Finding Darwin

“The climate is certainly wretched: the summer solstice was now passed, yet every day snow fell on the hills, and in the valleys there was rain, accompanied by sleet. From the damp and boisterous state of the atmosphere, not cheered by a gleam of sunshine, one fancied the climate even worse than it really was.”

Charles Darwin spoke these honest words as he arrived at the Tierra del Fuero, or the Land of Fire, the end of the world, the very bottom of South America. And he may be right: a coastline battered by sub-Antarctic seas, wind-lashed rocks and constant clouds and rain. And whilst I’m not venturing quite as far South as this, I’m fairly certain I’ll look at this land with a similar admiration and wonder as Darwin did.

Most people don’t realise that Darwin spent over a year sailing along the Chilean coastline, before he ever got to the Galapagos. And this beautiful country left deep impressions on him, from the terrible earthquake he witnessed to the local peoples and fossils he discovered.

Darwin’s hand-coloured geological map of islands off the South American coast – Cambridge University Library

I found Darwin fairly early on in life. Where most children find Sunday School, Pokemon or PlayStation, I found Darwin. I wasn’t old enough at the time to understand much of the Origin of Species, but I knew its words made sense. I knew that nature was beautifully cruel. I knew that I was connected to it. I knew I had to make sense of it. So I painted it.

In a way, I carried Darwin with me throughout my childhood. Devouring the differences and similarities between forms, understanding nature’s often hard-to-swallow brutality. Reading his books, to uncovering his travels, to getting that little bit closer to everything in London’s magnificent Natural History Museum.

In Chile, I hope to find Darwin. I hope to find the same wonder for all of nature’s forms, the endless forms most beautiful. I carry Darwin’s words to Chile with me, literally upon my person, and I hope Chile will carry nature back to me.

*cover photo from Patagonia.com

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10 Ways To Connect With Nature

Nature. Whether it’s the flies that slipped in through the open window or the spider that decides corners should be smoother, we often complain about those little bits of nature in our lives.

These days, we’re all so glued to work, to our smartphones, and inevitably, to ourselves. So much so that I think we’ve lost a big part of our connection to the natural world. You probably remember when you were a child, if you’re pre-2000 that is, riding a bicycle, running through fields, or climbing trees. These days, it’s wearing virtual headsets, shooting through two-dimensional flattened leaves.

But there are many extraordinary ways to connect with nature, even if you live in the city, or you’re busy, there’s no excuse! I’ve chosen some of my personal favourites.

  1. Volunteer At Your Local Animal Sanctuary

Chances are, there’s more than one animal sanctuary, shelter or NGO close to where you live, and chances are that their money is tight and their resources overstretched. While donating is an admirable thing to do, simply donating money can feel impersonal, and sometimes you may not be sure where your money is going. If you love working with animals, then this is a great way to connect with nature, even if it’s in a domestic setting. Helping out around the cattery, feeding the youngsters or simply walking dogs out in the country can be a great stress reliever, with the added benefit that you’re giving something back.

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  1. Bring Nature Into Your Home

The simple addition of a few pot plants and flowers inside your home can do wonders to liven up your spirits. A few beautiful green leaves and some carefully coordinated flowers can really transform a room from a mundane space into one that feels alive. It’s good for the air, too!

  1. Paint, Write, Create Outdoors

Instead of keeping yourself locked indoors like a hermit (an activity my writer husband is most most fond of), get out and create. Leave the laptop at home, grab a notebook or a sketch pad and head out into the open. It could be as simple as a quiet seaside café, or somewhere entirely more rural – Malta has some wonderful outdoor spaces to get out and create, from wonderful hidden caves to expanses of open garigue where there’s plenty of space and little disturbance. A change of scenery is proven to help boost creativity, and even inspire completely new ideas.

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  1. Build A Roof Garden

If you live in an inner-city apartment or a shared building, or if you’re like me and don’t exactly have a garden, make one! Transform your roof, yard or airspace into a green space. Fill it with hanging plants, flowers, some delightful benches, add a bird table or two, and nature will come to you.

  1. Go For A Hike

Hiking is a great way to get the heart rate going. Going hiking gets you some much needed Vitamin D, and you’ll be surprised by all the interesting scenery along the way.

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  1. Horseback Riding

If you don’t feel like traipsing over rocky terrain by yourself, why not go horseback riding. You can opt for a leisurely walk, or perhaps something a bit more intense if you’re confident. There’s nothing quite like the gentle clopping of hooves to set your mind wandering.

  1. Sit By The Sea

The sound of the waves gently rolling against the sand or the rocks has to be one of my favourite sounds, only surpassed by the gentle swish of wind through a woodland. I’m not talking sunbathing or beach lounging, just grab a blanket and a few drinks and sit on the beach at sunset. Talk, or don’t talk. Think, or don’t think: it’s up to you.

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  1. Learn Photography

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a pretty poor photographer, but skill aside, there’s nothing like having a camera in your hand to make you look at nature a little closer. Think you’re not terribly interested in insects and flowers? Try holding a camera.

