhibited at Mahalla Festival Murmuration 2021 in Turkey, Nature&Culture Poetry Film Festival 2021 in Sweden, !Flick! International Film Festival 2023 in the US and MK Architektur Exhibition 2023 in Germany.

LinkTree,  IG , SoundCloud , FB )

Header image

All images, text and recording copyright © Ilaria Boffa, 2023. Images taken taken in the Euganean Hills (Italy) by Ilaria Boffa.

In The Nature Of Spring Thoughts

Birth of a foal

I had been walking for several hours on the high moor with my collie Moss when I found the mare. She was alone, and very heavily in foal. I recognised her immediately – it was Pear, one of more than 70 pedigree Exmoor ponies that graze the open acres of Dunkery hill above Porlock.

I often walk more than 20 miles a day to check the ponies, observing quietly from a distance.

Over the years I have got to know their characters well – and they have become used to my presence. Usually, I watch for a while and then move on, but this day was different. I sat down to rest in the heather with my dog a little way off and Pear grazed her way towards me. It was a peaceful spring day and the loudest sound was the gentle, soporific munch as she cropped young shoots of whortleberry.

When she was about 20 feet away, Pear sighed, laid down, and went to sleep. It’s an immense privilege and honour to be trusted in this way by a free-living, unhandled pony. By allowing me to keep watch, she showed she accepted my presence.

While she slept, I kept vigil, my thoughts vanishing in a sense of connection with her and my surroundings.

After about a quarter of an hour, Pear stood up, looked directly at me, sighed heavily once again and turned her rear towards me. I expected her to wander off as she’d had her nap and there would be more things she wanted to nibble. But then she lifted her tail – and revealed a tiny, protruding hoof.

Pear seemed content for me to keep watch over her, a role that usually falls to another mare during foaling. The timing was unusual, these mares generally give birth in the hours of darkness and not in bright sunlight. I kept very still as she laid down once again on her side.

I could see the immense yet silent effort going into the birth. Mares in labour make no sound because that could draw a predator’s attention when they are most vulnerable.

I sat in silence with her, following her every breath. Within three minutes the foal was born, shrouded in the cloudy membrane of her foetal sac.

Exmoor pony mare giving birth to foal. Photo by Tricia Gibson

Seven minutes later the foal’s head and shoulders were free of the caul. Pear stood up, tumbling the foal out of the remainder of the sac and severing the umbilical cord in the process.

It was quite a while before the foal started to attempt to stand. With no control of her spindly legs, she kept falling flat. It was heart-in-mouth time for me watching.

I glimpsed the soft “feathers” covering her sharp hooves; these protect the mother and ensure the sac isn’t breached too early. They shrivel and disappear almost immediately a foal is born.

Exmoor pony foal and mare soon after birth. Photo by Tricia Gibson

What I hadn’t expected was the terror the filly showed when her mother approached and started to lick her. Her instinctive reaction was to move away backwards in crab-fashion, crumpling onto the ground. Pear kept nuzzling and licking, absorbing her scent and cleaning her. As the foal’s coat dried, the fur began to show its lovely rich, warm brown colours.

About an hour and a half later, Pear lay down to rest, and the little foal put her nose to her mother’s nostrils, absorbing her mother’s scent, and breathing in her breath: all was well. When I eventually walked away, the little filly was beginning to suckle, and Pear was on her feet grazing. That year’s foals all had plant names beginning with C, so we called her Ceanothus.

Exmoor pony mare and foal a few hours after birth. Photo by Tricia Gibson

I was given a great gift that day. I’ve seen other foals born since, but never in such proximity. Ceanothus is an adult now – here she is with her own filly foal, Gentian (below).

Exmoor pony mare and her first foal. Photo by Tricia Gibson

On my pony-checking walks I make full records of which ones I see where, who they are with, when the foals are born and which sex they are. Come the autumn inspection when the ponies are gathered from the moor and taken to the farm, my role is to say which foal belongs to which mare, which is easy when I’ve watched them growing up through the spring and summer.

