The Beautiful Red

I am flushed and warm.
I think I may be enormous,
I am so stupidly happy,
My Wellingtons
Squelching and squelching through the beautiful red.

Sylvia Plath

(excerpt from The Letter in November)

She would be 86 today. A year younger than my grandmother. I imagine her walking in the orchard full of apples,  leaves falling down, grass whitering. She is wearing a black coat and red gloves. She notices every shade of autumn and puts it down in a poem. Whenever I read it I feel the colours.

 

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Wild Flower Love

At the beginning of my three-week long stay on the island I bought Vangelis Papiomytoglou’s Wild Flowers of Crete. It changed the way I perceived Cretan nature. Now I was able to identify new species without the constant frustration of not knowing their names. I’ve learnt a tremendous lot from the book and enjoyed my nature walks so much more! Some of the pictures below don’t portray wild flowers, but I find them so lovely that I couldn’t resist adding them here.

(Above is a flowering blackberry bush in front of Psychro Cave)

Thistles are abundant on Crete:

And spiny globe thistle is my favourite…

Two examples of Chinese rose hibiscus: Hibiscus rosa-sinensis:

Ecoballium elaterium is a poisonous squirting cucumber whose fruits are so sensitive to touch that they burst open like bombs. I jumped crying out loudly when it exploded!

Crithmum maritimum, which blossoms in August, has a delightful sweet scent mingling with the smell of the sea. These plants grow often on cliffs.

Extremely rare Limonium creticum, an endemic flower found only on Crete, comes from the same family as sea lavender.

 Sea lily (sometimes called sea daffodil) grows on beaches and sand dunes. Its fruit resemble pieces of charcoal!

Herbs are the delight of Crete. Most common is thyme with fragrant pink flowers and wild savory with light violet flowers.

Jerusalem sage inspires wild wasps to build nests resembling its flowers.

Yellow horned poppy reminds me of Cretan sun.

Plumeria is my favourite exotic flower that smells like the best perfume.

I feel thankful to Mr Papiomytoglou for unforgettable wildlife adventures on Cretan beaches, dunes, in gorges, forests and plains.

Meetings with Greek gods

Whenever I’m in Greece, I read books about it. Four years ago it was Jan Parandowski’s Mythology, three years ago I relished Sandor Marai’s rewriting of Penelope’s story. This and previous year my holiday read has been Gerald Durrell’s hilarious account of his family’s stay on Corfu. Although I’ve been been reading it while enjoying my stay on Crete (twice so far), I find the same nature wonders which young Gerry came across when he was exploring his Greek island on the Adriatic Sea in the 1930-ties.

Butterflies, dragonflies, bugs, snails and fish are among the similarities. But quite unlike Gerry, who became a well-known zoologist and founder of Durrell Wildlife Conservtion Trust, I am more interested in botany and during my trekking walks I discover the abundance of Cretan flora. Whenever Gerry talks about the cry of cicadas in in the olive groves, I hear this beautiful noise they make, but also see how the sunrays linger on narrow leaves that give so much shade. With the author we both share genuine interest in nature and unquenched hunger for discovering more and more about it. I add a non-scientific approach to my meetings with nature as here on Crete everything is infused with mythical stories: the gorges became when giants wanted to have a drink of fresh water and cut the rocks with their majestic beards, the anemones are drops of blood shed by Adonis, each tree is a home of a hamadriad…

A month ago I started doing research for my book about trees and on Crete I keep coming across the most magnificent ones. The one in the picture above is Platanus orientalis in the mountain village of Krisi near Lasithi Plateau. It’s said to be 2400 years old! This must truly be the seat of an ancient god… In a few days I’m going to visit a several millenia old olive tree in Kavoussi. I can’t stop thinking that these trees want to encounter me and find their place in my book as I happen to find information about them quite by accident.

I’m also an ardent student of Cretan wild flowers and shrubs. But this adventure requires a separate blog post. 😃

 

The World Says ‘Yes’

Sometimes you seem to be making a step backwards. You don’t know yet that you are doing it in order to gain speed in your future journey: just before a wild leap into the space or deep water.

That’s what happened to me.

But after this painful experience of regressing into an old, unpleasant situation I emerged to the surface with force and courage.

And now I feel the world has no boundaries.

My actions have no limits.

I can be whoever I wish to be.

…and achieve whatever I truly want.

Sylvia Plath and the Art of Writing Letters

For over 16 years I have been reading Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath over and over again. This book is a size of a brick and has always been a source of inspiration for me. When I feel stuck in my own writing or dissatisfied with lack of progress, or disappointed with a constant ‘no’ from editors, I seek consolation in Sylvia’s journal entries. She was astoundingly immune to rejection slips from literary magazines and she had a great sense of humour. There are entries where she writes about her own artistic failures, and the inability to move on with writing. Daily observations, notes for short stories, and this incredible joy of living. Colours, textures, things, interiors, and people who turn into characters in her stories. Sometimes I feel I lead a separate secret life in the 1950s and 1960s along with Sylvia Plath. These times become even more vivid and real when I browse The Letters of Sylvia Plath. Volume I: 1940-1956. I bought it on 27 October 2017 in Aberdeen (I didn’t plan it but it was Sylvia Plath’s 85th birthday!). Beautifully edited by Karen V. Kukil and Peter K. Steinberg, the author of amazing Sylvia Plath Info site, this thick bible is another Sylvia’s book to be read for the next decade or so.

