taking the long view
Last week the third Cumbrian treefold found its place. For five days we were on site, a solid circle of stone gaining height while the light and the weather shifted around us.
Nestled among ancient and veteran trees in Glencoyne Park, with a wide view over Ullswater, treefold:centre looks as if it has been here for years. Made with stones washed from the fells during Storm Desmond in 2015, it is most certainly of this place. It may be solid, but it has a gentleness , its colours merging with the earth, the lake and the fells around it.
On the outside of the treefold eight words complete the poem that now spreads between the three treefolds and embraces the varied landscape between them.
Placing the poem stones on day 3 of the build was a bit of a ‘moment’ for us, and I thought I’d share some of the notes I wrote at the time.
1045 I have laid out the poem stones, two to the left of the opening and the rest to the right, easing them one way or another, inch by inch, so that the spacing feels right, and they overlap the join below. I have decided to alter the original order of the words. This has happened before when I have put words into a landscape, and it’s part of the process that I really like: the location of a poem influences its expression, right up to the last moment of installation. Instead of starting with ‘years weathered’ this final portion now begins ‘roots deep’.
The placing of the words here feels like the culmination of a long process, beginning even before we named the project ‘The Long View’. Intention and action are bound up in this single phrase, and come together now in a full circle of stones, but neither the words nor the treefold mark an end: they are about the long term view, and here they are now, set in place for a hundred years or more. I sit on a throughstone with the words at my back, and look out across Ullswater, watching the light change.
1503 The sun has just dipped behind Sheffield Pike, having thrown the last of its gold onto our faces. The leafless birches that march up the fell opposite us in their hundreds are now glowing. It won’t be long until the light halves and we will have to leave.
I wonder – if I were to compare this process of walling a circle to ‘life’ as a way to seek out poetic metaphors, how might I do that? I become easily distracted, though, by the light: ridges are silvered by the rain, there’s a rainbow, and directly above us, a deep blue sky throwing down water. But back to thinking about metaphors. There is a gentleness and a thoroughness in and around this circle, stones as a community, each one different but all fitting together, accommodating one another. There’s patient lifting and fitting in the building of the wall – not being willing to settle for not quite right, close attention to detail and a persistence. These qualities are what this circular wall holds, along with eight words chipped into stone that catch the light of the sun when it emerges from the clouds.
Taking the long view is, of course, not just about enjoying a far reaching view of the lake and the fells beyond it. Although this is a pleasure in itself, and the presence of the treefold here means that we, and we hope others, will do this many times over the years, it is more than this. Within the long view is a heritage told through the land in the imprints left by humans over many hundreds of years, including stone walls, mines, charcoal pits and field patterns, as well as woodlands, because while some trees have been felled over the centuries, trees have also been planted and tended. And right here in Glencoyne Park there are some exceptional ancient and veteran oaks, birches, ashes and hollies, and patches of dense woodlands dominated by hazel (there’s more about the diversity of the woods here in this earlier blog post). The story that the landscape tells will continue to evolve: and the tree that roots within this treefold will, we hope, witness many decades.
Taking the long view is also a question of considering the health of the environment, and our own place in it. Since we began planning this project in 2010, there has been a dramatic increase in news of threats to species and habitats, the changing climate, and environmental crises across the world. Locally, 2015 saw the devastation of Storm Desmond in the Ullswater Valley and in many other areas of the UK. Globally, 2016 marked the third successive year of rising average temperatures, with 2016 being the warmest recorded year (source: NASA). In the face of this climate change, the environment is taking a hard knock, and this is increasingly part of our research and our conversations.
During the annual ‘Explore’ event at the Royal Geographical Society in London a couple of weeks ago, Rob and I were chatting with explorer and author Nigel Winser, and considering what’s happening on Earth. He drew a simple diagram: two sides of a triangle. With the apex of the triangle at the bottom, the downward-sloping left line represents the decline in number and diversity of habitats; the upward sloping line represents the increase of carbon in the atmosphere. That’s the current state of affairs. Turn the diagram upside down, though, and it represents habitats increasing, and carbon levels decreasing. The one diagram contains both scenarios.