It’s physically hard work walking the moor, especially in harsh weather, with my rucksack packed with camera, water and flapjacks to keep me fuelled. I used to wear a pair of tightly-laced walking boots, but have recently discovered fell runners’ hybrid boots, which are much lighter and grippier. Walking fast between groups of ponies keeps me warm and fit on the rugged moorland ground. And once I’m among the ponies, I’m oblivious to all else.

Exmoor pony stallion on Exmoor. Photo by Tricia Gibson

Tricia Gibson with her yearling stallion at a show

Tricia Gibson is retired and lives on Exmoor. She spends much time walking and taking photographs. Over a decade ago she entered the world of Exmoor ponies when a young mare and new-born foal came close to her. That day led to her owning and showing Exmoor ponies in-hand (led not ridden). The picture shows Tricia with her then yearling colt Westwilmer Euphorbia when he won the youngstock cup at Hawkridge Revels in 2019. He is now a mature stallion – that’s him on the moor in the last photo above.

All photographs © Tricia Gibson, 2023.

In The Nature Of Winter Thoughts

Another Year

Another Year

The bare trees are veiled in static mist
under a white sky
and the air is somehow airless.

I cannot work out where we are.
We’re beyond Epiphany – well beyond
the stir of Christmas. 

But the slender lilac crocus spears have broken ground, 
just as last year, so tender 
it seems unwise. 
Their simple plan just to live 
is bold and exciting.

And eight long-tailed tits – buff and black 
full teaspoons of bird – zee zee and whirl past me
like a flight of hungry schoolchildren.

A trickle of snowdrops
hang their neat heads, shielding pollen
like a thinker shields thought.

Nothing is full of this 
quiet force.
Crocus bud in snow by poet Nicola Healey

‘how beautiful they are, / as though their bodies did not impede them.’ 
                                           – ‘Messengers’, Louise Glück

One year, a deer appeared on Christmas Day,
as though it had stepped out of a story,
broken free from the night-before sleigh.

It lay down by the garden fence, and we
gazed through the window like children,
feeling watched over, almost chosen.

It left behind a ‘deer couch’: a faint imprint 
of its whole weight in the grass, resonant
as the empty chair of someone you’ve lost.

If I hadn’t seen the deer, I would have thought
nothing of this space, not sensed this
warm airy cast. The unbodied – 

they leave imprints everywhere.
Robin Interlude

After your ragged moulting, on one sudden
day of sun, you broke the darkening autumn
with a song so pure and plaintive, the pained
cochlea collapsed around molten silver, pouring

into my ear. Your encore: that other sound
beyond hearing: with me so still and you
so close, I felt the trill of your wings
beat through my neck as you flew on.

Listen to Nicola reading ‘Robin Interlude’, ‘Imprint’ and ‘Another Year’.

How I write – by Nicola Healey

‘Many of my poems begin accidentally outside in the garden, sparked by small or fleeting, yet concentrated, impressions – defiant, quiet or peripheral forces of nature that take me by surprise. Though it can be desolate, winter feels a deeply pensive and poetical season, its bareness perhaps reflecting truth and the unknown, as well as revealing a haunting, crystalline beauty through its exposed lineaments.

‘When I was writing ‘Another Year’ in January, I was struck by Emily Dickinson’s enigmatic lines: ‘“Nothing” is the force / That renovates the World’, which harness the hidden power within apparent nothingness, linking it with the potential to make things new.

‘I find a poem-in-the-making can feel unlikely, fragile, and then inevitable, as though it has to be, like the crocus bud that pushes through frozen ground. These poems try to respond to, recreate and find solace in isolated aspects of nature in an often inhospitable world.’

Nicola Healey’s poems have appeared in The Poetry Review, PN Review, Poetry Ireland Review, The Rialto, The London Magazine and Wild Court, among other places. She won the PBS Metro Poetry Prize 2021, was a runner-up in the Ginkgo Prize for Ecopoetry 2020 and was longlisted for the inaugural Nature Chronicles Prize 2022. She is the author of Dorothy Wordsworth and Hartley Coleridge: The Poetics of Relationship, a revision of her PhD which she gained from the University of St Andrews.

‘Robin Interlude’ was commended in the Resurgence Poetry Prize 2015.

Poems and images © Nicola Healey, 2023.

Poet Nicola Healey

Nicola Healey.

