Rising Tide: A Weekend with Extinction Rebellion

detail of group artwork

detail of group artwork

I had been invited to lead a land art workshop using natural materials at The Rising Tide Festival, organised and hosted by Extinction Rebellion South West. It all happened last month over a perfect weekend in late summer sunshine, in the beautiful surroundings of Tapeley Park overlooking the Torridge Estuary, North Devon.

The whole Festival was characterised by fun and relaxation, underpinned by some important and serious talks: some covering aspects of the gathering climate and ecological crisis we are facing; others giving guidance on how best to bring about change, and on the role of XR.

You can read my full original post here, on ClimateCultures – creative conversations for the Anthropocene, –  from the time I arrived when I had no idea what to expect, to the final poignant moments of the Festival’s closing ceremony.

Procession setting off for the closing ceremony in the woods.

procession setting off for the closing ceremony in the woods.

ClimateCultures is a place where artists, researchers and curators connect, to share and discuss their responses to environmental changes, and perhaps point new ways forward through an unsettling, uncertain, rapidly changing world.

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Posted in climate change, environment, Environmental Art, nature, North Devon | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fleeting Impressions: Knowing my Place

Over the last month or so, I have been making little explorations around my home ground. Not going very far afield.

After the long, dry, sunny summer: flowers, birds, butterflies, verdant greenery – I come once again to the quiet woods. Despite human encroachment, there is still deep peace here among the trees.

faint trickling of water… occasional small bird sounds…
the high pitched whining of thousands of tiny hoverflies, sparkling and shining gold in the dappled sunlight.

The Woods

A leisurely morning walking across the Burrows, organised by the North Devon AONB.
Enjoying life all around, from the tiniest little white shells to the blue skies and wide expansive views across the Atlantic.

Evening Primrose

across the grassland
skylarks rising and dropping down
as I walked towards the group meeting place



snails, spiders



Lady’s Bedstraw

Burnet moths on ragwort

as I walked back out of the Burrows, and home.

NORTHAM BURROWS – little white crabs
As I arrived at the Burrows, the first drops of fine cool rain began to fall. I knew it would not come to much, and after a while, blue skies and sunshine appeared once again. It grew gradually hotter.

A lady accosted me, wanting to walk with me because she thought she might be getting followed. Personally, I prefer to be alone, but happily walked along for a while, offering well-meaning, but I think, unwanted advice about joining some of the group activities organised from the Visitor Centre. Eventually I realised the lady was heading off rapidly in a different direction, and I didn’t follow her.

I couldn’t find the tiny hydrobia shells that were here yesterday. I wandered up and down the beach, gathering ideas for artwork – but didn’t feel like embarking on anything substantial.

I made a quick assemblage: Little White Crabs, intending it to be the first part of a larger collection.

I regretted not being able to spend the last month or so coming here, when I could have worked quietly  during all that hot summer weather in relative solitude. But now the tides are getting high at my usual visiting times, and next week the schools break up for their summer holiday…

Skylarks still singing. All is well.

ABBOTSHAM – seaweed
A beach survey organised by Coastwise for The Shore Thing project.

Amazed to see a beautiful chough in a field as we walked along  along the Coast Path from Westward Ho! to Abbotsham. Then a scramble down the stony beach, where we used quadrats to estimate the percentages present of an astonishing variety of marine life.

This was the first time I had taken part, and i had not much idea what I was doing. My mind was mostly taken up with trying to keep my balance on the seaweed-covered rocks, and with trying to memorise and recognise the different forms of marine life, and the multitude of small creatures we discovered. I was captivated by this insight into a whole miniature universe, and it led directly to my recent nature artwork with cockle shells: Landing Place – and indeed to ideas for a forthcoming photographic project.

So beautiful, poised and elegant – even with my rubbish photo taken quick with my phone.

Cut a bit of samphire and took it home for dinner. Delicious, nutritious, hot with pepper and butter.

The Burrows looked so different in the early evening sunlight. I have been here in the evening before- but normally I would tend to come during the morning. Today, in this warm evening air, there seemed a quite different atmosphere – almost foreign. It was strange to see all the shadows going the ‘wrong’ way – not at all matching the familiar images I had fixed in my mind.

I usually avoid coming here much during the holiday season, not because I have anything against visitors and dogs in general, but because I find it all too distracting from my main focus on the natural surroundings, and my creative responses.

