An Entangled Summer
MindLetter post written by Dr Kitty Wheater.
I type with the promise of a sunlit weekend; may you find warmth and balm even in the midst of book piles and marking, this week.
An Entangled Summer
A hot minute ago the days were cool, and we paired sensible shoes with jackets and gilets against the Edinburgh wind. Now I sit in my office and swelter, and remember: oh yes – it is, after all, the end of June. It’s twenty degrees outside, but acclimatised as I’ve become to northern temperatures, it might as well be twenty-five. They talk in Scotland about learning to bear the cold, but no-one warns you that come the real swallow-festooned summer, you must catch up to the heat in a heartbeat.
Summer has snuck up on me. I didn’t realise until I was standing at the bus-stop, looking at a blaze of perfect red poppies in gravelly soil. They were not there last week. After yesterday’s sea swim, I lingered in the sun for the first time this year, no rush, for once, to pile on the t-shirts and hoodies and joggers against the numbing chill; the warmth has brought the moon jellies to the beach, and they nudge softly against my limbs as I swim. Tuesday’s summer solstice, the astrological beginning of the season, seems this year to have been perfectly timed: suddenly there’s sun, and warmth, and ox-eye daisies in grassy swarths, and white stonecrop in bare corners with its succulent nuggets so satisfying between finger-and-thumb. Time to look up and away from what holds us captive at our desks.
At Why Don’t You Write Me’s June gathering on Tuesday we did just that, inspired by the work of artist Brigid Collins. Brigid is the artist in residence at Dr Neil’s Garden in Duddingston. In the spring we worked together on a short film, and Brigid described to me how her residence had changed the way she created. She began the year by drawing individual specimens – an iris, a harebell – in classic illustrative style, but gravitated towards capturing plants, and their incumbent creatures, in entangled mutual presence. In the oil pastel Sharing Space 2 – one of my favourites in her current exhibition – willow fronds overlay birch bark, grasses root up from below, geese nestle at the foot of the trees, and in the corner, easily missed, there is the outline of the gardener’s hut. The closer we look, the more the ‘specimen’ melts away.
On Tuesday we went out into our own spaces, to discover with whom we shared them. More than one of us, recently moved into tenement or development flats, reported that this was the first time we had gone into the shared garden to see what was there. And we found plenty: foxgloves and lupins side-by-side, old birds’ nests, vetchlings that had escaped the gardener’s hand, the hole in the hedge where the fox mother slipped through in the spring. But more than that, we found space itself: gardens might be tidy and tended to the fence, and brambled beyond; a knee must be taken to touch the soft leaves of the lamb’s lettuce, and to smell the first summer rose. A microscopic pansy, invisible in a lawn, reveals itself only because the eye has already attuned to the purple of the lupin. A raised eye to the neighbours’ patch discovers the ghosts of old flower-beds, abandoned beautifully to the wild flowers of sandy soil. The word ‘weed’ is held lightly at Why Don’t You Write Me: to see what’s out of place is part of understanding place itself.
We were outside for only fifteen minutes, but something had changed by the time we returned to our screens. Our space had expanded and filled; we were no longer specimens ourselves, floating in blankness, but met and held by ground and plants and creatures. In discovering our entanglement, we found the ultimate relief: that for all our illusions of immateriality and isolation, we matter, and we are not alone.
Take five minutes or fifteen away from your desk in these summer weeks, to step outside and sense the space of summer.
Warm wishes, for warm and verdant days,
Why Don’t You Write Me begins again in September. You can book a six-month membership (free for students) through the webpage, or email Kathryn.firstname.lastname@example.org to make an alternative donation.