Monday, 5 April 2021

wriggling and hopping

 

Wriggling cheerfulness

celebrating amphibians



Toadspawn

A string of pearls

Dark necklace for green weeds

A gift of wriggling cheerfulness

With hops


How do you celebrate your amphibians?

(What do you mean, you don’t?) 

See yesterday's Singing on the Toad Bus 


This spawning season is always a good time to encourage people to reflect….frogs and toads are often among people’s first natural history memories: the (often ill-fated) tadpoles in a jar or tank or bowl at home or at school, the excitement of froglets hopping out into the world, the sheer wonder of those lifecycles. These spring days are times when people feel they can help: buckets, wellies and good will; a careful attending to the garden pond, making sure the local wild ponds are clear of debris. The summer horrors of lawnmowers and froglet migrations are another time to step in and be supportive (let the grass grow for a week or two)


If you are a dog walker, this is also a good time to please keep dogs out of the ponds. Just as you keep dogs under tight control where there are ground-nesting birds, on these precious days around spawning, think of your dog as a hairy foodmixer who’s just been switched on in the pond. It is also worth thinking about what tick treatments you use if you have a water-loving dogs. External, topical, treatments wash off in ponds  (=repeated treatment needed = more money + more risk for your dog) and can have grim consequences for pond-based invertebrates( as numbers of swimming dogs increases so does the pesticide level in the water….work it out yourself). Systemic tick treatments are much better – less destructive and needing less repeats!


And enjoy your pond!


Here is one “enjoyable pond” moment from local writer Mark Johnson


THE TOADS AT LIGHTWOOD


The toads came today 

In the same place 

And in the same way

They always do


Not quite

Two by two

But in a line

Crooked yet true


We always say 

They’ll be here next year

The sun will shine

And the sky will be clear


But the day may come

When they don’t appear

I know that thought

Is your greatest fear 


But as long as, Gordon

You are here 

As long as we fight

To save what’s dear


The toads will return

With their amphibian swing

Lightwood will croak 

Each and every spring


If you have  some amphibian moment to share (froglifers? Toad Patrollers?) do send them through and if I can, I’ll share them here! (creepingtoad@btinternet.com)


Over the years, this blog has featured lots of amphibian-centred posts. This link will take you to some of the pieces that came in for the Telling Toads initiative



With many thanks to:

  • Mark for his poem
  • Phots: all c/o G MacLellan




Sunday, 4 April 2021

Singing on the Toad Bus



Toads, spawn and hope

migrations, obstacles and being a Toad-walker

The pond-spawning season has run a bit odd this year



The frogs arrived pretty much as usual in late February but have kept turning up since, so that now, in April, the first hatching of tadpoles are wriggling in the shallows on the disintegrating masses of their spawn while late arrivals, caught short by the weather and a wall are still dumping spawn in puddles and in one instance this morning on a stretch of sticky mud*


The toads started late, a week, two, later than usual but when that spring-gun finally sounded were heading for the ponds with some determination. A few warm days helped and the culvert wall which is our disaster movie site provided its usual obstacle. That’s where a cheerful group of Toad-walkers come in, taking time each morning to wade along the stream below the wall and pick up weary clamberers.



There is a lovely toad-full hillside of trees and heather, you see. There are boggy bits and squelchy corners and excellent crags for hiding in and under but when the call to the ponds comes and the toads wake from hibernation and head for the pools, they come up against a wall. It looks like a nice wall: mossy, crumbly, full of holes and nooks. All very well until you are a small toad with a 1.5 metre wall to scale and many don’t make it. They try and keep trying, until there is no “try” left and we find them dead in the puddles below the old stone. The Toad Bus brings some relief (We’re going on the Toad Bus, the Toad Bus the Toad Bus….runs the song, what do you mean, you've never heard it?**)

It also provides a measure of what is happening in the general migrations to these pools. Nestled in the floors of a beautiful valley, they attract toads from all around the area and most can arrive without too many incidents. 



There’ll be singing on the Toad-bus, the Toad-bus, the Toad-bus,

There’ll be singing on the Toad-bus, all the way to the pond**


This year, Toad-walkers weren’t needed until the very end of March. There were three mornings then of increasing numbers: 70, 86, 264……Then the temperature dropped again and for the last 4 days numbers have plummeted. Just 4 this morning. Has the migration finished? Did that 264 day mark the turning point? Probably not. Usually there is a week of movement, with 3 or 4 days of those treble figure bucketfuls. 


There’s a Toad in my Bucket, dear Jenny, dear Jenny, 

There’s a toad in my bucket, dear Jenny, a Toad. 