As a matter of fact, I hardly went to Northam Burrows at all last year, largely because it was a year of dark skies and rain (unlike this year when we have enjoyed a long summer heatwave) – but also because I remembered vividly an earlier encounter with two women and their dog:

Out taking photos, I sat down on the beach to rest, took off my shoes and sat gazing out to sea. The beach was completely empty, apart from two tiny figures and a dog appearing far away to my left.  It seemed the figures were making a line straight towards me – and I wondered why on earth, with an entire empty beach to walk in, they had to aim in my direction. Eventually, the dog raced ahead, came up to me, making a bit of a nuisance of itself, and obviously wanted me to play. I firmly encouraged it to clear off,  but it just lay down behind me, leaning against my back.

At last, the two women caught up and passed close by, and as the dog got up to leave, it left me a parting gift, by pee’ing on my bare feet…

Sheep on samphire at Northam Burrows

A lovely evening walk with local members of the Devon Wildlife Trust

A buzzard drifted slowly over our heads as we approached the Taw estuary.
Again, a familiar landscape, seen in the evening, an unfamiliar time for me – when the low light and the different position of the sun gave me a whole new perspective on the scene.

And a palpable sense of recent human history: importing and exporting, ceramics,  lime burning, agriculture… and signs of the old railway that used to run along here over a century ago. (It has now become the Tarka Trail, a pleasant walking and cycle path through the Devon landscape).

Sea Lavender

Sea Purslane (plants able to tolerate saltwater conditions,  I learned were called halophytes).
Rock Samphire
Blue sky – fast moving cloud
The dark silhouette of the old wrecked boat against the fading light
Crumbling stonework of the old lime kiln
Peace of the wide water


Woodland at ROSEMOOR- Tarka
Another fabulous walk with the Devon Wildlife Trust

First we passed a larch plantation that had been felled and cleared, partly because of disease and partly to encourage the growth of native British trees. It was interesting to see the stage it was at: recently planted young birch, and other saplings whose seeds had been long buried underground, growing up through the bracken.

A nice little butterfly

We passed an old quarry, and I was fascinated to observe the sandstone and shale layers sloping steeply downwards, and to mentally relate this to other local areas I knew, and to hear why road subsidence could sometimes occur when built across folded rock layers such as this.

We crossed the stone bridge of the old canal, which used to serve now derelict lime kilns along the River Torridge, and also connect leats to mills at Town Mills (now Orford Mill), Torrington, Weare Giffard… Many local places were mentioned. Names I first encountered after reading Henry Williamson’s powerful novel ‘Tarka the Otter’ in my youth when I barely knew Devon existed. Names still vivid in my memory and imagination today, many years later, after coming to live here around 12 years ago.

We paused at the Dark Weir by Darkham Woods, where Tarka’s final hunt began. After walking for some time through woodland tracks, looking closely at the land and wildlife, and remembering this story,  I thought that Henry Williamson must have known this land as intimately as an otter or any wild animal.

Gazing down at the river flowing over the weir, I was reminded once again how inextricably entwined we are with the natural world all around.


Posted in ecology, nature, place, Walking, wildlife, animals and birds | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Drifting through Springtime

I have been coming to these woods for a number of years now, and I know that I’ve arrived when I step into the peaceful atmosphere of the trees and the sounds of woodland birds and the stream running fast over stone.

Always I am amazed at the changes I see on every visit. Perhaps it is because I am so familiar with the place that I have become attuned to its subtle shifts – the processes of growth and disintegration; the ever-changing light, weather, ground conditions etc…. not to mention my own changing moods and perceptions.

Over the last couple of months, the changes have been even more astonishing. Early March saw us engulfed in heavy snow – very unusual – just as we were beginning to think Spring was on its way. It hardly ever snows here in this part of Devon, and I had never managed to get a single photo of the woods in snow. The challenge was irresistible…

I do not wish to talk about how, when trying to park the car, the back wheels somehow skidded over the edge of a little stone bridge… Suffice it to say, that I returned to the woods the following day for a second attempt. By then, much of the snow had melted with rain – but I had a good time and I got some pictures!


A mild morning in April, some wind high above. Alternating sunshine and showers, warm and cold.

Standing under a favourite tree, I was captivated by the newly emerged fresh green leaves sprouting all around on bare branches. I looked closely. I could see them growing! Tiny hairs around the edges of the leaves seemed to vibrate and shimmer in the sunshine. I watched the play of shadows projected through this soft new greenery, and as always, I relaxed and enjoyed the peace and quiet.

