The native earth of the estuary is mid toned brown in colour, a sort of Beaulieu buff which I washed and spun, then dried in the summer sun, as part of an ongoing collection of refined sediment. It is nothing out of the ordinary, a commonplace and everyday expression of the local colour of its place.
It is a collection of clays, marls and sand laid down around 33 million years ago in the late Eocene period, which was named for the dawn (eos) of a new (kainos) climate bringing different fauna and flora. Plus ça change….
Patches of iron oxide from chalybeate springs stain the generally browner mud at regular intervals along the littoral. John Ruskin, referring to another chalybeate spring in Tunbridge Wells in Kent, felt that the purest form of iron was its oxide, and that nature would eventually return even the polished steel of the finest engineering achievements of his time, back to dusty rust*. Through a process of washing and refining, I have captured a few grams of the lightest and finest reddish particles as a token of mortality, of change and a remembrance of the work of a Victorian writer.
*A Lecture Delivered at Tunbridge Wells, February, 1858: http://www.readbookonline.net/read/2781/12001/
Transparent red expressed from layers of decomposing oak leaves floats above heavier ocherous sediments in a warm pool at the river’s edge (@ 50 47.260 N x 1 24.248 W). I gather this fluid reminder of the tree in a small jar and deliver it for further contemplation in the Egg.
Fallen branches of riverine oak were split and packed sardine like into two tins, which were then heated over a fire for nearly eight hours. The charcoal produced is of excellent quality for drawing, but its four ounce weight required four pounds of logwood charcoal to create it.
A handful of gorse flowers were painfully picked from the parish bush, then washed and dried. Rehydrating a few flowers with boiling water made a tea for breakfast. It has a bitter aftertaste with some sweet notes, but I could not detect the accents of cocoanut that some have written about.
Leaks to the shell are a regular recurrence. Over the bed (recently stopped), through the closed doors and in through the timbers of the bow where it collects in the shower tray are regular aspects of daily life. In this process of natural percolation the wood surrenders its colour.
Yellow gorse flowers were a cheering splash of colour on a rare dry evening, given a warm tint by the setting sun as the moon rose up behind. Of course gorse is a common plant up on the heathland of the New Forest, but I had not expected to find it so close to the sodden marsh as it prefers well drained environments. It is a combustable plant and Furze (as locals know it) used to be collected for the domestic hearth. I shall be watching out for the many spiders and caterpillars that regard it as home and may pay my own homage by making wine from its flowers.
The developing blackberry wine is looking very clear. After over a day of cleaning the Egg and my clothing of unwanted fungus (mould), it is pleasing to observe the benefit of a more welcome sort (yeast).
Photo: Nick Dawe
A pair of robins are following me all the time around the Bofors Gun emplacement. As I fuss about rearranging bags of charcoal, bottles of paraffin and meths stored there, they pick up the insects and seeds unwittingly disturbed and dislodged. It’s an unusual symbiotic relationship where the redbreast gives us huge pleasure and we in turn help enrich its diet. I am sure it would not take long for them to feed from my hand.
What a poorer place it would be without these commonplace creatures that are such a feature of the ordinary culture of our isles. It was magical at seven o’clock this morning, to sit with a cup of tea in the thicket, listening to all the calls and songs.
A small oak opposite the egg has a rich crop of galls to harvest. I will use them to make a dye for my clothing and to create an ink for drawing as the first step toward understanding the cultural and environmental importance of the tree in this particular riverscape.
Oaks can have many different species of gall growing on a single tree. These were made by the species of parasitic wasp andricus kollari and resemble marbles in size and shape.