Wednesday 31 August 2016

Waves at St Bees, Cumbria, my West Lakes writing residency

It's been ten days since I moved into a large caravan on the beach of St Bees for my West Lakes writing residency, on the north-west coast of Cumbria. I'm taking part in the Elements project, a brand new festival celebrating age and diversity, and my role is to write poems, lead 6 workshops and 4 daytrips with my over 60's group and take part in the Elements festival in October, with a series of readings by me and the group, the whole thing dreamed up by Tonia Lu. I'm grateful to Tonia because since I've been living here I've become acquainted with the terrifying sea. Yes, I am terrified of the sea, in this case the Irish Sea – on a fine day I can see the Isle of Man on the horizon, and on my coastal cliff walks northwards I might glimpse Scotland, which is apparently only 25 miles away. Because there's so much to write about I'm focusing on waves today, and some pics of them taken with my iPhone, on the windier days. IPhones are good at capturing animals in motion, as I discovered when I took pictures of the jaguars in Paris zoos, but here is an altogether larger animal, with a multitude of claws, fangs, fur that sometimes seems made of ice, other times molten glass veined with kelp, and which has a roar like a mile wide glass kiln with the door wrenched open, the beast inside revealed. I've worked with glass so I remember that sound well, and the white heat.

Hopefully some of the poems I'm writing will go into my next book Mama Amazonica, due out from Bloodaxe in autumn 2017, but I'm putting together the rough manuscript by the end of this September, so am concentrating on the task, except it's not a task but a wild adventure which I'm very much enjoying, enthralled by my subject ma mère la mer. I'm not only writing mother sea poems – because I'm also still on those post-Peruvian Amazon trip ones – but interesting to bring the sea in now. I can see the monster from my caravan which has floor to ceiling windows in the front. 

Saturday 20 August 2016

Macaws at the Chuncho claylick, largest colpa in Amazonia, Tambopata National Reserve, Peru

Listening to macaws gathered in palms over a claylick must be the happiest sound on earth. In zoos they sound raucous, but in the wild, they are ecstatic, as they patiently wait for a safe moment to descend on what seems to be their shrine. The scientists at Tambopata Research Centre have been studying their behaviour at Chuncho claylick for years, and have various theories as to why the macaws, parrots and mammals all come here to eat the mineral rich clay. The cliffs at the side of the creek are carved into caves by their beaks. 

The first morning I was there, the macaws gathered in the trees while the mealy and blue headed parrots came down to feed first, flocks of them. The macaws are easily spooked, just the shadow of an eagle and they flew past, their tails streaming behind them, like blue, yellow and red sunrays. They gather always in twos or threes, monogamous, longlived couples with their single juvenile chick. Their calls are like the voices of sunrays passing through a delicious but dangerous planet. The claylick, or colpa, must contain sacred salts or minerals, essential for their health, but what I saw was how they worshipped it, perched for hours before descending. 

Even when they did dare settle, one would usually be a lookout, and I noticed that the lookout faced us over on the opposite side of the creek. They knew we were there and when one of our groups tired of waiting for them to come down and left, it was a signal. Then down they came, much to our delight; we'd been waiting since dawn and it was now noon. 

In the photos below you can see blue and gold macaws, red and green macaws, mealy parrots, blue headed parrots, and scarlet macaws. In the last picture, Laura from TRC and a scientist volunteer are with the tame wild scarlet macaws which were hand raised as chicks. They were once near extinction so the scientists removed the second chicks from nests (that the parents neglect so they die) and hand raised them. They nest up in ironwood trees near the centre and return for banana treats and reguarly steal the breakfast of guests. While I was there Tobasco stole my breakfast bun and the butter.