I noticed that everything was actually a little bit later than normal and decided this was probably caused by the unusual wintry weather we have been having recently.


May begins. After days of rainy weather, it was good to feel the warm sunshine seeping into my bones.
Arriving at the woods, I saw the sea mist beginning to creep through the trees – cool, grey, soft.
A blackbird singing nearby, a chorus of other woodland birds.
Running water.

Putting on my backpack, I started to climb up a steep bank at the side of the track, telling myself it was a shortcut to where I wanted to go.

But it was slippery with mud and I kept sliding downwards again on hands and knees. Oh no! I grabbed sticks lying on the ground for support, but they just broke under my weight. I refused to return back down to the bottom again, so I hauled myself up inch by inch, tree by tree, hanging on to anything relatively strong and stable: big roots, low growing branches, fallen trees… What kept me going (apart from stubborn insistance) was the thought of sliding down the hill on my stomach, and landing at the feet of someone out for a nice woodland walk.
I reached the top, brushed myself down and regained my dignity. I stood looking across the valley below and watched the grey sea mist billowing in fast. The sun had by now completely disappeared. A cold wind got up.

Sheltered within the trees, I began to explore old half-forgotten haunts – fallen branches, trees decomposing, disintegrating into the ground, covered with thick green mosses and ferns – taking many casual shots with my phone as I went along.

I came out into a more open space, where I had made several works before, and was now spread all over with a mass of primroses and bluebells. Their beautiful subtle scent filled the air, and I lingered here for a long time. This was probably my favourite place in the woods. Why? Because I could see through the trees, right down the valley to the Atlantic beyond. Because it was quiet and secluded and familiar, and I knew all the trees and the lie of the land. And also, because it held deeply significant  memories for me.


As I said, I have been coming to Bucks Valley Woods fairly frequently for several years, and I have enjoyed its endless changes and transformations, and the subtly shifting relationship I have with this peaceful place. Memories I am sure that I shall recall at the end of my days.

Now, it feels a particularly poignant time, as the continuing threat of ever-encroaching building development is fast becoming a reality. Already, even though the population of the local villages is extremely small, a large-scale academy school has been built at the edge of the woods, complete with extensive accompanying pipe-laying and road widening.

I feel sad that, the main thrust of our noisy, short-sighted culture gives so little value to the fundamental human need to connect fully with nature, to draw deep nourishment from walking silently among the trees, either alone or with a few congenial friends – and I wonder how much longer I shall arrive to the gentle sounds of the breeze in the treetops, the sparkling water in the stream and the songs of woodland birds high above.


I originally published this post on my Blogspot blog: ‘Yatooi Talk-Linda’. Yatooi is an international membership organisation dedicated to nature art. Use a Google search if you wish to find out more.

Posted in Earth, North Devon, North Devon Coast, Woodland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Line of Least Resistance

A glimmer of blue sky appeared through the heavy dark cloud. I seized the opportunity, and drove to the woods 
Stone, mud, water, trees – here and there, little clusters of frozen snowflakes 
The sound of rushing water from the nearby stream. 

I walked about for a bit, looking at stones, dreaming grandiose ideas of massive stone assemblages… 
And making those sorts of instantaneous calculations, without really thinking about it, that I suppose is second nature to most of us here: 

How much time did I have? Did I really want to carry bags of stones through the woods to a more ideal site? What was my current state of fitness? What was the weather going to do? Could I get a good photo angle? 
And noticing some parked cars in the distance, realising that this was a school holiday week, therefore I was unlikely to be left alone…  

My grandiose ideas grew smaller and smaller in scale. I kicked a few stones around. I fiddled about with a piece of string that I found in my pocket. My nose, hands and feet grew colder and colder. 

Finally, heavy dark clouds gathered overhead and it began to sleet. 
A happy noisy group of young people approached with children and a frisky dog.. 

So I decided to take the line of least resistance 

And went home. 

Two days later, I came back and made this piece:

Line of Least Resistance

Posted in Earth, North Devon, stone, winter, Woodland | Leave a comment

Nature and Art in North Devon

I have spent most of the morning trying to get a photo of the small birds flying around the bird-feeder in our garden, but without much luck!