Source: Eye Rhymes. Sylvia Plath’s Art of the Visual. Ed. Kathleen Connors and Sally Bayley

Sylvia writes to her mother, brother, friends, editors, and mentors in all possible styles. She can be witty, funny, serious, light, humoured, fussy, fashionable, wry, poetic, nostalgic, romantic, and political, depending on the subject she writes about and the addressee. When I read these letters over breakfast it feels like going back in time: a bold and sunny teenager and a young woman in the 1950s America and England. Food, boys, parties, studying, summer jobs, new acquaintances, writing, crying, failing, winning…

Source: The Letters of Sylvia Plath. Volume I: 1940-1956.

Did you know that Sylvia used to paint and draw? Some of her handwritten letters are visual works of art, others include cartoons! Once she made a picture of her breaking a leg while skiing. She decorated envelopes, too, and drew clothes she had bought in letters to her mother. Somehow it all reminds me of the old times when I was a teenager and used to write dozens of letters to my friends… these were the happy times before the Internet.

Of course I mark quote after quote in pencil… Here’s a handful.

I am basically, I think, a nature-loving recluse. (SP letter to her mother Aurelia Plath, 2 September 1956)

 

The best letter, in a way, was a rejection slip. But this one bore the blissful touch of an editors (sic!) hand, in penmanship and real ink too, and it said “PLEASE TRY US AGAIN.” And guess where it was from….. The New Yorker! (SP letter to her mother Aurelia Plath, 4 December 1952)

 

 I looked very nice, and wore high heels for the first time (…), and I Charlstoned in them all night, so that when I took them off I couldn’t bend my feet back. (SP letter to her brother Warren Plath, 6 November 1952)

 

Poems are hell to sell. (SP letter to her brother Warren Plath, 6 July 1955)

 

Joy, joy. A woman’s place is in her husband’s bed. We shall be living proof that great writing comes from a pure, faithful, joyous creative bed. I love you (…). (SP to her husband Ted Hughes, 3 October 1956)

 

Oh, well, it’s only for a summer, and I can maybe write about them all (SP letter to her mother Aurelia Plath, 12 June 1952)

 

I really think in cotton fog, I guess… (SP letter to her mother Aurelia Plath, 2 August 1952)

 

I am also black & blue from a horse named Sam. (…) never rode a horse before (…) ecstasy (…) such power (…). I am here today. black and blue to be sure, but with a new religion: I mean to marry Sam. any day now. (SP letter to Elinor Friedman Klein, 12 December 1955)

 

I must face living in a world of midgets and parceling out my big huge crying love in little homeopathic doses (SP letter to Elinor Friedman Klein, 6-8 March 1956)

 

I hope you don’t hate yellow paper. But I like writing on unique things… like birch bark, for instance. (SP letter to Philip McCurdy, 4 February 1954)

 

Aw, please, scold me, placate me, tell me your loves and losses, but talk to me, huh? As ever, syl. (SP letter to Edward Cohen, 28 December 1953)

 

I want to condition myself to hear, and not just to listen; to see, and not just look; to communicate, and not just talk; to feel, and not just touch… (SP letter to Gordon Lameyer, 6 February 1954)

Changing years, changing seasons…

After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, love, and so on — have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear — what remains?

Nature remains; to bring out from their torpid recesses, the affinities of a man or woman with the open air, the trees, fields, the changes of seasons — the sun by day and the stars of heaven by night.

Walt Whitman

Homeland of free spirits

Last Sunday, St Cyrus National Nature Reserve near Montrose, Scotland. Wild rabbits on the cliff. Coconut perfumed gorse flowers. Hawthorn bushes, long grass, and this unbelievable sense of space – in my body, around me… The sea has no end. Sunset melting the sky into violet, pink, orange and bright gold. A dozen rainbows. Then moonlight slowly creeping on the waves. The fishing bothies. Red cliff absorbed the colours of autumn leaves and many sunsets. Waterfall falling straight into the sea. The silver path of North Esk River and the flashing lighthouse far away. I’m here. I’m listening. I’m watching. Free and wild like the elements that surround me.

It was a place of force –

The wind gagging my mouth with my own blown hair

Tearing off my voice, and the sea

Blinding me with its lights, the lives of the dead

Unreeling in it, spreading like oil.

I tasted the malignity of the gorse,

Its black spikes,

The extreme unction of its yellow candle-flowers.

Excerpt from The Rabbit Catcher by Sylvia Plath