The City in the City
following the ochre network into spring
It was an uncertain spring. The weather, perpetually changing, sent clouds of blue and of purple flying over the land. In the country farmers, looking at the fields, were apprehensive; in London umbrellas were opened and then shut by people looking up at the sky. But in April such weather was to be expected.
Virginia Woolf, The Years
Into the city and below it, the ravine seems to cut down into what this landscape used to be. And at the centre of the ravine, away from the dog walkers and joggers is a thicket, and beyond the thicket, a marsh, and in the centre of the marsh, the slow moving water of a pondlet, and on that water a thin scum of oily rainbow in filmy sheets like ice breaking up, and under that film somewhere is the rare colour-being I am looking for. But the time and place have to be exactly right.
It’s early morning and earth day and I’m desperate to escape the anxiety of my inbox and it feels like it’s time. Actually know it’s time because deep in the purple grey patch of forest, I notice the doodling curl of of dry silvery tendril of last year’s vine, and my feet follow my eyes following the winding vine around a tree to the bigger looping vine where sap drips from a broken shaggy barked wild grape vine showing its new life, and the drip lands on a bluebell. The bluebell is the first touch of colour I have seen, the day still waking up down here in the thicket. I follow the bluebells out of the crepuscular woods and into the morning light where the flash of yellow and red on a red-winged blackbird’s wing shows me the marsh grasses and there in the oatmeal-coloured world, the early morning sun sets fire to the tiny pollen-laden flowers insulated by the soft grey fur coat of the willow catkin, and in the mud I see the first spring flower of the swamp and I then I know I am close.
The yellow coltsfoot flowers which I used to mistake for dandelions which are a long-standing medicine and a newly realized toxin, push their way up through the dead marsh grasses on thick mushroomy stems and trace a serpentine path through the bleached-out marsh grasses fallen at angles across the mud. The rhizomic line of yellow flowers leads to the daughter-stream of this ravine. The city is completely hidden now above me and I am down into its old natural core. But not completely natural because it is down here that everything from above seeps and it is down here that the iron runoff trickles into the cold little pond as food for a colony of colour-makers that are just waking up. It is here under the water that I find the living gelatinous factory of colour, a being that makes an orangey-red city of its own. And they are hungry for iron.
This week in the lab I will go deeper into this living, networked pigment that eats iron and transforms itself into nanosculptural colour that I found at the heart of the ravine this morning, if you are interested please do sign up and join the growing community of full laboratory members. For everyone else, Happy Earth Day. I hope this finds you covered in mud and scratches and hair full of twigs and seeds or at least dreaming towards that.
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