There seemed to be hundreds of them, flying about and having a good time. Every time I got the camera out, even from inside the house, they flew away. I tried leaning casually against the wall outside, but they just disappeared, and I got very cold, waiting. I tried shooting from upstairs, but that was no good – then just as I got settled and one or two birds began to return, a large, very noisy vehicle with flashing lights came along, and some men started digging up the road behind the garden.

I bought the bird feeder before the winter started, because I felt sorry for them and wanted to help them through the winter months.  It can be difficult for birds to get food when there is not much vegetation, and the ground is cold and hard. Admittedly, winter is never terribly severe here in North Devon, but nature and wildlife are also under another threat to their existence:  a continuing onslaught of ill-considered ‘building developments’.

I managed to get a couple of photos through the window.

Once they got used to it, one or two birds started to come to the bird-feeder – then a few more, and a few more – and suddenly, quite a crowd started to come. Their names I do not know (I am not good with names), but include all the traditional garden birds – sparrows, dunnocks, finches, bluetits and great tits, robin, blackbird… It has been fabulous to watch them from my kitchen window early in the morning, and to listen to the beautiful song of the blackbird, telling the world that Spring is on its way.
I have been amazed how quickly the bird food has been disappearing. More and more birds are coming all the time.  It even includes a family of excessively friendly wood pigeons, who really shouldn’t be here, but they have been driven here by the destruction of their proper woodland habitat.
Where have all these birds come from?  I never saw so many, before we got the bird-feeder. Some of them must have come from miles away. Do they have some sort of secret interconnected telepathy going on? Or is it because birds can fly up high, and can see what is happening far below?
There is a downside to having all these entertaining little visitors: they are destroying the plants, especially our flowering clematis arch, where they love breaking off the twigs and scattering them on the ground. Plus… they have covered the ground with a multitude of little white droppings!
Which do you think is best – which would you choose?
a) a lovely clematis arch with lots of flowers in the summer,  
or b) lots of charming little birds, who sing nicely?

I have been very much enjoying everybody’s images, sent in for the Winter Workshop. I enjoy recognising the processes of nature everywhere and feeling the creative connection between all of us members.
It is great to have this opportunity of seeing people’s artworks from many different countries, and I am intrigued to know more about them!
More locally – I would like to mention a super exhibition, ‘Wave/ Particle’ by my friend, Duncan Hopkins, who lives nearby, down the road. I am not a painter, and this is not my usual type of work – but I was captivated not only by his skill, but by his amazing ability to convey, in paint, the fleeting moment, the power, the movement and the infinite transformations of nature – especially of water and light.
Duncan’s work comes from years of deep, close attention to the elements in this landscape – earth, air, water, sky – and most of all, light.
Although I took some photos of the exhibition with my phone, I decided the best way of giving you an impression of his work was to give you this link to his website:
Thanks, Duncan for permission to reproduce.

And thanks everyone for reading. Looking forward to hearing all your news!

Posted in North Devon Coast, painting | 2 Comments

Yatooi Talk-Linda: Greetings!

Yatooi Talk is a place for Yatooi members to use as we wish, simply by linking it to our blogs 0ra Page on our websites. Here we can share news, ask for help or advice, arrange collaborations, make friendships… and discuss art, environment and nature-related topics that would be of interest to us all.

We each title our new blogs with Yatooi Talk – followed by our name.
My name is Linda Gordon, an environmental artist living in South West England. So, here’s the first page of my own new blog: Yatooi Talk-Linda. 
(It was originally written on my WordPress Blog, and transferred over here. 

I am planning to use Yatooi-Talk-Linda mainly for sharing projects and experiences in nature: written text, pictures, thoughts, feelings, opinions… I am very much  looking forward to seeing your Yatooi Talk pages too! I am excited at the opportunity to meet fellow members, and the different places around the world where we all live.
I would like to know about your local landscapes/ the places around your home, whether it is buildings, or whether it is a natural environment. What does it look like? How does it make you feel? What do you like best? What do you dislike most?
What do you like about being in nature? What do you do there? Anything, or nothing? Do you like to be alone, or with friends? Do you like to make Nature Art? Or something else… perhaps singing, or some form of movement.  I have a friend who likes to hang upside down from the trees!
Why do I ask so many questions? Well, because I am curious, and it is good to come together and share our thoughts and feelings about nature, life, work and ourselves.
Feel free to ask me questions too – and leave any Comments below.


