Monday, 23 November 2015

The Less Travelled Path

A short poem read inside a hollow tree just as the rain was passing through, November 2015.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Ground Speaking with Gordon Field

Some days begin with an open heart and an open mind. . . 

And some days push these limits past understanding and comprehension, I believe stories do this when you embrace them properly, but they are always stories, never more than, even if we wish they were.

So Monday was spent tramping field edges and Quantock brambles in search for beacon trees and confluences of energy only my guide could discern.

It was with Gordon Field I travelled, an artist, friend, and in the last few years a tree dowser.

Firstly I am to be working with Cannington College at a Holy Well (St Agnes) which nestles in the southern edge of the Quantock hills in Somerset. Only recently did I find out about the well which itself is a simple medieval building with crystal clear water flowing freely from a medieval building to a gully made by the same students in relatively recent years. 

Chatting with Gordon about the well he was keen to visit and dowse around the locality so a date was set, but before our appointment he remotely dowsed an Ordinance Survey map to trace lines which flow through this location (pictured). Now I must make a confession here as I am a pretty pessimistic (and a little condescending I admit) especially to Glastonbury healers and self asserting aura boasters, so it was great to be with Gordon, a man who has journeyed from a place I understand well - design and has his feet strongly placed on the earth.  But although I am familiar with the place Gordon has come from, I am not so sure I understand the place he has found himself - which is talking to trees.

According to Gordon there are six lines passing through the well, the first of which is 2 miles wide. These lines also travel over the hill and cross at specific beacon points and it was our task after visiting the well to search out these beacon trees.

So - OK time to follow this one down the rabbit hole, I think it's time to explain how Gordon dowses with his Walnut wood rod to ask a question of a tree.

First he asks if the tree is well, and secondly if it would like to talk. A yes sees the rod moving, a no is no movement at all, and it is through this process of elimination which answers are sought. So if he were to ask a tree if it were more than 100 years old, and it was then the rod would move i.e. he would get a yes. He might then ask if it were more than 200 years old, if there was no movement on the rod then it was not more than 200 years old. By breaking this down into smaller and smaller parts he eventually arrives at a  date for when the tree was planted.

A month or two back I worked on The Gather-ing project (see previous blog) and in the Priory building adjacent to the Tithe Barn Gordon found a timber which he dowsed to ascertain the date it was installed. The timber informed him it was placed there some 634 years ago, and even more incredibly it was 500 years old when cut for that purpose. I remember Gordon informing me of this at the time and not really sure how to respond, but I noted and nodded and my curiosity was piqued.

So here you have not only a tree giving its age but a dead one to boot, I would not be alone in thinking

'Ladies and Gentlemen I believe we have now given leave to our sensibilities.'

But then, with storytelling I am constantly bending the world order to steel the truth inside a tale, was this any different? Here Gordon was reporting what the trees were telling him, and he is a level and sensible individual whom I have known for many years. He is not swayed by fad or fantastical whim, in fact he is both grounded and creative, and seemingly no more, which makes it all the more curious.

So I've broken it down into these steps

1 - Communing with trees
2 - Asking them questions in a way to get specific quantifiable data
3 - Communing with long dead trees with similar questions
4 - Communing with the Holy well itself

Whether you believe this or not I would just like to give you some of Gordon's answers and dispel with how they were divined. So on Monday, Gordon asked the well its age and incredibly he came upon not one but two dates, the first was the date water started to flow and the second was the date when humans began to visit. These dates were 11,120 and 5452 years ago, surpassingly precise and defined. It is interesting to note that the ice sheet retreated from Somerset and Northern Europe about 12,000 years ago which chimes surprisingly well with Gordon's dates.

Are they real, are they correct, I wonder.

So the next job was to find the tree on the hill, which itself had apparently been there for around 5400 years too, although Gordon was quick to say that it's not the same tree. We climbed in the mist up Cothlestone hill to a tumuli and view point - although the view was slow to materialise Gordon found what he was looking for which turned out to be quite a young Oak. This beacon tree told Gordon it was 193 years old and was planted by a Jay.

Apparently anyone can dowse which just starts with approaching a tree, saying hello and spending a little time with it. It requires you return again and again but then that's no hardship, we all have special places we love and personally I have a strong bond with woods. They pervade my stories and dreams, I like the way they sway in storms and throw dashing colours in autumn. I like the way they catch the rain and beg to be climbed, and my favourite early memory of a wood when walking as a child was not being able to crack twigs under my boots as my tread was too light. Today, I wish I were that light and cold walk through the forest without crashing and bashing like some city oaf.

I often say Storywalks are special as they are both in this world and the story world, but on Monday I went on a walk through the forest with a gentleman who does the same but in a manner I find both baffling and intriguing in equal measures.

But in the mean time here is a little poem I wrote

From wasp ripe fruits to frost kissed blossom,
From sinuous roots to mossy damp cushions
I am timber of heart and bark of head
And it's through the forest my soul will thread.

And here are Gordon's instructions for contacting a tree, in a time when the word acorn has been removed from the Oxford Children's Dictionary I think we should reacquaint ourselves with the forest just by spending some time there.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Poetry (R)amble

Yesterday a Poetry Ramble was convened in Burridge Woods near Dulverton, the workshop journeyed into the forest to create and write inside the landscape. This was the second of two Poetry Rambles commissioned by the Lynmouth Pavilion Project and Exmoor National Park and tasked with taking words into the Exmoor woodlands.

The walk itself was more of an amble than a ramble with the actual trail being only a mile or two and much of which was sitting in the dappled shade of the camp above Dulverton in Burridge woods. Here secreted away is a precious makeshift wigwam shelter, constructed by generations of hands, large and small all leaning logs against a simple forked tree. Initially just a few timbers were set, but over the years more have been added and now it has become Dulverton's alternative venue (well almost!)

Dulvertons walking book club sometimes passes this way and you may find them chatting about the latest month's read beneath the oaken canopy before journeying off to get lost in their words once more.

But poetic words were the measure of this day, with the initial gathering and hoarding on cards provided to create a resource which would be valuable later on in the session.

Once at the den these words were remodelled and re sculpted to try and construct something which echoed this space and place. Fresh tea and biscuits did play their part in grading this wheel too.

The final task was to stitch serendipitous phrases (provided and drawn from a metal pot) into compositions intended for those who could no longer walk in these woods - be they too old or too infirm. One of the poems which came forth seemed to be written to the author's future self as a squirreling of beauty to be revisited a long time in the future.

Breath the White Barle flow
Governs and guides and lifts us long

Its moorish hue all seeded strong
Up across the brash and litter

Downy moss against hazel sheen
Fox gloves stretch our seasons sync
Woodpecker presses this broken link

Chestnut finds reach skyward
Snow weight twisted this fibrous bower
Now lazy turns to elfin tower

So that's a piece from the day, not exactly a poem, more a gathering of phrases all brought from the day, the time and the place. Foxgloves flowering in late September seemed far from their usual season, and sounds of a woodpecker which followed us up the climb seemed strangely disconnected and out of sync.

A fascinating and rewarding day, where the Exmoor woodlands provided a majestic and diverse canvas from which it was easy to draw inspiration. As yet there are no plans for future Poetry Rambles (or Poetry Ambles) but hopefully the Exmoor National Park with Lynmouth Pavilion will be keen to revisit this and build on this year's successes.

Please get in touch if you would like to attend one in Spring 2016.

And find out more about Dulverton's Walking Book Club here.