In The Nature Of

Three poems by Elspeth Wilson


Gorse punches out
the winter, leaving

it dazed and glowing
on the crags as the 

yellow spreads like a
rash over rock and 

bog. It encases narrow
pathways, creating

bowers of gold, turning
hikes to catwalks as

spawn sits like jelly 
for a children’s party 

in the murky pond. As
the tadpoles begin 

to eat one another, 
the jaundice starts

to fade, to be taken
over by Ribena

coloured buddleia
but it knows that it

took the crown.

Mum's sunflowers stopped
turning when the dog 
died and dad drank
non-alcoholic beer 
seven days a week.
You can plant a garden 
but you can't make it 
grow, can't make anything
face something it doesn't
want to, even if that thing 
is good for it, even if 
that thing is life 

It's true that they can hurt, especially 
when surprised, especially when caught
in a glass or down a top or a pair
of pants. It's true that it helps
to carry a weapon 
on your person - it's true
that we are taught self-
defence. But just like an insect
with a sting, we’ll get 
blamed for using what defences
nature gave us

Listen to Elspeth reading ‘Turning’, ‘Regal’ and ‘Wasp’:

How I write – by Elspeth Wilson

“When I’m out and about – whether that’s in my garden, in a park or on a busy street – I’m always noticing small details about the lives going on around me, both human and non-human. I try to write these details down in the notes app in my phone, pretty much straight away, otherwise I forget about them. Then later I return to them and sometimes they grow into something new and unexpected: that’s what happened with these three poems.

“I took details that I’d observed – like the way the gorse turned the hills near me golden and how the buddleia was the same colour as the Ribena my grandad used to give me – and used them to free-write. In this way, the poems arose much as plants and insects do themselves; unpredictably, organically, intertwined with humans and the built environment.

“For me, the landscape and non-human animals form a crucial part of both my creative process and how I think and write about the world. These three poems are part of the debut collection I’ve been working on which explores what it means to be in a certain body in the natural world, seeking to find a home in a particular environment.”

Elspeth Wilson is a writer and poet who is interested in exploring the limitations and possibilities of the body through writing, as well as writing about joy and happiness from a marginalised perspective. Her writing has been shortlisted for Canongate’s Nan Shepherd Prize and Penguin’s Write Now scheme. She is currently working on her first collection. She can usually be found in or near the sea.

Poet Elspeth Wilson

Elspeth Wilson.

In The Nature Of

Making a psychic flak jacket

Stories and myths have the power to bestow or reveal meaning. The heroine sets out on a journey from the known and ordinary into the unknown and extraordinary, meeting a cast of characters along the way who hasten or hinder her quest. There is peril in this – our heroine may encounter enemy or ally – but the trail is well-trodden and the narrative finds resolution.

Standing on the precipice of environmental oblivion, it is not so easy for us to navigate our future path. The ordinary world is the extraordinary world. There is no map and no destination. The wild woods are long gone, along with the wolves and bears. Our threats are existential. And we need all the help we can get. Instead of waiting for a guardian to guide us on our way, we need to set off well-equipped for the horrors that might lie ahead.

Body armour has been worn for thousands of years by fighters and enforcers, from chainmail and lamellar, to iron and steel plate, to modern ceramic plate and Kevlar. Part bulletproof vest, part apotropaic object, my psychic flak jacket brings together an assemblage of universal archetypes, internal helpers and childhood imaginary friends to protect me on this perilous journey.

Psychic flak jacket - Bear

The Bear panel from the front of the jacket.

The front panel includes the huge and reassuring Bear, with his ferocious teeth and claws, and the bold and inquisitive Monkey, scampering on ahead and urging me forwards; the Fairy Godmother, kind-hearted and supportive, and her counterpart, the formidable and unruly Witch. From my coterie of imaginary friends, there is the soft and comforting Pookie and the wild and disobedient Deedor. From own my life, there is a primary school teacher and a wise friend who both saw me, praised me, emboldened me.

The back panel features just one character: Medusa. Medusa was raped by Poseidon in a temple dedicated to Athena, and then punished by the goddess for this violation. Forever cursed with living snakes for hair and a stony stare, she is later beheaded by Perseus. Truly, the stuff of nightmares. Medusa’s decapitated head features on the Gorgoneion, both as a protective icon to avert evil and a symbol of female fury. Medusa literally has my back, terrifying adversaries with her petrifying gaze.

