A sound piece

My hand picks up a newspaper one morning, holds it and turns its pages. Grips hold of the pole shaped objects to get off the moving bus, brings the newspaper with me inside the studio. The hand is the perfect shape to grip, rip, hold. The cold has tinted the ends of my hand ever so slightly blue, echoed by the remnants of a thin blue circle around the bottom of one of the fingers, left there by the reaction of a metal ring against my skin. And there are my veins peeping slightly through the skin carrying blood into each individual finger. Nature stains me blue. On the bus I’d looked from my hands to those of others, not so much to compare their blueness, but their movements, as Rose calls it their betrayal of the face. Emotions will forever be found hiding in the formation of one’s hands.

A cold stone rests against the dirty, hard surface of another hand. A hand aged by what life requires of it. One of the first hands to take from the mouth the duties that once belonged to it. Relinquishing its need to latch, bite and tear. The coolness and harshness of the stone probably feels less pronounced than to softer hands of softer futures to come. Hands of the future will need to make up their own connection to stones, a connection that belongs to the mind and imagination. Hands of the past need no fictions, as they grip a stone they need to survive. The stone fits more awkwardly in this hand than it does in mine, it hasn’t evolved to fit its sharp sides in the way mine has. We used stone tools for millions of years, giving our hands the time to adapt around them. ‘Tools’ come and go in a matter of years today, halting any slow bodily changes.

Evidence shows that 1.5 million years ago stones were not only intricately carved with ridges for sharpness, but they were also sharpened and cared for. A stone is a tool that a hand was forced to form around, a tool today is designed to comfortably fit inside a hand. Before we altered tools, our tools altered the shape of us.

These stones that were held by the first ever sapiens still exist in the world, maybe ground down over millions of years by erosion to become grit, sand, earth, atoms, powder ingested along with something else to become part of an insect, that insect eaten by a bird or an animal, that animal eaten by another animal, and then perhaps eventually eaten by me.

Myself, created from borrowed materials, solely from earth’s currently unwanted objects, until my time is up and they need to be returned. I am back in the studio, ripping the newspaper that bares today’s insignificant date with bare hands, the warmth returning, flushing out the blue. Ripping the paper into a bowl of water to soak until the information and time stamp have disappeared. Into the mix goes a handful of blue pigment and then back in to mix with my hand. Once pulped and squeezed tightly, a blue stone in the shape of my hand’s grip is produced. My hands completely and artificially blue’d by the pigment, which will remain there, clutched to the corners of my nails for a few insignificant days.

The most important ingredient in paper pulp is water. It comes into the process in the first stages where the wood that's used is the wood that pulls water up the centre of the trunk. Its broken down with water. Eroded by it until it is left as pure fibres, the fibres re-sealed in a thin sheet to form paper, and then broken by the return of water to form new paper or to form objects with pulp. Water is the living element that brings this static, organic being to life, then retracts it again. But to heave out resources as fast as we want to has an opposite reaction, we are squeezing earth like squeezing the pulp dry, without a bucket to catch the water. Our dependence on water in so many industries, from paper making to clothing to farming, has pushed earth too far.

I was raised in what felt like the very heart of the countryside, with no shops or train stations particularly nearby. A house that sits on an unnamed road, and backs onto several fields before a large hill covered in ancient woodland. The woodland is in flux, constantly evolving in the same way year round, as leaves turn from green to orange and back again. An oroborous; an endless cycle. But there is another journey of time at play inside the trees, a longer one, we’ve watched as the Ash trees lost their leaves, and awaited the return that never came, in a sad event that’s come to be called Ash Die Back. I’ve lived on this unnamed road in front of the big hill for 20 years.

The landmarks near our home are a grit box one mile down the road east, and a ford one mile west. These two landmarks have been subject to multiple local debates, conquests and trials. It’s a small and unique sort of politics. The ford is our most special place. It's the point that the river first meets a road; at an early enough stage of its journey to the sea, that the amount of water it contains is not so big that it would cause trouble by flowing directly over it. The first junction of nature meeting man. Nature interrupting a man made structure, or vice versa. I'm unsure how many people notice the presence of the ford, but for us living near such a point is momentous.

