The Under Helm Sycamore stands on a steep slope made all the more precarious to humans by the fact that it is covered in a shifting layer of stone slabs. In some places, stone, earth and moss have worked together to give some stability, but much of the stone is so loose that the ground moves beneath your feet, as if fluid. This is what, in Cumbria, is known as a scree slope.
It lends a tension to the landscape and is the reason why, I think, I find it so hard to settle with this tree. It challenges me: the land is hard, the walking is difficult, and, because of its location overlooking the A591, there is a near-constant irritation of traffic noise. It takes a while to find a sitting position that is comfortable, and although I’ve done this on many occasions, there is always an underlying alertness in my pose; we have never been as relaxed with this tree as with have with the other six. Perhaps it’s partly because of this that it has taken us a long time to agree on a plan for the colour installation here, so it feels really good to finally get started.
In early January last year, after a few days of snow, we sat with the tree into the night and watched the sky ease itself from pale blue to deep indigo. The colour has become imprinted in my mind, pricked as it was that night with stars. This indigo, with an overlay of white, will find expression once again in the installation next week.
In the Indian chakra system, indigo is assigned to the sixth chakra and linked with vision. Each time we have been with the sycamore we have shared its view: south over the Grasmere valley, with the flat water of Grasmere mirroring the sky; opposite to Heron Pike, Great Rigg and the Tongue and Fairfield; and north towards Dunmail Raise and the rising hulk of Seat Sandal. Over the year we have witnessed a change in landscape. It’s not just that the seasons have changed. In this short time hundreds of trees have been planted beneath the Tongue, the beginnings of a future wood; and for five months there was an unusual silence, with the A591 broken by Storm Desmond.
It’s not just the view from the tree we’ve been thinking about for this installation. In considering ‘The Long View’ we can’t help but think about what is happening to Planet Earth as the climate changes, ice melts, sea level rises and catastrophic events linked with climate change become more frequent; and the decisions humans make about industry, transport, lifestyle and resource use that will have impacts way into the future.
Bringing these two interpretations of ‘vision’ together we have taken a Line of Sight from the Under Helm Sycamore and selected seven points along this line, at the same elevation (176m). In each of these locations, within line of sight of the tree, we will place a rock we have borrowed from beneath its canopy and wrapped, temporarily, with words. Each location will become a ‘viewing station’ – a place to look out from, always within sight of the Under Helm Sycamore. During the walk, my plan is to compose a longer poem to thread through the rock-wrapped lines so that by the end of the walk the poem will settle around the rocks, carrying an influence of land and the views we consider along the way. It will become a poem of place, in place, and out of place, and it’s quite exciting not knowing quite what will arise.
We are aiming for a day when the mist is not down and there’s little or no rain, some time next week. We reckon it will take around seven hours to complete the walk. The stones will be left in their temporary viewing stations for short time only, and then will be returned to the tree.
Words on the stones
and the falling of thoughts
striking a goose mid-flight
there has been
a watering of land
a twilight sky
in the sliding of stones
can we settle
with the uncertainty of it?
where is the place
we call home?