Then find it a friend, dear Toadman, dear Toadman, 

Find it a friend, dear Toadman, 

A friend!***




So what now? The cold weather is forecast to last for a few more days? Will this end the migration? Will it start again if the spring sun warms the earth enough? Will all those unspawned toads just shrug their amphibian shoulders and head off into the moss for a bit of ant-eating? Do egg-full females, give up for a year? Do they try again? Or, egg-bound, do they fade away and die


We’ll have to see



Because now: the first frogspawn has hatched. There is toadspawn lacing the pond-weeds with chains. Those first toads who filled the ponds with song and spawn, have done their bit and headed back to the foraging fields….


A mixed-up spring so far. But Toad-walking brings us into lots of conversations: interested adults, excited children, supportive dogs: and appreciation; no-one saying “rather you than me”, no-one doing the “oooo, slimy things” bit; a few slightly confusing “I think it’s lovely the way they carry their children to the pond on their backs”. But conversation. Time to listen to tales of garden ponds, of frogs helped and toads lifted on their own walks. Of lizards: first sightings this spring. Of how lovely it is to hear the curlews and are the ravens nesting yet. To be Nature’s appreciative ear and to acknowledge delight


I’m a Toad-walker, the driver of a Toad Bus and I love the smiles it brings…..


If you have your own toad inspirations, please share them with me: email me at creepingtoad@btinternet.com, or find me on facebook: @creepingtoad


If you'd like to do your own bit to help your local toads, visit the Toad Patrol pages on Froglife's website

Froglife also has a Q&A page that for garden pond issues and other question


And if you'd like to share the wonders of your local pond you can file records of who lives there (grandparents and annoying younger siblings aren't really what we're looking for) using the Dragonfinder app or find out more and become involved in monitoring a local pond through People, Ponds & Water project with the Freshwater Habitats Trust


Finally, look for out for Save The Frogs Day on Saturday 24th April, 2021





*The ponds in this account are in Buxton, in a wonderful corner of northern Derbyshire. I won’t give precise locations to respect their privacy a bit. No paparazzi please


** Improvise to suit....


***You will have gathered there is a whole selection of Supportive Songs for Distressed Toads. In this fine example, the jenny referred to is Jenny Greenteeth, magnificent spirit of pondweed and waterways from Lancashire...and the Toadman? - take a peek at the link to a very short film 


Photos:

Photos here are by G MacLellan apart from that final toadlet, c/o I MacLellan

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

By pick axe and pine needle

 


Pick axes and pine needles

"Travelling Stories" work in progress
Buxton Museum and Art Gallery 2021

The “work in progress” side of the Travelling Stories project with Buxton Museum and Art Gallery is reaching its end and all sorts of treasures are turning up in my Inbox. Picking up thoughts from a couple of our artists….


Mark Johnson has been looking at a mixture of prints from the SLS collection (see end of post), picking up on lines of connection between North Wales and the Peak District…



In the second half of the nineteenth century a small band of Anglesey men made the journey from the island to the Peak District in search of work. Most were miners from the Copper Mountain of Parys near Amlych, but by no means all. 

They were lured by the promise of employment at the rapidly developing quarries of Cauldon Low, some twelve miles south of Buxton. Families followed, and for a few generations a small, often Welsh-speaking community made its home around the quarry, a few terraces – and a chapel.

Some returned but most never did, and lie buried in the churchyards of Cauldon and Cotton. 

Mark Johnson: 

first thoughts and ideas to work with




Helen Leaf starting with some of the Sami carvings that will stay in Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, wandered into a woodland of questions, including:

- what, if any, are the traditions embodied within the object?
- what has gone into the object that is seen/unseen?
- when working from ethnographic artefacts as a starting point, how does one work around the issue of cultural appropriation?


So, the object I've made relates to our forests here. There are also themes running through it about how we relate to our natural world/materials/resources (or not), and what is used or discarded.


And the image included is just a glimpse through the pine trees of the Helen’s finished piece






And finally, another tease from the Creeping Toad work which started with carvings and prints form the far north and, again, went for a wander, or maybe more of a wade and a walrus wallow....

All the finished work will feature in an online Gallery that we’ll start opening in the next week or two

Finished work from the project as a whole is coming in. A provocation has arrived from Australia; ceremonial canoe paddles inspired work for Bristol Museum; a thought, a dream and flowers from Cumbria. 

We called this project “Travelling Stories” as this sense of objects that have been carrying stories around the world for years really appealed. The objects in the Schools Library Service brought the stories of their homelands to the people of Derbyshire, inviting visitors to investigate – or speculate – on the stories behind the artefacts. Now, those objects and their stories are moving on again. Some pieces are following long wandering trails back to where they came from. Others are moving on to new homes, taking their stories with them and hopefully sharing those stories in different ways with new people.