… the forest is constantly changing. And not just the forest – all of Nature. And that’s why many human attempts to conserve particular landscapes fail. What we see is always a brief snapshot of a landscape that only seems to be standing still. The illusion is almost perfect in the forest, because trees are among the slowest-moving beings with which we share our world and changes in the natural forest are observable only over the course of many human generations.
(Peter Wohlleben, “The Hidden Life of Trees”, p211).


Posted in nature | 1 Comment

‘A Plastic Ocean’ – North Devon Arts Summer Exhibition

ClimateCultures – creative conversations for the Anthropocene  is a fast-growing online organisation where all kinds of artists, researchers and curators can connect with each other to explore and discuss the many complex problems relating to climate change and environmental issues, and share their creative responses.

Here is a slightly shortened version of a post I recently wrote for the ClimateCultures’ blog on their website.

A couple of months ago, members of  North Devon Arts, including myselfviewed the film ‘A Plastic Ocean’, the documentary directed by Craig Leeson, which investigates the dangerously escalating problems relating to plastics production and disposal – particularly the horrific amount that’s continually being dumped in our oceans. It was decided that ‘A Plastic Ocean’ was going to be the theme for our annual Summer Exhibition.

We were to limit dimensions of 3D works, and the width of 2D works to one metre. Given these constraints, when I saw the final results, I was amazed at the huge variety of approaches, in terms of both the art-making processes as well as the exhibition theme itself. Each work was as unique and special as the person who made it. From abstract to origami; from small sculptures to traditional seascapes with something not quite traditional about them.

Here I have arbitrarily picked out a few contrasting pieces, to give you a flavour of the show:

You can’t even cry, because you don’t even care Fiona Matthews.                     Ceramic sculpture, with assorted plastics.

You can’t even cry because you don’t even care – ©Fiona Matthews

A globe of the world is burst and torn asunder with a mass of plastic spewing up from its innards. Prominent amongst this are hundreds of little white plastic pellets, the ones that sea birds mistake for fish eggs, and feed to their chicks. Like several other works in the show, the beauty of this piece made it all the more chilling.

Fertile ValleyJann Wirtz. Mixed media, predominantly water-soluble dyes and inks.

Fertile Valley ©Jann Wirtz

Jann is in the habit of collecting and disposing of all sorts of plastic that has been dumped in the river near her home. This of course is bound to disintegrate and make its way towards the sea.

Peering into the beautiful blue watery background of ‘Fertile Valley’, among the drifting debris, I was able to pick out a glyphosphate (herbicide) container and a fragment of old plastic feed bag, all falling slowly downwards, together with scraps of printed warnings about their potential dangers. Mixed up in all this were barely visible ghostly water creatures, a vital part of our food chain – all sinking back into oblivion as though they had never existed.

Garbage Island – Robin Lewis. Spray Paint and Glitter.

Garbage Island – ©Robin Lewis

Robin has used tantalisingly attractive, but potentially toxic materials for this powerful painting. It refers to the massive quantities of discarded plastic carried by ocean currents, and continually congregating in mid ocean to form what we now know as ‘Garbage Islands’. (The most notorious of these is, of course, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, details easily found on the internet.

A Plastic Ocean Paula Newbery – Water-soluble paint and Inktense pens.

A Plastic Ocean- ©Paula Newbery

By contrast, Paula has specifically chosen environmentally-friendly materials only, for this tranquil view of a well-known local beach scene: looking across Bideford Bay from Crow Point towards Northam. Looking carefully, I was able to pick out a number of coloured bottles, half-buried amongst the shingle.

Paula is a member of the Marine Conservation Society, and took up their challenge to go for 30 days without the use of single-use plastic. Needless to say, she and I am sure many others, failed. Paula’s second exhibit, carefully presented in a Perspex display cabinet, is a plastic bottle overlaid with a multitude of colourful scraps from all the plastic she was unable to avoid.

MCS Challenge – ©Paula Newbery

Beach Wear
Linda Gordon. Performance photo.

Beach Wear – ©Linda Gordon

An image of me, crawling out of the sea, tangled up in plastic beach litter that I had collected and strung together. I carried out this performance some time ago, but felt it relevant to extract and print this single photo from it.

And here are some other pictures I took of the super work at the exhibition:

During the Preview on the Sunday afternoon, I found myself drifting in and out of several spontaneous and animated discussions around the appalling problems that we humans have created for ourselves, relating to the worldwide use of plastics.  The exhibition as a whole, seemed to trigger a strong and instant response in people to these issues.