Psychic flak jacket - Back

The back of the jacket with the Medusa panels.

Despite mimicking the steel plates of brigandine armour, my embossed air-dried clay tiles are intrinsically fragile. The potency of the work does not reside in its physicality, but in its manifestation as ritual object, in making the invisible visible, the inner outer. As such, it is a performance piece, although I am no performance artist. The prospect of wearing it in public is mortifying because of how exposing it would be: ‘Why are you wearing that?’

And, yet, here I am trying to answer the question, ‘Why are you not wearing that?’ The compromise would be to conceal it under my clothes as a hidden talisman. This would be to defeat the primary purpose of an artwork – to be seen – which is not to imply that unseen art is not art. But, as psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott observed: ‘It is a joy to be hidden but disaster not to be found.’

Like a Möbius strip twisting endlessly inside and out, writhing like Medusa’s snakes, it seems impossible to unpick these contradictions. By exposing our vulnerabilities, do we invite injury or empathy? By revealing our strengths, do we elicit attack or admiration?

There is no easy road back from the ordeals of the extraordinary world we have so destroyed and depleted, and there are plenty of villains en route. We will need more than a good luck charm.

Listen to Emma read this short essay aloud.

Emma Tuck is an editor and artist. Her work is informed by the natural world, inevitably refracted through the psychological and the political. She grew up in, and has since returned to, the West Country after spending many years living and working on an organic smallholding/nature reserve in the west of Wales.

Her psychic flak jacket is on show until 26 November at Illminster Arts Centre in Somerset as part of a group exhibition of artworks produced during the Covid lockdowns.

Artist Emma Tuck

Emma Tuck (photograph by Dan Hopkins).

Hazel Press In The Nature Of

Be Here Now

This is an edited version of a talk that Sara gave at a seminar day convened by The Arborealists at Fyne Court on the Quantocks in September 2022. The Arborealists are a group of nearly 50 artists who depict trees and forests.

The photograph above by Hartley Woolf shows the Great Oak at Alfoxden Park, the house on the Quantocks where Dorothy and William Wordsworth lived in 1797-8.

Ideally, we would be outdoors now, sitting together under the trees. I would say “listen” and for 15 minutes we would feel the wet from the grass soaking into our clothes and smell the deep, fungal woodland autumn.

Perhaps there would be a beetle visible, a jay might screech among the oaks, and a slug inch cautiously along a fallen leaf. The light would shift and we would notice a spray of late blackberries – and a fly, probing.

After about five minutes of this, I expect your thoughts would have drifted. You would be thinking about the dampness of your trousers and hearing your stomach gurgle. Inevitably, a phone would ping somewhere nearby, and that call would be answered not only by the person the phone owns, but also in the minds of the two of us, who would then be thinking about our own devices and what they might be saying that we needed to respond to. By this point, we would be time travelling, thinking about the things we need to do next, or things we did earlier. We would have forgotten the beetle, the slug and the jay.

The living world speaks continuously, but do we listen? Really listen? And what would that listening entail?

This is not a new question. Here’s William Wordsworth wrestling with it at the beginning of the 19th century:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; –
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
A radical practice

I wanted us to hear Wordsworth because, of course, he lived on the Quantocks for a while with his sister Dorothy. That marvellous year at Alfoxden, with their friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge nearby, birthed some revolutionary ideas. The three of them walked the hills and combes, by day and night, in all weathers, seeking a way to remake the compact between themselves and the living world. For them, the bodily sensation of being physically present, outdoors, in the rain, under the moon, beneath the trees, was essential. They believed that imagination could only be fully ignited through physical experience.

This was a radical idea to put into practice, and especially challenging for a woman. It seems to me that Dorothy enacted much of her creative work though physical movement; by walking, getting wet, lying down in ditches to look at the sky; all acts that defied the social conventions of her time. Women of the gentry, which she was, were not supposed to get muddy. I am reminded of the scene in Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice where the heroine Elizabeth Bennet walks – walks! – three miles so she can be at the bedside of her sick sister Jane.

