Try to remember the kind of September,
When life was slow and oh so mellow.
Try to remember the kind of September,
When grass was green and grain was yellow.
Try to Remember
It’s the metrological first day of Autumn, September 1st. But it still feels like the end of summer.
There’s a freedom I associate with being able to come to the plots on the 1st day of a new month. I’m not thinking about my blog or what I can achieve in a month, I’m free, I can just relax and create. Only by arriving on this precious date do I realise the pressure I’m putting on myself later in the month. But for now, it’s pure joy.
Commissions and work for upcoming fairs wait for me on the studio desk. So my time off is valuable and sacred. While I’m here today my phone is switched to airplane mode, (it’s my clock so I can’t switch it off completely,) and I leave the outside world on the other side of the entry gate.
It’s 12 noon, Sunday, the sun in shining, there’s peace and quiet. The weather forecast has been consistently showing full sunshine all day and a steady 20ºC, but there are some grey clouds threatening, teasing, above. As I get myself ready to sit for a few hours the clouds shield me from the warming sunshine and the breeze picks up playing around the leaves and flowers I’m about to draw.
When the breeze relaxes and the sunshine comes through, that slightly watered down sunshine that this time of year has, it doesn’t hold the punch of the summer sun. Although only last weekend it reached 30ºC and I was seeking out shade, this temperature is my favourite, a coolness hiding in the heat. I could just close my eyes and sit still, but I have a idea for today.
I’ve been planning today for a while, stretching a large sheet of paper in preparation. I haven’t worked here with a large sheet of paper before, and it’s rare for me to do this outside. To make sure I can hold the weight of the larger board I’ve brought a fold up chair with me that will help support the board. It has the added benefit of protecting my back from the breeze when it cools. I nestle into my chair, pencils, pens, water, flask of coffee, cashew nuts by my side. As soon as I start I’m lost in the process…
When I break to have a cup of coffee, there’s no building work noise barging its way across the peace and quiet here, just the trickle of laughter and chatter from other allomenteers that I can’t see but feel enveloped by.
A plot tenant walks past, someone I know and we fall into easy conversation. One of my favourite parts of this residency is the variety conversations I have, the different subjects and tones of discussions, some candid, stripped down to honesty and feelings and difficulties of life. Some lighthearted and others full of information that I can barely write down fast enough.
This conversation moves from Marie Condo and decluttering, through to family and then onto the discovery recently of a very large caterpillar. It makes the hairs on my back stand on end, being slightly phobic about snakes the idea of seeing a caterpillar the size of a finger makes me shudder. We soon identify with the help of an online search, that this was a Hornworm caterpillar and that they can grow up to 4 inches long. Given they love tomatoes and potatoes this isn’t a good caterpillar to spot on the plots, although I suspect our entomologist would disagree! I am just very happy not to have spotted it although there is a beauty in the markings on the back, a striking pattern.
A while later I am delivered some raspberries and beans which later the same evening taste wonderful.
As I finish my painting another allomenteer not the plot next to where I am drawing arrives and soon I am adding courgettes and broccoli to my wonderful collection. I am told to go home and cook it not draw it! The temptation to draw everything I am given is very powerful but I know as soon as I leave this special space it’ll be time to return to the world of commissions and deadlines. But just for a little while longer I’ll sit and enjoy this gentle, special space.
Work keeps me away. It’s frustrating because I know this is harvest time and there are photos on instagram, twitter and facebook showing the vast array of wonderful food being collected on the allotments. I am tempted to drop everything and head up there to draw on a daily basis but I have to stay put and that frustration fills me with tension. It occurs to me that I am finding a solace at the plots, a calming effect that is far greater than I have given credit for until now.
I have time to visit and the rain hasn’t stopped. Burdened down with a large umbrella I head over as I can’t wait any longer. I’m toying with the idea of buying a fisherman’s umbrella so I can sit and draw regardless of the rain, even if it does make the paper curl, I can’t fit my visits in to avoid rain given it’s such a part of our weather system and autumn and winter will bring their fair share. I’ve earmarked today in the diary to visit and I’ve waiting all morning and most of the afternoon for it to stop. Now there’s respite so I collect my things and go. I don’t trust the clouds when I arrive though and so don’t venture far from the shed I can find shelter in. A pen and pencils today, quick to pack away if needed, I settle in front of a tomato plant, it’s leaves removed to give the tomatoes a chance to ripen in the fading warmth. Someone is cutting grass with a strimmer nearby, given how long the sound carries on for it can’t be on the plots, no one has that much grass that would take that long to cut! It must be from one of the large houses that edges the allotments to one side. It’s strange how sometimes the sounds from outside the plots makes me feel, I begrudge it filtering through, the regular sound of cars and voices from the streets around is muffled so when a noise does penetrate I really notice it. When I’m drawing here my senses are certainly more alive, smell, sound, touch are all woken up. I don’t mind the sound of lawnmowers, diggers, chatter, laughter, watering on the plots, but the sound that marches through the invisible wall around the allotments, it’s, well, annoying!
With the pen and ink sketch completed I start to put down colour with pencils, the first layer or red, orange, yellow, green and blue are down and then… the first drop of rain. A small insignificant drop, just one, but I look up start to pack my things into the shed… just in time.
I’m in the shed with the rain pouring down outside, I can see and hear it clearly and wish I had brought a flask of tea with me after all. The sound make me want to put my hands around a cup filled with a hot drink, I’m certainly not keen to head out into the rain to make my way home.
There’s a little corner in this shed where I can store a few things, basic drawing equipment. This is also where my shed owner and I leave notes to each other which are getting more artistic as the weeks go on. This time I can’t bring myself to wipe of Rachel’s (Laura’s niece) message and find another slate on which to leave my missive.
Another visit as this time the first drop of rain lands on my head as I arrive and open the gate.
I head towards the shed and have my lunchtime sandwich and a cup of tea waiting to see what will happen outside. Thankfully the spots of rain don’t amount to anything and I head out.
There’s a feeling of autumn wilderness at the plots, there’s still plenty of greenery around, foods to be harvested, but the brown edges of leaves, the tall sunflowers as they dry out, the slightly unruly nature of plants feels wild and carefree.
As I walk over to a plot with new owners to see what they’ve managed to do to the space over summer, I share the path with tiny umbrellas and I try to pass without damaging anything. Down on the ground gives quite a different view of the allotments.
Compared to the beginning of the month I am now drawing with thermal socks on, walking boots, four layers of tops, albeit not thick heavy clothes, and warm trousers. A month brings quite a change.
My rucksack stays on my back and although awkward to remove and put back on when I have to get at things, it works as a good draft excluder!
As the wind races around the plots I struggle to see what I’m drawing as every time I look up from the paper the wind has moved and twisted the leaves and plants. It’s a challenge to figure out where my subject is, one minute a leaf can be upright and the next second it’s bent double facing the other way. It’s certainly not a day for detailed botanical work!
The sunshine and clouds plan tag and once again I’m stopped by rain, which thankfully doesn’t pour down until I’m chatting to an allotmenteer taking shelter under her tree. As we stand huddled away from the rain we look at her impressive selection of courgettes, some going to a friend to make into soup, blackberries and potatoes. I make a mental note to make courgette soup soon.
The light is fading as I head out again and write my journal. Parakeets, not my favourite birds are squawking above, in hot pursuit of another bird, possibly ganging up on a crow. They’re noisy shrieking birds, I prefer the arguments of the allotment’s magpies.
As I walk towards the gate a squirrel with amazing agility jumps from one tree to another, sailing through the air between. It’s a good visual memory to leave with.