  1. Go Birdwatching

Birds are everywhere. Whether you can find a local pond, woodland or a designated bird sanctuary of birdwatching space, take a pair of binoculars and keep your eyes peeled. However, make sure you don’t disturb any nests or baby birds! And no feeding them bread.

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  1. Embrace A Healthier Lifestyle

I don’t mean go vegan or suddenly start running marathons. I mean making small, daily lifestyle changes such as eating more fresh fruit and veg, perhaps going shopping at your local farmer’s market instead of the supermarket. If you hate the gym, go for a walk in your local area instead.

As you can see from the list above, I am not talking about any green-movement, hippy, tree-hugging or alternative ideas about ‘feeling the grass beneath your toes and the Earth Mother within you’. Instead I’m talking about realistic, practical suggestions that don’t need any spiritual awakening or higher purpose. If you want to stand on your head and feel the Earth’s vibrations, that’s up to you. For me personally, nature is inspirational enough all on its own.

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Wandering Universe

The hue and the wing beat
Bound by the laws of Physics.

The eye and the nebula
Too wonderful to be accidental?

The paradigm shifts upon takeoff
The paradigm shifts upon implosion.

What a journey it must be when your feet
Barely touch the ground
To kiss the wind of the sea and the sound

of the stars.

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Discovering Dinosaurs With Mary Anning

It’s Women’s Day today, a day where we celebrate the women in our lives: a daughter, a mother, a friend. A day where we celebrate the achievements of women throughout history and in our times.

There are a great many women that I admire, from Ayaan Hirsi Ali for her advocacy of the rights of Muslim women, to Georgia O’Keeffe for changing the face of American art forever, to Frida Kahlo and her struggle with chronic pain and her deeply complex, unstable life as an artist.

One woman I truly admire is one that might not be quite as well known as the women above, and certainly not as well-known as say the Kardashians or Rihanna. She was born in the tiny coastal town of Lyme Regis in Dorset, England. It was her great passion and pleasure to spend winters trawling the crumbling cliffs searching for newly exposed fossils. Having a rudimentary Sunday school education, Mary Anning would accompany her family as they sought to supplement their income with fossils; fossil-hunting had become a source of tourism and prestige for the area, and tourists were eager to purchase these unique relics.

Mary Anning was a pioneer; she was the one who discovered the first ichthyosaur skeleton – a large marine reptile that lived alongside the dinosaurs – and then went on to discover several more revolutionary finds in natural history. She uncovered two complete plesiosaurs and even a pterosaur – the flying dinosaur.

If all these discoveries weren’t impressive enough on their own right (David Attenborough and the Sea Dragon), we have to consider that this all happened back in the first half of the 19th Century, when the world of science was dominated by gentlemen, and women were rarely more than mothers and housewives.

That Mary was able to take her love of fossil-hunting and became quite an influential voice in geological circles is endlessly inspiring. But, as a woman, unfortunately, she did not get the acclaim and the respect that she truly deserved. Thanks to Mary Anning we were able to piece together great swathes of mystery surrounding the evolution and ultimately, the demise of the dinosaurs. But, as a woman, there was only so much she could do.

I like to think that we’ve moved on from this, and I know we have. Though she never got the credit for her contribution to the scientific world, after her death she finally started to be taken seriously, as is often sadly the case.

In her own words: “The world has used me so unkindly, I fear it has made me suspicious of everyone.”

The world needs to stop treating women scientists and pioneers unkindly. We don’t need to be suspicious of them – rather, we should celebrate them! Trail-blazing women, modern-day Mary Annings should be on top of the pantheon of role-models. Scientists like Emily Levesque, Katherine Freese and Maryam Mirzakhani. If you haven’t heard about these stars of modern science then you’re missing the big picture.

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Birdbrain!

“Birdbrain”: we’ve all heard the term, bandied it around, perhaps even referred to another person as one. But where does this come from, and does it have any merit?

The common notion is that birds are, to put in bluntly, dumb.

But birds aren’t stupid at all. By proportion, they have pretty tiny brains (a macaw’s brain is about the size of a walnut), so it was wrongly associated that a small brain meant small intellect (how very birdbrained of us to suggest this) but recent studies are proving quite the opposite.

Birds have a vast number of neurons located in their forebrains: the area that is responsible for intelligence. In fact, some species have as many neurons as primates!

So what does this mean for the expression, birdbrain? Take it as a compliment. Birds are amazingly complex and varied species. Crows and corvids demonstrate self-awareness in mirror tests and can use twigs to fish out grubs.

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‘A Home Under the Stars’, Oils on Canvas – €350 – enquiries may come to me

Arctic terns have amazing navigational skills, circumnavigating the globe from the Arctic to the Antarctic every year.

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‘Borealis’ Oils on Canvas – €500 for the set of three

New Zealand’s alpine parrot, the Kea can break into locked cars, sealed backpacks and lunchboxes, all in the name of mischief. They can even solve complex puzzles as seen in the highly-recommended documentary ‘Beak and Brain – Genius Birds from Down Under

So next time someone calls you a birdbrain, do some research! Watch some videos, or, just paint them!