Mark's work included the following painting by John "Kyffin" Williams as a starting point....The painting has now gone (or is going when cirucmstances allow it!) to Oriel Mon on Anglesey







Thursday, 25 March 2021

The twitch of a lemming’s nose

The twitch of a lemming’s nose

the Travelling Stories project
Buxton Museum and Art Gallery







There is a large vase, round as a fruit, rich as a treasure with an eagle lifting her wings across its flanks, a beak open to snap at reckless folk trying to pick from whatever delights are held in that round belly. Made by William de Morgan, the vase has gone from the Derbyshire School Loans Service to the de Morgan Collection in Barnsley. For the Travelling Stories project, writer and artist Rob Young has been investigating the vase at a distance….


“I came to the project as an audience member, without any preconception. I asked the questions an eight-year-old boy would ask. Why is this interesting? What bits are boring? What bits are good? Let’s hold it up to the light and see what shimmers. To my unexpected delight, I was completely and utterly charmed” Rob Young


Rob’s work always spirals outwards in unexpected directions. He has been making activity films, printing T-shirts, creating stories, making shadow puppets. For now, here is a flicker of an eagle shadow puppet. There is more, much more, to come but we are working closely with the de Morgan collection so that everything can be released as exciting activities to do when everything is ready. Keep an eye open for “how to make a shadow puppet” and “Rob Young writing workshop”


Some of us are looking further north…..


The artists working with material remaining in Buxton have been looking at carvings from the people’s of the Arctic. There are stone carvings and kayak models of delicate skin stretched over wooden rams. There are exquisite carved spoons from the Sami of Scandinavia and an antler etched with reindeer and cut short. A drumstick perhaps?



Here are some snippets, leaves from Ingrid Karlsson’s work blown in to tempt us with what will come as a whole


Image 1: the icecap is melting at an alarming and accelerating speed


Image 2: Sámi seasons: in the autumn, frost night arrive and the reindeer llok for ground lichen to eat. Bulls are rounded up for slaughter. 


Image 3: in reindeer herding, mobility is a key feature; old Arctic peoples represent cultures of large spaces where well-being equals not standing still, moving along the seasonal ebbs and flows of life





And I am sidetracking myself into shadows and the shapes of the sea people, shoals of fish moving under the ice, the stalk and strike of a polar bear, the owl's wing-tips that brush the snow like clouds. I have been resisting walruses and lemmings but I know the resistance is crumbling....


Finished work from the project as a whole is coming in. A provocation has arrived from Australia; a thought, a dream and flowers from Cumbria. There is more work on its way and in April Buxton Museum will start exhibiting the finished pieces


We called this project “Travelling Stories” as this sense of objects that have been carrying stories around the world for years really appealed. The objects in the Schools Library Service brought the stories of their homelands to the people of Derbyshire, inviting visitors to investigate – or speculate – on the stories behind the artefacts. Now, those objects and their stories are moving on again. Some pieces are following long wandering trails back to where they came from. Others are moving on to new homes, taking their stories with them and hopefully sharing those stories in different ways with new people.










Monday, 8 March 2021

Journeys and stories


Tales of ice and sky
Travelling Stories, 

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

We called this Buxton Museum and Art Gallery project “Travelling Stories” as this sense of objects that have been carrying stories around the world for years really appealed. The objects in the Schools Library Service brought the stories of their homelands to the people of Derbyshire, inviting visitors to investigate – or speculate – on the stories behind the artefacts. Now, those objects and their stories are moving on again. Some pieces are following long wandering trails back to where they came from. Others are moving on to new homes, taking their stories with them and hopefully sharing those stories in different ways with new people.

We invited our artists (or maybe challenged them) to respond to objects within the collections that were going to their individual museum. The finished works will be presented in an online exhibition in the spring. We'll keep you posted on that experience as plans develop. meanwhile, here is another instalment of "where are our artists going?"


This week, as another of the Buxton artists, I'm adding my bit to the mix....



With me it’s always stories. I am drawn to a sense of connection of movement, of emotion and depth wrapped in adventure



The Arctic collections from SLS that are staying with Buxton Museum really appeal. I have already had some expeditions into creativity with them – most strongly with Tupilak who you can meet here and who has surfaced again in the piece I am writing now.


I am drawn to the layers of stories that seem to be embedded in that Arctic collection. Most of these artefacts were made specifically for the tourist market: these are not original working tools (like Ryan's boomerangs) or perhaps ceremonial pieces ( the carved paddles that Akhran is looking at). These tiny harpoons and chunky carved lemmings were made with a view to enticing visitors into parting with their pennies. That does not devalue them as pieces of art: the detail and work that shaped model kayaks and a sled dog team is beautiful, their purpose simply offers a different story.


