Monday, 4 September 2017

A breif reading of Robert Macfarlane's, The Wild Places (2007)

One of the writers who is quoted on the cover of JA Baker's the Peregrine (2015 edition) is Robert Macfarlane: a fellow of Emmanuel College Cambridge. In 2003 with his book "Mountains of the Mind: the History of a Fascination" he won the Guardian newspaper First Book Award, the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award and various other prestigious prizes.

I was drawn to reading his book "The Wild Places", because his name is becoming synonymous with nature writing in the UK, and he is even linked to the late great WG (Max) Sebald, who taught & studied English & European Literature, (just up the road from Macfarlane's Cambridge), at the University of East Anglia.

Interestingly in Macfarlane's second chapter of The Wild Places, regarding a description of a remote island to the west of the Lleyn peninsula in North Wales, he describes the fact that this particular island, named Ynys Enlli, has served as a retreat for the Celtic Christian monks between the fifth and sixth centuries BC. Indeed, according to Macfarlane, it's possible that this island may have been inhabited for a further 500 years or so, perhaps as late as 1000 A.D.
Holy men, hermits and other spiritual individuals occupied many of the islands around Britain during that time, and these travellers, some of which had come many miles from foreign shores were known as "peregrini". Whilst this word, I had already discovered, to mean the wanderer or foreign traveller, it was nice to see this triangulated again by a contemporary author.

In a reflection of my own, I think of how I have also been peregrini, the fact that I was born in South America, living there throughout my early childhood, and then travelling some 6000 miles north east across the vast Atlantic Ocean to find a home in the UK. My travellings through my job as an adult took me all over the world, but I always returned, of course, to the area that I call home in the North.

But now, as I begin to turn the page on another chapter in my life, there are more coincidences that I find fascinating to link together. Some may see these connections as tenuous, but I believe through my deep thinking, that there is a sense of balance and appropriateness in the conjunctions that seem to validate the temporal nature of them. Yet at the same time, these links could be seen as verification against some unwritten rules of fate?

 In this case, my new journey begins with the purchase and completion of a sale of a little cottage in Northumberland, a dream that has been realised after some 15 or so years of looking and yearning to find the right place in these more remote northern lands.

Our quiet little cottage lies adjacent to St Cuthbert's Way, overlooking St Cuthbert's Cave where the canonised hermit's body was hidden from the marauding invaders of the East. Our cottage is therefore named in his honour, Cuthbert Cottage. This in itself isn't much of a coincidence, but when taken to understand that St Cuthbert (634-687) was indeed a peregrini, who found shelter in the remote Farne Islands to dedicate towards contemplation for much of his final years, it seems to make my move all that much more portentous.  That I, a potential peregrini, having chosen to spend the last year researching everything I can about peregrines and then trying to see and reinterpret their world from their point of view, then what better position could I be in to do this?

Through coincidence or just sheer luck, things have unfolded in the way that they have, and I am moved to reflect on my own journey, juxtaposing some of the elements of my own existence in a strange and uncanny mirroring of this magnificent bird of prey, as a kind of pilgrimage perhaps? Well, the word pilgrim comes from the Latin peregrinus.

So, having completed over the last few days, my final submission my Master's degree, the overwhelming personal, circumstantial evidence that has come forth, over this last year, gives me renewed determination, and faith, that what I'm doing, and how I am working appears to be absolutely right for me!

Oh, and by the way, The Welsh Island Ynys Enlli means the 'Island of Currents', (referring to tidal waters and lines of turbulance in the eddy's surrounding it), and would (during the height of scholastic monks living in remote parts of Britain) have been governed by the 'Ancient Church in Wales', who recognise St Cuthbert's day as 4th September.  That is today... The day I read Macfarlane's explanation of peregrini...

These amazing movements and collisions, of time and circumstance, provide even more food of contemplation...  Wonderful!


Macfarlane, R. (2007) The Wild Things, London, Granta Books.  

Monday, 28 August 2017

What would a Peregrine see most frequently?

Still playing with ideas on what a Peregrine might see, what would it's most frequent type of image actually be?

From its own vantage point, usually in flight, it has choices to make. Which Swallow will it select? Perhaps that one over it's left flank? It is rising up, the Peregrine would need to quickly change course to take advantage of height and then return in a swoop...

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Looking from the view point of a peregrine feeding

Working through the ideas of what's important to a Peregrine, building on the notions of life and death, a regular view that the Peregrine must have is that of after a kill.

They must constantly be on alert for other predators and scavengers such as crows or other larger eagles whenever they have successfully killed. Equally much of their time would be spent potentially looking down at their feet, their talons puncturing the flesh of their prey and selecting a mouthful of feathers to pluck out from the dying sparrow, Starling or Swallow that they have just knocked out of the sky.

Playing around with ideas of representation led to a few sketches that were purely taken from the imagination.