 

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Not Vegan, Love Animals

There’s so much hype around veganism at the moment. Every restaurant menu totes about offering ‘vegan this’ ‘vegan that’ ‘vegan wine’ etc. Cosmetic shops are telling us to ‘shop vegan’ by buying brushes made of synthetics instead of animal hair. Never mind that synthetic generally = plastic = more bad news for our oceans.

I’m not here to shame anyone or criticise, as there are some good points about eating a vegan diet: we can all admit we need to eat less red meat and processed food, and yes, the meat industry is undoubtedly cruel. But shoving our bodies full of synthetics and not eating meat and animal-based products is basically doing this:

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By not eating meat and animal products, you’re not stopping your neighbour from eating them. You’re not stopping that same number of cows being sent to the production line: why? Because the meat industry isn’t about you.

The problem with the industry is precisely because it isn’t about you, or me. It’s about everyone. Global consumption. A few hundreds of individuals choosing not to consume these products will not make a dent in the multi-billion dollar industry (which is expected to exceed $800 billion within the next year or so).

Instead of the false presumption that you not eating the egg stops the hen from suffering (and producing a dozen other eggs for the supermarket, no doubt to go out of date, and then to be discarded/wasted), presume that you not eating the egg makes no difference.

 

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If you want to make a difference, read books like Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation. Get in touch with the big meat heads, and tell them to change their methods. Be a vegan if you want: but don’t make it your beck and call unless you’re actually willing to do more than just make yourself feel better. It should be about changing the world empire that is the meat industry, in three ways:

– reducing our addiction to red meat. Beef needs ten times more grazing and production land than poultry, so by simply shifting our meat-eating needs away from beef, we’ll be saving vast areas of land from destruction. Instead, this newly freed land could be used to grow crops to feed the third world, instead of growing enough crops to feed enough animals to feed us.

– changing our attitude towards animals. Animals are sentient beings: they deserve respect and dignity in life, and even in death. If they must be killed, let’s make it quick and painless, and let’s not let them live in filth, pain and poverty in the months/years leading up to it. We do not live in a perfect world. Dogs are fought in pits on the street, cats are still drowned, horses are still abused and left out to dry after their racing careers are over, bulls are massacred in bullfights. Human beings are meat eaters – so are our closest living relatives. We shouldn’t not eat meat, but we should do it responsibly.

– learning to grow meat artificially, and safely. It’s already begun and I’m hoping it will be widely available to the masses within my lifetime. With current technological advances, I’m certain it will be. If we can continue to enjoy the taste of meat, the protein and vitamin benefits (Vitamin B12, anyone?), without having to kill any animals, that may be a more perfect world than we live in today. No more livestock would mean almost 40% of the world’s land available to re-populate (but, let’s not, I think there’s enough of us already), re-cultivate, or simply open back up to wildlife.

But what about all the cows? Would we introduce domestic cattle, sheep, pigs etc back into the wild? Start breeding them with wild species, start introducing them slowly? Leave them to fend for themselves? I ask you, is that ethical? Is that fair?

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Livestock photos © Grey Feather Photography
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Penguin Awareness Day

We call ourselves animal lovers, but, we have to admit, there are far fewer of us that love cockroaches than furry, four legged bundles and beats. And seeing as today is #PenguinAwarenessDay, I thought I’d talk a bit about one of my personal favourite species, and why they do (and do not) appear in my art often.

January is an important time for penguins, as it’s mid summer in Antarctica the cute little Emperor penguin chicks are now fat, gangly, moulting teenagers. While they enjoy some much needed sun, their trip to the sea to fatten up is now much shorter. Summer won’t last long, and soon it’s time to start all over again!

I had the pleasure of encountering penguins a number of times, however, never in the wild: the closest I got were puffin sightings in Anglesey, Wales. But the few times I saw them in bird parks and zoos, I was amazed by their comical waddle, their curiousity, and how odd they feel – a mixture between a hard rubber tyre and soft leather, would be the best way to describe it.

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The African or ‘Jackass’ penguin, in Madrid’s Zoo Aquarium

My love of penguins extends to some watercolours and a few accessories, too!

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‘Cosmic Penguins’ from my Cosmic Nature series, and my favourite avian scarf!

Few animals are as resilient as penguins. From chinstrap penguins being mercilessly hurled onto the rocks, being pummeled by the full force of the Southern Ocean as they fight to get to their chicks, to the desperate struggle of female emperors to adopt chicks if their own have perished. Perhaps no other animal sees less sunlight per year, too. And living under temperatures below -50 degrees Celsius, I believe that penguins deserve their credit. They are just one of the many species that are going to be effected by ice sheet melt, plastic-riddled oceans and global warming.

For the love of penguins, send them a thank you card!
Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook or Instagram (@cjwaterfieldart) to keep up with the latest in my studio. Hit the little ‘follow’ button on the left to subscribe to my blog. Thanks for reading! 🙂

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Penguin-themed greeting cards and products available at Redbubble