If the first story contained by a model kayak is tourism, a second might reflect the people behind the artistry: the resources they had to draw upon (bone, walrus ivory, whale tooth, seal skin, fur): the skill and dexterity needed to shape these small pieces and how that reflects the dedication needed to make, say, a full-size kayak. Going further, there is the relationship between people and landscape and ecology. And further still lies the relationship between people, place and wildlife:  a set of subtle and profound partnerships recognised by our artists. Theirs is a fierce world, a landscape that freeze the life out of someone in moments, animals that can kill with a paw or the blow of a broad fluke. This is also a world of breath-taking wonder from sunlight on snow to reindeer on migration to a mass of walrus on a beach to the shimmer of the aurora rippling across the northern nights


“the greatest peril of life lies in the fact that human food consists entirely of souls….”

Iglulik Eskimo quoted in “Shaman: the wounded healer” by Joan Halifax


There are prints in the collection, too, worked from slate blocks and revealing more of those relationships: a world where humans, animals and even weather features move in and out of each other, shifting from one shape to another. 






That brings me back to another carving: a small, subtle, delicate piece of a person turning into a seabird. It is exquisite and I wonder if this was made for the “tourist market” or if this was made to be slipped into a pack and kept safe, a token of transformations experienced


I am not here to give answers: I’m here to offer stories. I don’t know if this is “tourist trade”, if that was made for practical use or creative fulfilment, or all of the above, or none. It might be nice to know but for now this collection provokes me: challenges, offers ideas, Tupilak sitting in the shadows, dripping and whispering wonders or Sedna, Arnagnaksak, in the cold depths of northern sea singing the walrus from the open palms of her fingerless hands, while Quailertetang guides the shaman down to her friend. 


So I scribble notes, collage moments from prints with sketches, think of white landscapes ad shadow puppets, and play with phrases


Something is coming together.






Friday, 26 February 2021

Under Arctic skies


Under Arctic Skies

a nomadic lifestyle in close connection with nature and seasons

Introduction by Gordon:

We called this project “Travelling Stories” as a reminder of the histories that the objects involved have been carrying around the world for years

Carved antler - Sami?


really appealed. The objects in the Schools Loan Service brought the stories of their homelands to the people of Derbyshire, inviting visitors to investigate – or speculate – on the stories behind the artefacts. Now, those objects and their stories are moving on again. Some pieces are following long wandering trails back to where they came from. Others are moving on to new homes, taking their stories with them and hopefully sharing those stories in different ways with new people.We invited our artists (or maybe challenged them) to respond to objects within the collections that were going to their individual museum.


Ingrid Karlsson is one of the artists working with the material coming to Buxton Museum. Here there is a collection of pieces from the arctic: carvings and models from the Inuit and some beautiful spoons carved from antler


Ingrid takes up her story now:



As an artist using mixed media, the notion of telling the stories of objects immediately appealed to me, and my curiosity was trigged from the moment go. 


On my first visit to Buxton Museum in late November I was very taken with the current exhibition Between Two Worlds, a unique collection of work from artists in the 20th century affected by war and intolerance, with headings such as Degenerate, Imprisoned and Persecuted. 

carved spoon, Sami
The Buxton material includes a small collection of Sámi spoons, hand carved from antler in the traditional way by the Sámi. One of the old Arctic peoples, the Sami have lived as reindeer herders for centuries in the most northern area of Europe. Now known as Sápmi, the Sami lands cover parts of Arctic Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. My connection with the spoons is to some extent personal, in that I am Swedish and grew up in the coastal part of Sápmi. I grew up learning a stereotyped view of The Lapps, who were already greatly affected by colonisation, state intervention and climate change. 

There is a lot of story to tell here, and the timing feels most poignant. Under the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic and a more acute threat from climate change than ever before, our view of the world is having to change as the future becomes increasingly uncertain. We are beginning to understand how vulnerable our modern world with its consumerist lifestyle is to such challenges. Arctic peoples like the Sámi had a very different spiritual relationship with the natural world and its resources which has given them the strength and resilience to cope with such uncertainty. The old Sámi calendar reflects a cyclical world view, with its eight seasons completely ruled by weather and landscape with migrations dictated by the needs of the reindeer herds. Like the Inuit, the Sámi negotiated with the climate, weather, nature and animals for survival. Both the history of the Sámi lifestyle and their close reciprocal relationship with natural elements reflect their adaptability as well as innovative technical skills in using resources like antler, horn, skin, bone, fur and wood for clothing, protection, tools and equipment.






mountains in Västerbotten, part of Sápmi(older image by Ingrid)


The story, history and life cycle of the Sámi is best described as a continuous circle without beginning or end. It is this round concept which appeals to me and I hope to visualise the origin of the carved spoons as a triptych looking at the circumpolar geography, the seasonal calendar and the nomadic lifestyle in close connection with nature and seasons.


Sápmi flag