Monday, 2 June 2014

Troubled Waters

Returning to my oblique mini-topic of ship’s names, and this time the very appropriately named Sabrina, who it seems has part of Antarctica named after her - The Sabrina Coast (above).

“Sabrina Coast is that portion of the coast of Wilkes Land, Antarctica, lying between Cape Waldron and Cape Southard. John Balleny has long been credited with having seen land in March 1839. The United States Exploring Expedition under Lt. Charles Wilkes approached this coast in February 1840 and indicated its general configuration as shown in part by "Totten High Land" on his 1840 chart...
In 1931 the British Australian New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZARE) under Douglas Mawson saw what appeared to be land in this longitude about one degree farther south than that reported by Balleny and Wilkes. In recognition of Balleny's effort, Mawson retained the name of the cutter Sabrina, one of Balleny's ships which was lost in a storm at 95°E in the latter part of March 1839.”

And the curious story of an ephemeral island previously witnessed by this (or probably another?) Sabrina in 1811.

“Sabrina Island was an islet formed during the months of June and July 1811 by a submarine volcanic eruption off Ponta da Ferraria, São Miguel Island, Azores, one of many that have been felt in the Sete Cidades Massif over time. The first person to land in the new island was Commander James Tillard, captain of the British warship HMS Sabrina, who hoisted the Union Jack on the island and claimed sovereignty for Great Britain. A diplomatic row over the issue ensued, which the island's sinking back into the sea rendered moot.”

A contemporary container ship - The MSC Sabrina - is currently doing pirouhettes out in the Baltic Sea, it seems.

Destination Antwerp. (edit: now at Le Harve, destination Las Palmas...)

Unexpectedly now I find myself very close to the source of the River Severn, far away on the edges of Snowdonia. People locally speak about the difficulty of precisely defining the location of ‘the true source’ - when the landscape in question is one of blanket bog, with its mycelia-like myriad of pools and channels. This reminds me of a similar search, last October, for the source of the River Torridge in Devon. There, in the boggy culm grassland, we were unsuccessful in our group quest. This kind of indeterminency and elusiveness can be seen in reverse in a delta setting. Where exactly does the water of a delta meet the sea?

Near the Severn source

Llanigloes - first town on the Severn
Llanigloes - first town on the Severn

There is potentially bad news in the pipeline for the River Nile delta, involving a hugely contentious upstream mega-dam project (more on that soon), but very recently there was some rare good news for the Colorado River delta, at the Sea of Cortez, where on 15 May, a high tide reunited the Colorado River and its final destination for the first time in 16 years after water demands have kept the delta dry for most of the last 50 years. And - out of the blue, I have just today been sent this delightful quote from Steinbeck (thanks Claire !):

“Each of them in his own tempo and with his own voice discovered and reaffirmed with astonishment the knowledge that all things are one thing and that one thing is all things— plankton, a shimmering phosphorescence on the sea and the spinning planets and an expanding universe, all bound together by the elastic string of time. It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again.” 
Steinbeck, The Sea of Cortez

From the Sea of Cortez to the Severn Estuary, and an 'away-day' with CCRI
The Sabrina Dreaming project is hosted by the CCRI, and recently I helped guide a sun-drenched ‘away day’ for this largely office-based group of researchers. Our first port-of-call was some riverside farmland near Gloucester, generously hosted by farmer Richard Few. A chance for close encounter with issues of flooding; flood-plain futures; plus the challenges (practical and emotional) for affected farmers. In many ways, these are similar issues to those being aired further down the estuary on the Somerset Levels, but local circumstances and distinctiveness brings a unique complexity to each different setting.

Next on our meandering trip was a visit to the historic fishing hut at the Newnham-on-Severn shore, just across the river from my recent bore-viewing vantage point at Arlingham. From fisherman John Powell, we get some in-depth instruction on the age-old art of putcher and putt fishing, and the contemporary, troubled situation for those few individuals who persist with this activity. The techniques seem to exhibit all the hall-marks of sustainable fishing, but for how long will this be economically sustainable?

We briefly had some discussion about ideas and models for providing an economic boost to this vital example of local distinctiveness - including suggestions of forms of eco-tourism. In the aftermath of the away-day, other precedents and visions, including types of eco-sponsorship. To be continued, in dialogue with CCRI staff. John, the fisherman has offered to take a small party out on the Estuary mud in June, when setting up his putchers.

Our riverside picnic of course included locally-caught smoked eel, and - for some - a sampling of ciders from Newnham, appropriately called Severn Cider. This cider-maker is committed to conserving and propagating traditional local apple varieties, including the 'Box Kernel'. Interestingly, one of the CCRI team - Dr. Dan Keech - worked for Common Ground some years back, and was responsible for the production of a beautiful book - The Common Ground Book of Orchards. I have long had a copy on my shelf, so this is a lovely confluence of interests.
(The play-time with the putchers (above) prompts some ideas for elements of a future performative piece of work?)

Dan Keech and Common Ground
Then off to the National Trust at Westbury Park Gardens where we were led off on an inspiring walk to the coast at the red cliffs (meeting mud-covered fossil hunters), past ancient holm oak, rare black poplars and sundry other quirky expressions of local - and coastal -distinctiveness. 

Winding up here with some contributions to Sabrina Dreaming from CCRI staff, who were set a task to collect an image/item/sound clip and to write some words.
Here is a selection, for starters:

"I really like things like this because on their own they are totally random – what purpose could there be to having half a dozen sections of railway line suck in the ground. But when you give them the context, in this case the story of fixing the nets from the person involved, it all makes sense. But it is a fragile understanding, I could see in the future everyone will walk past and not know why they are there - in the same way perhaps that some kind of future population might find a run of disused electricity pylons and wonder what they were all about." Chris

From Dan: 
"Here is a scan of a material I collected: a leaf from the 400-year old holm oak, which has witnessed and lived through so many Severn floods…"

"The thought that remained with me from our conversations on the day was how unjust it was that committed individuals working with the natural environment and using knowledge gained from many years' direct experience were made to feel disempowered, un-listened-to and unimportant as against the relentless march of industrial desecration and institutional imperialism, which appear blind to evidence that should be staring them in the face, about the damage that they are colluding in. The National Trust people were different, in that they were in a privileged position as landowners with institutional influence and mass membership backing, to 'do their own thing'; whereas the small practitioners without that clout were pretty powerless to do the same. 
The smoked eel was very good, and the story of traditional fishing especially precious." Janet

"I picked up this piece of sheep’s wool from a field by Westbury Court Garden and on a walk with colleagues on a beautiful late Spring afternoon.  A few minutes previously we have been informed by the National Trust staff how this field had suffered severe flooding by the River Severn.  On this beautiful day it was hard to imagine the deluge this field had encountered.  Picking up this piece of wool is something that I would have done as a child, as would have countless generations before me. It provided a sense of timeliness of the landscape and a sense of hopefulness that despite severe flooding, the landscape can recover."

Meanwhile, back in the office, Dilshaad cryptically offers a paper aeroplane...pointing to where...?
(co-incidently the topic of the next blog-post)

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