When Elizabeth arrives, the ladies of the house make snide comments about the unfitness of walking. They carp about the mud on her skirt, reminding us that women who walked had to do it wearing ridiculously unsuitable outfits; long skirts, tight bodices, stockings. Let us remember that Dorothy’s walking was always physically less comfortable than it was for the men. For her especially, the physicality of now, was inescapable.

But what of us? Acknowledging our cultural ancestry does not mean we should live like the past. In that sonnet, William speaks of “Nature” as an entity or a place separate from us, something outside of us that we observe, or go walking in. He comes up hard against the cosmology of his time, which saw Man – and I do mean Man – and Nature as divisible categories under a father god. And there he gets stuck, and despairs.

On not being a “nature writer”

It seems to me that we need to remake our relationship with all the other beings in this world. For writers, this is about remaking the language we use, rather than accepting the old terms and the relationships they confer. For example, I don’t call myself a “nature writer”, because it’s an “us and them”, or more accurately an “us and it” term that comes with a history of patriarchal colonialism. Not everyone agrees – which is fine with me so long as they have considered the issue. Earlier this year, I was talking to the Poet Laureate Simon Armitage about how we use the term “nature writing” and he said he had never heard of the debate before, which I found astonishing. It was a reminder of how radical this approach can be.

This great remaking seems to me to be the most urgent task facing all creative people, whatever our practice. We need to end our extractive relationship with other beings and recognise that what we used to call “nature”, is not there to be conquered, or to entertain us, or to make us rich or powerful, or indeed to heal us. Indeed, part of our problem is that I am even able to express those concepts to you, that we can conceptualise those kinds of ideas in the first place.

So often I hear about “nature” having a “value” and being a “resource”, often defined as “currency”. Framing the living world this way by using the language of economics only continues this extractive relationship. It might seem benign to assign value to woodland for the health-giving benefits of wandering among the trees, rather than cutting them down and selling them to make chipboard, but the attitude is the same. Either way, we see the wood as a thing we can use and exploit for our benefit with no thought about how the wood might feel. What might the trees think about it? What might they want us to give them? Could that be something beyond water, light and nutrients? I’m talking here of a connection, a communication, something very deep, that it seems to me we, as a species, have always used art to achieve.

Sing it back

There is a theory that human language began when we listened to the forest and then sang back in response to what we heard. Words were born from that communication, as was music, as was art and dance – not all language is word-based. It seems to me that the universe wants that communication, is indeed communicating all the time, but we have stopped listening, let alone responding. Too often our technology has become a kind of evil shield that protects us by deflecting our attention. We are left under a kind of enchantment, absent, talking to ghosts. Flitting about in cyberspace we neither hear nor see. We forget that in this zombie state we are still, as Wordsworth wrote in a poem composed on the Quantocks:

Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course,
With rocks, and stones, and trees.

Where does this leave us? My title, ‘Be Here Now’, is intended as a gentle nod to Ram Dass and his 1970s’ countercultural bible, Be Here Now, a beacon for young people seeking enlightenment during the darkness of the Vietnam war. Half a century on and war is still with us, but we also face a greater darkness: the possible extinguishment of all life on Earth.

This is an emergency – how shall we each respond?

We must find our own answers. But I would like to make a plea for going outdoors and attempting to listen, really listen, without intermediaries or distractions as far as we can. To be here now. Might we then attempt to sing back what we heard, according to the methods and materials of our own creative practice? Over time perhaps, we could enter the great dialogue that is happening all the time, which we have so neglected and forgotten. To do this wholeheartedly seems to me to be a truly radical creative act.

Listen to Sara read this short essay aloud.


William Wordsworth: ‘The World is Too Much With Us’ was probably written 1802. It was published in 1807 in Wordsworth’s Poems, in Two Volumes. ‘A Slumber did my Spirit Seal’ was written in 1798 and published in the 1800 edition of Lyrical Ballads.

Knight, Chris & Lewis, Jerome. (2017). Wild Voices: Mimicry, Reversal, Metaphor, and the Emergence of Language. Current Anthropology. 58. 000-000. 10.1086/692905.

Photo of Sara by her daughter, Dorothy Hudston.