The funny thing was that this diagram turned up in one of the stones we’d gathered for the build. It is now within the treefold – the simple outline of a problem and a solution, and the hope that goes along with it: Nigel is optimistic and I can find optimism too, if changing the trajectory of these two factors were to become a global focus.
There are other things within this treefold, as well as stones and air. On day 2 of the build I walked to the Glencoyne Pine. From here, I looked down to the treefold, whose opening points back to the pine, and while there I collected a rock which is now in the treefold. On my way back I picked up two feathers (corvid) and a bone (sheep) – the wild and the managed, bounty from the land. I have slotted them into the wall among the middlings. And the full poem is there too, written on paper – it will probably be nibbled by mice and voles.
During our days at the treefold, we had a chance to really get a feel for the place: there’s something about being in one specific spot for hours on end that attunes your senses and gives an opportunity to observe small changes. Working with stones, and wiping mud from your hands, pulling hoods up against the rain then down when it passes – the physicality and exposure to the elements adds to an immersion in place. So although we were helping Andrew where we could, and the moving and fitting of stones becomes engrossing, we were always aware of what was happening around us. As it was with the Dark Walks, the ends of each day held particular appeal for me. Here are some notes from day 4:
Day 4, 1608
Darkening. A cormorant flies low above the water, drawing a straight line of feathered horizon, lands and disappears against the wet black. In the pale sky, blues and yellows draw back into a twilight white and about a hundred gulls (black headed?) gather and circle. It’s as if they are caught in a vortex . Curious, I sit on a through stone, my back against the treefold, and watch the birds. They are black silhouettes against the white sky. Then I notice how many more there are lower down, where they appear as white silhouettes against the black water and the sullen fells. The gulls seem to be playing, adrift on wind that is gathering speed as the night comes in. Then they settle as black specks on the lake where it is waveless, and form a mirage, a transient shape, a shadow of the island that is covered with trees a little to their left.
I look up, let my eyes adjust to the whited sky and see another group of gulls circling. Then they too settle – and then I see another set of silhouettes. A night ritual perhaps, like that of starlings.
On day 5, after we had tidied up, I wondered:
What is a treefold?
A new word, a thing of curiosity
A thing of beauty, a place to sit
The work of hand over hand
A commitment, protector for a tree
A solid end point from the small beginnings of an idea
A place for poetry
A wrap-around for the play of time in wood and leaf and seasons
An invitation to pause
A holder of thoughts, a trigger for thoughts
The holder of a diagram, a pivot, a point in time, where the future of the planet’s species may continue to look bleak, or could take a turn for the better
A reminder that it is up to us, humans, what happens next, and the importance of taking the long view
Planting the trees
Although the three treefolds are now built, this isn’t completion. We have created a protective stone ring, and within each one we have still to plant a tree. Each tree will gain height and girth, and will change with the seasons. For several decades, and perhaps longer, there will be room to sit inside the treefold with the tree, to shelter and pause, and to take the long view. The trees will be a legacy for the Tree Charter, a marker for the recognition of the Lake District National Park as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and here in Glencoyne will be planted with assistance from the National Trust.
We will be announcing dates for tree planting at each site soon.
The Whole Poem!
The complete poem that is carved into the three treefolds reads as follows:
in this circle of land’s bones
moments gather into wood
seeds, ideas, earth, light
elements entwine, a slow graft of time
roots deep, years weathered
taking the long view
treefold:north is on the Ullswater Way, between Aira Force and the Glencoyne Car Park. Both are easily accessed via the A592, and there are buses running between Patterdale and Penrith that stop at Aira Force.
Glencoyne Park is owned by the National Trust and is farmed by the Hodgsons at Glencoyne Farm.
And finally, if you are new to this blog feed, you can find out more about the building of the other two treefolds by scrolling back through the posts, beginning, perhaps, with an overview here.