sea sawdust

‘the law is flowering
small newly given laws are lost already
in the chaos of flowering.’
(peter levi – ten poems for nikos gatsos – anvil press, 1968)

disaggregated radiolite - (barbados/sandgate studio)

geometries #1 (radiolaria - barbados/sandgate studio)


location: saddleback, bissex hill, st.joseph, barbados
date: may 2014
an expedition to collect and process samples of radiolarian earth (radiolarite) to reveal the microscopic forms of radiolaria (polycystina)
exposure: temporary trench

childhood wonderment
since finding an image of a microscope slide containing radiolaria in my father’s library, and later understanding it to be composed of the glassy skeletons of a strange type of plankton, i have found myself hooked on the world of the barely visible and at 8 years old, my mind was made up, i wished to find some of those wonderful curiosities and somehow examine them first hand. known in that old book of natural science as sea sawdust, that particular type of radiolaria had been extracted from a mysterious substance known as barbados earth, a fossilised, benthic (ocean floor) deposit.

whilst writing this, after my many years of palaeontology, i find myself sitting on a balcony looking at the shining turquoise sea on that same caribbean island and now, in my fifty fifth year, this is feeling like a highly fortuitous, if relatively unexpected journey, but somehow, strangely familiar.

before flying, several days were spent consulting my antiquarian books and researching sparse online information, slowly piecing together a plan for the investigation. hiring a jeep with my partner, we explored both on and off road throughout the heights of the scotland district. eventually, with the aid of a field microscope and much patience, i found myself recognising a rarely exposed seam of radiolarite, its substance so light in weight and colour that it was unmistakably the same material mentioned in an 1890 copy of ‘geology of barbados’ (j.b.harrison & a.j.jukes-browne) that states – ‘in the middle of the oceanic series, beds of white radiolarian earth occur which are of exceedingly light specific gravity, and are almost purely siliceous’.

finding that deposit detailed in that old text felt like a gift from time past. it gave me a strong sense of the passion that drove people from earlier eras to explore and make new discoveries. it also shone yet another light on my own desire to document such personal explorations in the natural world and share them, together with their artistic outcomes. as i press the publish button, i lean to imagining that these pages will eventually find and inspire other seekers of small wonders like myself.

one final fact that helped to inform and inspire this particular search – over the years i have accumulated a lovely collection of antique microscope slides in which sits several examples of polycystina mounts – a super-order of radiolaria with pure opaline skeletons – all from barbados, such places as springfield, bissex hill and cambridge. it was in these very places we would find ourselves looking for those illusive motes of siliceous dust and eventually rediscovered them.

mr. furlong's clearing method

in william b. carpenter’s ‘the microscope and its revelations page 116, he states that, the best method of separating the polycystina from the barbadoes sandstone is described by mr. furlong in the ‘quarterly journal of microscopy’ vol. i. (1861) p. copy of ‘on mounting microscopic objects’ by thomas davies, clearly explains furlong’s treatment on (1863) p. 100…

procure.– a large glass vessel with 3 or 4 quarts of water. new tin saucepan holding 1 pint. 2 thin precipitating glasses holding 10 oz. each. take 3 oz. of dry barbados earth (lumps are best), and break into rather small fragments. put 3 or 4 oz. of common washing soda into the tin and half fill it with water. boil strongly, and having thrown in the earth, boil it for half an hour.  pour nine-tenths of this into the large glass vessel, and gently crush the remaining lumps with a soft bristle brush. add soda and water as before, and boil again; then pour off the liquid into the large vessel, and repeat until nothing of value remains. stir the large vessel with an ivory spatula, let it stand for three minutes, and pour  gently off nine-tenths of the contents; when the shells will be left, partially freed only, like sand.

2nd process.– put common washing soda and water into the tin as before, and having placed the shells therein, boil for an hour. transfer to the large vessel as before, and after allowing it to stand for one minute, pour off. each washing brings off a kind of “flock,” which seems to be skins.

