Long Walks In
Spirit as Compass
Ideas as Seeds
What the Rising Mist Reveals
What is Beyond
A Constellation of Trees
“I am sitting, trunk as my chair-back, beneath the boughs of the alder and the seven floating books. They appear light as air, suspended, paused, but not quite still. The wind of the past few weeks has dropped and the dryness of April and May has left the river running shallow and quiet. It is extremely peaceful here: birdsong, water, sunshine, the distant bleating of sheep and the slow turn of violet books.
My view through the canopy is otherworldly. It is unusual to see books hovering like this. Books are usually on a table or a shelf, or in a hand. Today they behave differently, as if untethered from the sometimes stubbornness of intellect, suggesting a free flow of ideas. What emerges from each one is not a reading, or a set of words, but a tree. Just for one day.”
We have selected the seven young saplings from land close to the Trout Beck Alder. The majority of tiny saplings do not make it beyond the first year here, with deer, voles and sheep all tempted by the prospect of a tasty nibble; or roots laid down in a place that cannot support a tree of that species. It’s a gamble: each year trees put out thousands of seeds as a guarantor that some at least will become veterans of the future.
We chose carefully. Each sapling had settled in a location where its future was uncertain: on a path or a sheep trod, in a spot that was too wet, or too dry, or on a rock ledge where it was unlikely to reach maturity. After their brief suspension in the still air, we replanted each sapling carefully, in a location that would offer it the best possible chance of flourishing.
This has been the last of our seven installations and although we have not followed the order of the rainbow spectrum, we always planned to finish with violet, the last colour of the rainbow and the colour of the crown chakra (for more on the Philosophy of the chakra system, click here). The crown chakra is linked with consciousness, imagining and thought – our ability as humans to consider what we have learnt, to imagine things that have not yet happened, and to see beyond ourselves. Our capacity to think and have ideas fuels action based on conscious decisions: here, in our imaginings, within books and beyond them, are seeds for the future.
In the altered books that twist gently in the breeze there is an accumulation of thought, opinion and story. These books hold experience and knowledge, things that have been seen and felt, counted and measured, and dreamt up; a blend of past, present and future, conditioning and imagination. But can the cosmos really be summed up between two hard covers in words inked onto pulped trees? We can measure life in lakes and rivers by data, by survey, by observation, and all of these are useful, but it is never possible to condense the nuanced experience of a place into a space so small as a book. For all their value, books cannot hold the vital essence of life, the potential that is contained within a living thing, like a sapling. What is imagined and what has yet to be imagined is as hopeful and uncertain as a seed that may become a tree.
Treating these books and the saplings in an unusual way is a trigger for questioning how we as a species approach knowledge, and the decisions we make, based on what we have learned, what we imagine, and what we dare to do. What is learned from local environments, from wider contexts, from story and from science? How do we use knowledge to move forward into a future of environmental health and a balance of habitats and species?
While Rob and I talk about these questions together, and discuss them frequently with other people, we consider ourselves extremely fortunate to have access to areas of land that offer an extraordinary richness. By spending time in places like the Troutbeck Valley, walking, and pausing, we pull ourselves away from the bad-news stories of species loss and environmental destruction that seem to flood the media. Being here is a reminder that all is not doom and gloom, and there is richness to be celebrated.
As the moon rose in a purple sky, the air resonated with the eerie sound of snipe drumming – a low rhythmic boom that continued until midnight. A fox’s wail echoed beneath the stars. We saw hares chasing one another and boxing when we walked in, blackcaps in the trees, dippers, and a heron gliding above the beck. Reed buntings settled in the tree and a cuckoo repeated its up-down call like an alarm in the early morning. In the woods orange tipped butterflies caught the light and deer bounced away when they caught our scent. The unmistakable ‘yaffle’ of a green woodpecker rose and fell, like a friendly cackle. We know that the wet land here, which at a cursory glance might seem washed out and bleak, in fact harbours more species of grasses and flowers than we can count, and the sighting of a pair of goldcrests in the alder woods last summer felt like a real treat. This may not be a wilderness but this valley, like many others we have come to know well, is a place of wild things. And within that, potential for the future.
“And now we leave. The tree, motionless. The river, reflecting the sunlight. A heat haze above the sward. The fells under cloud shadows. Birds singing. We walk out of the valley without leaving any trace of ourselves, save under the earth in the replanting of seven tiny saplings. We do not know if they will get nibbled. We have taken great care and given them what we think is the best chance. A new constellation arranged around the winding river. We will be back over the months and years to visit them.”
New Book Titles / Original Titles / Trees Held
Long Walks In / Cumberland and Westmorland / Ash
Spirit as Compass / Life in Lakes and Rivers / Birch
Ideas as Seeds / Evolution in Art / Alder
What the Rising Mist Reveals / In Praise of Slow / Rowan
Light Imaginings / Frequented Ways / Hazel
What is Beyond / Humboldt’s Cosmos / Willow
A Constellation of Trees / I Planted Trees / Alder
We carried out this final installation a year to the day since the first of the seven, Everything is Connected, in Wasdale.
Images and some of the original material used in the installations will be shown alongside screen-printed word art pieces in The Long View exhibition, which opens in the galleries in Grizedale Forest on June 21st, 2017.
For more on the Troutbeck Valley, see our previous blog here.