Not only that, but when I returned a couple of days later to take photographs, a couple of visitors walked in and immediately engaged me in conversation about this whole topic. I was happy to be able to add a little bit more information to what they already knew.

For me, this excellent and unassuming exhibition shows the power of art to elicit an authentic response; to move hearts and minds; to get people talking, and to encourage commitment to the true realities of life. Hopefully this awareness will continue to spread and get talked about, and help turn things around – for the sake of ourselves and future generations.

‘A Plastic Ocean’ runs until 2nd September at the Stables, Broomhill Art Hotel, near Barnstaple, North Devon.

A big thank-you to Stuart Fiddes for hiring this film for us, and initiating the exhibition – and also to Robin Lewis and the Committee for organising it.


ClimateCultures-creative conversations for the Anthropocene
On the ClimateCultures website, you can sign up to become a member, subscribe to email updates, or send a message via the Contact Form.

North Devon Arts
North Devon Arts is “a friendly and informal network of… professional and amateur artists and anyone with an interest in the arts across North Devon
For information – Members of the Committee are listed on the website Contact Page, together with their email addresses.

Broomhill Art Hotel

Pacific Garbage Patch 

Marine Conservation Society

Plastic Oceans
The site of the film that inspired our exhibition – A Plastic Ocean.

Posted in Environmental Art, Exhibitions, North Devon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wandering through Bluebells

For me, woodlands are a special part of the landscape: a place where we may play out our stories and dreams, enjoy physical and mental recreation, immerse ourselves in the sights, sounds and scents of nature, and breathe the pure clean air of trees…

It is bluebell time beneath the trees – a profusion of delicately scented flowers wherever one looks. And all around are fresh green leaves, and the sounds of trickling water and gentle birdsong.

Like many of us, I like to walk in the woods, with friends or alone, and I also like to take photos and make small land art works with the materials I find lying around.

At other times, I like to wander amongst the trees doing absolutely nothing at all. I have done this since long before the current media interest in the Japanese practice of Forest Bathing. The difference is that I prefer to be alone, and I haven’t told anyone about it, until now!

So what is it about, this desire to head for the woods seeking silence, stillness, solitude and a sense of spaciousness?

It is perhaps just a simple need to quieten the mind in the seclusion of the woodland environment, far away from everyday human noise.

In the serene atmosphere beneath the trees, there is beauty and peace.

Posted in nature, North Devon, trees and woodland | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

More Tree Writings (Arboreal)

This post is also Part 2 of my Balance of Nature Page. If you would like to read both parts, you will find the Page along the top menu. Although various British woodlands are mentioned here, I took all the photos in the Woodland Trust’s Buck’s Valley Woods, North Devon.

Arboreal, (Little Toller Books; edited by Adrian Cooper) was published last year, and emphasises the relationship between woodland and ourselves, the human species – more from a human point of view rather than that of the trees.

It is an anthology of writings from woodlands around Britain, by around 40 distinguished writers, artists, foresters, ecologists, thinkers and teachers, and gives some fascinating insights into their knowledge, wisdom and experience.  For myself, it gave me a warm sense of closeness, with both the authors and with the places they described.

Despite the alienating effects of contemporary life, for many of us, beneath the surface our relationship with trees is still felt to be part of who we are. Adrian Cooper writes in his introduction, how imagination and familiarity are two powerful tools that counter estrangement, allowing the trees to “… become entangled in our memories, taking root in our language” (p13). The writings in this book are clear evidence of this.

On first flicking through Arboreal, I was struck by the variety of personal expression – each contribution as individual and unique as the person who wrote it.

I keep it by my bedside, to dip into as the mood takes me; but here, I have picked out just three samples that happen to reflect my mood of the moment. There are many other superb essays – a kaleidoscope of words – each one colouring the next.

     Philip Hoare writes of the New Forest, which he has known since childhood. He tells us how forests have long held a place in our imaginations as being dark and scary, and haunted by witches, wolves and brigands. This reputation has filtered down through the centuries in folklore and tales such as those of the Brothers Grimm.

However, although in 19th century, the New Forest inspired a rather sinister novel by Richard Jefferies– today, the Forest appears to be largely given over to leisure pursuits, and it is difficult to imagine it as in any way threatening.