3rd process.– put the shells in a precipitating glass and drain up the water until not more than 1/2  oz. remains. add half a teaspoonful of bicarbonate of soda, dissolve, and then pour in gently 1 oz. of strong sulphuric acid. this liberates the “flock,” &c. and leaves the shells beautifully transparent. wash well now with water to get rid of all salts and other soluble matter. Some of the large shells are destroyed by this method, but none that are fit for microscope use. an oblique light shows these objects best.

the testament of beauty remixed

radiolaria – a discontinuous sequence
a sixty two line found poem composed of sections of lines from the one thousand four hundred and forty six line poem.
(the testament of beauty, a poem in four books – robert bridges [poet laureate] – oxford university press, 1929)

note: the author’s choice of unorthodox spellings are described in ‘publisher’s note on the text’. the note is four pages, undersized, tipped in on its fold to the last printed page before the end paper.

radiolaria: a discontinuous sequence

on a calm ocean drifting
silent neath the sun
myths so ancient
that by a secret miracle of chemistry
some chemical excess
shifting ever and shaping
took-on beautiful forms
to build the animal body
and working back to the atoms
transport the broken sunlight

like cut jewels

nature plann’d their industry
whose very existance is so negligible and brief
in the unsearchable darkness
in that darkness where all origins are
after nightfall neath the starlit skies
in sparkely dance on the desolate sea
one by one they succumb on their lonley journeys

to the unvisited deep

faln to a place of darkness
the black shapley skeletons
all their sunless days
lie there ever indolently undisturb’d
matured by time
the reactions of unknown forces
neither begining nor end
those many organic substances
buried out of sight

long aeons in the bowles of the earth

til from the secrecy of their everlasting sleep
landscape is built
high mountainous plateau between the seas
where on thatt upland path
our planet’s sphere so peel’d
order and disorder are exposed to sight

a museum of fossils

intent to map and learn
all functions and motions
our schools of thought
ever in quest of some system
to find scientific ground
fetch down upon the lecture table our specimens

the grammer of it would stock a library

can a man by grammar come at the elements
think only to find a structur of blind atoms
and accumulate those infinite dark happenings into a single view

the euristic vision of mathmatical trance

tho’ science measure true every wave-length of ether or air
in the oceanic deeps of mind
atom or molecule are like phenoumena
fine-measured motions to immeasurable emotion
unimaginable infinit co-adaptions
wonder beyond wonder

the wise wil live by faith

faith in the order of nature
and in love of beauty affirm
this glimpse or touch of immanence
that yet undremp
lurk in the unfathom’d deep
we are left to guess nature’s intention
of faintest ecstacies

aslumber in nature’s calm

the testament of beauty (original line references)
(1) i-281
(2) iii-621
(3) iii-883
(4) i-171
(5) iv-1023
(6) iv-219
(7) iii-789
(8) iv-9
(9) iv-666
(10) iii-628
(11) ii-508
(12) ii-338
(13) i-439
(14) i-339
(15) iii-187
(16) i-320
(17) iii-595
(18) ii-384
(19) iv-971
(20) ii-56
(21) i-309
(22) iii-77
(23) i-28
(24) iii-98
(25) ii-300
(26) iv-1442
(27) iii-931
(28) iii-11
(29) iii-91
(30) iv-321
(31) iv-991
(32) iv-931
(33) i-38
(34) i-59
(35) ii-293
(36) i-41
(37) iv-1397
(38) iv-781
(39) iii-603
(40 iii-689
(41) iv-273
(42) iii-987
(43) iii-48
(44) iv-680
(45) i-346
(46) ii-677
(47) i-368
(48) iii-767
(49) ii-667
(50) i-82
(51) iii-771
(52) ii-275
(53) iii-683
(54) i-562
(55) i-563
(56) iii-185
(57) iv-58
(58) iii-105
(59) iii-105
(60) iii-106
(61) iv-1348
(62) iv-1348