The speculative rendering is clearly an assumption, it may be that further rendering would be useful, particularly with layers of perspective and acuity with near and far objects, together with a visual sensation of keeping the field of view open for other threats to the Peregrine as already mentioned.


  • This idea of a wider field of view with multiple levels of acuity is starting to take hold in my mind and I'm thinking about how I could render such drawings.

  • Clearly this would be something for me to pursue after the submission of my practical work and portfolio next Friday, and I need to start to think carefully as to how I can also incorporate this in the critical reflective summary.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

How can we try to know what we don't know?

Spending a little bit more time at our cottage in Northumberland recently, I started chatting to a local man who was a fisherman. During our conversation, he told me about his and his wife's affection for a semi-tame partridge that spent much of its time in their garden, and consequently, from time to time they fed the bird. They had called it Freddie, and he talked in warm terms as though it was almost a surrogate offspring. He and his wife felt it abhorrent that these cute birds, together with pheasants, were bred by the local hunting estate that he lived within, just to be shot for sport over the next year.

This seemed to me to be rather a conundrum which I pondered upon for quite some time. As a freshwater fisherman, he prided himself on his prowess to catch trout and salmon, and then probably kill them to eat later after frying them or oven baking them.

-What is the difference between fishing and game bird shooting I might have asked him?-But my manners and circumspection precluded me from asking such an ill judged antagonism...

I conclude, and this seems to meet with the ideas of John Berger and others such as Donna Haraway, that humans assume that it is acceptable to kill animals when they cannot personify, or relate in some way with their prey, or food that is hunted. Berger wrote of this in "Why look at animals" (1977), but in a slightly different way. He spoke of the peasant farmer who loved his pig and looks forward to salting [and probably eating] it. The operative word in the sentence is "and". Humans have lost their binding of both respect and necessity to kill and eat. The killing is done elsewhere or by somebody else. Any creature to be killed is, therefore "marginalised" as Berger puts it in his observations of zoo animals.

Likewise I think of the predicament of the Peregrine in that he/or she has to hunt in order to live. In fact, death requires life and necessarily life requires death and the cycle is a continuous one throughout nature. There are no rules to nature is Nietzsche pointed out almost a hundred years or so before John Berger's writings.

Whilst thinking about this strange conundrum that humankind put themselves into, I imagined myself looking down on a line of rocks that appear as an outcrop in the distance, and quickly sketched a detached view.

In thinking about my sketch, the detached observation in itself is a metaphor for thinking about the human condition in so many ways.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Critical Reflective Summary formulation

I've been thinking about how I can best articulate the overall critical reflective summary for a few weeks now, and while I have started to write the introductory section and create a framework, I'm still conscious of the need to distil the most important parts of my learning experiences over the last year.

It would simply be impossible to include all of the events into a succinct 4,500 to 6,000-word essay, so the key to creating this I think, might be for me to make a timeline of sorts to map out how ideas have developed.  Indeed, during the first term, I created a mind map that has been pretty much the mood board for lots of research, but this has room to be updated too.

Having already indexed the majority of my blog the easiest thing for me to do is to print out a complete copy, although I realise that this amounts to some 120,000 words over approximately 320 pages!

It seems appropriate that this document can become the backbone for my CRS, it's just now a matter of selecting the most poignant elements and explaining my reasoning and justifications for the decisions I have made.

I also recognise that I have taken a number of turns and deviations during the last year which is perfectly acceptable I believe in an artistic and creative mode. This freedom of thinking is vital in my opinion to develop new ways of interpreting not only existing art by other practitioners but also the various volumes of theories, across multiple set of disciplines including philosophy, anthropology, psychology, perception and not forgetting digital media practices.


  • Setting a timeline like a kind of decision tree will be vital.
  • Distilling the most valuable learning experience is going to be hard as there have been so many.
  • I need to be quite ruthless in my selections.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Pushing myself forward now, the Sun's coming up and Drawing at 6:30am!

The view from our cottage window down the Hetton valley is truly beautiful this morning, Dovecote field in front of us is thronging with young pheasant poults, field hares and a few adult pheasants too.
A cock pheasant in all his resplendent colours is guarding his harem. His regal pose, with upright stance, his head and neck stretched way above the other birds commands instant respect. There is a sense of piety in the way he looks, especially because of his striking reverential white dog collar surrounding his neck. Like the village parson, overseeing his flock, perhaps even giving his morning sermon? This is far too anthropocentric I know, but one does wonder!

I find it incredibly hard not to believe that certain species of animals are able to intercommunicate with one another, especially herbivores. There is a sense of sharing in mother nature's glory on the morning like today which is tangible and palpable.

The remnants of wispy mist rise slowly from the distant hills and valley basins. A quick sketch before breakfast sets me into a good mood for the rest of the day and I've started to write some further ideas down to speculatively think about representational images from the Peregrine's perspective and "the Peregrine's story".

Thinking about the clouds and the free movement of the summer swallows, I positioned myself speculatively above them or at least floating in parallel with them. I imagined how it might look from 3000 feet, as according to Baker peregrines often glide and rise on the thermal air currents to that sort of height. The classic towering cumulus clouds nearby would appear lower on the horizontal plane, whereas distant clouds would appear higher on the horizontal plane as one would be above them. This would be the reverse view that we as humans have from ground level.

A suggestion by Rowan and Richard a few weeks ago to renew some of my thoughts and remove images of the Peregrine itself has been playing on my mind. Critically thinking through what a Peregrine may see as an important object in its day-to-day activities, I feel that the inclusion of other peregrines, and particularly when in the United Kingdom, the breeding grounds of peregrines, then it necessarily follows that encounters with either the Falcon's mate, the Tercel (the male); or alternatively for the tercel to see the Falcon (the female) will occur frequently. It is perfectly appropriate therefore to include images of other peregrines and also their chicks.

This is led me to think about some speculative drawings of chicks feeding? I'm also thinking further about views from the Peregrine's scrapes too. My plan is to climb some nearby crags which are perfect Peregrine nesting points to try and find primary source material.


  • The inclusion of Peregrine images in my book is absolutely verified now after thinking about this deeply. So too are parts of Peregrine anatomy of close-ups, both of the viewing Peregrine's anatomy and equally, of their mates, chicks or siblings.
  • I need to try and find some primary source images and real live views of steep cliffs and craggy outcrops and spend some time creating rough sketches that can then be digitised back in the studio.  There are plenty of spots nearby to do this so weather permitting, this will be a little expedition and adventure over the next few weeks.
  • Breeding season for peregrines is now completely over, most of the birds having fledged and probably returned to their northern hunting grounds through June and July, so the chance of seeing young juveniles this year has gone. 
  • Nevertheless, there is substantial video available from online web cams, particularly of city peregrines and their chicks. I need to make some enquiries and research around copyright before I potentially use these images as secondary sources, nevertheless, with a bit of imagination, I should be able to develop sufficient drawings that are completely independent.
  • I'm going to increase the level of my blogs a little more over the next few weeks to help with my clarity of thought, as I find that writing is particularly important to my practice.
  • As I temporarily reduced and even suspended publication of blogs during the last four weeks or so, during the academic quiet period to allow my tutors to have some breathing space during undergraduate degree marking and also during their marking and review time for ourselves.
  • I feel that it is acceptable to restart the weekly frequency of these again. And publish the backlog that I have been saving up too. I hope this meets with their approval and doesn't overload them of course!

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Re-cap on the week's work, but feeling pretty down with myself still.

Back home now for a couple of days before heading back up to a new cottage. The last week has been really difficult for me, even though I made it an intention at the beginning of the week not to worry too much, nor to be anxious about production, and just to take some time out!

Doing nothing is very difficult for me, and with being in a depressed mood to start with since the presentation, which I feel I messed up completely last week, all I've managed to do is wallow in some rather dark thoughts, which have translated into the darker side of peregrines outlook on life.

This has manifested itself through drawings of dead prey creatures, dead rats & mice and especially a desire to draw Peregrine favourites like pigeons and pheasants!

I found a dead dove/rock-pigeon on the dirt track next to our cottage, and although I think it was shot as vermin by the local game-keeper, it nevertheless got me thinking and wanting to draw it.

Turning the carcass over, I realised that the entry and exit wounds would individually look quite similar to the strike wounds of a bird of prey, so in a way, the macabre find was actually very useful.

In thinking about this though, and coupling it with some of the recommendations that Dr Bailey and Richard Mulhearn kindly offered, may be the slightly alternative view becomes a self-reflection of the peregrines daily dalliance with life-and-death?

Having also thought considerably about making some sort of installation work, whilst I believe it is achievable to some degree, I am now wondering if it is, in fact, a cohesive output? Having thought about this for the last week, I've decided to postpone any kind of installation work until after my submission date of 1 September. I believe that such an installation would actually detract from the work that I've already been building upon, and the suggestion to focus on my book and build and expand upon this, together with much more drawing makes far more sense to me.


  • Still, lots to do with regards to drawings and writing, but if I keep the focus of these next three or four weeks and make time to draw whenever I can then at least I have a chance of creating a robust and professional artefact is a much bigger book (page number -wise).
  • Thinking now about the critical reflective summary, I need to create a framework again for the production of the CRS and create some scaffolding headings to start working with.
  • Next week is going to be another busy week with various jobs that need to be completed in the cottage to make it watertight and bug proof.  I am sure my priorities will no doubt be dictated through those, but I need to ensure that each spare moment can be used for reflection and be drawing too.