From a different perspective, Philip Hoare cites Richard Mabey, who noted how in our modern capitalist society, we tend to view trees as commodities, rather than celebrate them for their own sake. The whole of life utilises its environment for sustenance, but Mabey’s observation gives me the uneasy feeling we are appropriating natural resources without due consideration for other life forms or the balance of nature, let alone the long-term implications. (And for sure trees are not the only example of this).

     Robin Walter writes how over the centuries trees have always been subject to the will of their successive owners. But there is a difference between managing a wood responsibly, with respect for nature, and managing it predominantly for reasons of profit and self-interest.

Writing from Kingsettle Wood, Dorset, the author gives a fascinating account of our interventions over the years, and of his work as a forester today. On marking trees for thinning, he describes how he weighs up carefully which ones to choose for felling – always with an eye to the future; always taking into account changing conditions, and balancing up our requirement for timber with the urgent need to conserve what is left of our ancient woodland.

      Tobias Jones speaks of Nature Deficit Disorder: a recently coined label for a wide range of psychological symptoms perceived to be the result of alienation from the natural world. Reconnection with nature is beneficial, though many, including the author would say that it is trees in particular that soothe and heal the troubled mind. It is as though the size and longevity of trees, and their slow calm existence radiate a sense of stability and strength that can ease our insecurities. And the pure beauty of woodland life in all its phases must surely lift all our spirits.

Tobias Jones works in Windsor Hill Wood, Somerset with disturbed young people, creating a supportive working community where they may regain trust in life. He tells us that one part of the healing effect of woods is that they can be sometimes be frightening as well as calming – able to trigger and bring one’s deepest fears up to the surface for release.

Today, the benefits of engaging more closely with woodland are becoming ever more widely-known, both here and in other countries. There is growing interest in healthy recreational and educational activities of all kinds (such as the Forest School movement), as well as quiet contemplative walking and artistic pursuits. In Japan, there is the well-established practice they call ‘Forest-Bathing’, which is basically, taking a leisurely wander under the trees, with no specific purpose in mind. It has been shown from extensive studies that this simple practice can significantly lower blood pressure and reduce stress.

I have, in fact, for a number of years taken congenial groups of art and nature lovers on similar walks, without realising there were such benefits, other than pleasure!

It is true what Adrian Cooper says in his introduction to Arboreal – imagination and proximity to trees and nature in general, are two of the most powerful tools we have for countering the effects of estrangement and restoring ourselves to a state of wellbeing.  We are after all, an integral part of this planet and its processes, and it may be that within the presence of trees our minds and nervous systems can most easily become realigned and find peace.

The other day, I went to Bucks Valley Woods, not far from where I live on the coast of North Devon.  The aim was to head for my favourite tree. It grows on a bank alongside a steep footpath, and is currently covered with a luxuriant coating of vivid green moss. Its roots are sturdy, prominent – exposed by years of people clambering up to get into another part of the woods.

Whenever I pass this tree, I pay my respects, and in times of crisis, I tell it all my troubles (silently!) It never answers of course, but invariably, I go away feeling a whole lot better.

On this occasion, I entered the woods, and my heart sank as I saw a notice from the Council pinned up, saying that one of the paths through the woods has been closed because of forthcoming ‘developments’.  We all have to cope with change, because that is
the nature of life, but I knew this place would never be quite the same for me, once the noise of everyday human activity began.

These woods where I am greeted on arrival by quiet sounds of running water trickling over stone, small woodland birds singing high up, the breeze stirring in the canopy… solitude.

When I say ‘solitude’, it is not that I never meet people in the woods, but they are usually engaged in the same sort of quiet activity as myself. We become part of each other’s scenery. This is my particular version of Forest Bathing. I hope it may long continue for all of us.

 ‘Arboreal‘ was drawn together as a memorial to the late woodland ecologist and historian, Oliver Rackham. I very much enjoyed wandering through its many fascinating and diverse contributions, both essays and poems,  – and pausing from time to time to admire the visual images: including photographs by James Ravilious, Ellie Davies and Kathleen Basford, and art works by Peter Freeman, David Nash and Andy Goldsworthy.


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Root and Branch

Here are some photos of the first iteration of  the ‘new work’. Hoping to do more this week if I can find the time… and if we get some decent weather!

I am planning to make a continuing project, titled: Root and Branch: Earth and Sky. Please take a look at my Page above, called ‘The Balance of Nature’. I think it should give an idea of some of my thinking behind the artworks.

Wishing you Happy Wandering!

Posted in Environmental Art, nature, Sculpture and installation, site specific art, trees and woodland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments