Random Woodland Planning

I created a new section of path in the woodland last week, and was struck by how randomly key sites have been created.

When we took on the woodland, a little over three months ago, we were faced with trees planted at foot feet apart, and then abandoned to grow tall and skinny. They had a remarkably good survival rate, and there has been a certain amount of seeding going on as well; it felt weird and unnatural, just going on and on with no features or landmarks except for the variation in sogginess of the ground. The first thinning was about ten years overdue, and as mentioned here before, I made the early decision to remove sycamores and leave the native species. Luckily they were just within size limits for easy felling without complications of licenses or power tools.

M was very keen to have a den, so we started cutting a few small sycamores down in an area not too far from the path. Suitable branches or trunks were saved for the den and we made a pile of the brush. But there was nowhere to put our largest trunk as a roof-beam where we had started, and the ground quickly became churned up with mud.

Returning another day, it being autumn half term, M and I each got hold of one end of the trunk to be our beam and set off through the woods. It was reasonably long, so we had to go in a straight line between the trees. We had no plan or map, our aim was just to be further from the path, and find two oaks to put it across without any sycamore in the way. We went in circles a bit, mostly downhill since that was easier, and eventually, randomly, picked a spot. We then had to find our way back to the original pile of sticks, and transfer them all into the den so that we could start building.

Once the trees lost their leaves, and a few more of the sycamores had been removed, we realised it wasn’t that far from the path after all – although nowhere is very far in our wood. It got muddy there too, but I realised chopping up sticks into short lengths and leaving them on the ground stopped feet from sliding and sinking in.

Gradually a camp formed next to the den. First a pile of long logs, then a fireplace, then a second pile of long logs, a properly planned pile of shorter logs with supports that doubles as a saw bench, a handy stump for splitting wood on, a pile of split logs drying for firewood, a pile of deadwood for starting fires, a pile of forked sticks… In other words, a proper working area where we can leave our things, sit down to eat lunch, and always find easily.

As we continued to work, plans evolved. I had a rather naive idea we could take random routes to base camp and avoid creating a path. Gradually the whole area became muddy, so I quickly called a stop to this practice and created a curved path using sticks underfoot as had worked before – placing them before the ground got churned up meant they didn’t immediately press in to the ground, but they are developing nicely as a path now. Where there are spaces I have now planted some hazel coppice, which will hopefully grow up and block the view to the main footpath as well as filling in the canopy.

Then finally I realised we need paths beyond base camp, before that area, too, becomes unsafe to carry a log over and all the mosses and ferns on the ground get trampled, and so that we don’t keep blocking our safe routes with cut off branches. Again, I pick a routes that seem nice, not too straight, but not too curved to carry a trunk for logging, and going in a somewhat useful direction towards the outer corners of the woodland.

I look at it and laugh with gratitude for being guided so well. This first camp has proved an excellent place to start out: close to the main footpath when we arrive, close to the area we have worked this year and the one we plan to work next winter, slightly sloped so less waterlogged than much of the woodland, and full of birdsong. The paths go where we need them and are pretty. I am starting to think about what native wildflowers I can try and introduce in the areas we don’t plan to walk too often.

A comment from Marko Pogacnik has stuck with me, where he met a Nature Spirit or Deva looking very like the Goddess Diana.

“The fairy made it explicitly clear to me that it was her task to guide animal species within a certain landscape by giving energy impulses towards a harmonious pattern of movement within the chosen area.”
Marko Pogacnik, Nature Spirits & Elemental Beings

It makes me consider just how much is guided by nature spirits in the wood, plants as well as animals. I have commented already about how brambles never land next to their own roots, always leaving growing space, yet I have seen no similar avoidance of trees where the rooting tip will get as close as possible to the base of a small trunk. When planting some small yew trees, I found I could carry each around, and there were places where its energy felt harmonious to what was already growing, and places where it didn’t. I planted them where it was.

Searching for Harmony

Like so many people who find the Pagan path into nature, I have for a long time been aware of my separation from the natural world. My inability to see, hear, or be at one with the world around me is frustrating but pretty much inevitable as a human being. It makes us different from other animals, although not superior to them as has been the historical viewpoint!

I work to overcome this, spending time in woodlands or other green spaces. I talk to trees often; I find this easier with old trees, young plants are harder for me to communicate with but there are few old trees near me. I have also found that the better I know the plants, the more I feel as if I am among friends. As my knowledge grows, so does my connection – and knowing different ‘kingdoms’ such as grasses, wildflowers, as well as the trees increases my sense of belonging and keeps me more in harmony. Yet sometimes this still isn’t enough.

One day last year I asked myself what I would do to feel more part of things? I realised I wanted to be about four foot tall, playing pipes and dancing through the forest. A faun, possibly. So I did this in meditation, and have done it a few times since, and now feel much better as a result. I have also taken my recorder into the woods on a few occasions this year and played seasonal folk tunes, and Morris dancing tunes.

Then last month I felt invited in to a small birch grove on Stanton Moor, near the Nine Ladies Stone Circle. I sat down, found my inner stillness and just listened. The air was buzzing with insects. Nowhere else had I been so aware of them, nor did I hear them elsewhere afterwards, but this grove was filled with all kinds of humming and buzzing. Then the trees told me how sound was so often missing, woodlands were becoming quiet. They asked me to please sing in woods, whenever I was alone and quiet. Sing to heal, to grow strong, sing them into harmony.

This seemed an immense task, far beyond my simple capabilities. I didn’t know or understand what they meant by it. I couldn’t even agree to it straight away, just saying I would think about it – though on reflection I realised I had nothing to loose and possibly much to gain so a little later that day I found and talked to another silver birch to make my agreement.

A few days later, I had my first opportunity to try singing. I listened for a tune, and sang what I heard, what I felt. The tree shapes, the weather, they way they moved in the breeze, my love for them and being with them. A tawny owl flew across my path and perched on a branch over the track for a few minutes. I felt encouraged, so carried on. I don’t know if I was doing the trees any good, but if nothing else it was a (very quick!) way of bringing myself into harmony with them.

A couple weeks on, I entered a fairly young woodland and felt awkward with such immature trees. I just walked and listened. An insect flew almost into my face and buzzed loudly at me. Okay, sorry, I have the message now! I found a tune. A tawny owl flew across my path and perched on a branch over the track for a few minutes. My heart filled with love for these amazing creatures, and for showing me the way twice. Then I suddenly worried whether I had disturbed the owls – they shouldn’t be flying in the day time surely? My heart, and my much later meditation told me the answer, they would fly away if they didn’t like it, not perch in front of me. Keep going, and I will learn more about how and when to sing, and if nothing else bring this one human into harmony with the world around me. So far I have noticed that when a loud noise rips through the air, such as a train or a helicopter, singing can help to smooth it over.

It is easy to become depressed by what humans have done and are still doing to the Earth. However, I have been left with the feeling that while I may not be able to solve humanity’s problems myself, what matters is what I do, as an individual. Live my life fully, joyfully, lovingly, using the talents that I have. In the words of the Fred Small song, “And the only measure of your words and your deeds will be the love you leave behind when you’re done.” The love will always stay.

Sewing in Circles

Knotted Button

A winter coat … and an opportunity to try out some different knots. These (there are three, but it didn’t feel right to photograph the whole thing) were fun to make, although a little tricky. I like to use knots to bind good emotions for the wearer, and it felt good to have three circles in each.

Three is an important number in Neolithic and Celtic art – I think of the triskele with its three spirals, or the triquetra of three interlocked semi-circles. There are three realms to our world: Earth, Sea and Sky, and within these we live through three stages of life: maiden, mother, crone. Our health is often seen in terms of Body, Mind and Spirit. When we journey, we choose Upper, Middle or Lower Worlds to explore.

Goddess Brigid has three aspects, as does The Cailleach. Badb, Macha and Morrigan work together and are collectively known as The Morrigan.

Three makes me think of a tripod, or a milking stool, perfectly balanced no matter what the terrain, each leg supporting the others. It is the potential of two parents with a child. A triad in music is a perfectly balanced chord, major or minor, that forms the root of Western harmony.

There is a lot of energy stored in three-ness, as there are always forces acting together. It is not a stable energy like four is, there is constant change, growth, development. Things can happen. The triskele has three legs going out from the centre, balancing yet full of movement, looking outwards. The child will pull forwards. Triple Goddesses include Creativity. Triads can become counterpoint and fugues as well as chorales. Yet there is perfection and completeness within that three-ness.

Sewing these knots on took longer than making them, and needed me to turn the coat on each stitch. Definitely sewing in circles.

Black Bryony

Black Bryony berries garlanding its way through the ivy.

All autumn I have been enjoying the sight of black bryony berries garlanding the hedgerows. They are of course a fairly common plant in most of England, but one I only tend to see once the bright red berries have ripened. The flowers are fairly small and insignificant.

Black Bryony in Hawthorn hedge.