The road provides two small ecosystems for the river either side of it where it drops back into the landscape. One side of the ford is a sort of pool, where frogs spawn and tadpoles begin life. Miniature insects surround it and once a year spawn on top of the pool. On another day all of the baby frogs when large enough hop across the road, to the confusion of timely walkers, or to the horror of cars who might find themselves accidentally squashing them. Its prehistoric, like the rocks and earth have been there forever, untouched. But that’s not true, since these ecosystems are new in the grand scheme of geological time. Ever since humans began settling in these areas and sculpting the land to their own needs the path of the river has been redirected many times. And what about the water flowing through the river, where and how far has this water travelled across the earth since the very first signs of life after the void of chaos.

The ford

On the other side of the road is a fast flowing, miniature waterfall that picks up speed as the water tumbles down the roughly laid, falling tarmac, it drops about a foot, and continues this new speed across the low flowing thinner channel, through larger rocks and mossy sides. This new lease of life, provided by the dropping road, is a stark contrast for any critters having found themselves pulled out from the pooly paradisal abyss and over the tarmac-ed road. The river now flows with its new road-given energy out to the sea, yet disappears into the trees either side of the road, leaving those who know the ford so well, unsure of its onward journey.

Its strange to think that you can feel such ownership and love of a place, but know so little of its larger picture. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, the ford and the Rother are not untouched by the myriad problems facing the world. No small and un-wanting corners of the earth are left un-stretched by human demands. Soil erosion creates a large problem, not the slow-paced eternal soil erosion of natural landscapes, but a faster more cynical kind. And as the only home of wild claw crayfish in the area; these strange un-earthly beings have become endangered. Local groups of people dedicate their lives and careers to protecting these rivers, and studying the small but important ecosystems that live there. But I certainly have never delved too deeply into our pure and safe-from-the-world patch of water.

Take the curious Fairy Shrimp. Within the woodland behind our house, on top of the high hill, peer into the lumpy, seemingly desolate mud, to find the home of the only British species of this mysterious shrimp (Chirocephalus diaphanus). They inhabit small puddles and can survive as eggs when water disappears and mud dries out. They’ve been found elsewhere in the world, often making their home in extreme places, like antarctic ice or dry deserts. These versatile creatures seem more at home in Paleozoic times, long before humans, apes or dinosaurs appeared. When the hill and ford were filled only with ingenious and independent critters, reliant on a minuscule fraction of the resources that humans have come to ‘need’. Should humans be taking head from the Fairy Shrimp. Need less, want less. If we are to survive this messy time then is looking to the past, further and further back our only option?.

The Fairy Shrimp

That puddle water, with enough rainfall might make its way down the sharp slopes of the hill and into the beginnings of the Rother. Hundreds of trickling flowing channels head to the calm pool in their wait before crossing the road and embarking upon a journey to the sea. Once at the sea the cycle continues, as it sits among a huge mass of foreign waters. Old and new, from around the world, mingling to create warmer and cooler patches. It shifts, constantly moving through the ocean for over 3,000 years, passed by jellyfish, whales, sharks and pods of fish. When warm weather strikes it becomes weightless, an out of body experience as it is lifted up out of its own self, looking down at the growing blueness of the sea below, becoming part of the atmosphere, the soul of the water. For less than ten short days, water is the sky, shooting and bumbling, encountering other body-less souls, looking down on the rest of itself, at water bodies living physically on earth. I wonder if this is where the name body of water stems.

The time eventually comes again for the cycle to continue, and the eternal forces combine to pull and heave it back down to the overworked grounds below. Pulled quickly alongside more droplets, witnessing and feeling the body reappear, a reincarnation. Feeling that rush of re-becoming. And then plod, bouncing off the leaf of a new area, a tree, a puddle, the sea, the return to earth, to ground, to terra. A new terra. Like the fairy shrimp the cycle continues on Earth’s terms. This earth will look very different to the water who has been out of touch, trapped by the sea for so long, or maybe this change was visible from the sea, with less and less encounters with sea-faring creatures each year. Also like the fairy shrimp, water inhabits, and has lived within all corners of the earth, for varying lengths of time. Water plays the long game. Often the slow game. A water particle in the oldest Antarctic ice sheet might have been there for 2.7 million years.