I have wanted to take a picture of the berries before, but mostly I see them while cycling, along roadside hedges that are not always good places to walk with a camera. They also drape themselves so sparsely that they don’t frame well. Then this year a new cycle route was opened up to me (see earlier post, Cycle Roads) and it grew in these traffic free hedges in such profusion that I wanted to have a go. A month ago the leaves were still yellowing and showing their bindweedy shape, but now they hang brown or have dispersed into the hedge bottom to be recycled into next year’s crop. Getting camera, weather, time and leg that can be walked on all together has taken some time… (These were taken with our old compact camera – the DSLR camera I got this year would have done a better job at putting the background out of focus and letting the berries shine, but would have added an extra weight / balancing challenge I wasn’t ready for. Work in progress!)

There are two bryonies, named white and black after the colour of their roots, both looking very similar for most of the year since they each have mid-green ivy-like leaves, small insignificant greenish white male and female flowers followed by red berries, and they climb up hawthorn with abandon. However they are completely unrelated to each other. White bryony, Bryonia dioica, is a member of the curcurbitae family (ie courgettes and melons) so climbs with tendrils, and is dioecious, while Black Bryony, Tamus communis, belongs to the Dioscoreaceae family (ie yams), climbs by twining, and is monoecious. Both are poisonous in all parts.

Black Bryony berries and ivy.

Black bryony berries and juice or pulp from the root have been applied directly to the skin for bruises, strains, gout, rheumatism and hair loss because the calcium oxalate it contains as crystals irritate (or stimulate?) the skin. It has also been used to cause vomiting in careful doses, and when mixed with wine or honey, black bryony has been used for gravel or asthma. An overdose is likely to cause a painful death however. All parts also contain saponins, another poison, although one which is normally deactivated by cooking – but the young shoots are cooked and eaten like asparagus in southern France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Croatia and Greece.

I managed to meet Black Bryony in meditation, and found a very interesting energy which was willing to communicate with me, appearing briefly in a dark female form and very beautiful. Its element is fire, and its focus is transformation – hence is medical uses. But transformation can be destructive to some if they are not willing to change, to let some parts die down. It was used in alchemy for this purpose. [I cannot find any evidence for this as yet, although I’m not an alchemist so it may turn up…] It has been particularly active along the lane to create the transformation that I have seen this year. It has developed strong roots in the course of this work so will continue to grow well there, but doesn’t need to spread further. It also brings harmony, creating links between species. It does not help the fiery aspects of will, or of strong focus and intention.

Black Bryony makes a garland under a hawthorn branch.

Over-Abundance?

I have recently become aware of how incredibly and wonderfully abundant our world is. I suspect it has always been so, at least in this lifetime, but I just hadn’t noticed until now how whatever I want is available, cheaply and easily, in total profusion. Food, clothes or fabric, toys, books, bicycles … just about every aspect of life has far more available than what we actually need.

Brook Medicine Eagle wrote at the end of the last century about a ‘problem’ spirits incarnating on Earth would have in the future: that they would have to sign a contract to say they agree to have everything they want. As she said, the implications of this are huge. Most of us have been driven by lack of something in order to work to get what we want, and therefore learn spiritually in doing so. To maintain that forward drive when all of our wants, as well as needs, are met is much more difficult – although it will create a huge positive energy shift in the world! However, I am starting to think having everything we want is already true, as I have now seen this as a reality.

For example, there are so many books in the world that everything I wish to know I can learn about. However I frequently borrow too many library books – and then end up feeling overwhelmed because I have too much to read and not enough time or even brain for them all.

I used to struggle to find suitable fabrics for sewing, whereas now I am realising whenever I finish something I feel so enthusiastic that I buy fabric for two more projects – which seems to be easily available to me. Then I am overwhelmed because I have too many things to make, and if I magically completed them all immediately then I would have too many clothes.

I do this in gardening, with the kitchen overflowing with apples, or blackberries. (Thank goodness time doesn’t allow me to store them all, or I would then grow very fat eating them all!) With house renovations. (Maybe getting some finished would be worthwhile… but then what would I do?) With artistic projects – a new catalogue of books and craft projects of all sorts arrived on my doormat this week. It would be so easy to become a jack of all trades and master of several, because everything is so easily available. Resources, ideas, guidance; we live in a world of total abundance.

The trouble is that an excess of ‘stuff’ only adds clutter to my life and separates me from Spirit, stopping me from really connecting with what is around me. It is a distraction. There is no point in just bringing more and more stuff into my life. And yet if I bought or created nothing new, and had no wants or desires, that would be equally wrong – because I am still learning and developing and moving forwards. I change, so I want my environment to change with me, my activities to change and develop with me. To reflect who I am at this point in time. To have dreams that I can bring into reality.

I realise that those who will be successful in the future, as well as in harmony with their life and the planet and everything around them, are those who can clearly focus what it is they want, and equally critical, know what they don’t want at any point in time. M knows this instinctively. I am starting to relearn.